Studio: Dread Central Presents
Director: Spooky Dan Walker
Writer: Jessica Luhrssen, Spooky Dan Walker
Producer: Esther Goodstein, Jessica Luhrssen
Stars: Barry Bostwick, Kristina Klebe, Susan Slaughter, Hannah Wagner, Stephen Ford, Diane Salinger, Joel Hebner, Richard Moll
Three YouTube vloggers team up with Santa to battle Krampus in a Christmas-themed amusement park.
It takes a certain mood to get in the spirit of “Slay Belles.” Specifically, that mood had best be primed for punk rock camp combined with flippant holiday horror. Definitely spike your eggnog before dipping into its weirdo waters. If you have a taste for some gleeful trashiness too, so much the better.
Along with buttoned-up BFF Alexi, spitfire vloggers Dahlia and Sadie have a habit of shoplifting, slamming shots, and committing other victimless acts of naughtiness on camera for their YouTube audience. Their latest urban exploration adventure takes the trio to Santa Land, an abandoned theme park near a California mountain town. There, the goth girls don cheeky Christmas costumes to amp the appeal of their trespassing tricks for viewers, both within the movie and without.
Kristina Klebe from Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” among other genre roles toplines the actress pack despite portraying the third wheel. The other two leading ladies, Susan Slaughter and Hannah Wagner, have just one handful of credits to their names. Yet collectively, the three women exhibit experienced energy that shoots “Slay Belles” over its inherently silly style to make watching somewhat anemic antics strangely enjoyable.
A poorer man’s production would merely throw any three attractive women onscreen and rely on T&A alone to entice a purchase. Klebe, Slaughter, and Wagner instead exude authentic spirit to match their characters’ sass. It’s their charismatic commitment to upselling irreverent entertainment that prevents “Slay Belles” from slinking into exploitative sleaze.
Barry Bostwick, who apparently only does this B-grade of comedic, campy, or musical horror film nowadays, plays a retired version of Santa decked out like a “Sons of Anarchy” extra. While exploring the park’s empty cottages, the ladies unexpectedly run into this biker Kris Kringle, who proves his identity with a bit of sparkling CGI magic.
Unfortunately for everyone, the deserted park’s other remaining resident is Krampus. The Christmas creature has locals convinced a string of child murders may be the work of a bear. But Krampus is up to something else, and the wily women have to team with Santa to stop the monster’s sinister plan.
“Slay Belles” delivers approximately what one might expect from a film whose title probably came first, and a premise was puttied around that play on words. It’s produced on a dime, has a “Christmas devil may care” indie attitude, and occasionally teeters into tastelessness. I’ll let the Krampus phallus slide, but the town drunk’s death could have been just as deserved without putting pedophilia on his rap sheet.
“Slay Belles” also belches every time it cuts to an awkward interlude where amateur actors play make-believe police. Not only are these asides absolutely unnecessary, but the tight closet where they were filmed shows some slapdash shooting. A distractingly unsteady camera already jiggles more than the prominent cleavage. Flat lighting and careless cameos only make the aesthetic appear cheaper.
But “Slay Belles” possesses bright spots that its cut-rate counterparts in DTV slums don’t have. As a longtime L.A. horror scene fixture, director ‘Spooky’ Dan Walker milks every connection to pump up penny-saving production value. In addition to balancing a subpar supporting cast with a few familiar faces, Walker gets makeup artist Vincent Guastini to craft a cool, practical creature the likes of which this level of film rarely sees. And Santa Land sequences don’t look anywhere near as ugly as those side story scenes.
Shave off the credits at either end and the flick runs just six minutes over an hour! That’s a runtime that would make Charles Band drool, but it works in the film’s favor without feeling like the story gets shortchanged in the process.
Homemade horror moviemakers should take a cue from the lightning bolt pace. Rapid-fire editing and pulsing music persisting underneath help save “Slay Belles” through high-speed urgency. It’s far easier to forget flaws and look forward when you don’t have time to sit and stew over how low the quality bar hangs.
At least the main trio stays in step to course correct the ship when it starts listing. A little more craftsmanship in the background bits and the fun could have gone further. But a blisteringly bonkers finale has the right dollop of imaginative absurdity to end the film on its highest note.
“Slay Belles” can be summed up with two typical “if” conditions. If you’re calibrated for teases of tawdriness and eagerly lap up the lo-fi lunacy of a partially crowdfunded picture, the movie will put marshmallows in your cocoa. If all of this sounds like too much tripe to be tolerated, skip along to anything else. “Slay Belles” won’t make many lists for repeat viewings every December anyway, but it’s best to beware what you’re getting into regardless.
Review Score: 55