Saint or Sint, the new action/horror hybrid slasher flick from Dutch director Dick Maas, had its North American premiere earlier this week at the Tribeca Film Fest.
Re-imagining the character of St. Nicholas as a bloodthirsty, child-killing, undead Bishop might seem controversial, but the makers of Saint take pride in transforming the Coca-Cola, cookie-cutter, Haddon Sundblom-esque depiction of Santa Claus we know and love into the next great slasher icon.
Later this year (around Christmas we’re guessing), genre fans here in the States will have a reason to go to the movies after October 31st when Saint starts making its way across the country thanks to IFC Midnight’s distribution deal.
Dread Central caught up with the director during Tribeca to find out why he hates Santa Claus so much.
DC: What made you want to take the benign Dutch legend of St. Nicholas and turn it into something sinister? Were you frightened by the idea of him as a child?
Dick Maas: The St. Nicholas celebration on the 5th of December is the most popular cultural event of the year. The guy is even more popular than our queen. The idea of turning this iconic figure, this epitome of goodness, into an evil killer came to me some ten years ago. It was not that I was frightened by him when I was younger, but a lot of parents use him to scare their children into obedience. According to the myth, children who don’t behave are spanked and even put in sacks and shipped of to Spain. On the other hand, he throws presents through the chimney every year, so that compensates for the bad side of St. Nick. I thought it would be fun to play around with all the properties of the story. I didn’t want to make a spoof or parody of the myth, but I wanted to approach it in a serious way. I also wanted to give an epic feel to the movie.
DC: With Rare Exports and now Saint, St. Nick has not been portrayed in a very good light as of late. Why do people from Finland and the Netherlands hate Santa Claus so much all of a sudden?
DM: I’m not sure what triggered this. It’s not part of a bigger plan to assassinate Santa or something. The script for SAINT was finished 5 years ago and I wasn’t aware of the movie of my Finnish colleagues until I was shooting. Some things are suddenly in the air and this time it’s the war on guys in red suits who are throwing presents down chimneys.
DC: Were you surprised by the protests from religious groups and their attempts to ban the film from theaters? Was it something you were expecting?
DM: I always expected some flack from parents who would be offended by the movie, but not to this extent. Even before we started filming, St. Nicholas societies in Holland and Belgium were opposing the movie. The protests really took off when we made the poster for the movie. A fellow director of mine was leading the pack of protesters and took it to court. They wanted to ban the poster from the street and cinemas in Holland. The court ruled in our favor and judged there was nothing wrong with the poster and we didn’t cross the boundaries of good behavior. Because of all the uproar, the awareness of the movie was very good, which of course helped the box office.
DC: Much like Jeepers Creepers, who returns every 23 years to terrorize those that get in his path, will Saint continue to come back every full moon that falls on December 5th? Are sequels something you’d be interested in?
DM: A sequel is definitely a possibility. We have worked already on some story lines. It’s not high on my priority list at the moment, but depending on how the movie will be received outside the Netherlands, we will decide on it.
DC: Given such a large cast and filming an action movie that spans the ages, has Saint been the most difficult film for you to make thus far in your career?
DM: It was difficult in many respects. Shooting with animals, on the water, on the rooftops, at far-below-zero temperature, were all big challenges. The sequence in which St. Nicholas is galloping his horse over the rooftops of Amsterdam was by far the most difficult to accomplish. Shooting galloping horses against a green screen hadn’t been done before, as far as I know, so we had to figure out ourselves how to accomplish that. We ended up with a horse on a treadmill and a building ten feet high, 150 feet long scaffolding, on which the horse could run at full speed and provided us with the camera angles we needed. Combined with the plates we shot on the rooftops of Amsterdam it turned out really great and made for an exciting sequence in the movie.
Sint – English Subtitled Trailer
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DC: Were you looking to invent a new slasher icon with Saint, or do you see this film as a standalone that simply plays homage to killers like Michael Myers?
DM: It would great to see SAINT end up as a new slasher icon, maybe even turn him around and let him clean the streets of New York from the bad guys. I mean a guy, with a mean face, dressed up the way he does, armed with a menacing razor blade sharp staff, can really rock the boat.
DC: Would you rather Saint not be associated or piled into the slasher genre?
DM: The guy is slashing people, no doubt about it, but the movie plays for much more. I wouldn’t call it a slasher movie.
DC: Should people be expecting more of an action film than a horror movie with Saint?
DM: People who are expecting lots of gore and graphic violence, will be disappointed. I like to call this movie a horror movie for the whole family. Of course there are decapitations, severed limbs and exploding heads, but there is also a lot of fun and tongue-in-cheek action. I was going more for action and suspense than for violence and gore.
DC: Do you want audiences to be rooting for Saint and his men to take their revenge?
DM: No. You should root for the good guys. Only root for St. Nick if you think it’s a good thing to chop of the heads of innocent people.
DC: Was it difficult trying to come up with new and clever ways for Saint to use his blade?
DM: Difficult but satisfying 🙂 The staff of SAINT is very suitable to decapitate people. It also can be used as a spear. Shooting bullets is not possible at this moment, but we are working on that. The first experiments with poisonous arrows were very promising.
DC: The “Black Petes”, Saint‘s helpers in the film, aid him in the killing. Were you concerned at all about creating a racial stereotype with these characters?
DM: In Holland the Black Pete’s are fully accepted as a integral part of the legend. There has been some controversy in the past about portraying them as racial stereotypes. In my movie the Black Pete’s are burned (white) pirates. So I don’t see any problems with that.
DC: What’s your favorite scene in the movie?
DM: I like the roofchase sequence. And also the sequence in which the Black Pete’s are attacking the guys in the Porsche Cayenne.
DC: How has the film been received at Tribeca?
DM: The film has been received very well. Word of mouth was good and every screening had more visitors. Most of the reviews were good. IFC picked up the American rights, so the movie will be released in the USA. So, I can’t complain.
Can you tell us anything about your next feature Quiz?
DM: QUIZ is a thriller about a famous game show host who has a dinner appointment with his wife and daughter in a restaurant. They don’t show up. After some time a strange man presents himself at his table and he claims to have kidnapped the wife and daughter. He shows a photo on which we see his wife and daughter tied up. The game show host has to answer ten questions correctly within one hour if he wants to see his family back alive. So the man turns the tables around and plays the part of the game show host and the game show host is becoming the contestant. That is the start of an evening full of surprises, twists and turns. We are currently casting and are aiming to start shooting in July/August. The Dutch release is scheduled in the beginning of 2012.
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