Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: Rare Exports

For today’s 31 Days of Halloween entry, I stretched the definition a little. Rare Exports is most definitely a horror movie – er, horror-fantasy-comedy – but it’s maybe not one you want to watch during the Halloween season. Instead, it is part of the growing subgenre of Christmas horror, and while it probably does play better in December it’s a worthwhile viewing option any time of the year.

For years, we’ve been told suicide rates go up during the end-of-the-year holidays, and it seemed to make sense. As rapper The-Dream told The Worcester (Mass) Sunday Telegram in 2015, “This isn’t a good time of year for anyone who has lost someone. I lost my mom on the 23rd of December in 1992. Her birthday is on December 1st. That’s why people commit suicide around Thanksgiving and Christmas because that’s the time when families come together…”

In short, Christmas is the time when the whole world conspires to make you feel worthless if you don’t have loved ones to celebrate with. Those with loved ones, of course, are left stressed out from the constant celebrating and gift-giving, and those mourning loved ones are often cut off from work, the one thing they were using to cope with the loss. Plus, the days are shorter and the nights are longer, adding to many a person’s seasonal affective disorder. The will to keep fighting sadly falls away.

This – however logical it might seem – is a myth. The actual statistics show that suicide rates go down during the holidays, not up. Either way, some of us have been left with a rather morbid view of the holidays, and those who already felt that way have just been reinforced. So, in a reflection of our Christmas blues, there’s been renewed interest in recent years in any and all horror movies which take on Jolly Old Saint Nick and his nefarious bag of tricks. In 2017, Spectacular Optical published a 488-page book all about Christmas horror, revealing just how often film and television has seen fit to give us yuletide terror.

From the pages of that book, any casual fan probably knows or at least knows about Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, Joe Dante’s Gremlins, and the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise. Michael Dougherty’s 2015 entry Krampus remains a modern cult classic of the genre. Indeed, many of our more recent Christmas horror movies have keyed in on Krampus as an ideal bogeyman. Why not? Before Coca Cola came around and gave us the jolly old fat man version of Santa Claus who rewards the good and shuns the bad, the Krampus of European folklore was the menacing, beast-like figure charged with punishing the naughty children of the world. Perfect horror villain, I’d say.

The 2010 Finnish gem Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale similarly strips the Santa Claus legend down to its underlying folklore, but it does so in a way entirely unique to Finland. If you thought Krampus was scary, wait until you meet Joulupukki.

What’s It About?

An archaeological dig in northern Finland unearths what appears to be the real Santa Claus, and boy is he ever so pissed. He instantly sets about kidnapping local children, leading Rauno, a reindeer hunter, and his young son Pietari to capture the old bastard. However, when they enlist friends to help with examining the mysterious old man and set about possibly selling him back to the company behind the dig they come up against a terrifying revelation. After all, you can’t have Santa without his elves, and those little bastards really, really want their master back. Turns out, this isn’t the Santa we thought we knew. This is the Joulupukki, a Santa Claus predecessor from the country’s pagan days, and he’s a son of a bitch.

Why I Watched It

The Shock Waves podcast favorably mentioned Rare Exports in their “Christmas Horror” episode late last year, regarding it as one of the modern standard-bearers for scary movies that dare to incorporate Christmas into the story. Plus, after Anna and the Apocalypse, I wanted to add another Christmas horror movie to the docket this year.

Did I Like It?

If you are someone who loves Christmas horror but have burned out on Black Christmas and Gremlins, Rare Exports needs to be a new perennial viewing option for you. It’s a clever, good time that begs repeat viewing. (The same, incidentally, is also true of Anna and the Apocalypse just as long as you also like musicals.)

From Rare Exports’ snowy opening scenes, we get a good sense of the tough life facing all of the characters and their snow-beaten faces. (In the horror pantheon, only The Thing comes to mind as a film where you can definitely feel the frostbite coming off the screen.) So, you’d think young a little kid like Pietari’s life would only be improved by meeting the real Santa. However, not only is Pietari the first to figure out the mysterious old man’s identity he’s also the first to deduce how much danger they’re in.

This translates to a horror-fantasy-comedy in which Santa falls in the laps of a bunch of miserable, blue-collar Finns, and the only child in the bunch is the one essentially screaming, “He’s going to kill us all!”

Where Rare Exports goes with that ingenious premise is forever hard to predict. The story has a couple of good twists up its sleeve, and by the end, it has gone so far over the top you can’t help but just laugh along with the craziness and hang on for the ride.

Is It Scary?

The skinny, almost skeletal old man who appears to be Santa is a creepy sight to behold, and when Pietari comes in his vicinity it’s like watching an animal smelling blood in the water. None of that necessarily translates into Rare Exports holding genuine scares, but it does have at its center a truly menacing bogeyman, surely spooky enough to unsettle younger viewers.

Where to Stream

According to JustWatch: “Currently you are able to watch Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale streaming on Kanopy, Hoopla, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video or for free with ads on VUDU Free. It is also possible to rent Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale on PlayStation, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Vudu, FandangoNOW online and to download it on PlayStation, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Vudu, FandangoNOW.”

31 Days of Halloween So Far:

Next Up: The first of three films honoring three different horror icons we lost this year.

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