Dick Maas Talks Saint

Jolly old St. Nick becomes a murderous bishop set on fulfilling a grisly prophecy in this thriller from IFC Midnight

Saint, a new action thriller from director Dick Maas, is set to make its North America premier tonight as part of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival line-up. The film was just acquired by IFC Midnight for theatrical distribution in the states, and will be hitting select screens throughout the country later this year.

An original and delightfully gruesome slasher film, Saint re-imagines jolly old Saint Nick as a murderous bishop fulfilling a grisly prophecy under the December full moon. Packed with creative yuletide horror, Saint is a fun chiller that follows local teen Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber) as he sets out on a bloody, high-energy battle to save Amsterdam from the wrathful "Sinterklaas" and his minions.

We caught up with writer-director Dick Maas on the eve of Saint's Stateside debut to chat about this crazy new horror-action mash-up. Here is our conversation.

Saint drew quite a bit of controversy when it was released in the Netherlands. People didn't like they way you were portraying St. Nicolas. Have you heard any such complaints since you've been in the states?

Dick Maas: No. Not yet. I haven't met anyone here who has been really offended. But the week is still young, so I guess that could still happen. In Holland, there was a problem because St. Nicolas is the most famous figure being celebrated in Holland. The celebration is more popular than, for instance, the Queen. You have someone like me who is making a movie about this iconic figure. Portraying him as an evil person, you can expect some flack. That's what happened, you know? We got a lot a lot of objections. In Belgium and Holland, they were against it from the very beginning, and they tried to prevent us from making the movie.

Did your inspiration for this movie stem from your own dislike of the celebration of St. Nicolas?

Dick Maas: No. Well...Let me say, I do not particularly love the celebration of St. Nicolas. It's a strange celebration. People have to lie for seven years to their children. They have to pretend that there is a guy, on a horse, on the roof throwing presents. The parents threaten with Black Peter. That the children will be taken to Spain if they don't behave. The celebration is used by the parents to keep them under control. That is not something I like. And the festivity around the celebration that happens on December 5th has become so commercial. It's all about getting presents that you don't need. Its one commercial circus. I especially don't like this idea that you have to tell your children once every seven years that they need to behave. It gives certain children a mental blow. Can they trust their parents after they hear something like this?

Did you make this movie to get back at your own parents?

Dick Maas: No, not really. There is no reason to get them back now. If you take part in the celebration, you can't say you don't go with it. Because all of the children are joining in. All of the parents are joining in. You can't be the exception. I celebrated St. Nicolas when I was younger. I never had bad feelings about that.

You actually call this as a children's film. Do you think children are getting too soft with their Disney and Pixar movies? That they need more of an edge in their cinematic diet?

Dick Maas: Look, Saint, of course, isn't a children's movie. But, I don't mind if the movie gets children to think about the celebration, and whether they want to continue to celebrate in this way. Its good to have a celebration where you give your kids presents every year. But do it in a different way. Not like this.

How did you go about crafting the look of St. Nicolas for your film?

Dick Maas: I wanted him to be a scary character. And I wanted him to have the looks that we know. I wanted to change things around a bit. His clothes, his horse. It took a lot of time to figure out what his appearance really should be. We had to stick a bit to what happened to him in the fourteenth century. The guy was in a boat, burned alive. I wanted him to be a very burnt figure, but I wanted his clothing to be left in tact, more or less. It was in-between those two things.

This certainly has the potential to be a horror franchise. This could go on for a long time. How important and challenging was it for you to find the perfect St. Nicolas when casting?

Dick Maas: The part is played by Huub Stapel, who has been in many of my movies. I never discussed he possibility of sequels. But, on the other hand, the presence in the present time is disfigured. You can put a mask on a lot of actors. They can portray the same guy. I don't see that as a problem.

So you don't mind recasting if you make a sequel. The actor really isn't important to the production, it sounds like.

Dick Maas: If I make a remake or a sequel, I'll try to get Huub Stapel again for this part. Even in the mask, you need a good actor. Partly, in the movie, the actor does have a mask on, because Stapel couldn't play that part of it. But you can see that the real actor does give something extra, more than a stuntman, or a bad actor. Of course, if I am going to do this again, I am going to try and get the same actor.

Saint is an equal combination of action thriller and horror movie. It's unique in that way. How did you mix those two genres to come up with what we see here?

Dick Maas: I like to bleed action with horror, because I didn't want to make a full-on horror movie. I could have made this much worse. Much more extreme than it is now. That was not my purpose. I wanted to have a lot of action. Some people might expect a full-on horror movie, and they will be a bit disjointed when they see it. But I wanted to go for the suspense and action over gore. I'm not a fan of the more hard core horror movies. Sometimes. But I think they go over the top. I just saw the Korean movie, I Saw the Devil. There was too much violence, for me, in this movie. Saint? I call it a scary movie for the whole family. You can go there with children. Maybe not that young. But it is a family horror movie. That is what I was aiming for.

Have you seen Rare Exports?

Dick Maas: No. Not yet. I only heard about it when we were just starting to shoot this. I haven't seen it, so I can't comment on it. It is the same subject, more or less. What was I to do? I couldn't stop. Even if I had of known before...What I have heard is that they are two totally different movies. Maybe they have sort of the same idea. On one hand you have Santa Claus, and on the other hand, you have St. Nicolas. They took a totally different approach in that movie.

Does it surprise you that films like Saint and Rare Exports are getting more attention from genre fans than anything currently being made in the states?

Dick Maas: It's a different, cooler local for an American audience. Its good. It's nice to see a movie that takes place in Amsterdam. It looks totally different than what I see in movies made here. Same goes for Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. You have totally different surroundings. These are places that you are never going to see when you have an American movie. Basically, we can do what we want. Which may be better than a studio breathing down your neck. There is also this pressure to come up with a familiar theme all of the time. Once a movie has proven itself to be successful, they want to make that movie over and over again. In Holland, we don't have a tradition of horror movies. So every horror movie we make is a special one. There aren't too many people working on horror movies in Holland. The ones that come out can be very special.

Is it ever a worry that someone in the States might pick up Saint and remake it for America audiences?

Dick Maas: I am curious how someone would remake it. I don't think you could remake a movie like this here in the states. Because it is so based on the Amsterdam situation. I would really be surprised if someone in the States could pull off a remake.