Studio: Artsploitation Films
Director: Reinert Kiil
Writer: Reinert Kiil
Producer: Reinert Kiil
Stars: Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, Marte Saeteren, Stig Henrik Hoff, Jorgen Langhelle, Haddy Jallow, Karoline Stemre, Julia Schacht, Truls Svendsen, Thomas Felberg, Frank Kosas
Two detectives desperately search for an escaped serial killer dressed as Santa targeting a houseful of women on Christmas Eve.
Although its killer Santa setup echoes any number of holiday slashers, writer/director Reinert Kiil’s “Christmas Blood” plays more like an Xmas-themed riff on John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” In a clunky prologue that’s also overlong, a problem plaguing the film in general, a serial murderer dressed as St. Nick butchers an unsuspecting family of three on Christmas Eve 2011. A detective guns down the psychopath, but somehow Santa survives to be locked away in a secret prison.
Wordy text over opening credits tells us the unnamed madman had been slaughtering in his Christmas costume since 1998. That’s also when police found a list of 324 unconnected names inside a victim’s mouth. Authorities apparently cacked up the job of protecting those people because Santa continued crossing off names on that naughty list every Christmas Eve for the next 12 years. (“If only we had some clue who he might target next!”)
The final title card reveals that Santa inexplicably escaped custody on Christmas Eve 2016, which must be a mistake in subtitle translation because the next scene shows a new detective inspecting Santa’s empty cell on December 22nd. Just 14 names remain on the list. One of them died by suicide two weeks ago, but the killer doesn’t know that. Now he’s on his way to the dead woman’s home, where her daughter prepares to celebrate the season with friends. Aided by the alcoholic ex-cop who shot Santa five years ago, the new investigator hopes to find the killer Claus and save the houseful of women, plus their two random Tinder dates (huh?), before it’s too late.
Possibly intentionally, but partly unintentionally too, “Christmas Blood” bears a bit of a VHS-era vibe. It’s not engineered to visually look like a throwback thriller, at least not with faux film scratches or anything like that. But the hum-worthy synth score, overall mood, and subtleties in style make it feel like a tape my parents wouldn’t have wanted me bringing home from the video store as a preteen. If “Christmas Blood” actually was a grainy midnight movie from the mid-80s, complete with humorously outmoded fashion and gorier kills that would make the MPAA’s collective head spin too, it might have been a cult classic for the new millennium.
As a contemporary release however, the movie is neither sleazy nor stupid enough to fully capture the jagged edge charm of a bottom shelf B-movie. Reinert Kiil recognizes how implausible some of his script is, with certain scenes showing signs of self-awareness without being played for out loud laughs. But the rest of the story, particularly the police procedural portion, takes itself more seriously than it probably should, and production value doesn’t have the heft to pull everything off.
Kiil overeats at a table of clichéd characterizations. It seems as though he simply wants to deliberately indulge in all of the thriller tropes that influenced his imagination throughout the years. Not only do we get a retired detective with a drinking problem, there’s also a coroner who scarfs a sandwich while performing an autopsy and a cheating boyfriend who complicates the friendship between two women in the house.
Putting Santa on a straight path toward one specific target presents a problem with what to do in the meantime. “Christmas Blood” ends up serving side stories as distractions that aren’t engaging to begin with. The autopsy mentioned above turns out to be one of several false leads wasting the detective’s time. Casual partying involving drugs, insults, and ennui diminishes initially endearing personalities among the ladies. “Christmas Blood” wants its killer Santa to be a Michael Myers-esque embodiment of pure, faceless evil. But establishing its antagonist without an identity leaves the film in a lurch where it struggles to fill empty space.
The movie’s middle suddenly flashes back to Santa’s slayings in 2003, probably because the present day timeline doesn’t feature any kills until the finale. On one hand, I appreciate that the plot has purpose, and Santa isn’t just mindlessly offing everyone he comes across along the way. But boy does the lack of sustained energy make it tough to power through 104 minutes.
The film’s chief technical problem is that it is tragically underlit. Lighting looks professional, yet there is so little of it that staring at silhouettes becomes a regular challenge for the viewer. Excessive darkness makes extensive sequences of stalking at night, such as the seven and a half minute prelude of Santa creeping around a house, particularly exhausting.
Thickening its thin premise with several disposable sequences, “Christmas Blood” really wanes down the latter half of its overinflated runtime. So much so that I probably paused playback at least a dozen times over 30 minutes to use the bathroom, check the mail, refill my water, grab a snack, etc. It wasn’t necessarily a chore to finish up the film, but there wasn’t any burning urgency to get on with it either.
“Christmas Blood” is okay, but ultimately inessential. Still, DTV holiday horror on the whole is so overwhelmingly awful that when a mediocre movie like this one comes along, I’m inclined to leniently spread some seasonal cheer with an average 50/50 rating. “Christmas Blood” can capably while away two hours with its wonderful winter settings and occasionally inspired stabs. It just won’t be displacing “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (review here), or any of its sequels for that matter, as a go-to Santa slasher any time soon.
NOTE: The film’s Norwegian title is “Juleblod.”
Review Score: 50