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Artsploitation brings End of Year Christmas Cheer

If you are seeking new Christmas movies this December and Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles doesn’t do it for you–or over does it–Artsploitation distribution has two more possibilities: Adolfo J Kolmerer’s Snowflake (aka Schneeflöckchen, 2017) and Reinert Kiil’s Christmas Blood (aka Julblod, 2017). Although, really it turns out that the former of these two is more of a dialog-filled, meta, action-comedy that includes a supporting character in the form of an angel named Snowflake. Designating this German language film as a Christmas film is a bit misleading, but I understand why it is a good title to release in December. The latter, however, does a fine job of delivering the presents.

Christmas Blood joins a growing list of other formidable wintery, bloody, Scandinavian pictures of recent years like Dead Snow (2009) and Finland’s Rare Exports (2010). A vicious Santa Claus stalks and murders hundreds of law-breakers before the start of the film, seeking out presumably those who have been bad, at least in the eyes of police reports found in the media. Two detectives decide to track the big, bearded guy down. The complete darkness of Norway in the winter creeps into many a frame, lit up by decorations on the tree or noirish shadows striking our characters. Having absolutely no daylight in a feature film gives it quite a positively murky quality that takes advantage of the dreamy qualities of night time. It is perhaps the closest thing to a slasher taking place at The North Pole. Even many of the interior settings are lit with just one light, or in a dim, soft manner bringing to mind the techniques of past greats like Jacques Tourneur. The actors are attracted to and move towards the light sources, rather than light sources being where it best fits a rehearsed path an actor takes.

The film has a tendency to linger and digress with flashbacks, bit characters, and a group of international, attractive, young women, but these aren’t bad things per se. Unlike other low budget Christmas horror films, Christmas Blood isn’t a one trick pony, but a total of moods and vibes that create the unity that is a yuletide slasher. Santa is trudging around off screen for most of the picture, leaving us to get to know the informal sorority of women and the cops on Saint Nick’s trail. It is difficult to choose a protagonist, but surprisingly, this does not turn out to be a problem. The film has some similarities to the recent Silent Night (2012), although Christmas Blood may end up being better in the end.    

Is Christmas Blood on the same level as the original Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) or other classics of the sub-genre like Black Christmas (1974) or Christmas Evil (1980)? No, but it fills in that festive form of spectatorship that so many of us crave around this time of year. There is something about Christmas time and the combination of red/green aesthetics with residual, familial tensions that invite viewings of violent chaos and transgressing virtue. Christmas and horror make a pleasing combination virtually every time, and in 2018 this Norwegian yarn has a healthy go at it.

Snowflake starts off with an intriguing premise, taking place in a Berlin of the near future where chaos reigns, laws don’t seem to be enforced, and life tightrope walks between fascism and anarchy. A lot could be done with this idea, but it ends up seeming like just an excuse for characters to commit violent acts without having to fear retribution from the law. Two men, Javid (Reza Brojerdi) and Tan (Erkan Acar), navigate this landscape, interacting with a variety of odd characters including cannibal serial killers, a woman looking for revenge, and a Hitler-esque mastermind named Winter. They also meet a dentist who moonlights as a screenwriter, an addition that completely changes the structure of the film.

It turns out that this puppet master-like dentist is writing the script to the very film we are watching as it plays out. This is an interesting “meta” kind of approach that is somewhat amusing and successful. I am surprised to see this kind of structure in use, which is the kind of thing that just about every aspiring screenwriter considers at some point early on, only to discard it once the premise becomes too self-serving. The ultimate paradox of the set up is that when characters believe they can change the future by reading ahead in the script, they can never get further from where they are in time at that moment. The results are kind of parallel scenarios that predict the future, yet in a redundant way (if that makes sense).

Snowflake is a fun film that operates in Tarantinoid fashion, with a variety of intertitles and loquacious dialog. The name evokes the contemporary socio-political insult hurled at well meaning leftists by right wing assholes, but to be clear, the film has nothing to do with this usage of the term. It turns out that Snowflake is actually an angel written into the script by our dentist, in order to give Javid and Tan a supernatural protector. Unfortunately she is not on screen for very long, becoming one of the supporting characters. It seems like maybe the actress dropped out of the film mid-shoot, so they had to create a bunch of new scenes to fill the originally intended space.

If you are looking for a quality Christmas horror double feature, it might be worth pairing Christmas Blood with an earlier Artsploitation release, the recent Australian slasher Red Christmas (2016). This latter film frames the yuletide slasher in a framework regarding abortion, which happens to be a devilishly pertinent combination. Perhaps the most interesting thing about a double feature of Christmas Blood and Red Christmas is in comparing and contrasting how this holiday looks and plays out aesthetically in two completely different parts of the world–the darkness of Norway, and the southern hemispherical summer of Australia. Hopefully this year you will find some quality films in your stocking in lieu of all that coal year after year.  

About Joseph E. Dwyer

Joseph Dwyer is an assistant web editor at Diabolique, where he concentrates on the Legacies of Sade and Watching the Watchdogs columns. His major interests are freedom of speech, desire, and dissent in horror/cult cinema. He lives in Oakland, CA, and has academic degrees from the San Francisco Art institute and Hampshire College.

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