I have many fond childhood memories of standing in awe in front of the horror section of my local video shop, wondering if I’d ever have enough time in my life to watch all the tapes hidden behind that alluring box art that promised all sorts of monsters and mayhem. And though video stores are now a thing of the past, I still find myself with that same feeling about movies – and the horror genre, in particular. No matter how many horror movies you watch, new and old, there are always going to be countless others just waiting for you to discover them. As a kid, it was within the walls of those video shops that I found new favorites. As an adult, well, the only real difference is that I don’t have to leave the house anymore.

Video shops haven’t gone away, per se, it’s just that they’re now digital streaming services that allow us to forgo pesky things like late fees, out-of-stock movies and, of course, human interaction of any kind. And for horror fans, the #1 “digital video shop” is AMC’s Shudder.

One of Shudder’s most exciting new arrivals of 2019 just came down the chimney, and it’s not actually a new movie but rather a hidden gem that was originally released way back in 1989. Directed by French filmmaker René Manzor and just given its streaming premiere courtesy of Shudder this week, Deadly Games (aka 3615 code Père Noël, aka Dial Code Santa Claus) is a home invasion horror-thriller that shares a whole lot in common with one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time: Home Alone. And yet, Deadly Games came first.

In Deadly Games, Alain Lalanne stars as the mullet-wearing Thomas de Frémont, a young boy left home (with his half-blind, diabetic grandfather) on Christmas Eve by his mom. When a psychopath dressed as Santa Claus breaks into the house, it’s up to Thomas to protect the home, forced to live out his action hero fantasies and outwit the adult invader.

Whether or not Thomas de Frémont inspired the creation of Kevin McAllister is up for debate – Manzor, for what it’s worth, has made no bones about his feelings that Home Alone is a shameless ripoff of Deadly Games, even threatening legal action at one point – but it would be quite impossible to watch Deadly Games and not at least question how such a similar movie came along just one year later. From rigging up clever traps and trip wires to tricking the murderous burglar with a voice recording, Tommy is a pint-sized hero cut from the very same cloth as Kevin McAllister, making Deadly Games a fascinating companion piece to Home Alone; essentially, it’s the darker version of the family classic we all love.

We meet Tommy at that point in his life where he’s starting to lose faith in the idea of Santa Claus being real, and Deadly Games mostly takes place across that year’s Christmas Eve, with Tommy dedicating himself to capturing proof of Santa’s existence once and for all. As he hoped, Santa does indeed come down the chimney right before his eyes, though the magical moment quickly warps into something he never could’ve expected. But what’s quite amusing about the movie is that through it all, Tommy is 100% convinced that the man trying to kill him is the real Santa, turned into a murderous monster only because Tommy broke the #1 golden rule of Christmas by staying up late to get a glimpse of the big guy. It’s a cautionary Christmas tale, you could say, turning the benevolent home invader into a sinister one.

With his hair and beard colored an unnatural shade of white thanks to a can of novelty snow spray (a fantastic touch), late actor Patrick Floersheim‘s “Le Père Noël” makes for a pretty damn creepy killer Santa, at times emotionless and at others exhibiting a sadistic sense of almost childlike glee. It’s made pretty clear that “Noël” has desires that extend beyond merely killing children, making the evil Santa in Deadly Games one of the most downright unsettling of them all. It’s through a primitive, pre-World Wide Web communication service (the real-life French service known as Minitel, introduced in 1982) that Tommy becomes a particular object of desire for “Noël,” making Deadly Games (a film released in 1989, I remind you) an eerily prescient warning about adults using the internet to prey upon children.

Yeah, this one is quite a bit darker than Home Alone. And fair warning, the most brutal moment in the movie involves the murder of a dog that takes place around the 35-minute mark.

Darkness aside, what really makes Deadly Games such a special slice of Christmas horror is the beating heart at the center of the film, which is the relationship between young Tommy and his grandfather, played by the late Louis Ducreux. The actors have a wonderful chemistry with one another, adding a welcome layer of wholesomeness to the proceedings. Ultimately, Tommy is fighting not just to protect himself and his home but his grandfather as well, and both Lalanne and Ducreux bring heartwarming authenticity to that bond; in different ways, they each have to protect one another. Deadly Games doesn’t shy away from going to nightmarish places, but it’s also got that holiday warmth you just love to see in Christmas movies.

Another noteworthy aspect of Deadly Games is the setting, the castle-like home that Tommy lives in with his mother and grandfather. Rigged up by Tommy with all sorts of high-tech improvements, including a homemade surveillance camera system and a trap door in the floor that plays a huge part in the action movie-obsessed Tommy’s over-the-top playtime, the house is a fortress even before Tommy is forced to turn it into one. And there’s one room in particular that Tommy keeps all to himself: a massive “kid cave” that even his mother isn’t aware of. With hidden access points including an old fridge and Tommy’s bedroom closet, the room is chock-full of vintage toys from different eras, passed down from Tommy’s father and Tommy’s father’s father before him. It’s one of the coolest hangout areas I’ve quite frankly ever seen in a movie, looking like a room you’d only expect to find at the North Pole.

And keep your eyes peeled for Critters and Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 pictures hanging on Tommy’s bedroom walls. His main interest is clearly the action cinema of big screen heroes like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, but he’s definitely a horror kid too!

Gorgeously shot (and beautifully restored last year for its debut here in America), Deadly Games is precisely the sort of hidden horror gem that I absolutely live for discovering, and I cannot thank Shudder enough for finally giving us all the chance to enjoy it this holiday season. If Christmas movies like Home Alone and Rare Exports are your cup of tea, I can almost promise you are going to love this one. Out of all the non-new-release horror movies I’ve watched for the first time here in 2019, Deadly Games is my favorite new discovery.

Make it a Shudder night and don’t miss this one.

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Author : John Squires

Publish date : 2019-12-05 01:45:29