Werewolf Santa

Werewolf Santa (2023)

Werewolf Santa had its world première on Fri 25th Aug at FrightFest, and is on UK digital from 6 November 2023

“This isn’t a comic book, it’s real,” insists Hastings Chief Constable Charlie (Mark Arnold), to which his ex-wife Carol (Emily Booth) replies, absurdly, of their actual, lived experiences this snowy Christmas Eve: “Wait, is all this real?“

The truth is, though, that Werewolf Santa is regularly punctuated by bold yellow captions and flip-through hand-drawn illustrations that certainly suggest the format of a comic book – and its heroine Lucy (Katherine Rodden), adult daughter of Charlie and Carol, claims that her only knowledge of the creatures that she investigates in her failed Youtube channel Monster Hunters “comes from comic books.” What anchors all this to reality is the specificity of its location (Lucy will say that the “biggest mystery” about these werewolves is “why they chose to live in Hastings of all places”), the earthy schlubbiness of the characters and most of all the shaky intradiegetic camerawork, connecting the on-screen high-jinks with a more grounded mode of street-level reportage. For here everything that we see purports to be the uploaded file of Carol’s latest investigation, shot mostly on the fly by her cheating dope-headed musician boyfriend Dustin (Charlie Preston) and her conspiracy-minded incel childhood friend Rupert (Cian Lorcan). There is also a cartoon-ified audio introduction by cult horror presenter Joe Bob Briggs, lending his celebrity imprimatur as much to Airell Anthony Hayles’ feature as to Lucy’s online package.

Reality here is unstable and very much up for grabs. Self-appointed cryptozoologist Lucy (her ‘Fuck off’ T-shirt reflecting her general attitude) may have failed to find any sign of Bigfoot on a trip to Oregon that she funded with her University loans, or of the Loch Ness Monster on a sojourn to Scotland, and is herself as lost as the creatures she pursues – but now that she has reluctantly come home to Hastings for Christmas, she is about to cross paths repeatedly with a local legend that she claims to have seen once before, aged 9, on the Christmas Eve when her parents spilt up. So now, as she records “an episode like any other, just with actual monsters,” she is also spending a long, marijuana-fuelled night quite literally hashing through her mommy and daddy issues. 

Werewolves are famously hybrid creatures, transforming from human to lupine shape and back again. Hayles’s film too comes, as its very title suggests, in hybrid form, bringing together two mythic figures to create the sort of Yuletide crossover that the writer/director has recently been making his specialty with films like The Krampus Calendar (2022) and the forthcoming Satan’s Grotto. Once Father Christmas (Dave Darko) – and make no mistake, this is meant to be the ‘real’ sleigh-riding deal, not some department store impostor – has, while stopping for a slash in a Hastings park, been bitten by a werewolf, he will go about town spreading not so much cheer and goodwill as bloody death and destruction, with only a team of barely competent amateur monster hunters on his tail. 

Werewolf Santa is a surreally chaotic, often bawdily vulgar scramble through the backwoods of spurious Sussex lore. There is, in keeping with Santa’s newfound canine nature, a hilarious dogging scene, as well as a sequence in an amusement ride where it is hard to tell fake creatures apart from the genuine article. In fact the whole film runs like a Ghost Train – cheap carnivalesque fun dressed up in genre costume. In her local report, Lucy is working through her complicated feelings about family and Christmas itself, and relitigating past domestic disputes – and while her mum usually insists on spending the holiday rewatching Richard Curtis’ Love Actually (2003) on the telly, Lucy herself would much rather change over to the horror movie on the other station. Werewolf Santa lets us channel-surf between both these seasonal sensibilities – with daddy, of course, as the real, if cartoonish, monster.

strap: Airell Anthony Hayles’ cryptozoological Christmas cracker finds hybrid handheld horror comedy in a fraught family

© Anton Bitel