Monday, December 24, 2012

December to Dismember: PUREZENTO (2005)

You will probably hear us mention SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) over and over in our Christmas horror coverage, mostly because of its controversial past when U.S. parents protested in outrage over the idea of a killer Santa Claus.  The funny thing about this was it wasn’t really a killer Santa, just a guy killing people who happened to be dressed in a Santa Claus suit.  But the public wasn’t about to have the cheery image of Santa sullied, despite the origins of Santa via predecessors like Saint Nicholas and Sinterklaas being scary as hell.  To the best of my knowledge, the real Santa – the man, the myth, the legend – has only appeared as a villain in four films: Netherlands’ SAINT (2010), Finland’s RARE EXPORTS (2010), America’s SANTA’S SLAY (2005; with Bill Goldberg as Santa!) and Japan’s PUREZENTO (2005).  And leave it to the Japanese to make the most brutal depiction of Santa out of that group.

PUREZENTO (PRESENT) opens with young Yuko in bed on Christmas Eve, when her parents tell her about blue-eyed Santa Claus.  She’s told if she is a good girl that Santa will return the favor.  However, if she’s bad, he’ll come and get you.  Years later the teenage Yuko (Mai Takahasi) is getting ready to celebrate Christmas with some friends.  She has a crush on Ryosuke (Takamasa Suga) and in her card to him she writes “my gift to you is me.”  Ah, virginity, the gift that keeps on giving.  The young lovebirds and two other couples are driven to a spooky looking hotel high on a mountain top during a snowstorm.  The kids seem to have no qualms that the guy working the front desk is a scary looking blue-eyed Santa (Randall Himes) and they split off into their separate rooms for a night of Nativity naughtiness.

Yuko and Ryosuke make it into their suite and she is disturbed by everything looking so familiar.  Indeed, the room has many of the same items Yuko had as a child, right down to her world flag bed sheets.  As if déjà vu weren’t freaky enough, the couple’s night (post-coitus, of course) is interrupted by screams from down the hall. They go to investigate and see a door shattered on the floor.  Inside the room, two of their friends are butchered.  The young boy is split in half and the girl is missing some limbs. As she slowly dies on the floor, the girl babbles about Santa’s revenge because “we’ve been desecrating Holy Christmas” and how Santa will “retrieve the presents he gave us in the past.”  Wait, Santa is an Indian giver?  Not cool.  After Ryosuke empties his stomach contents, the duo heads out into the hall to warn the other couple. Santa has just gotten to their room though and the girl makes it down the hall to Yuko and Ryosuke.  The boyfriend isn’t as lucky as he is bounced off the wall and then has his leg sliced off by Santa’s big-ass ninja star on a chain thingy.

The three surviving kids make a run for it and find safety in a stairwell.  It is here that they all realize they are seeing different version of Santa – Yuko sees the blue-eyed one (the one the audiences always sees), Ryosuke says he saw his father as Santa and the third girl says she sees a female Santa.  While Santa pounds at the door, Ryosuke tries to stop him while the two girls bolt.  They make their way to another door and are greeted by the killer Santa, who knocks them out.  What is going on here?  Yuko wakes up apparently on the set of a SAW movie as she watches Santa brutally butcher her friend (even feeding her brains to his reindeer) in a grimy kitchen.  Ryosuke shows up to save her, but as they got to leave he says he can’t move his left leg. For good reason as they look down and it has been chopped off.  Santa then shoves a Christmas light covered spear into his head.  Yuko runs into the snow-filled night and begins to question if this is all her fault. You see, Miss Innocent isn’t as pure as we thought.  Via flashbacks, we learn that the bad girl Yuko (this is established by showing her smoking) had plotted to get Ryosuke into bed by acting chaste and she feels this is her punishment for being naughty.  She then runs right into Santa, who confirms her theory by stabbing her with his spear and…Yuko wakes up!

Damn, it was all a dream and she fell asleep while writing out that Xmas card.  Girl, you so crazy!  She talks to her friend on the phone who tells her she had the exact same dream except the Santa Claus was a woman (because her mother was a feminist and told her Santa was a woman).  While on the phone though the girl screams that the female Santa is in her house right as Yuko opens the fridge and the severed body parts of Ryosuke tumble out.  Hold on, kids, it gets weirder.  Yuko then notices a gaping hole in the back of her skull and then the young Yuko shows up and rips her brains out. WTF!?!  The young Yuko then wakes up in her bed.  Whew, it was all a dream within a dream.  Her parents come in to comfort her and seem pleased they have such a lovely young daughter.  Of course, this is countered when they leave and Yuko gives the “scary kid stare” into the camera.  The end!

PUREZENTO came from the twisted mind of cult Japanese horror comic writer Kazuo Umezu.  Probably best known for the manga sci-fi series THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM, Umezu’s bloodier works inspired a generation of young Japanese filmmakers and they sought to pay tribute to him with a series of film adaptations. Six films were made as part of KAZUO UMEZU’S HORROR THEATER and this entry was done by Yudai Yamaguchi, who is probably best know for writing the gangster-zombie cult film VERSUS (2000).  Shot on video, the 47-minute PUREZENTO is probably the most graphic depiction of Santa that you’re ever going to see.  I’m sure Fox News would love to have this guy in their corner for their imaginary “War on Christmas” as he loves pulling off fingernails and snapping off fingers.  Unfortunately, that leads to a rather dull viewing experience.  Yamaguchi does some nice things in his episode (the use of red and green lighting), but mostly this is just wannabe subversive stuff that would give Eli Roth a boner.  The film works best in the final minutes when things get totally loopy and really reinforce that dream-like state (yes, I’ve had dreams where I decide to start picking at a gaping hole in my body).  The rest is just torture porn stuff that I’d only recommend for viewers who want to know how Santa looks throwing a flying guillotine-style weapon.

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