Christmas horror movies aren’t uncommon. We’ve had the mostly terrible “Silent Night, Deadly Night” series (the first one is good!), “Santa’s Slay,” “Gremlins,” “Jack Frost,” “Christmas Evil” and the excellent “Black Christmas,” just to name a few of the bigger names. All have been based in the United States and based on our Coca-Cola idea of a Santa Claus. Seeing as how every culture has a distinct vision of the iconic character, it’s surprising we haven’t had more killer Santa Claus films from other cultures. At Fantastic Fest we had the pleasure of being presented with what became one of my favorite films of the festival and also one of the best Christmas horror movies I’ve seen, “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” written and directed by the Finnish Jalmari Helander. As the director told us, the Finnish Santa has a long history of being vengeful, punishing naughty children rather than being a gift giver, a perfect recipe for holiday horror if there ever was one.
Korvatunturi Mountain, 24 Days before Christmas, an American research team is performing core drilling, on the hunt for something special. They’re warned that on-site there will be no cursing, arguing, smoking, drinking, loitering or cavorting. As it turns out, that mountain is a burial ground. What is buried there is very old, and also very, very special. Watching their discovery are two children who have snuck into the site from a local village, Pietari and Juuso. Pietari becomes convinced that this American team is digging up Santa Claus and as the story unfolds, odd occurrences begin to happen; herds of reindeer found slaughtered, mysterious foot prints found in the snow and a growing sense from Pietari that on Christmas Day something bad will happen.
“Rare Exports,” based on a short film of the same name Helander did back in 2003, is a beautiful throwback to those horror movies of the 80s that not only involve children but work as a dark fairy tale, one that is great for both adults and a younger audience. That is, of course, if those parents are okay with hordes of naked old men on the screen. Nudity likely isn’t a big deal for a Finnish crowd, but I can see the more conservative American audience not being fans, which is a shame since it’s not that big of a deal. There’s very little gore in the movie beyond a slaughtering of a deer, which is bloodless, but yet “Rare Exports” remains creepy, utilizing a masterful score and crisp shots of the dark, snowy landscapes. Helander has produced a beautifully shot, superbly acted, and all around wonderful movie. It’s been picked up by the Beastie Boys’ owned Oscilloscope Pictures, so I’m hopeful there will be at least a limited release. In the meantime, be sure to hunt down the “Rare Exports, Inc” short, easily found on YouTube for a taste of the feature length film.