When I first heard about 3615 code Pere Noel (AKA Deadly Games, Dial Code Santa Claus, Game Over and Hide and Freak), the Hollywood Theatre here in Portland, OR, was screening the movie two years ago, and it was described as a more bloody version of Home Alone. Which is a nice, simple way to sum up the basic plot, as both films take place at Christmas and involve a young boy trying to outwit a home invader. Also, writer/director Rene Manzor threatened legal action against the US version, claiming plagiarism.
But that summation is misleading. In Home Alone, the violence never having long term consequences for the Wet Bandits. And though the two criminals would be happy to get their hands on Kevin, we know that is not going to happen. The studio wouldn't allow it.
But Deadly Games is much nasty, a dark Grimm fairy tale rather than a family friendly holiday comedy. Once the action starts, characters die and the story never allows you to feel the child hero will survive the film's running time. And, like the best fairy tales, the story is an allegory, this time about the dangers of living a sheltered life.
Okay, if you haven't noticed, I am not using the accent marks to properly spell names and the film title in French. I would if it were possible, but Blogger doesn't have that option. My apologies, the omission is not intentional, it's due to the limitations of the site.
Anyway, on to the plot.
Thomas de Fremont (Alain Lalanne, AKA Alain Musy) lives in a secluded mansion with some (80s) high tech features like a security camera system, iron shutters that will lock down the windows, and even a trap door in the hallway. Thomas is a very intelligent kid, but his widowed mother Julie (Brigitte Fossey) indulges his fantasies, allowing him to run about the house like Rambo, chasing after his dog JR and encouraging his belief in Santa Claus, despite the objections of Papy (Louis Ducreux), Thomas' diabetic and partially blind grandfather.
No one asked JR if he enjoys being hunted down by a Rambo wannabe.
It's a good thing Julie manages an upscale retail store, as her income (and the house left to the family by her late husband) allows her to feed Thomas' imagination and belief in Santa Claus. And though it might seem very strange, it's clear she is doing it out of love.
During breakfast, Thomas says he plans to stay up late that evening so he can see Santa and capture his image on the security cameras. Julie tells him he'd better not, because should Santa find anyone watching him, he'd turn into an ogre. But this doesn't deter Thomas and, as Julie heads out to the store for the Christmas Eve rush, he sets his plans into motion.
Unfortunately, a vagrant (Patrick Floersheim) with an unhealthy attraction towards children gets a job as a Santa at Julie's store. After seeing him strike a child who pulls off his fake beard, Julie fires the man and sends him to the personnel department to turn in his suit. The man overhears Julie's boyfriend setting up a big toy delivery for Thomas and sneaks into the van. After killing the driver and groundskeepers, he heads down the chimney, where Thomas has hidden to witness the jolly old elf's arrival.
As expected, mayhem ensues.
I doubt you'd find a scene like this in a Hollywood version.
Okay, as I said earlier, this film is dark and very disturbing at times. While Thomas has a bit of an advantage, as he knows the layout of the sprawling mansion, the film never lets us forget that killer has the upper hand, due to his size and strength. And despite his war game antics, Thomas' weapons are all toys, forcing him to improvise traps as the killer starts taking out the security cameras.
Adding to the fairy tale aspect of the film are a series of hidden passageways leading to a room full of toys from all the male heirs to the house. Thomas was shown it by his father, who was shown it by his father, and neither Julie or Papy know of it. One can see the hidden room as a sanctuary from the responsibilities of the outside, adult world, where the men can go and for a time, relive some part of their childhood. It's fitting that the faux Santa discovers the room, forcing Thomas to abandon the secret repository of childhood memories.
And since Thomas believes he is being stalked by the real Santa Claus, who's became an ogre because of his actions, the battle forces Thomas to fight, and possible kill, his own childhood. In this, the script suggests that one has to be brought out of childhood at some point, less the unsavory aspects of the real/adult world force such a transition in a more traumatic fashion.
And the killer starts looking like an ogre. Minus the green skin and flatulence.
You might find this a bit of a slow burn at first. But the story is never dull, and the pace gives the audience time to know the main characters, and lets the script set up some obvious issues to complicate matters later on. Yeah, like Papy's condition, which is mentioned in the opening fifteen minutes. It's not a spoiler, it's more like Chekhov's Insulin Shot.
The cast is good. Lalanne/Musy is very convincing, despite the near absurdity of the character. You believe he's smart enough to reprogram the security in the mansion, and his belief in Santa comes off as genuine. Fossey and Ducreux do a great job with their roles, and Floersheim avoids camping it up and gives his character a believable sense of menace.
3615 code Pere Noel is an good Christmas horror film. Though it's disturbing, and it's dark nature makes it something to avoid if you're looking for some cheesy fun, it's the perfect film to wash away the saccharine taste of the more traditional holiday fare.
You can find this film (in French with English subtitles) on Amazon Prime under the title Deadly Games, or on YouTube. It is also available on DVD and Blu-ray, but expect to pay $35 or more on Amazon.
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