WASHINGTON, December 24, 2016 — Today’s movie column offers a look at two relatively new films that might come to be regarded as the beginning of a new genre of Christmas Classics: the scary, funny Christmas film that shows what might happen to folks who are really naughty, not nice as the Christmas holidays approach. Today’s previews: a 2010 classic from Finland entitled “Rare Exports,” and a 2015 U.S. film in the same spirit, Universal’s “Krampus.” Both are based on darker Christmas mythologies originating primarily in Norther Europe.
By way of explanation, last year, this columnist weighed in with his list of the Top 10 Christmas movies of all time. His opinion still pretty much stands and you can find last year’s reviews and comments here and here. For Christmas 2016, CDN columnist Bob Siegel recently offered his own spin on a rather different kind of Top 10 holiday movie list, which also includes his special picks for the worst of the worse.
The first of our offbeat holiday films, the 2010 Finnish import known in the U.S. as “Rare Exports,” offers a wildly offbeat horror tale that blends an almost vaudevillian sense of humor with an ancient Bizarro World 180-degree twist on the Santa Claus/St. Nicholas story. For a variety of reasons we won’t go into here, a small Arctic Circle-dwelling village of self-sufficient Finns (along with a few nearby outsiders) accidentally awakens a very wrong version of Santa (and perhaps his equally weird helpers) with predictable horror film complications.
The film is still fairly unknown here, but could turn out to be a sleeper classic if more Americans would make the effort to dig it up. For the record, Rotten Tomatoes ranks this one way up there, registering 89 (71 percent like) on its influential Tomato Meter, where the in-house reviewer offers this summary:
“In the frozen beauty of Finland, local reindeer herders race against the clock to capture an ancient evil: Santa Claus. A single dad and his son are caught up in the chaos as scientists dig for artifacts. What they find endangers the entire village.”
Here’s an updated excerpt from our 2015 view of this film, which we ranked a nearly prize-winning No. 2 on our Top 10 list. We might end up moving it to No. 1 in a future list:
“‘Rare Exports.’ (2010) As as we surfed around looking for random, interesting Christmas downloads during Christmastide 2012, we first discovered this Finnish film streaming on Netflix. We took a chance on it and were absolutely blown away by its originality and dark hilarity. It’s completely, utterly different from anything else on our list and resembles no other Christmas-themed film you might ever chance to see, including that nasty, 1984 mad slasher classic, “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” which we don’t really consider a real Christmas film.
“‘Rare Exports’ is gloomy and spooky, the antithesis of our favorite American classic Christmas films, reflecting in many ways the peculiarly introspective and somber inscapes characteristic of Finnish films. But for 21st century audiences, this one is amply redeemed by its scary, funny and oddly plausible treatment of an ancient Finnish and/or northern European myth.
“The film’s self-deprecating humor, sly innuendo, political reference points and outright hilarious satire on Christmas commercialism are likely to make this one unique in the annals of Christmas filmdom for decades to come.
“This midnight-sun dark Aki Kaurismaki-directed movie is brightened considerably by the presence of its weird, gawky, highly intelligent young hero, an 8-year-old named Pietari Kontio, who’s portrayed by a fantastic Finnish child actor Onni Tommila. He and his widowed dad Rauno live somewhere in Finland’s frigid northern region close to that country’s still dicey border with Russia.
“Pietari and a young friend discover a American-led drilling operation near their remote village and decide to investigate. It looks like those rapacious Yanks are boring into a large but mysterious landmark hill that bears an odd resemblance to an ancient, indigenous burial mound.
“Not long after this excursion, kids start to disappear from Pietari’s remote town. Strange talismans resembling voodoo dolls are left in their stead.
“Making matters worse, the village reindeer herd—the town’s main source of protein during its harsh Arctic winters—is also being slaughtered and devoured by… something.
“We later discover we’re being let in on a peculiarly Finnish version of the Father Christmas legend. To say the least, the Santa(s) we encounter here proves the very antithesis of either Old St. Nick or the American Santa Claus. But never fear. Asserting whatever the Finnish version is of their 2nd Amendment rights, Pietari, his dad and the villagers start packing iron as they strike out to confront the truth about Santa−with unexpectedly scary and unexpectedly funny results.
“We won’t give the rest away. No spoilers here.
“This haunting, scary, beautiful, occasionally gory film offers a strange but wondrous combination of terror and laughter all strung together courtesy of a surprisingly compelling mystery plot. A few short scenes might be a little rough for little kids in front of the TV. But in the main, this is an easy, just-short-of-PG13 film the whole family can actually enjoy together and one that boys Pietari’s age and a bit older will seriously get into. No… they will love it.
At the time we wrote this review, it was available on Netflix as a download for members. It’s still available, but now only by ordering the DVD of the film, also included in your Netflix membership if you’re paying for the DVD option. Go ahead, order it, even if you read this after Christmas. Your ‘tweens and teens will love this one and so will you. It’s the family film you thought you’d never find.
One downside, however: after initially being unrated, this one now has an “R” rating for “brief nudity and language.” Frankly, given the film’s we’ve seen lately that are rated PG-13, we’d put this one in that category, and think kids 12 and up will get a kick out of it and won’t go on to become serial killers after watching it. Kids we know who’ve seen it have totally loved it and found it a complete surprise.
For a “Rare Exports” appetizer, check out the trailer below:
A new addition to our small but potentially growing list of offbeat but uniquely relevant Christmas films is Universal’s modestly successful 2015 holiday horror hit “Krampus.” With his origins shrouded the mythology of ancient, mostly Northern European countries like Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and even parts of Northern Italy, “Krampus”—a Universal release—is, like that dark Finnish Santa, another frightening, perhaps pre-Christian take on our modern Santa Claus, but with an interestingly moralistic twist.
Described by one source as “a horned, anthropomorphic folklore figure described as ‘half-goat, half-demon,” Krampus, or “the Krampus” punishes at Christmastime children who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. In other words, if your kids are naughty, not nice, it’s Krampus they’ll encounter, not Saint Nicholas, although Krampus sometimes accompanies St. Nick as a companion figure in many northern European celebrations of Christmas. It’s a little like acknowledging the yin and yang of this holiday season.
“Krampus,” the movie, updates this tale a bit, moving it to the U.S. where we first visit the nasty and dysfunctional family that will soon attract the title monster’s attention. Given his extended family’s routine and highly unpleasant battles each year during the Christmas holidays, young Max becomes thoroughly disillusioned with the hypocrisy of the whole scene and, sadly following in his family’s established pattern, turns his back on Christmas and rejects it.
Unfortunately, Max has been the last generous spirit in his family. So when he, too, gives way to his family’s ruthless disregard for the true spirit of Christmas, he and the entire family finally catch the attention–and the wrath—of Krampus, who’s been conveniently hovering about, waiting for this moment to occur, giving him at last the opportunity to fulfill his customary role as Super Scrooge and Satan rolled into one. Thus arounsed, he and his minions terrorize Max and his family, transforming symbols and icons of holiday good cheer into threatening weapons of death and chaos.
Will Max and his family survive the full scale assault of Krampus and his hellish crew? The best way to find out, at least this year, is to do what you did to access “Rare Imports”: Order the “Krampus” DVD via Netflix, which now calls its DVD shop “DVD.com.”
While the Rotten Tomatoes critics aren’t as high on “Krampus” as they were on “Rare Exports,” they’ve still given the film modestly positive ratings of 65 on the Tomato Meter and 59 percent positive from reviewers, noting
“Krampus is gory good fun for fans of non-traditional holiday horror with a fondness for Joe Dante’s B- movie classics, even if it doesn’t have quite the savage bite its concept calls for.”
This Michael Dougherty-directed movie is rated PG-13 “for sequences of horror violence/terror, language and some drug material.” So what else is new in a PG-13 rating.
Here’s a trailer that will give you the flavor of “Krampus,” should you dare to push the arrow:
For weirdly unusual but highly entertaining often funny Christmas films that could help you gather your entire, recalcitrant family around the telly during the holidays (when they’re all home!) we suggest you give this pair of quirky films a try.
Meantime, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. And remember: Don’t fight! Krampus may be watching…