It’s as if someone saw the fake trailer The Day The Reindeer Died in the movie Scrooged and thought, “Y’know, that’s not a bad idea for a real movie!” and then went ahead and made it! Mel Gibson as a Santa Claus that people want to kill? Uh… write your own jokes here.
Imagine a world where Santa Claus, aka Chris Cringle (Gibson) is real, lives in North Peak, Alaska with his British wife, Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and is old, exhausted, and finding each year damn expensive to keep up. Although subsidized by the U.S. Government, he’s facing financial difficulties, so he must make some hard decisions on his lonely, isolated ranch. But first, let’s meet a kid on his naughty list named Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), a vicious, spoiled, ego-maniacal, wealthy brat. Guess what Santa’s giving him for Christmas? Yup! Coal!!
Enraged by his gift of coal, young Billy hires a stone-cold hit man (Walter Goggins) to kill ‘the fatman’. This ruthless hit man (known as the Skinny Killer) has a collection of Santa-made toys, which makes this assassination of particular interest to him. As the Skinny Killer tracks down his elusive prey, Chris makes a heartbreaking decision: have his crack team of toy-making elves make computer parts for the U.S. Army for some extra cash. This proves quite the venture, as U.S. military Captain Jacobs (Robert Bockstael) is impressed at the speed and accuracy of the elves under the tutelage of elf foreman #7 (Eric Woolfe). Oh, all elves have numbers, not names, BTW.
Skinny Killer, meanwhile, is leaving a bloody trail of death and bodies behind in cleverly tracking down where Chris Cringle/Santa Claus lives. By the time he arrives in North Peak and finds the ranch, there’s only 24 minutes left in the movie, but that’s enough time for bullets, blood, and bodies to rack up, not to mention the penultimate showdown between Skinny Killer (we find out his true name) and Chris. And as a bonus treat, we get a nice finale with Billy.
This darkly humored Christmas tale was written & directed by the brotherly team of Eshom and Ian Nelms and, yes, you’ve never heard of them. They’ve only put out two other forgettable movies (Small Town Crime & Waffle Street), but their flair for both screenwriting and direction is outstanding. Usually if you have a ‘Santa with guns’ movie, it’s resigned to be a substandard B-movie with lousy acting, terrible production values, and a script that sucks. Not here. I found myself thoroughly enjoying this wacky and subtly nuanced movie about a grizzled, real-life Santa facing today’s hardships. Refreshing!
Mel Gibson as Santa Claus is not what you expect. He’s not your jovial Tim Allen/Kurt Russell/Ed Asner playing the red-suited big guy, in fact, there’s no red suit at all! Gibson is a stand-out and not who you’d expect as St. Nick! This is a 2020 Santa facing economic woes like you and I and one that would NOT make you jolly or happy. And with a silly premise like Santa being hunted by a hit man, you’d think the script would reflect that, but it doesn’t. The dialogue and story is snappy, plays it real, and that’s where this movie draws its strength from.
Chance Hurstfield is SO good as a villainous little bad seed, you really want to see Krampus show at the end and take care of this rotten kid! An unexpected treat is British Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Mrs. Claus who is both Chris’ love and better half, and Googins steals the movie with his 1000-yard stare that would give Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh some pause. And for a small part, Eric Woolfe’s Elf #7 is unnervingly odd and wonderful.
**Available streaming on VOD
Rare Imports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
There are dozens of movies where people dress up like Santa Claus and then go on a killing spree, but this movie dares to do something completely different. Shot on location in freezing Finland in both English and Finnish, Jolly Old St. Nick ain’t so jolly in this film.
In the bleak and frost-covered land of Finland, excavators on top of Mount Korvatortuni have discovered something odd. As they dig deep into its core for something, two curious boys who live in this harsh environment question what’s going on. 10-year-old Jusso (Ilmari Järvenpää) think they’re just drilling, but younger Pietari Kontio (Onni Tommila) is sure they’re digging up the one and only Santa Claus! Y’see, this kid believes in the real Santa, not the “Coca-Cola” jolly ol’ elf, but the old Finnish tale of a malevolent horned creature who beats (and often kills) naughty children. Eeesshh!!
His single father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila) makes his living–like a few others–as a reindeer butcher, but one day all the reindeer get slaughtered by wolves, due to a hole in a protective fence that was secretly cut by Pietari & Jusso. Thinking it was the excavator’s fault, Rauno and his buddies, Aimo (Tommi Korpela), and Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen) go looking for payback, but everyone’s missing on the mountain. Meanwhile, a filthy, skinny, naked, long-bearded old man has fallen into Rauno’s dead-fall wolf trap and appears dead, but surprise! This guy’s unkillable and the men think he’s part of some weird conspiracy. But young Pietari has the answers. He says it’s really Santa Claus!
Seeing $$$ in their eyes, the men decide to cash in on this bizarre naked man, but get a rude awakening when they do. They discover, much to their horror, this old man is one of 198 others who are merely “Santa’s little helpers” and they’ve been stealing local children. Why? Hidden in a secret warehouse, encased in a gigantic block of ice, is the REAL Santa Claus (massive horns and all), waiting to be thawed out and all those bagged ‘n’ tagged kids around him are his (*GULP!!*) dinner!!
The third act gets really nuts (which is an understatement at this point), as young Pietari takes point and saves the day in the most ridiculous way possible, while his father takes care of the monstrous Clausicle. The finale is just plain silly and leaves you with a chuckle, 180 degrees from the sinister and creepy tone the film began with. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander (Big Game), this full-length movie comes from his two previous short films, a 7-min., 2003 short Rare Exports Inc., and its 2005 10-min. sequel, Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions, both starring the same actors.
This is one strange movie, something you’d see from Tim Burton or Sam Raimi. The real-life, father/son acting team of Onni and Jorma Tommila are wonderful and you can see the care in Jorma’s eyes on the screen. They don’t even look like they’re acting. It’s a little disconcerting that this 8-year-old boy totes around a double-barrel shotgun that’s as big as he is and, in one scene, gladly sacrifices his life to save his dad. It’s quirky, twisted, and subtitled, and one Christmas movie you shouldn’t miss!