By David Dent
The first half hour of Adam Marcus’s Secret Santa is comedy gold. No actual blood is spilt but the knives are definitely out when the Pope family meet up at the matriarchal home to survive the festive season.
Mum Shari, played with vicious precision by Debra Sullivan, plays host to her dysfunctional offspring: reformed alcoholic April and her slimy lawyer other half; stuttering and decidedly not out gay son Kyle, whose boyfriend is one of the caterers; Jackson and his stripper girlfriend; and Penny, frumpy, holiday jumpered and seething with rage and remorse.
Add in money grabbing sister Carol and an unexpected visit from Shari’s ex-husband Leonard, and let the verbal fireworks commence.
It’s when the linguistic fisticuffs give way to an actual fight, resulting in one man down, that we realise all isn’t as it should be.
Turns out that the guests who’ve sampled the punch have a tendency to overheat and then go loco, turning the film into National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation glitched up with The Crazies, and with some running gags aping scenes from The Thing.
The gore is strictly of the silly kind (a combination of CGI and practical effects, never a particularly convincing mix on a low budget), but it fits in with the generally over the topness of the piece.
Secret Santa is way over the top but funny as hell – and probably worth watching twice as there are a lot of sotto voce lines that I missed the first time round.
It’s also irresponsibly irreverent – no taboo is left undisturbed, and if it’s all a bit ramshackle and sordid, well all the better; example (spoken by a guy who is using a severed male head to perform fellatio on him): “It’s not gay if he’s dead.”
Secret Santa is out now on DVD.