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A few days ago, a high schooler asked how old I was when I stopped believing in Santa. I told him we were broke when I was a kid, so I never started. He looked confused, and I never got to see where that conversation was going. I should have said that I can't recall ever seriously believing in him. Maybe it was different at some point beyond my recollection, but I don't remember the facade ever being presented like that at my house. It did not affect the enjoyment I got with Christmas, and we still used the jolly icon of culture as part of the yearly tradition. The magic red man was just something to do (for funsies). He was a vapid part of the aesthetic, like the useless tree and sock involvement. I find it hard to believe any child raised in a similar economic bracket put much stake in the fairy tale. At a certain point, it's got to click that the mystical gift-fairy seems to be restrained by your household money woes. Don't get me wrong, I had it great compared to some of the others in my elementary, but that's just the thing. What about the outside world, like neighborhood homies or places like school? No matter where you stand, how do you explain away the obvious, unspoken deciding factor that has nothing to do with how good you are all year? When one group of otherwise equal peers gets the RC car from the commercial, another a cheap knockoff from Radio Shack, and some receive a much-needed winter coat instead--the gig should be up. Is it canon for there to be different Santas for each economic class? The whole myth is repeated throughout the season, but not once do they breakdown the relationship to your household income. Is this cryptid humanoid's generosity scaled by what a kid is accustomed to or worse, just another force putting children in their place based on the car that drops them off in the morning? The whole thing sounds like more trouble than it's worth.
Speaking of school, low budgets, and Santa's judgment, let's take a look at Alex DiSanto's short film A Christmas to Dismember (2016).
Christmas is coming, and a high school's most elite and catty, are planning a gift exchange. The party is to take place at Cameron’s (Alex DiSanto) seasonally decorated, but parent-free home and all the cool kids will be there. Well, not all of them. Earlier, one (Jennifer McNamara) gets hacked up by a masked assailant in an oversized Santa outfit. Not letting it spoil the holidays, at school the next day, a little mourning is done in between some drama and party planning. Eventually, the time comes, and the remaining youngsters meet up for a night of banter and hormone spikes. In honor of the newly dead homie, they bust out the Ouija board for a quick supernatural detour. That goes well, but soon Saint Nick starts X-ing out folks every time someone goes off alone. One by one, kids are getting eviscerated, and the gang attempts to barricade the house against the rampaging Saint Nick impersonator. Will any of the self-centered youth live through the night? Or will the dollar store father Christmas cross them all off the list permanently?
A Christmas to Dismember is a festive, forty-odd minutes of basic slasher tropes, Santa suit hijinks, and the kind of potty humor I imagine high school theater kids think is explicit. It manages to pack an entire basic stab-em-up, and who-is-the-killer feel into a mumbling proto-YouTube format. There isn't much real mystery, as instead of setting anything up or throwing out misdirection, it has a few dead-ends and calls it a day. It's strangely apparent who the killer is early on, but baggy Father Christmas is creepy enough, and nothing beats an ol’ fashioned lumber ax for yuletide massacre. The mask is unsettling alone and looks like he is wearing a puppet's face-skin. Every bit is soaked in love for the genre, and without copying any particular film, feels like a study on the broader cornball slasher, not just the classic holiday favorites. In fact, there is a lot less Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) than I assumed. If anything, it's the very frugal bastard child of the 2012 quasi-remake or a slightly cleaned up Psycho Santa (2003). Despite being sleaze and snow-free, it champions the spirit of the cheesy horror film in an inspired but straightforward form. It's a quick, bloody chunk of silly entertainment, and I can always use another killer Claus in my life.
While everything inside the film from the acting to the edits is on a low-balled, backyard-grade level, the first thing I noticed was the camera quality. Maybe I watch too many VHS shot features in the same vein, but the crisp picture seemed out of place at first. It's nice to look at, although some of the kills would have been much more intense with less definition. The gore is pretty great for what it is. With consistent frequency, the film employs a shit-ton of fake blood and even raids butcher shop scraps for some old-school intestine handling. Often the action/murdering is initially framed well, only for the style to get the wind knocked from it by sticking around too long. Both the practical effects and the actual stabby-stabby stay on the screen in plain sight until it becomes an irreverent comedy gag. Mixed into these rollercoaster moments of carnage are dollops of motivated lighting that incorporates shadows and highlighting. The rest of the movie is brightly lit, both inside and outside the house at any moment. My only beef here is that this had to be the least spooky Ouija board ever, with all that light. I'm pretty sure ghosts are more likely to show up with a single candle, so you get that cool scary face thing going on. There is no snow, which is weird for some reason, even though I have only seen snow on Christmas once in my life. I don't know if the soundtrack is royalty-free jams, friends projects, or a mix of both, but I was into it. It doesn't quite fit what's going on at any given time, but it's perfect for the movie if that makes any sense, and from what I have seen, it's all part of the director's style. The title seems to be a seasonal play on Doris Wishman’s A Night to Dismember (1989), or at least if it isn't, it should be.
Alex DiSanto is a young independent director out of Canada, who in recent years, along with a loyal cast of homies, has produced a handful of no-budget, trashy splatter shorts. To date, DiSanto has  released seven derivative labors of love-- all before he (and his friends) could legally drink in the states. A Christmas to Dismember was the sixth, with his debut Zombie Lake Massacre (directed with repeat collaborator Bella Sharp) in 2014. He hasn't released anything officially since Diary of a Necromancer (2017) but is currently semi-active on social media. The fact that this teenager slasher is actually full of teenagers is a noteworthy phenomenon for the genre. For one, the supposed highschoolers are not 30-year-old ex playmates per the usual. Secondly, when it feels less like a slasher and more like a group of kids fucking around with a camera, it has a good reason.
There's not so much going on in the film, our killer's motive is a lazy joke, and the plot is mostly built around sarcastic duologue. None of that matters, though, because I was thoroughly entertained and filled with the holiday spirit. A Christmas to Dismember is a warm cup of Santa induced death, practical gore, and at one point some spooky board game action. I'm down with all that. Part of me is just glad stuff like this was being made in the 2010s and available on Bluray. Like all my good memories of December 25, it's a small, semi-traditional, low budget affair in the suburbs, with a half-assed side of Saint Nick. Also, do you think  Alex DiSanto got the nice camera they used for Christmas? I wonder where he sits in Kris Kringle's economic-based gift hierarchy.
41min | 2016
Director: Alex DiSanto
Writer: Jess Martin 

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