Released as Saint Nick in the United States, Sint is a Dutch horror film based on the legend of Sinterklass (Santa Claus to us), but with a dark, sinister twist. Considered by some to be a horror comedy, the film isn’t as funny as one might expect, but more a straight up horror without the redeeming ending some might expect from a Christmas Horror Film.
The film opens on December fifth, 1492, the night of a full moon. A band of pirates, lead by a religious figure upon horseback, terrorize a coastal town in Holland. You should get the hint early on that this “holy” man is evil, as he sports an upside down cross on his mitre (headband).
Though the locals leave offerings in wooden shoes outside their homes, the pirates infiltrate some homes through the chimneys, slaughtering the adults and bundling up the children in sacks to be taken to their ship anchored in the harbor.
Well, the townspeople have had enough and burn the ship, along with everyone onboard. But, as expected, no evil person leaves the mortal coil without cursing those who caused his death, which brings us to December fifth, 1968, and another full moon.
Sure, the ship is on fire, I'm burning to death....
But I'm still going to curse you! If I could breath without my lungs igniting...
Goert, a farmboy, is sent by his father to check the livestock by his father. While in the barn, his parents are murdered, and he witnesses his siblings bundled in sacks and taken away by shadowy figures. And he sees a man riding a horse, dressed in a bishop’s robe, atop the roof.
Yeah, that's never a good sign.
Now we move to modern day Amsterdam, with another December fifth falling upon a full moon. Goert is now a police detective, who continues to be haunted by his family’s death and has submitted a report on what to expect, and how to deal with, the return of Sinterklass . His superior, however, tell Goert to take time off and not return until January.
The film then shifts to a local high school, where Sinterklass gifts are being exchanged. And it’s obviously not a high school here in the States, as most of the gifts are sexual aids. In fact, the teacher wearily admits that this class has surpassed last year’s dildo gift giving, to a round of applause by the students. Yep, not your typical US sex ed class.
And Sinterklass isn't happy with that bit of information.
Frank, one of the students, receives something less festive as his Sinterklass gift, a breakup notice from his girlfriend, Sophie. It appears Sophie found out Frank was cheating on her and, while walking home with two other students, Sophie asks her friend Lisa if she was the one Frank was seeing.
Lisa denies it, but that turns out to be a lie. Frank meets her in her backyard, a rather gutsy move as Sophie lives next door, and revels that he knew Sophie was cheating on him before he and Lisa were intimate. But he kept seeing Sophie as she’s a hottie. Frank then attempts to get a bit of holiday cheer from Lisa, suggesting they meet up later in the evening. But Lisa balks at his suggestion, as she is not sure were their relationship will lead, and Frank leave in a huff.
Okay, you can call Frank an asshole at this point, as I did, but remember, he’s in high school and most guys are assholes at that time in their lives. Frank does call Lisa later to apologize, while he’s getting ready to play Sinterklass at an event.
Lisa calls Sophie later, only to hear Sophie murdered by Sinterklass’ henchmen. Lisa finds the body, and Sophie’s younger brother missing, and calls the cops. Frank, in the meantime, is lost with his friends (both dressed as Black Pete) and runs afoul of Sinterklass and his undead henchmen. Frank manages to escape, only to be stopped by the police and accused of his friend’s murders, as well as Sophie’s murder and the disappearance of her brother.
While being driven to prison, the officers transporting Frank see Sinterklass riding his horse across the rooftops of Amsterdam. While attempting to shoot the new suspect, the officers are killed and Frank is left to fend for himself against the evil spirit of Christmas.
Yeah, shooting at this guy from a moving car.
What is this, an 80's action film?
And that doesn’t go too well. But before Sinterklass kills Frank, Goert intervenes and soon, the two team up to end the curse of Sinterklass forever.
This is a fun little Horriday film, with some great moments of practical and CGI effects (seriously, some of the deaths are very well done), but it helps to have a bit of history behind the legend of Sinterklass. And here at The Shadow Over Portland, I did the research so you can read the rest of the review and just enjoy the film, without spending time on the Internet learning about the legend of Sinterklass and how it ties into this film.
Sinterklass is based on St. Nicholas (the Bishop of Myra, who Frank mentions later in the film), a Greek bishop who was also the basis for the US Santa Claus, as well as other versions of the gift-giving saint. He arrives on December fifth by boat from Spain, along with his helper, Black Pete (Zwarte Piet). Traditionally considered a Moor, Black Pete aids Sinterklass in rewarding good children with gifts, while spanking bad children with a switch. If a child is especially naughty, they would be stuffed into a sack and taken back to Spain.
The reason Sinterklass is assumed to come from Spain is his gifting of Mandarin oranges, mentioned in a Dutch poem. As for taking naughty children to Spain, and the origin of Black Pete, the Moors controlled modern Spain in 711, and often pirates from the region would raid coastal towns in Europe, abducting people to be sold as slaves. This caused people to abandon many coastal towns, and continued into the 19th Century.
Writer/director Dick Maas (The Lift, Amsterdamned) takes this history and wraps it into a nice, dark Christmas tale. His Sinterklass is based on a fictitious rogue bishop, Niklas, his Black Petes have dark skin due to the burns suffered on the ship in 1492 (unlike the current, more PC idea that the blackened faces are due to the soot for chimneys). And the Bishop of Myra is a distraction created by the Church, attempting to hide the true origins of Sinterklass. Maas takes a few liberties with the story, but manages to weave historical fact into his fictional tale, to a point where knowing the legend makes watching the movie even more fun.
But, if you're only interested in the gore, this scene, in the opening minutes,
should be enough to whet your appetite.
And Maas knows his horror films. The scene where Sophie, Lisa and a third friend are walking home from school gave me a serious Halloween vibe. The film contains other homages, but I’ll leave those for you to discover. These moments don’t feel cheap or tacked on (well, one does, but it's still effective), but more a director giving a wink and nod to the films that inspired him.
That’s not to say Sint doesn’t have a few faults, all of which occur in the final act. Maas gives us the old ticking bomb, where the countdown doesn’t match up to the action in the film cliché, which could have worked had Maas injected a sly sense of humor into the moment. And though it seems he tried, the scene just doesn’t work.
And how the ghost ship is dispatched would seem out of place in even a Roger Moore Bond flick. Yep, it’s that impractical and, to add on insult, it’s hinted earlier that children are alive in the hull of the ship, yet no one attempts to rescue them. Sure, destroying Sinterklass's ship might be for the greater good, but still comes off as rather cold hearted.
But, thankfully, the film avoids the clichés of modern horror films. Frank doesn't have a last minute, I must rescue my girlfriend scene, and the government conspiracy concerning Sinterklass is left unexposed. Sure, the ending suggests a sequel, as expected, but the film takes its time developing the characters rather than delivering a set of cut out, standard Horror clichés. Spending more time with on the people involved in the tale, rather than the killer and his bloody spree, makes the film more interesting and the gruesome moments a bit more intense.
Really, I'm sure she'll be just fine.
Also, it’s interesting that Maas ran afoul of parents, much like Silent Night, Deadly Night did, regarding its poster. Showing a mutilated and malevolent looking Sinterklass. Nicam (the Dutch film and TV classification board) received dozens of complaints that the film’s poster could frighten to younger children, leading to a request that the poster be removed from theaters and other public places. Maas successfully defended the poster, claiming that parents who allowed their children to believe in Sinterklass could also explain the poster was not the “real” person. Had that happening in the US, one has to wonder if Silent Night, Deadly Night might have faded into obscurity, rather than become the Horriday classic it is now, as well as spawn four sequels.
Sint is a rarity in modern Horrorday cinema. A Christmas horror tale with no redeeming message at the end, plenty of blood and guts and, well, a high school class gifting dildos to each other is a combination you won't find in an American horror film anytime soon, let alone one with an evil Santa.