Father, Santa Klaus Has Died (1992): Russian Horror Film, Based on Tolstoy Short Story


Loosely based on Tolstoy’s short story “The Vampire’s Family,” Father, Santa Klaus Has Died works best as an almost silent horror film with poetic touches. Scripter-helmer Eugeny Yufit’s impressive feature debut exemplifies the kind of art films that are perfectly suited for film fests.

Anatoly Egorov plays a serious biologist, highly committed to his research concerning a new kind of mouse. Bespectacled and intelligent, he is contrasted with his brother, an unshaven brute who lives in the country with his wife and young son. The two brothers embody different forces and represent opposing philosophies of life. Through their interaction, the narrative dialectically contrasts the rationality of science with the mystery of nature, socialized behavior with one dominated by biological instincts, and the power of living versus the morbidity of death.

Father, Santa Klaus Has Died is unmistakably the work of a visionary director whose coherent concept and unique visual style are visible in every frame. Influenced by the late Russian master Tarkovsky, Yufit favors extremely long takes, stationery camera, and slow pacing. Among the many standout tableaux of the often mysterious film, which uses the conventions of both the horror and sci-fi genres, are S&M and bondage, the suicide of a young boy, a family funeral in the open fields. But the dark, moody film is not devoid of humor; after a lengthy sequence of sheer horror, for example, a title card suddenly announces, “it was getting cold soon.”

It is not a coincidence that Yufit, who was a student of the great avant-garde director Alexsander Sokhurov, also served as art director of his film, for Father’s most prominent feature is its stark b&w cinematography that suitably conveys its heightened realism. As in most experimental Russian films, the dialogue is extremely sparse; for long stretches, there are no words and no sounds.