Many of those who celebrate Saint Niklas's Day in the Netherlands believe that it is the date of his birthday - but actually it was the date of his murder they are commemorating, torched on his ship in 1492 when the locals grew intolerant of his murderous sprees. From then on, the Dutch gave presents to each other on December the 5th, but what was covered up was the fact that if there was a full moon that night, Saint Niklas (Huub Stapel) would return to Earth and kill as many people as he could over the course of the evening. The last time that happened was in 1968 - until now.
Dick Maas is a Dutch filmmaker, an auteur if you will, not as well known internationally as Paul Verhoeven but pretty famous at home thanks to his comedies and horrors. Abroad, horror fans may recognise his eighties chillers The Lift and Amsterdamned, but anything after that was largely for the domestic audience. That was until Saint, or Sint as it was known originally, was released, his first to be given decent distribution in other countries for a good while, not that it was particularly well-received on its initial outing in the Netherlands.
That was due to the perceived bad taste of presenting St. Niklas as a villain, and more likely to slaughter you in your bed than leave you any gifts; compounding the controversy was a poster which depicted the holy man as a scary zombie which was pretty much how he looked in the movie. "Won't somebody think of the children?" went the familiar cry of outrage, but as it was all publicity was good publicity and the film became a fair-sized hit in its homeland. This left it with a benefit in other territories who did not celebrate St. Niklas's Day so wouldn't be so bothered about any scandalous depiction of him.
However, there's also the problem in that those outside of the Netherlands may not have got the joke, or if they did see the point they would not catch the cultural references and be somewhat baffled. Take the title character's helpers: Black Peter was a figure associated with him, actually a Spanish Moor in some readings, but that would have foreigners bemused at best when our hero Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber) dresses up as the saint for a party, but is accompanied by his friends who sport blackface, like minstrels. Nothing really racist as part of a tradition, but could easily be taken the wrong way by those not so familiar with the touchstones of myth and legend at play here.
But actually this was more of a comedy slasher than any disrespectful send-up, and there were plenty of gags to chuckle at if you had a liking for dark humour - nothing especially pointed, though, mainly the type of horror which had killer versions of Santa Claus (which proved no less controversial over the years as well, let's not forget). As Frank teams up with a maverick cop, Goert (Bert Luppes), whose family was wiped out back in '68, the plotting is fairly straightforward business as the authorities try to cover up what is happening while the deaths of Amsterdam citizens are growing hard to ignore. Fortunately for us, Goert has a boat full of explosive to aim towards the baddies' ghost galleon, but St. Nik is a wily (and violent) opponent, and won't let his undead hordes of helpers let him down without a fight. If this was a Dutch horror mainly for the Dutch, Maas was sufficiently skilled in bringing it to life that interested parties elsewhere would find much to amuse should they wish to broaden their horizons. Maas did the music too.