Review: Another Newfound Holiday Slasher, CHRISTMAS BLOOD Has Gore Galore And Tension To Boot
Horror movies set around during the normally joyous holiday of Christmas have always been around to some extent, but I’ve noticed that there has been quite the uptick in their popularity recently. With the recent releases of Anna and the Apocalypse, A Christmas Horror Story, Krampus and the anthology piece All the Creatures Were Stirring, the “most wonderful time of the year” has been ripe with blood and all out chaos.
This has also caused a resurgence in older titles. Ones that have always been looked upon as horror classics (Black Christmas 1974, Silent Night Deadly Night, Christmas Evil – aka Better Watch Out 1980), while others are now appreciated for their grimy aesthetics, visual flair or general wack-a-doodle mentality (Black Christmas (2006), Silent Night Deadly Night 2). One of the more common themes among these flicks is the idea of a killer Santa Claus. There is nothing quite like taking the wholesome positive character of St. Nick and turning it on its head. Now we have another challenger entering the ring, hoping to get a piece of this Xmas Horror pie and deliver the goods that we horror fans have come to expect from our yuletide terror. Enter Reinert Kiil’s Juleblod, translated as Christmas Blood for the US release. Can Norway’s attempt at the killer Santa compete with the classics already established?
A serial killer, donning a Santa Claus outfit, commits his first multiple homicide. At this crime scene, he leaves a list of over 324 random people, all who have been publicly known to have committed some sort of crime. After being on the loose for over 13 years and presumed to have ended over 121 lives across Norway from said list, he is finally apprehended by Detective Rasch at his latest crime scene. After surviving the gunshots inflicted upon him by Det. Rasch, he is remanded to a secret solitary confinement location in order to keep him as removed from society as possible. However, as we all know, you can’t keep a good Santa Claus murderer down, so obviously he escapes a few years later and resumes his reign of terror, starting with a group of friends gathering in a remote northern Norwegian village, together after six years apart to support their friend Julie, who’s mother recently committed suicide. Can this group of unsuspecting victims, as well as the police tracking him, survive the Christmas Eve of horror that awaits them, or will they all be put on his naughty list forever?
I went into this movie with low expectations, not because the movie looked bad or I had heard negative press related to its quality. I knew that this was a movie about a killer Santa killing nubile young people in a remote location. I expected some tense stalking scenes and some good payoff in terms of bloodshed and mayhem, with a few of the characters perhaps deserving of their fate. After my viewing, I am happy to report that Christmas Blood is well worth your time. Starting off with a rather beautifully shot opening sequence involving a daughter sneaking around presents for Christmas, a snoring dad and a mother that has perhaps already moved on to the other side is quite effective and was the tension filled opening I was hoping for. Blood is spilled, and when you finish that scene, you will also give props to director Kiit for not playing it safe, as I did.
After that slam bang opening, we are treated to a heavy exposition filled montage of text explaining the backstory of this Santa Claus madman spliced with Christmas imagery. It seems like this was done to get right back into the thick of things, but the movie actually decides to take its time. We don’t even get an audible hint that the killer is near these women until the 35 minute mark, and the carnage doesn’t begin until a full hour has eclipsed. This allows us to get introduced to the various characters that will be along for this ride. This includes a group of women going to visit their friend Julia in a desolate village to console her, the current detective assigned to track down the escaped killer and the now-retired Detective Rasch, who is a clichéd alcoholic and distraught human being due to his original pursuit of the Santa killer that left someone near and dear to him murdered.
Honestly, the character development we are treated to for the group of women seems rather unnecessary and doesn’t particularly do anything to make me connect to them, and therefore sympathizing with them when the bodies start to hit the floor. I don’t even remember the names of the characters themselves outside of main girl Julia and troublemaker Ritika. No one else makes much of an impression despite this time allotted by the filmmaker to flesh out their personalities. However, this doesn’t mean the actors playing these women were necessarily bad or forgettable, they just were serviceable and seemingly did what was asked of them, not bringing anything to the part to elevate it above what was written. The two detectives, however, do fare better in providing some interesting history into their current methods and ways (the younger detective can’t stand the sight of gore and blood, puking at a moment’s notice, etc.) and their acting was respectable enough to make me care about their fates.
Now, I am happy to report that the kills inflicted upon these poor souls is overall done quite effectively. The kill sequences vary from being somewhat tame, such as one involving a quick axe to the back of the head, leading to a quick fall down and one last weak thrust, to the truly beautifully shot takedowns, such as one involving lifting a poor soul with one axe swing from the floor to the ceiling. We are treated to multiple instances of intestines trying to find their way out of the body, and some instances of an extreme amount of blood being expunged onto someone else due to an axe swing that borders on horrifying and somewhat comical in its abundance.
The two aspects of the movie that I enjoyed most, however, are not related to gore or mayhem. First, the slight sound of jingle bells used in the stalking sequences worked very well as a tension builder, showing that the killer was near, and the louder they were, the closer he was. It was a nice calling card for this Santa murderer and was appreciated. The second aspect I enjoyed was that the killer Santa Claus was like an odd combination of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. He had the Voorhees vibe due to his seemingly god-like ability to fight off bullet wounds, and he taps into the Myers vein by having no real motive for what he does. We don’t know his name, we don’t have some hokey backstory of being abused or growing up in a bad environment. He is just pure evil, and sometimes we don’t need some arbitrary knowledge to justify his actions. He just wants to do what he wants to do.
I have grown to appreciate the flourishing landscape of Christmas horror movies that have been around and are still being made today. Knowing we have such greats as Black Christmas and Krampus, does Christmas Blood do enough to warrant your time? It does run a little longer than expected (around 100 minutes), but despite some extra allotted character development that overall didn’t do much to enhance the movie, the nicely done camerawork, multiple tension-filled sequences and the excessive amounts of gore and blood that accompanies a few of the kills ends up winning me over and I recommend you at least give this movie a viewing. Will it become a holiday staple? For me, since more high-concept and generally scarier gems for the holiday horror crowd do exist, it might not make a return yearly, but I don’t resent the time I committed to it, as some other flicks have made me feel. A killer Santa movie is always worth checking out, and Christmas Blood ultimately delivers the goods.