FrightFest 2023: Werewolf Santa Puts the Claws back in Santa Claus

Image provided by FrightFest

There’s no shortage of killer Santa Claus movies. Filmmakers have been turning jolly old St. Nick into a vicious murderer for decades now, so you might not think there’s anything left to explore in this nearly oversaturated subgenre, but you’d be wrong. Werewolf Santa puts a unique spin on the typical killer Santa story, and as a big fan of both werewolves and Christmas horror, I couldn’t wait to check it out. I requested a screener almost immediately after I heard about this film, and I pressed play on it as soon as I could.

Werewolf Santa was written and directed by Airell Anthony Hayles, and it stars Emily Booth, Mark Arnold, Katherine Rodden, Charlie Preston, Cian Lorcan, and the voice of the one and only Joe Bob Briggs. It’s a horror comedy about a woman named Lucy who runs a YouTube channel where she hunts down famous monsters like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, but she hasn’t found much success yet. She only has a handful of followers, and as far as we can tell, she’s never encountered a real monster.

But one Christmas Eve, that all changes. She goes out with her boyfriend Dustin to look for werewolves, and the couple gets a bit more than they bargained for. They spot Santa Claus taking a break from delivering presents, and after a few seconds, he gets bitten by a werewolf. That attack turns him into a lycanthrope himself, so Lucy and Dustin have to set out on a crazy adventure with Lucy’s parents and her friend Rupert to destroy the beast and save Christmas.

For the first 10-15 minutes or so, Werewolf Santa is a bit of a slog to get through. We meet Lucy, Dustin, and Lucy’s parents, and for the most part, they’re all miserable. None of them seem to like each other, so it’s basically just 10 minutes of these people bickering back and forth. It doesn’t make for a particularly pleasant viewing experience, so I came to dislike these characters very quickly.

Santa Claus reaching out for help
Image provided by FrightFest

Once the horror kicks in, the bickering slows down a little, but unfortunately, the characters never really recover from that weak opening. Even when they’re not completely joyless, there’s still nothing all that compelling or charming about them, so I just never connected with them.

In particular, I had a really big problem with Lucy’s father. Actor Mark Arnold gives a very wooden and emotionless performance in the role, so I simply didn’t buy the character. He felt like an actor reciting lines rather than a real person, and every time he spoke, he took me out of the film a bit.

On top of that, I also found the horror in Werewolf Santa pretty underwhelming. To be fair, it had its moments. For example, we see the aftermath of several of the werewolf’s attacks, and the gore effects are quite good. They look like real human blood and guts, so I think the gorehounds among us are going to enjoy these moments quite a bit.

Similarly, this movie also features a few cool werewolf chase scenes. In particular, there’s one that takes place in a haunted house, and I had a really good time with that set piece. It has some excellent tension and atmosphere to go along with a whole bunch of awesome haunted house decorations, and when Santa goes on the attack, it’s pretty fun.

But outside of those few bright spots, it feels like Werewolf Santa holds back on its scares. We see the aftermath of the monster’s attacks, and we often see it lurking or running around, but the film goes frustratingly light on its actual werewolf violence. I wanted at least one cool attack scene where the creature just goes all-out on its victim, but I never got that. Instead, the best moments mainly happen off-screen, so the horror ends up feeling overly restrained.

A woman looking cautious
Image provided by FrightFest

Last but not least, I also thought the humor in this movie was pretty ineffective. Granted, a couple of the jokes were decent, but they were very few and far between, and even then, they weren’t great. They barely brought a smile to my face, so the film actually didn’t make me laugh a single time.

And in my opinion, that’s the real downfall of Werewolf Santa. For me, comedies of any kind, even horror comedies, have one main job: They need to make their audiences laugh. If they do that, just about anything can be forgiven. Weak characters, a bad story, and even ineffective horror can be outweighed by good humor, so if I had found this movie funny, I probably would’ve ended up liking it.

But I didn’t, so at the end of the day, I’m sad to say that Werewolf Santa isn’t the next great entry in the killer Santa Claus subgenre. The premise is just about genius, and some of the horror in this film is pretty good, but on the whole, the execution here just falls short. The unlikable characters make it tough to care about the story, the horror doesn’t hit as hard as I expected it to, and the humor is pretty ineffective.

Werewolf Santa had its world premiere at FrightFest on August 25, and it has a second showing scheduled for the next day, August 26. After that, the movie is set to get a theatrical release in both the US and the UK sometime in November.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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