Every Christmas, a friend of mine invites a bunch of people over to watch Die Hard. It’s taken on the weight of tradition to the point that it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas until I’ve watched John McClane pull glass out of his feet. I screwed up a little bit this year, because at my annual Halloween party, the wife and I dressed up as McClane and Hans Gruber (she was Gruber, prompting her to shout, “Next year I get to be a girl!”), and so watched the film early to get the costumes down. And as much as I love it, I don’t know that I need to see Die Hard again so quickly. Especially because it still provokes sense memories of watching it in my mother’s living room and eating pizza from the place on the corner that’s now one of those combination bakeries/ice cream parlors that sprout like weeds throughout East LA. This might not be a problem. Last year, this same friend gathered a small group together to watch what could become the new Christmas tradition: the 2010 Finnish horror-comedy Rare Exports.
Holidays have long been an important part of horror. In fact, it’s difficult to make a slasher movie without tying it to some holiday, which is what Eli Roth was doing in his parody trailer of Thanksgiving (a trailer so accurate, I swear to God I’ve seen that movie). And since Christmas is the only holiday that’s actively growing across the calendar devouring weaker holidays like some terrifying jingle belled shoggoth, a lot of horror movies have latched onto Jesus’s birthday party. In most of these, Santa is an escaped lunatic coming into your house to cut you up, usually with an axe. Black Christmas is the first of these, though the Robert Zemeckis directed Tales From the Crypt episode “And All Through the House” is probably the best. Rare Exports is one such Evil Santa movie, although it breaks rather dramatically from the formula by positing Santa not as a psycho killer, but rather as one of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones.
Korvatunturi Fell is a small range of mountains on the Finnish/Russian border, and is the traditional home of Santa Claus in Finland. It’s the kind of place where cold isn’t just a temperature, it’s a way of life. A company headed up by a rich guy the film keeps assuring me is American, despite the fact that his accent sounds like Borat after a stroke, is drilling into the mountain. Twenty-four days until Christmas they make a startling discovery: a sixty-five foot layer of sawdust. While this would immediately make me think there was a giant Ron Swanson down there somewhere making a huge dining room set, the “American” explains that people used to store ice by encasing it in sawdust. The mountain is a giant icebox, and iceboxes by definition are for storing something. He seems to have an idea of what that might be, and breaks out the new safety instructions which include stuff like “No Drinking” which, considering these guys are using massive drills for chewing through rock, I hope were already not doing. But there are others, like “No Cursing” which the boss takes extremely seriously. “It’s Christmas. Act like it.” He reminds the miner that it took the Sami people of Lapland centuries to build the mound, and the miners have twenty-four days to open it. And since the Sami are so bad ass they, no shit, castrate reindeer with their teeth, this is a tall order.
Two boys, Pietari and Juuso, watch the excavation, having sneaked into the mining camp through a hole they clipped in the fence. Pietari, the younger of the two boys, still has a stuffed animal he carries everywhere. Juuso can’t be more than ten, but he’s packing a rifle and drives a snowmobile. Pietari still believes in Santa, and is convinced he’s buried beneath the mountain, an idea Juuso scoffs at. Pietari heads home to do some montage research on Santa, and what he finds is less than encouraging. Though it begins with some innocuous pictures of the jolly old elf, they get steadily darker until Santa is a horned monster cooking a boy in a cauldron. All of this made me wonder, what the fuck kind of books is Pietari’s dad buying him?
Who knows, because Pietari’s dad is some kind of crazy northman. He sets punji traps for local wolves, butchers hogs in his very own backyard abattoir, hunts reindeer and generally behaves like someone who is unaware that Game of Thrones is a work of fiction. Pietari, meanwhile, is pretty sure Santa is coming for him, something bolstered by bare footprints in the snow on the roof and in a field of slaughtered reindeer. When dad finds a naked old man clutching a potato sack caught in the wolf traps, things get a little weird. At first, they’re concerned the old guy is from the mining operation and thus “American,” but he doesn’t act like an American even by this film’s shaky understanding of what that might be. He never speaks, even accepting a beating from local potato farmer, Juuso’s dad, and terrifying enforcer Aimo. The only time the old guy perks up is when Pietari comes in, getting what can only be described as an Albert Fish look on his face.
While all of this is occurring, the local village is in the grips of a bizarre crime spree. Ovens, hair dryers, and radiators are all missing. Pietari finds that all the local kids are gone, something that doesn’t disturb any of the parents. I found this baffling, since wolves are mentioned as a persistent local hazard, so maybe these folks just aren’t the most attentive parents. Or maybe if the kid can’t survive a couple days in the hard winter dickpunching the local wildlife he really isn’t worth keeping around in the first place.
While the local farmers try to use the situation to pay off their crippling debt, Pietari sees the big picture. Santa is going to get out of his icy prison and eat all the naughty children, which is pretty much everyone at this point. Pietari has to make the highly symbolic choice between the stuffed animal he carries everywhere and a rifle. And yes, this means his dad gave a child who still carries around a stuffed animal a goddamn loaded gun. I wouldn’t be surprised if every local kid were just fired out of a barbed wire cannon into a pit of bears. Anyway, Pietari has to grow up. Ironically, this requires him to first believe in Santa Claus and then to kick the old monster’s ass. And find a novel solution to that debt.
Rare Exports is the story of one brave boy’s attempt to kill Santa. He doesn’t do this to ruin Christmas, but rather because the legends have softened with age, or as he puts it, “the Coca-Cola Santa is a hoax.” It’s a well-earned hostility toward American corporatism, presented as subtext. More importantly, it’s a damn fine flick about the importance of murdering beloved symbols of the season.