Thomas de Frémont (Alain Musy) is a child prodigy obsessed with inventing and action films, who lives in a secluded mansion in a French suburb with his widowed mother (Brigitte Fossey, herself a child actress of some note), his diabetic, blind but still beloved grandfather, Papy (playwright Louis Ducreux) and dog J.R., who he keeps in a tent. On Christmas Eve, Thomas decides instead of sending a letter to Santa via fire, to use the Minitel (an early French pre-world wide web internet service), and accidentally finds an answer from a public terminal. This comes from a local vagrant, possibly an escapee from a mental institution. The vagrant (Patrick Floersheim) claims to be Santa, tricks the boy into admitting his address, and learns that the boy's mum works at a local department store, where the vagrant soon gets a job as a Santa. However, when he is fired for slapping a little girl who quickly susses his true identity, he steals his costume, and frosts his hair and beard, hitchhiking to the manor and killing the driver, as well as some staff. He comes down the chimney, watched by a patient Thomas, only to see his angry dog stabbed with a dining knife. Using the mansion's security system, Thomas decides to do what he can - to protect himself and his beloved grandfather from the nutcase.
One of the best horror films to come out of the 1980s, Deadly Games alias 3615 code Père Noël is overshadowed for several reasons. One is its tone. Though ostensibly a kids' film, it is subversive, savage and quite brutal. It is not afraid to kill a dog when you expect the canine to have a heroic moment. Also, it never got a proper English-language release, presumably because a. it was to be handled by a dying Cannon, and b. it had the bad luck to come out just before Home Alone (1990), a film which although similar enough, despite director René Manzor's attempt to sue John Hughes and co, is substantially different enough that coincidence is likely. Deadly Games is more of a survival story, and Thomas is less greedy than Kevin McCallister. He at first appears to be a French Bart Simpson, with a chubby mate in a Ferrari cap, and a haircut like Pat Sharp. But he is not a snarky show-off. He is a frightened cry-baby desperate to protect his family who nevertheless has enough resourcefulness to survive, if only by a hair. Musy, the son of the director, and now a top computer graphics designer under the name Alain Lalanne, is affecting in the role. Manzor himself had directed one film before, the odd Alain Delon supernatural cyber-thriller Le Passage (1986), and after seeing both that and Deadly Games, Steven Spielberg gave Manzor a job as director on the Adventures of Young Indiana Jones TV series. Since then, Manzor has remained a successful journeyman director in television. That is a shame. Although Le Passage despite its unusualness is a fairly ordinary film, Deadly Games is perhaps one of the most inventive films to come out of France.
Full of beautifully composed shots (Thomas in his Rambo gear crying in the snow, on the roof, as he calls for his mother) as the camera then pulls out to show the true gargantuan nature of the house. Little touches like grandson and grandparent's constant contact via walkie-talkie and the huge toy-laden wasteland that Grandfather resides in, one watches and thinks why didn't this film hit even the arthouse audience. Was it too commercial? It is also helped by the memorable villain performance of Patrick Floersheim.
Floersheim was a Franco-American actor whose fluent grasp of the English language ensued roles in the likes of Moonraker (1979), Frantic (1988), Bobby Deerfield (1977), Otto Preminger's Rosebud (1975) and televisual Europudding oddities like the BBC kids' series Kim & Co and Year of The French, one of RTÉ's myriad forgotten-even-in-Ireland attempts to break the international market. He also stayed close to home with roles in Diva (1981) and the terrible Miles O'Keeffe spy caper SAS - Terminate with Extreme Prejudice (1982), as well as voiceover work doing both English language dubs on the likes of Asterix cartoons, while also having a successful sideline as the French voice of many US stars. However, he perhaps never bettered his turn as "Pére Noel", both hapless and threatening, grimacing through the frosted highlights in his bushy black curls. He comes across as pathetic, even when he succeeds, as if luck has just gotten to him.
In all, perhaps one of the most underrated genre films. And with a Bonnie Tyler end theme to boot.