Happy Holidays, fiends! If you are like me, somewhere in an old family photo album or special holiday frame is a picture of a child version of you sitting on Santa’s lap while crying your eyes out. As we grow up, our parents tell us that Santa brings us presents and, therefore, we should not be afraid of him. But maybe that childhood instinct is correct. Perhaps, trusting a fat old man with beard dresses In a red suit who loves kids is a lot sketchier than we give the story credit. Today’s Cineray holiday recommendations are a couple of films about some very dangerous Santas and the badass kids who battle against them in Dial Code Santa Claus and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.
Dial Code Santa Claus – AKA Deadly Games – is like a demented and scarier Home Alone with a kid that has watched all the best 80’s action movies. The story takes place on Christmas Eve in the home of Thomas. Thomas is a brilliant boy with a grand imagination and a wealthy mother that indulges him. He dresses for his day like a mini Rambo and spends his day capturing his dog in trap doors. Thomas has installed a camera system throughout his entire house and can see everything from a remote on his wrist.
The camera system is the least of his security measures.
Thomas also spends his days with Papy, his grandfather, and works to repair his mother’s old car while Julie, his mother, manages a department store. Meanwhile, a man spots the store is hiring for a Santa and takes the job. When a girl accuses Santa of being fake, the jolly bastard slaps her. Julie sees this happen and fires him immediately. He steals her address, though and after killing a delivery driver and stealing his van, goes to her home. When he breaks in, Thomas mistakes this criminal for the actual Santa until a brutal event shows him the truth. Thomas has to mount a defensive to save himself and his grandfather from the psycho Santa.
What makes this movie great is the motifs and sequences it borrows from 80s action movies we know and love. It’s not a movie with a lot of kills, but it’s smart with the kills it does have and fills in the gaps with action. I would even hazard that one kill can be downright polarizing for viewers and may anger them to consider stopping the film right there. But I think it’s a bold move to establish the unforgivable evil as the crazy man simply known as Par Noel and put him in a Santa suit. It creates an eerie undertone beneath those 80’s action motifs.
Take the opening scene of Thomas suiting up with boots, toy knives, and camouflage, all laced up and strapped on to a knock-off hard rock soundtrack. These shots would usually be close-ups on the tight, rippling muscles of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger, but here they’re of a kid whose only resemblance to those 80s action stars is a spectacular mullet. And considering the odds and events Thomas has to deal with, he’s a total badass. It’s not a perfect film by far; there’s an opening that is heavy with exposition, and some of the callbacks overstay their welcome. But it’s a French take on over-the-top American Cinema, so it kind of makes sense.
Next, we move from a psychotic Santa to a demonic one.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is an extremely original concept that is really brought to life by a fantastic cast. The story starts with a survey crew on a mountain. They’re using a drill to take soil samples and find what they’re looking for when the foreman presents Riley, the man finding the operation, with soil that contains sawdust. Riley is excited as he explains the dust’s presence as evidence of something trapped in ice. Riley tells his crew they are close to finding what they set out to find, none other than Santa Claus, or at the very least the being that the Santa myth is based on, frozen in this ice.
Nearby, local boys Jusso and Pietari are sneaking around the site, listening to all of this. They hurry home, and Pietari begins to read up on this creature buried in the mountain. He discovers old folklore about a horned man with goat’s feet who once ran free, whipping and sometimes eating children who misbehave. The next day during the town’s annual reindeer hunt, Pietari’s father Rauno and some other men discover the corpses of hundreds of reindeer, all gnawed and eaten. They believe wolves have been driven wild by the mountain’s excavation, but when the disappearance of some local children follows this, it’s Jusso and Pietari who know the truth. The kids know better than the adults because adults are conditioned to disregard folklore, while the children are open to the fantastic.
Rare Exports‘ crisp, sharp cinematography and excellent production and set design make it a joy to watch. Nothing here looks fake, and similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing, this entry into the “monster thawed from the ice” subgenre feels very original.
Again these are both foreign films with subtitles, one being French and the other Finnish, and they both are great. As is usually the case with a good foreign film, at some point, you forget you are reading as you watch and just start doing it automatically and enjoying the movie. To watch these, you can stream Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale from several places, with options to watch for free with ads or with the cost of a rental or subscription but as usual, it’s on Shudder along with Dial Code Santa Claus so why not watch there.