Whether Christmas is a religious holiday for us, or just a way to celebrate giving, or whatever, we can all agree that it’s mainly about trying to find more movies we haven’t seen that are about a killer Santa or some shit. That’s the true and sole meaning of Christmas, is what it says quite clearly in the Bible, and if you don’t believe me I challenge you to tell me which verses it’s not in. You can’t do it, can you? Case closed. Anyway the point is this year I saw CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS but for those of you who would prefer to have the same title but shorter there’s also CHRISTMAS BLOOD (Juelblod), a Norwegian one from 2017.
IMDb lists it as a horror comedy. It really doesn’t read as one to me, but maybe it’s an exceedingly dry sense of humor – there is certainly some absurdity to it, which is what I liked about it. It’s very openly a Santa Claus version of HALLOWEEN. It opens in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, 2011, when a little girl and her parents get killed by a guy dressed as Santa. The police show up in time to shoot the Santa, and Detective Thomas Rasch (Stig Henrik Hoff, THE THING premaquel), who’s been chasing this guy for 13 years, unloads his gun into him while he’s down.
A series of title cards during the credits tell us he’s been committing Christmas Eve murders since 1998, when he left a naughty list of 324 future victims – all people mentioned in the media for breaking the law. By the time Rasch shot him in 2011 he’d killed 121 people from the list. (Prolific!) Oh well, good things he’s dead now, now everybody can breathe a sigh of—
No, ‘cause then we get a “Somehow Palpatine returned” type maneuver:
Meanwhile we get our A story about a group of college friends from Australia coming to Norway to visit their friend Julie (Marte Saeteren, PANDEMONIC) for Christmas. She’s mourning her mother, who recently committed suicide, having never gotten over the guilt of a car accident that killed a child. Later we’ll learn that criminal liability for the accident put her mother on Santa’s list, so the house is one of his destinations.
Lately in the world of horror I’ve noticed a trend toward female protagonists who are intentionally flawed and/or into partying, but still very relatable and easy to root for. I really like this because women deserve more fun characters to play and also because it’s a refutation of the old sex & drugs = death slasher formula. It acknowledges that actually those things can be fun and not bad and when they are who cares – they’re not sins worthy of death. These days you can still be a horror hero after you slept with a guy you didn’t know very well or got addicted to pills or whatever. It’s as if they reformed a policy where you had to take a drug test to get hired somewhere. I get excited about that and then I read other people talking about the same movies and they just say it’s bad writing and unlikable characters and they hated them and couldn’t wait to see them die. Oh well.
But in this case I would get it. I didn’t want to see these characters die, but I quickly found them insufferable. They should be having a fun time out in the snow with their old friends but they immediately start sniping about stupid shit. And it’s an eyebrow raiser that the only Black character in the movie, Ritika (Haddy Jallow), keeps being in the wrong about every single thing, and showing no remorse. She smokes weed in the house after being told not to. They seem like they’re being unfair about her having a past with Julie’s boyfriend who’s there, but then she sleeps with him in the house! She’s just a huge asshole, and not in a fun way. Not that any of the others are much more interesting.
There is a cool thing that one of the friends, Annika (Kylie Stephenson) is deaf, but is truly treated as equal – just one member of the group, not separated out as a person who’s in more danger than the others. She makes a poor choice in having sex with one of the gross weirdo dudes they summon to the house using Tinder, and that’s okay. She could definitely do better and she soon realizes it and tells him off. The Tinder guys are a good inclusion though because they’re skeezy in a very intentional way – characters we can enjoy seeing Santa Claus stick an ax in and raise to the ceiling. (Unfortunately there are only a couple outrageous kills like that. You don’t really see him do much.)
This is a good setting for a Christmas horror movie because there’s real snow everywhere and it’s the time of year when it’s dark all day, which causes a very unsettling feeling. It always seems like night, but it’s actually day unless most of the lights are turned off. (Some of those scenes are too dark, though, in my opinion, and I’m not as quick to use that complaint as some.)
So the better parts of the movie are the investigation. The Loomis part, in other words. It’s also the grossest part because CHRISTMAS BLOOD pushes the “coroner is so desensitized he casually eats around dead bodies” cliche to the breaking point by having him move a plate of bloody innards and then grab an English muffin piled high with shrimp. As he starts scarfing it down the frame is shared with the graphic display of an autopsied woman’s genitalia, and then he repeatedly says “mmmmmm” about his snack. Then (here’s where it’s definitely too much, in my opinion) he drips some of the shrimp on the body, so he wipes it up with his finger and licks it off his finger. And Hansen sees that and runs outside and pukes. So that was the death of the coroner eating a sandwich trope. R.I.P.
As the detectives try to check on everybody from the naughty list who’s still alive, they find bodies around town, and in maybe the best piece of ridiculousness they’re looking at a map and realize that the murder sites form the shape of a Christmas tree, with the house where the friends are staying as the star on top. Now that’s a psycho who plans ahead.
The writer/director of CHRISTMAS BLOOD is named Reinert Kiil. Looking him up on IMDb I first noticed he was younger than me, then noticed that he died last year. I couldn’t find any other information about that, but RIP if it’s true. IMDb also lists “Always drunk in interviews” as one of his trademarks.
Despite many weaknesses as a slasher movie I do think it’s good looking and more watchable than many of the no-name Christmas horror movies I’ve encountered. It doesn’t seem winky or retro, so I was surprised to read a 2018 interview with something called Don’s Horror World where Kiil said he wanted “people to think JULEBLOD is made by a one-hit wonder director in the ‘80s” and that “it was important to have some less interesting kills in the film. Because back in the ‘80s all the cheap VHS movies I saw had one to two interesting kills.” That’s more meta than I would’ve figured but yeah, I guess he succeeded then. He’s also very aware of how dark the cinematography is, and says it was intentional:
“I like shadows and darkness… I don’t need to see everything. I need to feel and hear and see… I wanted the light to be almost burned out many places. And the darkness be completely dark… I wanted a more gritty VHS quality of the filming. And I believe we did. Some people hate it and some people love it. I am one of them who love that kind of style.”
He also says he came up with the idea when he was 14, and that he initially tried to make it in 2010 with Gunnar Hansen playing the Santa Claus (a little after REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE), but he didn’t get it off the ground until after Hansen died.
Before and in between directing gigs, Kiil worked as a property master, production designer and other crew jobs (favorite credit: researcher on BABYLON A.D.). His other movies as a director are FUCK NORGE (2004), WHORE (2009), INSIDE THE WHORE (2012), THE HOUSE (2016) and PANDEMONIC (2020). Unless and until I see any of those, he’s the one-hit wonder director of JULEBLOD.
I also watched one called ALIEN RAIDERS (2008), which I learned about from my trusty copy of Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television that I dig out every year hoping there’s one I missed. This book has already earned its keep by tipping me off to DEADLY GAMES/DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS a couple years ago, so anything else is extra credit.
ALIEN RAIDERS is set in a grocery store in Arizona on December 20th. At first it seems to center on a put-upon courtesy clerk named Benny (Jeffrey Licon, SNOOP DOGG’S HOOD OF HORROR), who possibly has a thing for checker Whitney (Samantha Streets, THE GIRL FROM THE NAKED EYE), whose cop stepdad Steadman (Mathew St. Patrick, WAR) dislikes him for some reason. While they’re closing up and Benny is walking the aisles looking for straggler customers he comes across a person laying on the floor in a puddle of blood in the produce department. He doesn’t panic, just approaches and in a really well executed sequence the camera rotates around to first show other people at gunpoint, then someone coming up behind him.
We’ve seen this armed squadron pull up and storm in, and they seem like a militia or something. But you still kinda figure this is one of those grocery store robberies we’ve seen in STONE COLD and COBRA. The twist is that it’s not a robbery, and they’re basically good guys: they’re aware of some people being infected by deadly aliens and they’ve got to figure out which ones and kill them before they transform.
Those of us watching from home have a pretty good idea that it’s more likely a movie about an alien invasion than a movie about people mistakenly thinking there’s an alien invasion. But obviously the hostages in this store don’t believe them, and there’s an off duty police officer who was shopping in the store who starts shooting. Biggest problem there is that he shoots and kills Spooky (Philip Newby, THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES), their “spotter,” whose job it was to put his hands on each person’s face and sense if there was an alien inside them. He could’ve cleared everybody who wasn’t an alien and they would’ve been on their way, but now they have to keep everybody.
The leader of the group is called Ritter (Carlos Bernard, LAVALANTULA) and there’s another guy called Kane (Rockmond Dunbar, KISS KISS BANG BANG) who’s very intense. They know all about alien shit and talk about it in front of hostages without explaining what’s up. “Do you think it’s a king?” “It stung me.” etc.
A pretty cool part of the mythology is that Spooky and other “spotters” have this ability because they’re drug addicts and their bodies are too ravaged for the aliens to take them over. They negotiate with the police to bring them another experienced spotter named Charlotte (Bonita Friedericy, SLEEPING DOGS LIE, THE LORDS OF SALEM), but it’s a last ditch plan that none of them are very comfortable with, because she previously fucked up and got a bunch of people killed, which is a risk when you have to count on people whose main qualification is a long, serious drug problem.
I didn’t love this movie – I think it needs at least one engaging character to focus on, maybe. But I have to take my hat off because it’s a pretty cool idea and impressive low budget effort. It’s a little bit of THE THING but mixed with INTRUDER or THE MIST because of the grocery store. And it’s a full sized, fully stocked store, not some phony set, so it’s a cool contained setting. The alien FX are quite good – people turning all bumpy, little bug creatures, etc.
And there are a some good moments. I laughed that one of the hostages finally manages to steal a gun from one of their captors like two seconds before an alien runs through the employees-only door and mauls him. Also when someone asks, of an alien-ified dude, “Was that Ken?” and someone answered, “Define Ken.”
I am a simple man. I would’ve liked it more if they did more grocery store specific gimmicks. Do they ram the fuckers with shopping carts? Did they slam a tentacle in a cash drawer? Do they crush one in the cardboard compactor in the stock room? Or drop a pallet on one? Did they at least knock over some soup cans? Not that I remember. And unfortunately there is zero Christmas theming. Because of when it takes place there’s a Christmas tree lot outside the store, the windows are painted up with jolly shit, there are big reindeer, snowman, snowflake, and candy cane decorations inside, etc. But nobody even mentions Christmas. They do not find that the aliens’ one weakness is eggnog. The time of year is incidental, just background detail.
For some reason the, uh… human raiders or whatever the guys in masks are called have some type of cameras attached to them, and it will cut to their grainy green feeds sometimes, a not terrible but dated visual gimmick that doesn’t add much. At first I wondered if it was a budget-lowering thing, but they really don’t use it enough to make a difference. I actually think the reason is THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. ALIEN RAIDERS is from Warner Home Video’s DTV horror label Raw Feed (2006-2008), which means it’s produced by BLAIR WITCH co-director Daniel Myrick. Writer Julia Fair* was a production assistant on BLAIR WITCH. Director Ben Rock was the production designer of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, so he created those famous stick men. He also wrote the promotional TV mockumentary CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH and wrote and directed THE BURKITTSVILLE 7 and SHADOW OF THE BLAIR WITCH and served as a consultant for all the tie-in books and games. So if he wasn’t thinking “let’s try some of that switching formats stuff like on BLAIR WITCH” I bet there’s a good chance somebody else was telling him to.
Also Wikipedia says “he is the son of former Orlando and Miami area Bozo the Clown Alan Rock.” That doesn’t support the argument I’m trying to make here but I think it’s information you might want to know.
*David Simkins is also credited, and he had nothing to do with BLAIR WITCH, but he wrote ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING and an episode of Blade: The Series.
Since directing ALIEN RAIDERS, Rock has done a bunch of shorts, commercials and podcatss, plus the 2020 feature WRZ: WHITE RACIST ZOMBIES. Raw Feed’s other releases were REST STOP, SUBLIME, BELIEVERS, OTIS and REST STOP: DON’T LOOK BACK.