Saturday, December 21, 2019

December to Dismember: CHRISTMAS BLOOD (2017)

Quick joke for the schoolyard: What's worse than seeing the Uncork'd logo when you fire up a Christmas horror movie? Not seeing one and thinking that what you are going to watch might be good. Ok, it's not a very funny joke. Even less funny because it's true. I swear to sweet baby jeebus, my Christmas stocking single-handedly keeps the coal industry alive.

Set in two separate time lines and spanning five years, this Norwegian entry opens with a little girl sneaking downstairs to poke and prod the presents under the Christmas tree. As we all know, this is naughty, and Santa shows up to teach her the error of her ways (off screen of course). Then a man comes down to investigate the screams and gets his head smashed in. Suddenly, the police arrive in what is undoubtedly world record breaking response time, to what is presumably a massacre. I say "presumably" because the cinematography is so dark due to the filmlook video filter that you can barely see anything other than random glimpses of what appear to possibly be mutilated bodies. The detective on the scene Thomas Rasch (Stig Henrik Hoff) finds a list of names in one of the victim's mouths and decides this is the last straw, runs out to where the uniform cops are holding the Santa killer on the ground and shoots him twice in the back and once in the head. Obviously he got his police training in the US.

If you have spent much time watching Scandinavian entertainment, you'll know that they have a thing for detective thrillers, or more accurately, police procedurals. And when I say "thing" what I mean is "cultural obsession". While this obsession with police detectives chasing down criminals goes way back, it really caught fire when Swedish (not Norwegian, Mac) novelist Maj Sjöwall and crime journalist Per Wahlöö teamed up to write the Martin Beck series of books, which are arguably the best police procedural thrillers of the modern era. The books spawned radio adaptations, films (even an American one), TV shows and inspired countless other writers and filmmakers world-wide. As a consequence, it seems utterly impossible for the Swedes or Norwegians to make a horror movie, and if they do, it absolutely must have a significant amount of time devoted to at least one police detective trying to catch who or whatever is killing people, usually in remote villages. Bearing that in mind, you know exactly what to expect here. Well, almost exactly. The elements are there, but that's about it.

Apparently Rasch had been hunting down the Santa Killer, responsible for 121 murders in 12 towns, for 13 years in a country the size of New Mexico. That's almost exactly one murder for every two square miles of land at a rate of about 1 per month and nobody can catch this maniac with an axe in a bright red suit that (I'm not making this up) leaves a trail of bloody jingle bells in his wake? Either he's a freakin' ninja or he's Jason Voorhees. There can't be any other explanation. As we are told in a very long expositional text scrawl, "In some inexplicable way, the Santa survives and he is locked up at a secret address." Yep, the guy survives a bullet to the head, which I would call bullshit on, except that Ronald Reagan did too. Though nobody had the good sense to lock him up afterwards.

Equally inexplicably, the holy Saint Nick (yeah, boo all you want), manages to escape his surprisingly low security prison. Since Rasch quit the department after the "Christmas Blood" case (yes, that's the official case name), Detective Terje Hansen (Sondre Krogtoft Larsen) is now in charge of hunting down the homicidal Julenissen. He discovers that Santa refused to talk to anyone at the prison, would only eat porridge (Norwegians leave rice porridge on their doorsteps for Santa), and would get agitated around Christmas, which is really not a distinguishing characteristic. Have you seen people around Christmas? "Agitated" is a nice way of putting it.

For some, yet again, inexplicable reason, Santa, fresh out of stir, has his eyes set on a group of girls who apparently all met in Australia or something. To say that this plot is more muddled than a bourbon Old Fashioned is putting it mildly. It jumps back and forth from 2011 to 2016 for no apparent reason before settling in on the present day (2016) and a house party that these girls are sort of just throwing for themselves because of... Christmas. The group includes, but is not limited to, a prudish goody-goody who is outraged that the token black girl brought some chronic into the house (did no one tell her this was a party?), an emotionally unstable girl who brings her boyfriend who has slept with the token black girl (leading to crying and high drama), and a mute who wears a lot of make-up. Not deaf, just mute, and kind of slutty as she decides to have sex with on of the unwashed hillbillies who show up after a Tinder invite. Yep, that's the kind of movie this is, sort of a bumbling rip-off of the girls from the 2006 remake of BLACK CHRISTMAS. Girls who shout things like "good motherfuckin' yule bitches!" and "would you rather go down on your grandmother or punch a baby in the face?" I suddenly feel like the designated driver at an unsanctioned high-school graduation party.

While the girls are getting their shitface on, Santa seems to just wander around looking for someone to kill and Hansen seems to just wander around looking for Santa. At one point, Hansen heads out to the morgue to check out a tatted, pierced, stripper-boobed corpse. After examining it in detail and watching the coroner eat lunch off of it (an attempt at gross-out comedy), Hansen realizes that the corpse has nothing to do with his case and leaves! Err, so why did we have that scene? I mean, if you want some gratuitous nudity, we do have a house full of 20-something girls who are in the process of drinking themselves into uninhibited moral laxness. No? I guess you are right, that would be too easy.

Additionally, we get Hansen hunting down Rasch to help him hunt down Santa and finding him in a squalid apartment reeking of booze and poor life choices. This leads to the old saw of the old soak cleaning himself up for one last go-round. To pad out the movie even more, Hansen also follows up a lead in which he busts in on some white trash dude who is pretty pissed off about having some hot monkey love interrupted and attacks him... while naked and presumably uhhhh... "aroused". Like the morgue scene, this has nothing to do with the case either. Eventually, after much sitting around at desks bemoaning the fact that the clock is ticking on this case, as Santa is presumed to be preparing to kill someone on the stroke of midnight. Midnight is apparently when Christmas starts (I think it's only the US in which Christmas starts in October). Hansen and Rasch finally figure out that the girls who are partying are the intended victims as Rasch realizes that the killer is committing his crimes to make... wait for it... a Christmas tree on the Norwegian map! No, seriously, that's it. Check the framegrab if you don't believe me. Cue the obligatory detectives-rushing-out-of-the-office scene.

While Santa runs amok killing kids, mostly off screen, Hansen and Rasch are forced to take a bus to the scene of the crime, as for some inexplicable reason, they don't have a car. Is this supposed to be a comedy? Is this supposed to be a satire of the genres? The IMDb says it's a straight horror movie, so it must be true. (Spoilers incoming) Once they discover the blood-soaked house that the surviving girls have fled from, Rasch drugs Hansen so he can take down Santa by himself. Because he did that so well last time (it took 13 years, as you will recall). Of course while Rasch is looking for Santa so that he can shoot him again (because that worked so well last time), Santa inexplicably teleports to where Hansen is unconscious and kills him, and then inexplicably teleports to another part of town where two of the surviving girls have fled. I say "teleports", because he clearly has no method of transportation, not even a sleigh, and yet manages to be everywhere at once. Then again he is walking around with a bullet hole in his center of his head, so I guess teleportation doesn't seem all that far fetched. All of this non-excitement leads up to a shakey-cam finale where Rasch shows up just in time to shoot the hell out of Santa while he is trying to kill one of the girls. The end... or is it? In the final frame we see Santa is still alive, in silhouette against the night sky. Roll discredits.

Directed by the ironically named Reinert Kiil, there are so many moments where I wanted to just overlook the mangled attempt at flashing back and forward in time, the ridiculous common sense failures, the rambling tangents, fumbled attempt at creating a franchisable slasher character, and a video filter that is so dark, it's impossible to see what appear to be some reasonably well executed effects. I really wanted to enjoy the genre mash-up which is completely in my wheelhouse, but Kiil manages to throw in so many stumbling blocks for himself to trip over, when we finally get to the end, it's a rather tedious chore to get through the obvious, glacially paced finish. This is Kiil's latest feature length effort having previously directed FUCK NORGE (2004), WHORE (2009) and INSIDE THE WHORE (2012), which is his meta effort that is a horror film about a film crew working on a horror film titled WHORE. Maybe I lucked out on this one after all.

Distributed not by our usual holiday nemesis Uncork'd, this was courtesy of repeat offender Artsploitation. The interesting thing is that while at first glance, both outfits seem to be offering the same kind of cheap, quick and careless shot on video movies in eye-catching packaging, with Uncork'd you know you are going to going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel so hard that all you are going to get are splinters. With Artsploitation there is always a hint of promise. These are the people responsible for the crushing disappointment RED CHRISTMAS (2016), an Australian movie that boasted the return of genre fan fave Dee Wallace and hideously squandered it. From a distance the thought "hey, this might actually be good" floats through your mind, like a corpse on the Hudson river. It could just be a guy talking a swim, right? Of course that's just wishful thinking, which makes the reality so much worse (though Will may argue this point after 2016's SHELVED). From a distance, CHRISTMAS BLOOD looks like it could be a fun, creative blend of Nordic Noir and Santa Slasher. It even sports some shockingly nice camerawork, with moments of atmosphere and smooth travelling shots. Even so, all we really get is a flea-market bootleg BECK and a half-sketched serial killer of sailor-mouthed girls that has hints that he may, in fact, be a supernatural creature (or one of Krampus' minions ala 2010's RARE EXPORTS), but is almost totally unexplored, and at times even seemingly forgotten. Which, unfortunately, is exactly what this movie will be.

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