CHRISTMAS BLOOD TAKES A SLAY RIDE THROUGH FAMILIAR TERRITORY
You’ve seen Silent Night, Deadly Night. You’ve heard of Christmas Evil. Now comes a new take from Norway on the “killer Santa” sub-genre of horror, Christmas Blood. And in this one, our killer is more powerful and deadly than any psychotic Santa Claus we’ve ever seen.
Written/directed by Reinert Kiil (The House), Christmas Blood tells the familiar story of a madman who is caught after thirteen years of slaughtering people on Christmas night. Locked away for six years, the ax wielding, Santa Claus inspired killer escapes and sets his sights on a small village in the northernmost part of Norway, where a group of friends happen to be having a reunion. Police are hot on the psycho’s trail, but can they get there before “Santa” checks more victims off of his naughty list?
If you’ve ever seen any horror film ever, which I know you have, then you know the answer to that is an emphatic NO. But Christmas Blood wouldn’t be a very fun film if the killer escaped, only to be caught again right away, and Kiil’s film is indeed a cold, Christmas blast…well, for the most part. For one, it’s always interesting to see a new take on the Killer Santa genre, especially coming from another country like Norway, which has its own perceptions of the holiday differing from America. The last great foreign evil Santa film would be Rare Exports, and like that film, Christmas Blood takes what is familiar to fans of the sub-genre, but with one unique twist: Unlike the killers in films like the first two Silent Night, Deadly Night entries, as well as most other killer Santa flicks, this Santa Claus is an unstoppable force which simply cannot be taken down.
In fact, Christmas Blood may make the perfect complement to John Carpenter’s Halloween, as the two are quite similar in structure. Madman kills a bunch of people on a holiday night. Madman escapes asylum years later. Madman is tracked down by police. A group of friends finds themselves stalked and slashed by said madman. Madman turns out to be a superhuman freak of nature and could literally be the embodiment of evil. And so on and so forth. Kiil clearly took inspiration from Michael Myers while developing his killer, as not only are the two stories so similar, but the methods and physicality of the killers are exactly alike. In Christmas Blood, our killer Santa, like Michael, doesn’t just run in, knife swinging, the way other murderous Santas have done in the genre. Instead, he takes the slow and steady approach, stalking his victims and creeping around the premises before he picks each off one at a time. He walks, yet somehow seems to move faster than his victims. He often remains shadowy, face unseen, despite the fact that he never wears a mask. And outside of a couple utterances of, “ho, ho, ho”, he is completely silent. Then there’s also the fact that you can shoot and stab the guy all you want, he isn’t going down as easily as a sack of toys. Somewhere, amidst the winter wind, you can hear Donald Pleasance shouting, “I shot him six times!” Some will argue that Christmas Blood plays a little too closely to Halloween and other cheap knockoffs like it, but in a long line of evil Santa flicks, the film feels different, since I can’t recall many that treat their killer quite like a traditional maniac of the 80s.
What’s interesting is some of the choices made regarding the killer. Unlike Halloween, which picks up with Michael’s first kill and his evolution, Christmas Blood drops us into the middle of what could already be a franchise. With over 100 victims already, this particular madman has been busy for quite some time. Theoretically, we could start at any one of the Christmas nights he has spent slashing his way through naughty victims, (generally those who have broken the law), and we would have the same film. With very little lore to Kiil’s insane Santa established, the character is a complete mystery, which both works for and hurts the film, since the audience doesn’t have much to grab onto as far as some juicy meat on the bones of the script that helps the killer stand out amongst his peers.
Kiil has a great sense of style. He maintains a consistent, atmospheric tone that fits easily into the mold of what we’re used to in slasher films. Doors creak. Wind howls. And our characters follow all of the traditional tropes. Though the majority of the women are intelligent, interesting people, Kiil still finds a way for a few obnoxious, rapey dudes to crash the all-girl reunion and bring on the classic “investigate a strange noise” stupidity that runs rampant in these types of films. Either way, the kills are over the top and extremely gory, and Kiil does everything right when it comes to embodying the slasher film (though the film could arguably use a much better soundtrack, as composer Kim Berg’s music often feels misplaced or unmemorable).
Where Christmas Blood falls flat on its ass while coming down the chimney is the feeling that it often feels as if we are watching two different films. On one hand, Christmas Blood is an entertaining, gory slasher in the realm of Friday the 13th and others like it, but on the other hand, the film comes off like an unusually grim episode of CSI. That’s because in-between the killing at our cast’s reunion, Kiil has us following two cops trying to track down our killer Santa. Which would be fine if it was handled similarly to Halloween, which maintained a consistently ominous tone with Dr. Loomis raving about Michael being the devil himself, but in this case, we’re forced into various uneventful moments such as overly gross, comedic autopsies and long shots of investigative maps, accompanied by a stylish cop-show type soundtrack. Frankly, you could cut out the investigative aspect of the script, and Christmas Blood wouldn’t miss a beat. In fact, it might even be improved, without so much nonsense interrupting a perfectly good killing spree. But in all seriousness, the constant shift greatly impedes the pacing of the film, and slows things down every time the story seems to gain speed. If Santa Claus were this slow, no kid would ever have presents waiting on Christmas morning.
Christmas Blood isn’t all stockings weighed down by coal though, as the film is also a spectacularly gory endeavor that keeps the blood pumping once things get going about forty-five minutes or so into the story. Like any slasher, it’s all about the kills, and Kiil does a splendid job balancing the offing of the characters between standard yet brutal slashings and jaw-dropping strokes of insane bloodlust, such as Santa somehow swinging an ax into someone and lifting them all the way up to the ceiling with it. Unfortunately, the cinematography by Benjamin Mosli is so dark throughout, that it can be more difficult to tell what’s going on than it is for Santa to see his own feet past his belly, but there is still plenty of bloodshed to be seen to make Christmas Blood a bloody good time.
Like most Christmas horror films revolving around killer Santas, Christmas Blood takes some of the fun out of it all with a relentlessly grim, sadistic nature that may be too much for some viewers. I already pointed out the rapey bros which attribute nothing to the plot, not to mention friends betraying each other by sleeping with boyfriends, or the random discussion of one girl’s dead mother that rivals that awkward moment in Gremlins when Phoebe Cates tells the story of why she hates Christmas. Christmas Blood can be as dark as a lump of coal with a complete lack of Christmas horror cheer, but for those who don’t mind more of the same, it can be an enjoyable callback to the Christmas horror flicks from decades ago that taught us all just how damn creepy the holiday can be.