I had awful dreams last night and I blame the segment “The Present” from KAZUO UMEZ’S HORROR THEATER VOL 3. directed by YUDAI YAMAGUCHI (VERSUS, BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL.) “The Present” is a Japanese killer Santa story based on an influential manga. Honestly, I don’t know much about mangas but if anything involves a killer Santa, I want to know about it and I want it to be a part of my life. “The Present” opens with a little girl named Yuko having an awful dream herself. It’s Christmas night and her parents console her by informing her that as long as she is good, she has nothing to worry about and Santa will protect her from harm. If she’s bad though, she is screwed!
Flash-forward into the future and Yuko is now a young adult. She appears to be a bit of a wallflower compared to her friends but she agrees to travel with a group to a hotel to celebrate Christmas. Arriving at the hotel, she begins to stumble across crap featured in her childhood nightmare. In fact, the hotel room she stays in is decorated with assorted objects from her youth. Yuko is not feeling it and wants to go home but her friends convince her to stay and then her boyfriend convinces her to have sex. Apparently having sex on Christmas angers Santa and now Yuko and all her pals have to be butchered and fed to the reindeer. Wow, Yuko’s parents were not kidding.
“The Present” is doused in off-putting colors and heavily utilizes disorienting angles and flash cuts. It’s made even more surreal by the fact that it is filmed on some kind of HD video that reminds me of DR. WHO. There’s plenty of blood and gore running through this simple vignette, but the real creeps are the result of the psycho-moralistic undercurrent. It’s kind of like being stuck in one of those Christian haunted houses that tries to scare the sin out of you. I can’t say crazy Santa is completely effective either. He’s got a very impressive throwing star on a chain which he uses to yank off assorted limbs, but for some reason he can’t be bothered to deliver a proper scowl. Maybe this dude looks scary in Japan, but to me he looks like a bored delivery guy.
Assuming that nobody will ever watch this, I’m going get spoiler-y. As if the character of Yuko had not been disparaged enough, we come to find out that she was never the innocent we knew and was just pretending to be “pure” as a way to manipulate those around her. It turns out she doesn’t like Christmas, does not want to spend Christmas with her parents, smokes cigarettes and sneakily smiles to herself when she’s pretending to be coy. Personally I’m still not convinced that she deserves to have her brains scooped out but hey, I’m a liberal. It’s not surprising that the movie ends up being the dream that young Yuko had at the start. What is surprising is that young Yuko takes credit for squashing the brain of the “bad” future Yuko who is yet to be and that her parents rejoice in the fact that she will always be “gentle”.
Well, I’m happy I checked this one out even though I think it’s crazy making and causes bad dreams. “The Present” is so dogmatic that it ends up revealing the most horrible side of Santa I’ve ever seen. Turns out he is just a tool to scare and bribe kids into listening to their parents and submiting to their bourgeois values. Who knew?