Christmas Blood (2017)

DECEMBER 24, 2018


Back when I ran HMAD proper, I tried to make sure I saw at least one new Christmas-themed film every year around this time, because there are so many I haven't seen and don't usually find myself in the mood for such fare in say, April. It's a tradition I meant to keep after "retiring", but like most of my optimistic plans for the site's future, it hasn't exactly panned out; even when I manage to see one, like last year's Better Watch Out, I usually lack the time to write them up (for the record, that one is pretty good but the twist is far too easy to spot ahead of time, and the film takes a bit of time to get back on track after trying so hard to misdirect us). So after last month's Mrs. Claus I'm happy to be sitting here again with a review of Christmas Blood (Norwegian: Juleblod), making up for last year's absence.

Alas, while it's certainly better than Mrs. Claus, it's not exactly a new classic that will join the likes of Black Christmas or even Black Xmas. I'll give it this much: they score lots of points by going big with the concept. Our killer is another axe-wielding Santa Claus setting his sights on a house full of lovely people, but they're just a few of the many, MANY targets he has. As we learn in an opening crawl (after a pretty good prologue where he takes out a guy and his present-snooping daughter), Santa has compiled a "naughty list" of admitted criminals from all over Norway, and every Christmas he whittles that list down from his initial 300+ (!!!). After being taken down and institutionalized in the opening sequence, we cut ahead seven years where he has escaped and picks up where he left off. You gotta love such a widespread scenario that - if all goes well - makes sequelizing easy, as they don't need a continuing victim hero like Sidney Prescott or even much of a new story. "It's Christmas again and now he's after these people on his list" is all they really need.

And we get a cop on his tail, which fills in some of the questions one might have about this particular MO since it's known (basically, the departments work together to check in on all of the people on his list) and breaks up the house-slasher stuff. But here's the weird thing: rather than take advantage of this scenario by having Santa hit up a few victims in one area (dealing with the lone patrol checks as necessary) he sets his sights on one group, so the filmmakers never really embrace the freedom of their own concept. If you think about the biggest hurdles for a slasher, finding a reason for everyone to stay in one spot (and not notice when people go missing) is one of the harder to overcome, and they had this easy way around it but opted not to take it. And they really should have, because (like Mrs. Claus, oddly) the house isn't exactly perfect for this kind of thing - it's kind of cramped and not even isolated, forcing the action outside often enough to make you think "Isn't it supposed to be super cold, and also where are the neighbors?"

Weirder still, the person on his list is already dead, so he's not even sticking to his "thing". The person on his list is a woman who drunk drove and ran over a kid, but the grief about this led her to a recent suicide. Lucky for Santa (and non-discriminating slasher fans), she has a daughter, and that daughter has several friends to comfort her, and those girlfriends have love interests to pad things out. So even though they set up a slasher where the victims kind of deserve it for once, it ends up being another thing where he's going after people who never did anything wrong, which is fine when we know that's the score (see: Friday the 13th) but when they establish "criminals get their due" and don't deliver, it feels like more of a bummer than it should. I'd rather it was just crass from start to finish.

(Santa also goes out of his way to murder two of the people at the house who are made to leave, rendering the backstory even less relevant.)

Another problem is that it takes too long to get to the kills, in a movie that's too long overall (an hour and forty five minutes) to boot. It's just before the hour mark when Santa starts offing the people in the house, by which point some folks might have already checked out (I myself might have, but I had to wait for laundry so it was either this or find something else). That first sequence is a pretty good one, to be fair, with Santa toying with the two victims and giving a good chase before taking them out, but after that all the kills lack the same panache. Most of them don't even have much of a buildup: Santa just shows up and chops them with his axe (or smashes their head with the blunt side of it), and then we cut to the others or to the cops that are trying to pin down where he might be tonight. He occasionally seems to teleport as well, which wasn't even that acceptable when Jason did it in Manhattan - at least build up your goodwill before cheating the audience, brah.

Finally, the end isn't worth the wait; if it was great some of the other flaws could have been forgiven, but alas. (SPOILERS!) In the prologue Santa is shot several times, including once in the head, but survives - and we kind of buy it, because we don't see where the bullets hit (and maybe the hat got the blunt of the round!), and also maybe there's a MBV-like twist where this Santa isn't the same one. But no, it is, and when he gets taken down by the same cop, you'd think this time he'd make sure the bastard was dead. Instead he inexplicably wanders away, so of course Santa disappears, and you have to wonder if he's actually a damn zombie already (along with the teleporting thing, maybe this IS Part 8 of their plan and the next bunch of films will be prequels?). It's also a downer; after Santa is dispatched, the Final Girl (whose mom is the one he was ostensibly after) rushes to a friend he attacked, a familiar beat that usually ends happily - but no, in this one the girl dies, adding to the bummer nature. Nothing in the film feels like a triumph, even momentarily.

On the plus side, the girls are mostly likable and normal, so the only reason you're wanting Santa to start killing them is because, well, it's a slasher and that's what we came for. And he does so with practical glee - there's more than one instance of spilling guts (if that's your bag) and one girl is killed because so much blood from the other victim poured on her that she doesn't seem to be able to see enough to get away. Also, they don't overuse their Santa, which is a blessing - he sticks to the shadows and stays quiet, so that when he does speak near the end it's kind of a creepy moment. I wouldn't have minded if they had personalized his look a bit - in wide shots he might as well just be Billy Chapman - but in this era of "THE NEW HORROR ICON!" it's nice to see one that keeps it simple and doesn't earn top billing. Last but not least, the score is Carpenter-ish but not punishingly so, and doesn't directly ape any of his themes in its attempt at homage (looking at you, Strangers 2), so it's not distracting - it's just a pretty good idea of what he might have done if he scored this movie with his new band.

Plus, you know, 'tis the season and all. My slasher itch has been well scratched lately thanks to Hell Fest and Halloween, but otherwise I might even be kinder to it, as it's not exactly BAD, just zigs where it should have zagged more than once, leaving it kind of in that neutral "Well, if it's on and you got nothing better to do, you can do far worse" kind of territory. I'll probably keep it but only because I collect slashers (and Christmas movies); the odds of me watching it again land somewhere between Jack Frost (Keaton) and "one of the lesser Silent Night Deadly Night movies", though those would have improved if it was twenty minutes shorter at least. I've included the Amazon link for my fellow collectors - everyone else that's still intrigued can do with a rental, as the disc has only one extra: the trailer that's right below this paragraph. So uh, happy holidays!

What say you?


  1. Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

  2. As much as I love horror movies, I did not really watch them during the holiday season. That is because we all get together at this time of the year and we enjoy a Christmas films marathon. My parents would definitely not approve of showing the little ones this version of Santa! xD


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