Director Clark Bernstein’s and writing partner Jerry Skwiski’s The Twelve Slays of Christmas opened to mediocre reviews and a tepid box office, and the duo had stopped speaking to each other during the production of the film. Many industry insiders wondered if their third film, The Kwanzaa Killer, would even be released.
In February 1993, a month before the script was due, Skwiski met studio executives at Liberation Films and asked to be released from his contract. A few months later, Skwiski was asked why he didn’t stay on to conclude the film series he’d started with his friend. His response: “What Clark did is unforgivable. I will never work with him again.” No one has yet been able to decipher what exactly Skwiski meant, but the two men were never seen together again.
The dissolution of their partnership obviously affected Bernstein’s ability to writer a proper close to the trilogy, as The Kwanzaa Killer is a jumbled mess. It’s amazing this film got a theatrical release at all.
The film opens just before the final moments of Twelve Slays, with Detective Reuben Goldman (Tommy Cline in his final performance) standing over the body of his ex-wife just after she’d been stabbed to the death by the Santa Claus Killer. The Dreidel Killer is dead, too, slumped in the corner. The Santa Claus killer then tells Goldman that he still has more to do, and more people will die. Out of nowhere, there’s a massive explosion, with the church collapsing and Goldman barely escaping.
“Kwanzaa” feels completely removed from the previous films, with actions and dialogue that seem completely off-type for the Goldman character. Most damning, though, is that despite the title and marketing materials, there’s absolutely no connection to Kwanzaa at all. It is baffling for a series that is based around the holidays and the movie seems more or less a continuation of the “Twelve Slays” storyline. Its seems as though Bernstein (who wrote the film solo) couldn’t be bothered with any research and just decided to do a sequel instead.
The movie did not make its scheduled December 1993 release, due to the issues between Bernstein and Skwiski. Also contributing to the movie’s lateness was Cline’s failing health. Re-shoots were required, with a stand-in for Cline during long shots and over-the-shoulder shots. The film was pushed back to December 1994, and with that the promise made by Bernstein and Skwiski before they began Dreidel of Dread had been broken.
The film is one long cat-and-mouse chase, with the Santa Claus Killer running from Goldman and killing innocent bystanders along the way. Cline was obviously close to the end in this film, but he still gives it his all, but there’s nothing for him to work with and his efforts are ultimately useless. It never seemed possible that Cline would star in a bad movie, let alone two in a row, but that’s exactly what happened.
The end of the film seems to be Bernstein taking the “kitchen sink” approach, throwing in everything he’d ever wanted to put in a movie, probably because he knew this might be his last film. There’s a helicopter chase, an exploding school bus, and a dissection all in the last 20 minutes. It’s all a bit much, and the cuts between Cline and his stand-in are painfully obvious.
There’s really not much else to say about The Kwanzaa Killer. In fact, there’s nothing to say about it all really. It’s a baffling movie that marked the end of a brilliant actor’s career, one that he didn’t deserve. There’s absolutely no reason to see the film, unless you’re a Tommy Cline completest, but even then, it’s best to stay away, lest your memory of the man be tarnished.