[Review] "Slay Belles" is the sort of bonkers, bloody spice we all need in our eggnog this Christmas
You better watch out, you’re going to cry, you’ll scream and shout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is comin’ to town, he’s bringing his friend Krampus, all he wants to do is watch you die! Thanks to the release of Dread Presents’ Slay Belles, horror fans now have a look at Santa Claus unlike anything we’ve ever seen before…
…Directed by Dan Walker (aka, “Spooky Dan”), and written by Walker and Jessica Luhrssen, Slay Belles follows three ultra-punk chicks Alexi (Kristina Klebe), Dahlia (Susan Slaughter) and Sadie (Hannah Wagner), as they break into an abandoned children’s park known as “Santa Land” for their YouTube show, “Adventure Girls”. But when the girls discover a not-so-typical Santa Claus (Barry Bostwick) and his brother, Krampus, hanging out at the park, they find themselves in a fight for their lives and the Christmas Spirit as we know it.
This aint your grandparent’s Christmas movie. Slay Belles is like Willy Wonka and Tim Allen from The Santa Claus had sex with a bootleg copy of Crank, and then raised the baby on a heavy diet of punk-rock and cocaine. This movie is completely batshit crazy in the best way, featuring gratuitous wig changes, gratuitous nudity, and a gratuitous amount of Christmas, all of which mixes for a blood-soaked cocktail that is sure to spice up your eggnog on Christmas eve.
Walker brings a heavy dose of high-octane, Christmas themed insanity to an already bonkers script. Similar to the aforementioned Crank, Slay Belles often moves at an unrelenting speed coupled with a frantic dubstep score that also features a seriously badass punk version of Jingle Bells. Walker isn’t making this film for everyone, and if you’re not on board this crazy train to a blood-splattered North Pole, you’d best be getting off before the foul-smelling Krampus shows up. Slay Belles is a horror film reflective of the social media driven age, and like any social media driven content, there is no slowing down. Things get weird, and they get weird fast. This film is a pure adrenaline rush of entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.
The cast/characters all perfectly represent what Walker and Luhrssen are going for here. Clad in fabulous Powerpuff Girls type Christmas outfits, our three heroines are all stylish, sexy biotches birthed right from the chaotic canals of the social media era. They’re crude, fun, energetic, and don’t take shit from anyone, not even a hulking monster, or the perverted, biker gang version of Santa whom they discover at Santa Land. They may represent every obnoxious personality trait of millennials (and hey, I’m one too), but despite their annoying qualities, there is a lot to admire as well. These girls aren’t naughty or nice (well, maybe a little naughty), they’re just a trio of confident, entrepreneurial women who don’t need men to save them, and that’s a refreshing blast of cool-mint air that we didn’t used to see much of before. Sure, they’re a little dumb, particularly Wagner’s Sadie, but they’re also endearing and a riot to watch. These are the kind of girls you want to have at your Christmas party, even if it means taking on the Christmas devil. And Santa? Other than Kurt Russel who recently appeared in The Christmas Chronicles, Bostwick’s Santa is the only other old jolly guy in a red suit that I’d love to get a beer with. After all, you gotta love a Santa that says stuff like “Santa Claus is coming to town, bitches”. Walker’s cast carries the film with infectious personalities that create a non-traditional sort of Christmas spirit, but hey, what is the Christmas Spirit if not just having a good time?
Slay Belles is purely humorous B-horror. It has all the standard tropes of low budget cheese. Dumb cops. Corny dialogue. Nonsensical plot twists. Terrible “Santa Magic” CGI that could use a few more doses of elf dust or whatever. Random critter/crite looking creatures that appear out of nowhere and have nothing to do with the plot only serve to increase the awesome B-factor. But Walker isn’t asking for a Christmas miracle in expecting the audience to view Slay Belles on a level any higher than it is. Walker is a horror fan, making a film for other horror fans, and for the most part, he delivers exactly what fans want.
Of course, one of the most important questions fans will ask are, what about the Krampus creature and the gore? I wouldn’t be surprised if a good chunk of Slay Belle’s budget went into creating Santa’s nemesis. The Krampus is exactly the guy in a rubber suit monster that it should be. More and more horror films, especially on the indie scene, are finally taking the genre back to its roots with practical makeup and prosthetics, and it pays off in a big way for Walker, because the Krampus looks fantastic. A towering, ferocious beast, I found it reminiscent of the design of the werewolves in The Howling, which, as some readers may know, is a huge plus for me, because that just so happens to be my favorite werewolf film, largely due to the effects. The suit looks good enough, that Walker is ballsy enough to shoot most of the creature’s appearances out in the open in the middle of the day, though with mixed results.
The gore/kills, on the other hand, is where the film surprisingly falls flat a bit. Which is odd, because the few kills which we actually see on screen are well done and effective. The problem is, most of Slay Belle’s kills are done off-screen. Now, gore doesn’t make or break a horror film, it never should, but in Slay Belle’s case, this is a film begging for over-the-top carnage, and Walker clearly has no disposition against buckets of blood and guts as we see in some areas of the film, so it feels odd that we would see so little of that. Instead, Slay Belles frequently hints at cringe-worthy moments, presenting us with quick flashes of the creatures POV as it hunts and maims. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why Walker is choosing not to go in that direction for a handful of scenes, since Krampus is, after all, stalking and killing “naughty” children, and none of us want to see that, I just wonder if Slay Belle’s may have benefitted from more adult fodder to get the blood pumping, literally.
There is also a concerning lack of atmosphere and tension. Being the sort of fast-paced, frantically styled film that it is, Slay Belles doesn’t have the luxury of really taking its time to build the terror or create a genuinely unnerving atmosphere, but the few chances it does have veer off in other, less satisfying directions, depending on taste. For example, at one point, Santa and our three heroines manage to capture Krampus. But instead of fleeing, the girls decide, hey, what a perfect time for a photo shoot, and proceed to take loads of selfies with the beast. Again, these are millennials we’re talking about here. This moment doesn’t exactly go against the nature of Slay Belles, which never intends to be taken seriously, but it does take away from any sense of “fear” that the audience may have left. We care about these characters because they’re a lovable bunch, but if they’re not afraid of Krampus or worried for their lives, neither are we. It’s one thing for the audience to accept a trash talking Santa Claus, but the tension goes completely out of Santa’s sleigh once Susan Slaughter decides to wiggle her tits against Krampus’ slobbery jaws.
Slay Belles is a film that requires a very specific taste, like a glass of whiskey topped off with a dash of eggnog. Bold, cringe-worthy, and only meant for those of us with the stomach to handle it, Slay Belles is the sort of drunken Christmas cheer film I prefer to get me in the mood for the season. Anyone looking for gift ideas for that cheesy horror loving fiend in their lives should drop this imperfect piece of Christmas badassery in their stocking.
Slay Belles hits VOD TOMORROW, December 4th.
By Matt Konopka