Slay Belles (2018)
Directed By: Spooky Dan Walker
Written By: Jessica Luhrssen, Dan Walker
Holiday horror has always been a bit bland. It’s a lot of the same recycled tropes, usually dealing with an evil, murderous Santa Claus or some sort of malevolent spirit. Each movie feeling like a slightly worse rehash of the previous. This year seems to be a bit different though. There are a couple of holiday horror films that I have had my eye on since first hearing about them. Slay Belles is the first one I have had a chance to see and it did not disappoint.
Dan Walker (or Spooky Dan Walker as the credits read) has made a gem of a Christmas horror film. He’s mostly worked as a visual effects guy with Slay Belles being his feature directorial debut and he knocked it out of the park. This film has a brilliant script (co-written by Walker), top notch performances, great effects and, most importantly, a ton of heart. Heart seems to be the secret ingredient that most holiday horror films lack. The filmmakers get so caught up in trying to be outrageous and shocking that they forget what makes the holidays special. Walker seems to be perfectly in tune with that and manages to balance the scary with the feeling of the season. And it’s funny, not the kind of forced funny that is often found in horror comedies but actually, really, genuinely funny.
In this vast landscape of retread stories, Slay Belles has found an original take on the holiday horror film. The story centers on three young women who set out to explore an abandoned Christmas themed amusement park for their YouTube channel. As they explore they cross paths with the evil Krampus, forcing them to team up with Santa Claus in order to defeat his nemesis and save the world.
It’s as fun and crazy as it sounds. This is very much an ensemble film and the main cast is terrific. Kristina Klebe, Susan Slaughter and Hannah Wagner, who play the three urban explorers, have a wonderful chemistry which makes it easy to believe that they have been friends for years. They are great together as a whole and equally as good individually, creating characters that feel like real people with their own personalities and quirks. Joining the trio of women is Santa Claus played by Barry Bostwick. I can’t think of a single time I haven’t been happy to see Bostwick on screen. He is always a pleasure to watch. His portrayal of jolly old Saint Nick in this movie is one that you won’t soon forget. It’s some of the best work that I have seen him do and it’s absolutely hilarious.
The rest of the cast, unfortunately, is rather hit or miss and mostly it’s miss. The movie cuts between what is happening at the theme park with Santa and the girls and what is happening at the local police station as the police try to piece together a string of odd murders. At times this cutting back and forth makes it feel like you are watching two different films at the same time. Every scene featuring Santa and the Belles is wonderful, every scene that takes place in the police station is a combination of the worst elements of low budget horror. The set doesn’t look good, the dialogue is spotty at best and the acting is atrocious. The choices that these actors are making are baffling and nothing about any of them comes across as authentic. There was a point that I feared this might be enough to ruin the entire film. It’s not because we spend less and less time with the officers as the movie goes on. We do pickup with some cops who are not at the police station and everything with them is fine.
This is an incredibly inventive, funny story that was made by an extremely capable filmmaker. Slay Belles will be entering into my annual holiday movie rotation without a doubt. It has earned it’s spot right alongside Gremlins, Die Hard and Surviving Christmas (Yes, I love it. Deal with it) as a Christmas classic. Congratulations to Spooky Dan Walker and this tremendous cast, you guys made me believe in Christmas again.