Eline, Per-Ingvar, and Magne are three close and eccentric friends preparing for the jolliest time of year, Christmas. Concocting a unique Christmas spirit of their own with scarring passers dressed as Krampus and brewing an alcohol infused cocktail, the unconventional celebration reflects their individual perspectives on the holiday: a knowledgeable Eline embraces more traditional values, Magne goes against the grain with a loose grasp on the concept of it all, and the lack of mental acuity for wheelchair bound Per-Ingvar leaves him in naive, gullible belief. All the while the friends prep the groundwork for a Christmas party, a homicidal sociopath tracks and records their every movement, habits, and personal attributes and when Christmas comes, the meticulous and brutal serial killer dresses as Santa and infiltrates what turned from being a joyous bash into Santa bashing in heads with a hammer, decapitates party guests, and rip-roars a chainsaw with blood splattering apathy.
It’s that time of year again to ride the Christmas slay down the hills covered with blood-red snow. Santa, usually a sign of pure good and jovial togetherness, is transformed to embody terror and evil across the holiday season. In 2013, Norwegian filmmaker Per-Ingvar “PIT” Tomren (“Bonzai Motherfucker!”) and his co-director Magne Steinsvoll (producer of “Killungard” and “Lyst”) not only star in another Yuletide horror that yields itself to violence and blood but also adds their perspective entry into the vast Scandanavian subgenre of ole’ Saint Nick, or an imposter of the jolly fat guy, going postal in the worst possible way. Tomren and Steinsvioll work into their debut feature film off a script penned by principal co-star Eline Aasheim as well as Janne Iren Holseter, Anita Nyhagen, and directors Tomren and Steinsvoll. Originally entitled “O’Hellige Jul!” in Norwegian, the 2013 released “Christmas Cruelty” is a Stonewall Productions and presented by DC Medias under the producing credits of Magne Steinsvoll, Kim Haldoersen, and Raymond Volle (“Saga”).
Instead of hiring an outside cast for a serial rapist and killer Santa flick, why not just star in the film yourself? In order to get their feet wet in film production as well as learning the rigors of acting, Per-Ingvar Tomren, Magne Steinsvoll, and Eline Aasheim essentially portray themselves as the three friends spending unique quality time together during Christmas. Per-Ingvar works into the script the corporeal truth of this delicate skeletal structure that battles brittle bone disease aka osteogenesis imperfecta. Confined almost entirely to his wheelchair, Tomren curbs his wellbeing for the sake of art as the filmmaker doesn’t exempt himself from the various physical altercation scenes to have a stuntman take the glory. The same kind of sentiment can be said for Eline Aasheim whose character must endure an invasive attack, one that’s deeply uncomfortable and intimate in nature surrounded by a virtually an all-male cast which includes offscreen friendships. Then there’s Magne. If Per-Ingvar and Eline embodied metaphorically everything that is good about the Christmas spirit, Magne was the complete opposite as a complaining, sexist, and indelicate sourpuss living in the moment rather than grasping his own barbed attitude. The malarky between the three friends on screen is perhaps very mirrorlike offscreen as there is a comfortability level with each other performances that keeps the dynamic on the edge of combusting but yet you never feel like a change in their relationship will ever mount, keeping their friendship close, tight, and compact. The outsider, the Serial Santa, is played mid-50’s Norway actor Tormod Lien. I mention Lien’s age because he is older than the other principal characters and that plays into his character’s wisdom as a family man who takes notes on who’s halls he will soon deck. Calm, organized, and deviant, Lien plays into the apathy without a twinkle of empathy and engineers a bloody show of planned homicide with some comedic bits put on by Lien when Serial Santa has to go off script because of interruptions.
In my mind, there are two types of Christmas horror films: the uncanny universe where Santa, or something related to Santa, such as his toyshop elves or Krampus, world’s lives and breathes in a twisted malevolency while the other type resides in fact with sociopathic and mentally unstable Santa impersonators who go on a merry murdering spree. “Christmas Cruelty!” falls in that latter category with serial killer, dressed as Santa and a grotesque mask, gatecrashes the good protagonists’ party for the nefarious primordial urge to hurt, rape, and kill. Maybe even dabble in a little cannibalism. “Christmas Cruelty!” is a lump of extreme exploitation for next level nihilism. I’ve seen my fair share of messed up movies, but the Tomren and Steinsvoll defiling picture doesn’t even have a millimeter of morality. Without a theme, a message, or a basic point, “Christmas Cruelty!” is hollow atrocity for the sake of shock and slaughter. The principal goods are either too afraid to help each other, too unwilling to help each other, or are too conceited to even take notice that something is amiss. Instead, it’s the Serial-Santa who has his ducks in order, unabashed to simply walk into a room and start his plan of cold-hearted perversion, but before even getting to that moment with deliciously diabolical practical special effects that can produce a gut-wrenching impact, the story goes static with the principal goods chitchatting about history of Christmas, their likes and dislikes of the season, and nursing a hangover from hell. This portion to build character doesn’t actually build character as we’re skirted around victimized trio’s reason for to deserving of our sympathy. Yeah, there’s a person with learning disabilities in a wheelchair and a young woman with an inkling of a moral compass but I find them aimless, sleepwalking through life, and without purpose.
Christmas comes early with the release of “Christmas Cruelty” on Blu-ray home video from our friends at Unearthed Films and MVD Visual. Presented in 1080p with a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio on an AVE encoded BD50, Unearthed Films rendering of the transfer goes without a hitch, but the stylistic choices of Tomren and Steinsvoll are an eyesore with a mustard yellow overlay intended for a grindhouse veneer that also correlates with the large font and embossed opening credits. Much of the details and natural look are lost in the yellow tint. The erratic editing is supposed to reflect Serial Santa’s fragmented mind which idiosyncratically finds footing but can be off-putting to its experimental quality. The Norwegian language DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound mix reflects no issues with depth and range despite having limited need for both and has mostly clear dialogue albeit some obstruction from the soundtrack that is heavily integrated into the sound design and becomes a character in itself with a blend of English-lyrical Christmas themed tunes, instrumental string melodies, acoustic solos by Magne Steinsvoll, generic rock tracks, and folksy jamming that ends with the loud roaring of a chainsaw slicing through body parts. The bonus features include an audio commentary with co-director Per-Ingvar Tomren and producer Raymond Volle, retrospective interviews in How Cruelty Changes Our Lives featurette, blooper outtakes, photo gallery, The Last Rebels hit “Endless Highway,” an interview with Morten Haagensen, “Tradition” short film, Press Conference, a watch-a-long session with Flesh Wound Horror, and teaser trailer. The Unearthed Films menu options were a bit cumbersome to navigate when trying to play the movie as the next screen goes to the three audio options – either two commentaries that run along with the film and the play movie without commentary, but the options are not terribly intuitive and had to go through the options before I was able to play just the movie. The physical release comes in a traditional blue snapper case with the soulless, dead eyes of the Santa mask illustrated with liver sports and aged wrinkles on the front cover. Unearthed Films’ release comes not rated, region A encoded, and has a runtime of 94 minutes. Probably not the perfect holiday gift for the conventional horror filmgoer, “Christmas Cruelty” is difficult to ingest and digest as not only an extreme exploitation film but as a film as whole, but with the callous chunks of coal and the striped blood red candy cane of scrumptious special effects, the Norwegian definitely offers a good stocking stuffer.