Paco Plaza is of course best known in horror circles now for his awesome trilogy [Rec] which dazzled with its ingenuity and knuckle chewing tension. Prior to this though and after the underrated horror Romasanta (2004) he was a contributor to a great little series of Spanish films that operate under the banner ‘six films to keep you awake’.

The Christmas Tale is set in 1985 in a Spanish coastal town where we find five friends Koldo, Peti, Tito, Eugenio and Moni gathered around watching The Karate Kid on a small portable colour TV. Before long, they catch wind of the fact that a woman has been found by one of their friends at the bottom of a gigantic hole in the ground wearing a Santa Claus costume. Two of the gang run to the local police station to inform them of what they’ve found, but the desk sergeant is less than interested as he’s on the phone. As the kids wait to be seen they spy a fax that has just arrived with the woman’s picture on it – she’s a wanted criminal called Rebeca Exposito (Maru Valdivielso) and has recently robbed a bank.

The kids head back to their hideout and try to decide what they should do with her. Some argue that she’s done them no harm and should simply be helped out of the hole, while another states that perhaps she was going to use the money as a gesture of goodwill towards someone. Honourable intentions cast aside, they eventually decide to bribe their new found prisoner into letting them have the money in exchange for her freedom.

After some frank negotiation, Rebecca reluctantly agrees to unbutton her red velour Santa suit and load the money into a bucket for the kids to winch up. Now though, there is the dilemma of what to do with her, and so begins the discussion about whether to let her go or bury her alive! They opt to bring the police in, but as they lead the officer to the hole in the woods they’re shocked to discover that she has escaped… and she wants her money back.

The Christmas Tale is a truly excellent piece of cinema that is a joy to watch. Blending a little of Stand By Me with elements of The Goonies as well, the film is carried by an incredibly talented group of kids who manage to deliver performances that impress in many ways, specifically the callous manner in which they extort money from this total stranger! Genre fans too will swoon over Plaza’s nods to several classics such as Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974).

It’s an inventively framed film too as you’ll notice that as it progresses the only adults (except Rebeca) that we meet in the film are all shot from child level, and we never get to see their faces. The last third of the movie is relentlessly sinister, shot at night with the frequent image of this female Santa, walking battered and beaten whilst dragging an axe along the floor. It’s in sharp contrast to the primarily daylight shot bulk of the film that while sinister did retain an element of innocence to it. It’s a contrast that works though and provides a suitably thrilling end to the feature.

Unreleased in the UK, the set of ‘six films to keep you awake’ can be imported on region 2 from Spain for a sizeable fee, though if you’re able to play region 1 DVDs you can pick it up for a much cheaper price. It’s well worth it as all the films contained are a great watch and are without doubt comparable to Mick Garris’ Masters of Horror series.