Blu-Ray Review: ‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’

The evil Santa movie Rare Exports “feels more like a Steven Spielberg film than Silent Night Deadly Night.”

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

I’ve always felt really bad for Christmas movies. Well, the good ones anyway. Ron Howard’s The Grinch can go screw itself. But even if you’ve made the greatest, most awesome Christmas movie ever you can only get a theatrical release in the already crowded November/December “Oscar Bait” time slot, and then you typically have to wait an entire year before coming out on home video in order to capitalize on the holiday season once again. It must be a little easier for Christmas-themed horror movies, though, since they’re allowed to come out in the month of October, but still, you’re ghettoized to a single quarter of the year. It’s particularly a pity for a Christmas horror movie like Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, since it’s excellent enough to watch all year ‘round. It’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray now, after a limited theatrical run way back in Christmastime 2010.

Santa Claus, you see, is real, but the Coca Cola Santa Claus is not. No, this Rare Exports is about the old school Santa Claus, the one that kidnaps and kills little children. Hundreds of years ago the people of Finland got sick and tired of him, froze him, and created a mountain of ice and rock to keep him prisoner. Now, a mining team has been dispatched to break him loose – why anyone would do this is left a mystery, although an eccentric millionaire is involved – and break him loose they do. Pietari, a local boy played by Onni Tommila, overhears the talk of Santa Claus’s resurrection, but when his best friend tells him that Santa Claus isn’t real he begins to do his research. Apparently his local library has a particularly impressive occult section (maybe he goes to Sunnydale High), because he soon learns of Santa’s dark origins and begins to prepare for the danger that follows. His father almost kills himself because of the bear trap in the ceiling.

Director Jalmari Helander, who based Rare Exports on a series of short films, also available on the DVD/Blu-Ray, doesn’t quite go where you’d think with this premise. Killer Santas have been done before, from Christmas Evil to Santa’s Slay, but the American versions tend to be comedic, ultraviolent killing sprees. Rare Exports, with its ridiculously lush cinematography (it looks gorgeous in high-definition) and fairy tale tone feels more like a Steven Spielberg film than Silent Night Deadly Night. It’s the story about a boy who believes, a single father in dire financial straits who doesn’t, and what happens to their relationship when Pietari turns out to be right. The big, big ending of the film is enormously exciting and vindicating for its child protagonist, who goes from a scared little boy to a leader of men. Much more cathartic than an ice axe to the head, although Rare Exports has those too.

The Blu-Ray and DVD editions of the film – which again have a truly sumptuous presentation – include the original shorts (worth watching) and a behind the scenes feature along with concept art and the like. Most interesting is that Oscilloscope Entertainment has included, in the Blu-Ray version only, the entire feature film of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Now before you get too excited, the film is not presented in anamorphic widescreen, so you’ll have to adjust your TV settings to watch it correctly (not difficult, but a minor annoyance), and has not been remastered in high definition. In fact, it looks like the exact same print from the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 Christmas episode.

To tell the truth, this is the first time I’ve ever watched the film without the aid of Joel Hodgson and the ‘bots, and the movie is damned near unwatchable without an acerbic commentary track. The children of Mars are depressed, their parents kidnap Santa Claus, there’s a truly deplorable comic relief character named “Droppo,” and the worst-looking polar bear in the history of cinema. Bad guys don’t like Santa Claus because they have moustaches, apparently, and in the end their defeated in an “action sequence” vaguely reminiscent of that weirdo “toys vs. toys” sequence in, well, Toys. If it were the feature presentation this would be a problem, but as an added bonus, you have to give the Rare Exports Blu-Ray points for irony.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is about to get the biggest compliment I can give a Christmas movie: I’m making it a yuletide tradition, right alongside The Nightmare Before Christmas and Christmas in Connecticut. It’s a beautiful Blu-Ray, a truly wonderful film, and you should buy it now, while it’s still seasonally appropriate.