If you think that nothing says Christmas Movie like a 10-minute game of croquet, then you must be familiar with the work of VOD auteur David DeCoteau. Yet, despite flashes of the cheap madness that can make his no-budget movies so much fun the 2012 fantasy Santa’s Summer House is an uninspiring holiday visit.

The plot is set into motion when a group of travelers gets lost in a Malibu fog. Instead of their intended resort destination, the mismatched passengers wind up at the home of eccentric older couple Nanna (Cynthia Rothrock) and Pop (Christopher Mitchum, son of the legendary Robert). Could this couple be … the Clauses?

Each of the travelers has a long unfulfilled wish, and when the group gathers to play secret Santa, Pop approaches each of the guests in turn and shows them a letter they wrote to Santa when they were a child. This proves not only that their host is Father Christmas, but that he has an impeccable filing system. Still, Dean (Gary Daniels), a rocket scientist who would rather be anywhere else, is skeptical. What will it take to bring the Christmas spirit to a jaded heart?

Not this movie, which brings together a curious crew of former action stars including Rothrock, Daniels and kickboxer Kathy Long (in another strange connection, Rothrock starred in the 1992 actioner Angel of Fury—the only screenplay credit for Mitchum). While the summer Santa premise isn’t without merit, the conceit doesn’t pay off. And although a dog is prominently displayed in the movie’s artwork, it doesn’t say a word, which means anyone expecting one of DeCoteau’s oddly brilliant talking animal movies will be sorely disappointed.

What almost pays off is the 10-minute croquet scene. You heard right. It’s a gambit DeCoteau would return to a year later for another holiday: An Easter Bunny Puppy, which featured a smart-alecky talking puppy and a seemingly endless Easter egg hunt scene made up of looped footage. Such was the wicked genius of DeCoteau that the repeated footage becomes hilarious and finally surreal, like a bad joke sustained for so long that it becomes funny. Perhaps DeCoteau was still working out that idea for this Christmas film. The repeated footage device doesn’t work with croquet; chalk it up to whip-pans from character to character or an inherent tedium in the sport, but the visual doesn’t lend itself to the hypnotic cycles that makes a good DeCoteau loop into some kind of VOD black magic.

Santa’s Summer House is credited to Mary Crawford, a pseudonym DeCoteau uses for such talking animal movies as A Talking Pony!?! In addition to the croquet game, this Christmas movie shares some of the bargain-basement quirks that distinguish the director’s assembly-line entertainment factory, including the winding mountain roads and the Malibu McMansion that turns up in everything from DeCoteau’s softcore gay porn series 1313 to his series of mostly-inspired talking-animal movies. Delve into the lesser-reviewed titles on any of your favorite streaming services, and you’re bound to find more than a few DeCoteau titles, including Christmas Spirit an equally disappointing seasonal product co-starring former “Brady Bunch” star Maureen McCormick. But if you want to see what the director can make out of a holiday show, skip over the Yuletide season and proceed straight to An Easter Bunny Puppy.

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