“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

36.15 Code Pere Noel

36.15 CODE PÈRE NOËL – a.k.a. WANTED: MR. XMAS, GAME OVER, DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS, HIDE AND FREAK, or DEADLY GAMES on the German Blu-Ray I rented – is an A+ Christmas action-horror cult movie from 1989 that I can’t believe I’d never heard of before. I read about it in the book Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television edited by Paul Corupe and Kier-La Janisse. That’s a small press book I pre-ordered last year and there was some mishap that caused it to be delivered a little after Christmas, so I had it set aside for 11 months, excited to bust it out this year.

As I go through it I’ve been making a long list of things to check out. This was at the top, but I can’t imagine anything else on the list will match it. I was convinced I was sitting on the mother of all Christmas recommendations here and then I asked a friend if he’d ever heard of it and… yeah, there’s a new A.G.F.A. restoration of it that was a big hit at Fantastic Fest this year and is even playing here in Seattle at the Grand Illusion this week.

Oh.

Still, I’m so excited to tell you guys about this one. Though it was made a year before HOME ALONE, it combines the kid-defending-his-house-at-Christmas concept with SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT killer Santa horror and tinges of Jean-Pierre Jeunet heightened reality. It’s so joyous in putting its young hero and his Danny-Cooksey-worthy spikey mullet through kid versions of ’80s action tropes that if I didn’t know it was from ’89 I’d assume it was a tribute movie made by some French answer to Taika Waititi. And yet it’s not at all a comedy. It absolutely works on the level of a serious stalk and slash movie, and it’s about serious ideas.

Rambunctious ten year old Thomas (Alain Musy) is, at first glance, a pretty ridiculous character. He’s so rich and lives such a spoiled life that at first I assumed his morning routine was taking place in his imagination. He wakes up in the cockpit of a bomber jet (fuck you, Silver Spoons race car bed), is the subject of a workout/suiting up montage (complete with oiled muscles) set to an “Eye of the Tiger” soundalike, stalks and captures his dog J.R. in a remote controlled trap door, and leads his grandpa (Louis Ducreux, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE) to breakfast in handcuffs.

We’ll soon learn that he’s not just a brat, though. His Papi gets a kick out of the theatrics, and the two are as close as Charlie and Grandpa Joe. Thomas is also an electronics genius who has built himself a wrist-screen connected to the mansion’s surveillance system to try to capture proof of the existence of Santa Claus. He’s smart enough that his mom (Brigitte Fossey, CINEMA PARADISO) trusts him to take care of Grandpa, even administer his insulin. He also takes it upon himself to repair her car and take it for a test drive in the park.

But his mom loves that he hasn’t grown out of kid stuff, so she gets real concerned when his dumbass friend Pilou (Stephane Legros, REVENGE OF THE MUSKETEERS) tells him Santa Claus isn’t real. And she’s the manager of a big department store (I assumed owner, but maybe their money comes from elsewhere) so it prompts her to last-minute hire performers for a huge Christmas Eve bash at the store to make sure kids keep believing. I like the irony that she cares so much about the holiday that she causes many people, including herself, to work long hours away from family on Christmas Eve. A little different kind of Scrooge.

The villain (or the monster, or the shark) is played by Patrick Floersheim (BOBBY DEERFIELD, FRANTIC) who is some weirdo, possibly pedophile, who gets the gig as the store’s short-notice Santa. We first see him in the city trying to join a children’s snowball fight and not understanding it when they run away. It’s a brilliant way to show that he doesn’t understand boundaries long before he’s violently head-butting through a windshield. Thomas is delighted to see who he believes is the real Santa come down his chimney, but things quickly go sour and it becomes a cat and mouse chase.

Thomas might be a horror fan. I spotted CRITTERS and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 among the many posters on his walls, the latter of which I gotta say is not age appropriate. But I also spotted COMMANDO and I think a THUNDERDOME era Mad Max and that’s more like who you’d think would be his male role models. You figure he’s thinking of RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II or PREDATOR when he’s wearing camo face paint and his face is framed in the indoor jungle of a couple potted ferns in the hallway. The mansion supposedly has hundreds of rooms, and he sneaks through various secret passageways, monitoring Santa on his wrist. He tries to find a hiding place for his half-blind grandpa, and to come up with ways to get help. He climbs out a window and across a ledge, which is more harrowing in his home than in most.

When he falls and dangles from the gutter he’s animated for a second. The exterior shots of the mansion appear to be a model. These probly stick out more in the high-definition era than they used to, but they give it a certain stylized charm like the stop motions bits in early Tim Burton.

Well after I’ve bought into the reality of the movie it comes to the most far-fetched (and poetic) idea in the whole thing – that there’s a secret chamber in the house filled with all the toys of Thomas’s father and grandfather and on and on through many generations. There’s a rope bridge going through them and the full scope is never shown, but it appears as big as Willy Wonka’s room with the chocolate river.

Musy, who is the son of the film’s writer-director René Manzor, is very good. It’s heartbreaking to hear him attempting to comfort his grandpa over the walkie-talkie. He keeps explaining to him why things will work out, like a parent would to a worried kid. “So don’t worry Grandpa. I have the situation under control,” he says, like one of his movie supercops might say, but he says it with a shaky voice. Come to think of it he’s like John McClane when he starts to break down. He’s also barefoot, which seems normal for a kid playing in his own house, but I winced when he had to run around in the snow.

Yes, like in HOME ALONE he comes up with clever ways to attack the intruder using his toys and stuff. He has to fill his toy grenade with actual gun powder from firecrackers. Here the scenes are more suspense and tension than laughs. And the chase is genuinely scary. There’s a moment when he comes face to face with Santa through a window, just like HALLOWEEN: H20! It’s a completely unique tone.

Maybe skip these next two paragraphs if you’re totally sold on the movie and will stop at nothing to see it, but I’m about to describe a late scene that best exemplifies what’s unique and incredible about it. There’s a montage of Thomas performing self-surgery, and then tearfully carrying his (SPOILER) dead dog’s body and burying him, marking the grave with a cross made from his plastic knife and sword. It also includes flashbacks of happy memories, and it’s set to a song that seems like a perfect synthesis of “contemporary Christmas song” and “power ballad that would be in a Stallone movie” – the lyrics talk both about Christmas and becoming a man. I didn’t realize until the credits that it’s actually Bonnie Tyler singing, an original song made for the movie.

In a sense this scene has to be considered a parody – it’s a perfect, intentional re-creation of tropes from ’80s American action movies, but with a skinny little kid and his dog, using toys instead of weapons. But in another sense it’s not a parody at all, because it’s not silly, it’s not laughable, we care about this kid, we’re pissed about the death of his dog, and we are actually moved by the ideas in the song. It uses these techniques in a sillier way to make them even stronger.

This was Manzor’s second film the first was THE PASSAGE (1986) starring Alain Delon. I have been told 36.15 was not well known in France, but the star is interviewed in Yuletide Terror and he says he’s recognized pretty often, so it must have gained a cult following at least. I’m not sure why it’s not better known here, but the title doesn’t help. The 3615 is the code used to dial into an early message board service called Minitel, so it’s kind of a 976-EVIL type title.

I cannot stress enough how much I want people to see this. I was prepared to beg Scream Factory to get on it, but if A.G.F.A. has already restored it I’m sure a new Blu-Ray will be coming from somewhere good.

Manzor really believed HOME ALONE was a ripoff of his movie. The plausibility of it being the inspiration depends entirely on how possible it is that John Hughes could’ve known about it. I lean toward it being unlikely that Hughes ever even heard of it, but on the other hand Steven Spielberg and George Lucas somehow saw it and hired him to do episodes of Young Indiana Jones.

Whatever the story is, the tone and appeal of the two movies are nothing alike. 36.15 is far more imaginative and far more serious. It’s only cute for a little bit. The villain is not a funny buffoon and he never gets hit in the balls. He kills and he bleeds and he’s frighteningly human, but he can overpower a little boy and a sick old man.

And even though it’s Christmas it doesn’t end in sugar plums. That’s not to say it’s some nihilistic fucked up shit. But the song was sincere: it’s about becoming a man. He has a grandfather in his life if not a father, but his idea of manhood seems to come from the same war and police movies we were watching in the ’80s. He play acts working out, arresting people, battling people. But his fantasy world butts up against that of this adult sicko who thinks he’s a kid too.

It may not be fair to have to grow up at the age of ten, overnight, on Christmas, coming from the most magical and toy-filled playland imaginable to some grim fucked up life-is-horrible shit. To go from Nerf Rambo to really knowing what it feels like to fight to the death.

But that’s life. And he’s a smart kid. He has the French version of the eye of the tiger. Don’t worry Bonnie Tyler, I think he’ll make it.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 5th, 2018 at 11:14 am and is filed under Action, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “36.15 Code Pere Noel”

  1. I love that the subtitle on the DVD (under the title) says SILENT NIGHT – DEADLY NIGHT (in German), but the movie SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was released here as SILENT NIGHT, HORROR NIGHT.

    Anyway, I have to track this movie down. Judging by the cover design it’s either out of print or available for less than 5 bucks in every bargain bin.

  2. Huge fan. Hoping one of these video labels puts it out on blu Ray over here.

  3. CJ – the one I rented was a recent-looking German Blu-Ray, with a DVD equivalent.

  4. This was my #1 find of Christmas 2017. I was so fuckin’ excited that such a film could even exist, but in the year that followed I’d all but forgotten about it until the remaster started getting some buzz last week. It’s funny, this is one of those movies that’s so geared toward my tastes that it might as well be made specifically for me, yet I barely remember anything about it. I guess it’s time for a rewatch.

    I do remember the theme song, which parallels my memory of the film by starting out real distinctive but gradually becoming less memorable. Those first 20 seconds are pretty rockin’, though.

  5. Yeah, I just checked Amazon. Seems like it’s an edition from last year and it’s available as normal priced Blu-Ray, DVD and one of those overpriced special editions that clutter the German market and have the Blu-Ray and the DVD (and a disc with bonus features)*. (Although I recently heard that these editions are a very popular import items in the US!) Good to know that it’s so easily available here for a change.

    *Ugh, Amazon just recommended me a special edition of DOG SOLDIERS, that has the same movie three times in it! On UHD Blu-Ray, normal Blu-Ray and DVD. If I would buy that, I would own the same movie four times, because I already have the DVD. Seriously, the line between “Hey, it’s a nice special edition and I support the labels” and “Fuck that cashgrabbing bullshit” is getting thinner and thinner”.

  6. Adding to the ‘ol watchlist now!

  7. I love how you describe a book arriving late in the mail with such intrigue. Like, it’s obvious that the book just arrived a few days late because of holiday impacted shipping schedules, but you phrased it in such a way that it sounds vaguely epic and mysterious.

  8. Tawdry – I forget if it was weather related or what, but something happened that caused them not to get delivered from the printers in time for Christmas delivery. I had pre-ordered it from the publisher, but I think it may have been crowdfunded before that. The editor/publisher, Kier La-Janisse clearly felt terrible about it and/or sure that people would be angry, so she sent out an email with a step-by-step explanation of everything that went wrong to make them miss the release date. I felt really bad for her and it honestly was kind of cool keeping it in a specific place, occasionally seeing it during the year and looking forward to reading it.

  9. Wow. So there actually *was* a story behind the delay. Can’t wait to see this film. I’m working on a real world-beater of a Christmas movie screenplay at the moment, so this might even count as research.

  10. Can someone pass me the Amazon link to buy this? Or tell me if it’s streaming somewhere? I found a full copy on YouTube, but it’s a VHS rip and unsubtitled. I’d prefer to reward the filmmakers and like, see the highest quality version possible/understand the dialogue.

    Can anyone help?

  11. If you can do region codes I added the link for a region 2 dvd at the bottom of the review. Couldn’t find the Blu-Ray on there even though that looks like the same cover as the Blu-Ray I rented.

  12. Even though it means Vern won’t get anything from it, you could also buy it directly from the publisher:

  13. Unfortunately I will be out of town, but anyone who lives in Austin can check this out on the big screen this Wednesday at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, looks like there are still plenty of tix available: https://drafthouse.com/austin/tickets/dial-code-santa-claus/0002/32281/showtimes

  14. Maybe I’m dumb but I can’t actually find the “purchase now” button on the Amazon links. The one that goes directly to the distributor’s website seems to work, though.

    Anyone know if there are plans for a US release?

  15. Like you I saw this on a list of Christmas horror films recently and bought the German Blu Ray as i’d never heard of it. I really appreciated the quirky tone, and as you say it doesn’t shy away from going to the dark places. I was gutted when the dog bought it.

    It reminded me of another quirky French horror/comedy with a definite Jeunet/Caro feel to it called Serial Lover from 1998. Well worth tracking down if you can find it

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0155157/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_6

  16. I’m glad you reviewed this one, Vern. I saw this as a little kid with my even younger brother and we were both scared shitless. It was released in Brazil right after Home Alone – I’m pretty sure the distribution company was trying to capitalize on its success. There was certainly no Psych Santa on the VHS box…

  17. Just watched this last night on the big screen. I didn’t love it as much as I would have liked to but it was certainly entertaining and I can’t wait to show it to other friends of mine. Can we talk about the actual lyrics to Merry Christmas because it has one of the weirdest bits of talking shit to Jesus I’ve ever seen.

    Happy birthday christmas
    Welcome holy jesus
    Although you rain on us
    You can’t understand
    Why even a child
    Learning the truth
    Always learns pain

    Why does he have to cry
    To become a man?

  18. Couldn’t figure out international dvd purchasing… but I will be seeing the movie tomorrow night. It’s playing just down the street from me!

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