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Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – Finland: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/17/2015 – Finland: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Directed by Jalmari Helander

Despite a film history dating back to the silent era, Finland has never really broken out internationally the way the other Scandinavian countries have with its most prominent directors the Kaurismäki brothers being nowhere near as well known as the big names from those countries. Rare Exports is arguably the biggest film to bust out owing both to its quality and its unique premise of a killer Santa Claus.

Having a killer Santa Claus in your movie is hardly original at this point, but instead of the usual approach of films such as Christmas Evil andSilent Night, Deadly Night where it is a man in a Santa suit doing the killing, here it is the real deal. Ok, so Futurama and Santa’s Slay did that first too, but here it is a much more mythological take on it as opposed to the robot of the former and the son of Satan of the latter with shorts this film are based on also predating the latter. SPOILERS. Okay so the killing and kidnapping is being done by elves, but the design for the original faux-Santa is wonderfully disturbing with his unnaturally thin and decaying naked body, long but stringy beard, and way he has this perpetually creepy look on him as he just stares down our heroes and sniffs the air whenever naughty boys or gingerbread is near. Finally this is a twist that works after all the shit I’ve put up with thanks largely to that reveal of the giant frozen in ice, yet mostly concealed big guy and the fact that it didn’t undo everything that came before. Disappointingly we never got to see the full Santa but considering the dodgy CGI we got beforehand, I’m not sure how good it would’ve looked END OF SPOILERS.

Thankfully, the film plays things refreshingly straight where the villains are actually treated as serious foes and not some cartoonish threat. That being said the film does suffer a bit by the fact that they are more an off-screen threat than anything else. The action is kept off screen aside from the very brief explosive climax and the horror seems to be generated more by the beautiful, but desolate surroundings, instead of any actions of the villains who on camera do little more than stare menacingly and shamble a bit (aside from two very brief attacks I won’t spoil). It is still a good film (albeit a very quick one at 77 minutes), but more dark fantasy than horror and the film almost seems nervous that if they showed them actually being villainous too much than SPOILERS we wouldn’t be able to support the happy ending while odd feeling, was charming enough (not a typical horror phrase) that it didn’t matter too much and it did at least establish these elves as being trained to be Santas END OF SPOILERS.

Quick word about the shorts. Rare Exports Inc. (2003) is much more in line with the ending in tone from the films taking the form of a sort of industrial film played straight but darkly funny. The Official Rare Exports Inc. Safety Instructions (2005) also takes the form of an industrial film but obviously more of a overly serious (intentionally so) safety instruction and is even more darkly funny with a more apparently larger budget.

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #9 – United States: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) Directed by Tobe Hooper

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 had a lot to live up to as a sequel to one of both the best horror films ever made and one of the most influential but it had the advantage of returning its original director. Amongst similar cases Halloween did it by making the second essentially a continuation of the first to lesser, but still successful results, while Night of the Living Dead, a similarly low budget affair which also used that aspect to its advantage, did it by doubling down on the satire while going bigger and playing up the dark humor to make for an even more classic film.

Right off the bat, everything that made the original great is thrown out as it is apparent that the film is going the “play up the dark humor” route (also the Golan-Globus logo is hardly promising). This time around there is also significantly more gore than the rather tame original and the very gritty and raw cinematography has been replaced by a far more generic appearance. The Sawyer families underground lair/abandoned carnival ground is impressive but nowhere near as effective as the original house/slaughterhouse.

Leatherface in particular has lost much of the horror factor with him now almost impossible to take seriously and his wild unpredictable nature now feels so much more calculated as he awkwardly gyrates even if it is of someone who is still clearly mentally challenged. Jim Siedow as the only returning actor and newly added Bill Moseley as Chop Top (“Dog will hunt”) complete with human puppet and Sonny Bono wig (later metal plate) are hilariously over the top with the film coming alive whenever they pop up. Dennis Hopper chewing up (and destroying via chainsaw) the scenery as one would expect is always entertaining but it is hard to get past the fact that there is so little variation in what he does and his character is so terribly written. The main downfall of the movie (aside from the dull story and lack of horror) is the profoundly awful and idiotic female lead who has such an obnoxious and frequently used scream. Instead of being properly killed off we are treated to her as frequently the only character on screen and who Leatherface treats as a love interest which is both less funny less disturbing than it should be because of her. Even she can’t ruin the sight though of Leatherface dancing with her while she wears the face and hat of a man he had just partially skinned alive.

It feels pointless to compare these films anymore since they are clearly trying to do different things. Therefore as a dark comedy, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 has enough funny moments to make the film worth watching even if it is way too stupid and repetitively dull in sections to actually be considered a good movie. It walks that unusual line of being so bad it’s good and just plain bad with a healthy mix of intentionally funny in a way that makes it hard to tell where it actually falls.

Up Next: Kelvin Tong’s The Maid representing Singapore

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