My mom loves Christmas. She loves it so much that she usually starts listening to Christmas music in July, begins decorating November first, and insists on watching the same traditional Christmas films every single year. Even as an adult going home to visit, I am still subjected to repeat viewings of A Christmas Story, A Christmas Carol, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. I have nothing against these films, but they do get old after a couple of viewings, and even though they’re staples of hers, they’ve never been mine. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to have a tradition of watching the same movie every year to celebrate, I’ve just never found the right film…until now!

This past week, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing the new film Secret Santa at Horrorthon: H3 in Houston. It’s a film full of murder, mayhem, dark humor, and even a little Christmas cheer. It also features some of the most despicable and identifiable characters you’ll ever see on screen.

Secret Santa

Secret Santa is about a Christmas Eve get-together of a family who truly loves to hate each other. The family runs a pharmaceutical company and most of the kids work for that company in some capacity. One of them decides to spike the holiday punch with an experimental truth serum that initially makes everyone say exactly how they feel about each other, but eventually leads to them flat-out murdering each other in delightfully gory ways.

The party takes place at the controlling mother’s (Debra Sullivan) house, where she and her gold digger sister (Pat Destro), are verbally abusing the caterers and waiting for everyone else to arrive.  One by one the family arrives, and as each does, their distaste for each other grows more and more apparent. The film portrays April Pope (A Leslie Kies) as the main protagonist, but every other family member gets a lot of screen time too. There’s the stuttering brother (Drew Lynch), the black sheep sister (Ryan Leigh Seaton), the hyper-sexual step brother (Nathan Hedrick), his more-than-meets-the-eye date (Michelle Renee Allaire), the racist uncle (Curtis Fortier), and the unwelcome father (John Gilbert).  Something I love about the film is that even if your family doesn’t contain ALL of these characters, it probably contains SOME of them.

The acting in Secret Santa is excellent. Most of these actors are recognizable from small roles in various television shows or movies, but they’re given a much larger role here and really shine for it. I was very impressed by all of them, but A Leslie Kies and Ryan Leigh Seaton really stood out to me. I think partially because they remind me so much of my own sisters. I was also impressed by how sinister Nathan Hedrick got at times. He makes a great villain and definitely has some of the best lines in the film.

The comedy in the film is very diverse. There’s a lot of very dark humor here, but also a few unexpectedly clean jokes, lots of great quips, and even a few memorable gags that are set up in the beginning of the film but pay off at the end. The dialogue in this film is well crafted. It greatly enhances all of the brutal deaths, which range from a fork to the jugular, to crushing a head in a car door, to decapitation with a shovel…there’s even a few that make use of the holiday decor. If you’re a fan of creative and gory deaths, you won’t be disappointed.

I really enjoyed the cinematography in Secret Santa. Despite being a low-budget indie film, the house and decorations looked beautiful, as did the winter landscapes at night as certain family members fled for their lives. I also loved the music in the film. It was composed by Timothy Eilers and features reinvented versions of so many Christmas classics, along with several heart-pounding, ominous pieces that accentuate the violence.

There are so many different elements that go into a film like this, and while most holiday horror movies play it safe by using traditional music, or only having one slasher-type killer, Secret Santa does not. Everyone is a killer here, and as the movie progresses, the violence escalates, the crudeness escalates, and the fun escalates. At the end, I left with a giant smile on my face.

Secret Santa blends laughter with blood, death and gore in a nearly perfect way, while managing to have a heart, and still feel like a holiday film. It’s truly impressive and I can’t wait to watch it again. Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan created a film that is sure to become my new annual tradition, and once more people see it, I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one who feels that way.

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