Just after November 1, and as the Christmas season draws near, one of the first things I do is to start sprinkling the sounds of the season into my musical enjoyment. I also begin watching some of the less traditional seasonal favorites as I try to save the more literal Christmas films for after Thanksgiving. Sometimes however, a film such as the Finnish Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale just can’t wait.
As for said untraditional films, these would include the likes of say, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Gremlins, or even Love Actually. While not outright holiday movies, the season permeates throughout these films. As the season expands, I like to add in the classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Scrooged, just to name a few.
Admittedly, some of my favorite holiday films fall into really unusual genres, including Christmas-themed horror films. Some might say that it’s sacrilege to make the yuletide spirit dark and mischievous with a heavy dose of mayhem and murder, but as red may be the ultimate color of the season, what’s wrong with a little bloodshed for good measure?
In Rare Exports, it’s 24 days to Christmas and sawdust has just been found at an archeological dig atop the Korvatunturi Mountain. It’s brought to the attention of Riley (Per Christian Ellefsen) who becomes immediately concerned about their find. He gives everyone safety instructions consisting of “No drinking, smoking, cursing, loitering, cavorting or arguing,” also stating: “Any attempt to break these rules may result in death and/or the death of your co-workers.” That’s right; they’ve stumbled upon the frozen gravesite of the one and only Santa Claus, and Riley plans on a little grave robbing.
Hiding not-so-discreetly behind cases of clearly marked high explosives are pseudo-friends Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) and Pietari (Onni Tommila). The boys leave through the hole they’ve cut in the fence surrounding the dig site and return home. Pietari is convinced that what Riley suspects is true and begins reading up on everyone’s favorite jolly St. Nick. But what Pietari finds out is that Santa (Peeter Jakobi) is really a sadistic devil-like creature who partakes more of torturing young ne’er do wells and spanking them to pieces.
Cut to Christmas Eve and strange occurrences are afoot including the local reindeer population being obliterated before the yearly roundup. All the radiators around town have disappeared as have the local supply of potato sacks. Children are starting to go missing and Pietari’s father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) may have accidentally trapped Santa in a spike-filled wolf trap.
Pietari is convinced this is the real Santa they’ve found and tries to warn his father that “The Coca Cola Santa is a hoax,” but not before dad and his friends decide to extort their find for payback for the reindeer slaughter in the amount of $85,000. Before you can say “…and to all a good night,” Riley too tries to warn them against the dangers ahead but not before Santa’s little helpers rally in the woods and prove they will stop at nothing to protect their dear employer.
Thankfully through all this, director Jalmari Helander and his co-writer/brother Juuso Helander (expanding their previous Rare Exports shorts from 2003 and 2005, see below) walk a fine balance between the horror and comedy. It all plays out more like a ’50s B-movie creature feature which probably seemed more evident to me having just recently partaken of Tremors before watching this movie. While you may think from the trailer that it looks like a potential splatter flick, there’s surprisingly only one onscreen death.
The Helanders clearly know that you don’t need buckets of gore to have a good time and rely more on the audience’s knowledge of all things holiday related for the more sly jokes to work. Everyone in the cast is clearly enjoying themselves without outrightly winking at the camera and little Onni Tommila manages to carry the film on his small shoulders and really takes over when Pietari’s time to shine comes calling. The film builds to a fantastic conclusion that finally clears up just what the title really means. And in case anyone was wondering exactly how Santa can be in a million places at once? We finally get an anecdote that makes sense.
Between both Black Christmas films; Santa’s Slay; Don’t Open Till Christmas; Silent Night, Deadly Night; and Christmas Evil, I just love a little horror with my Christmas films. I even make sure to find time to squeeze in the Robert Zemekis directed Tales from the Crypt episode And all Through the House. Now comes Rare Exports, another holiday classic that plants its tongue firmly in cheek while still staying true to tradition and offering up what plays out more like a creature feature than an outright horror film featuring Santa as antagonist.
Photo courtesy Oscilloscope Pictures