Set inside the conflict of World War II, a strayed former SS lieutenant and a German paratrooper must band together and escort a Norwegian captive through the snow covered forest of the frigid Norwegian mountains. Venturing through the cold and soulless landscape, the lieutenant is baffled by his bearings as his map doesn’t correlate with his surroundings, the sun is positioned at the opposite direction, and their compass points in the wrong direction. Faced with the possibility of gangrene and hypothermia, the lost combatants are forced to take up camp in a seemingly abandoned house that fly’s a hoisted Norwegian flag and has a pot of stew left simmering on a stove burner. Their already puzzling arrival into the residence is also met with unexplainable occurrences that place the extremely cold and weary soldiers even more so on an overwrought edge as they continuously search the house of presence telling life signs. Shadows and sounds trick their senses, soon realizing that the cozy confines are an inhospitable prison and with the deadly cold nipping at the doorstep, the soldiers are left with no choice but to face a sinister absence of time inside a hostile house that toys with their psyche and questions their own mortal existence.
Quickly becoming Norway’s prominent horror filmmaker, Reinert Kiil found success with his controversial and provocative “Whore” films and had a well-received review at Its Bloggin’ Evil for his cheerfully grisly, holiday slasher classic, “Christmas Blood.” Artsploitation Films continues to wholeheartedly support the Norway born director with his next venture, the supernaturally-charged possession of a home-sweet-home feature entitled simply “The House’ or “Huset” as titled in the original tongue. Kiil typically trends with shock horror, but with “The House,” there is an expansion upon his range as a filmmaker while remaining in a field he’s finds most endearing, pulling inspiration from his childhood memory vault of B-movie horror schlock and nostalgia grandeur, and dapples with replacing his guts and gory showmanship with slowly developing and instilling fear, especially with fear of the unknown and fear of change. Audiences are going to be attached to the hip and entrenched with the German soldiers, clueless to their predicament and anxious for them with the house’s uncanny and perplexing animosity, and Kiil doesn’t show much right away, slowly simmering the taut chills lined meticulously in the story.
Paratrooper Andres Fleiss is introduced in the preface attempting to save his mortally wounded friend and brother in arms, Max. Fleiss’s passion greatly motivates him as he jump out of a plane first rather than assess whether he has a parachute on first, willing to assign blame and kill Rune, Norwegian captive, right away without any provocation as instant relief and gratification. You see, Rune didn’t kill Max and, in fact, no exposition is provided about how the three men arrived at preface’s point in time, standing on a snowy side of a mountain just on the outskirts of a forest edge. Frederik von Luttichau (“A Room to Die For”) incites the paratrooper’s sense of duty and sense of irrationality. Luttichau’s able to quickly switch gears from confident combatant to a frightened bumbling idiot whose trapped inside a complete mind scramble of a situation. Fleiss is juxtaposed against the cooler head of a commissioned officer, Lieutenant Jurgen Kreiner. The former architect from Munich uses his SS training to tranquil the anxiety; so much so that Kreiner has a strange habit of protecting Rune from expiring much to the displeasure of Fleiss. Mats Reinhardt, in his sophomore film, is a juggernaut of emotional suppression. The rigid actor perfectly suits Kreiner’s stoic rationality toward not only the malevolent shelter, but also to Fleiss’s thin patience. Both characters’ melancholy is confounding as you start to feel for these Nazi soldiers stuck in a state of limbo and Kiil writes their roles down a personal level that expresses guilt, sadness, and shame that lets you know that they’re human too, humans who have done terrible things that have become their undoing. The Norway solider, Rune, is an important piece to the puzzlement. With his background unexplained and role in the house’s occurrences, Rune becomes an integrated symbol of subtle vengeance; even Rune, in the origin sense of the word, is defined as a secret mystery. Rune, or Runes, can also imply a set of symbols in archaic German languages much like the ones used on the closet door in the house or at the title screen. The mysterious Norwegian is subjected to being always hurt, whether a bout with gangrene or being shot, Rune ceases to cease. “Christman Blood’s” Sondre Krogtoft Larsen perforates the two opposes forces as a well-executed deceitful key to the mystery and though Rune doesn’t fully explain the entirety of the house’s backstory, Larsen simply quantifies the a potential reason with his the character’s simplicity role in it all. Other character flow in and out of the story as either a flashback or a vision and they include performances from Evy Kasseth Rosten (“Dead Snow”), Sigmund Saeverud (“Christmas Blood”), Ingvild Flikkerud, and Espen Edvartsen (“Dead Snow 2”).
There are other “House” reviews that compare Kiil’s film to the likes of “The Exorcist” or an exorcist type film and while the German soldier’s narrative is spliced with a flashback sub-story of a priest performance the rites of exorcism on a young girl inside the “House,” labeling the film as such warrants a rebranding. These flashback scenes, that are not consecutive, sluggishly rolls out a bit piece in the house’s backstory that almost predates the 20th century (the trailer suggests 1901), but doesn’t, in my opinion, obviously explain all that’s happening to the soldiers forty years later. Fleiss said it best during a frantic moment when the paratrooper comes to a full realization that the reason their stuck in an unescapable phenomena is because he and Lt. Kreiner are dead. Sometimes the more blatant reason is perhaps the more conclusive as Kiil offers a breadcrumb trail to point out these two Nazi soldiers are in oblivion of atonement. From the very beginning, the three men couldn’t explain how they came together, every facet of direction is obscured, time ceases to exist, their most inner desires and offenses bubble to the surface, and even Fleiss mentions the soup, the one simmer on the burner upon their arrive, is bland to the taste for the dead have no need for senses. In short, the momentary exorcist scenes are fathomable, perhaps in-depth more with the dated slideshow series of events in the Scandes, but, in context, cheapens the film slightly and could go easily as “The House” is inherently soul crushing and effectively atmospheric.
Artsploitation Films and Reel Suspects presents Rinert Kiil’s “House,” a product of Sanctum Films, onto DVD home video. The release is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, shot digitally that idyllically compositions Norway’s Norefjell snowy mountain range of the Scandes. The opening title sequence has some image instability with faint pixel fluttery in the compression, but doesn’t seem to go beyond the barely visible stage. “House” isn’t a flashy conceived concept that renders a lot of texture or detail warranted scenes, but darker scenes are overly rich with black that interpreting the visuals more difficult and as a note on one of Kiil’s visional techniques on being outside in or at night, like when Fleiss is hoisting the Nazi flag, the obvious tinted lens isn’t a reasonable substitute for dusk, dawn, and night. Skin tones are a pleasantly raw in appearance and, hey, the lighting in the snow is great for obvious reasons. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is hands down the past technical feature with an engrossing atmosphere track that has depth and range to send the audible senses hiding in fear underneath the comfy blanket. The intertwining German, Norwegian, and English language tracks holds strong and upfront with clear and precise synchronization of paralleling subtitles, offered solely in English, and Kim Berg and and Levi Gawrock Troite’s powerful score portrays a film bigger than it’s budget. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes segment, an interview with Reinert Kiil who discusses his trek through Norway film and delves a little in each of his projects, a commentary track with Kiil, a short film by the director entitled “The Voice of One’s Conscience” (aka “Samvittighetens Rost”), and Artsploitation trailers. Reinert Kiil’s “The House” is non-exuberant horror diverging toward exploring the filmmaker’s unlimited possibilities and with “The House’s” diabolical descent into invigorating terror, Norway cinema has an abundance of sheer promise for the future of horror.
On Christmas Eve for over a Decade until 2011, a psychopath dressed as Santa Clause hunts down people on his naughty list, people whom have, at one time or another, been incarcerated. Santa’s violent kill streak ends when detective Thomas Rasch tracks puts multiple bullets into Santa after the gruesome slaughter of three people. After 6 years of imprisonment, with no sign of improvement from his holiday hallucinations, Santa escapes to continue checking and crossing those unlucky souls off his naught list, leading him to Alta, a small, quiet village in the northern most part of Norway where one woman when unpunished on his list. Unbeknownst to Santa, the woman he intends to frightfully dispatch has committed suicide, leaving behind a daughter, Julia, to oversee her mother’s home. Struggling to cope with her the loss of her mother, Julia’s college friends from all over the world embark to comfort her on Julia’s first Christmas without her mother, but the gesture of goodwill only speaks to their impending doom with a serial killer Santa ready to reign in Christmas with red blood soaked, holiday fear.
“Christmas Blood, aka “Juleblod” in the original Norwegian lingo, is Reinert Kiil’s yuletide splattering spectacular. Kiil writes and directs a new horror-holiday classic of the Norwegian variety that turns the jolly, red nose, cookie-eating fat guy into an axe wielding maniac. “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” “Black Christmas.” “Jack Frost.” “Christmas Blood” joins the high ranking level of a niche genre, the X-Mas horror genre, which doesn’t see really the light of day in conventional theaters, but home video unsheathes the new life into films one may have never heard of such as Kiil’s “Juleblod” Yet, the overall body of work for Christmas films is very black and white. They’re either overly feel good films with a blanket of pure white joy and happiness or utterly insane and soaked with the crimson interior body fluid, unless you count Die Hard or Lethal Weapon as Christmas films than one can make a case. “Christmas Blood” is certainly in that far right polar opposite of extreme violence, but is solid and engrossing, chopping body parts away with trepidation and stringed up with multi-colored lights.
Ringing in the holiday screams are young victims typically associated with familiar slasher archetypes. The “Christmas Blood” prey, typically adorned by actresses due to their ability produce toe curling, are a pact of university school friends gathered together to rally around one who has recently lost her mother to suicide. Helen Eidsvag, Haddy Jallow, Yassmine Johansen, Karoline Stemre, Kylie Stephenson, and Marte Saeteren share the limelight as unsuspecting Christmas carnage-fodder and all of the actresses hail from Norway with the exception of Kylie Stephenson, who has odd interjecting into Norwegian conversations with her Australian English dialect. Written as great friends, but also depicted as the worst of enemies as various facets of animosity slithers between them, the actresses pull off of their ill-fated character quirks well: Eidsvag as the innocent and naïve Sanne, Jallow as the drug indulgent and secret keeping black sheep Kitika, Johansen does stern and uptight girlfriend well in Katja, Stemre as a favorably licentious mute Elisabeth, Stephenson is the fun-loving non-national in Annika, and Saeteren as the heartbroken Julia with loss of her mother. I’m not sure if “Christmas Blood” would be a socially acceptable film in the States and not because of the blood-spatter blasphemy of traditional holiday and Christianity values, but because of how the one and only black character is treated throughout the narrative in a predominately white movie. Kitika has no verbal filter, smokes weed despite her host’s severe objection, slept with and was going to sleep with again her friend’s boyfriend, is kicked out into the freezing cold along with said friend’s boyfriend by the rest of her white friends, and is eventually slaughtered and stuffed into Santa’s sack. The remaining cast includes Jørgen Langhelle, Stig Henrik Hoff, Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, and Andreas Nonaas.
“Christmas Blood” is a retro-grade horror film that very merrily feels like a product of the Golden Age of slasher-survival genre from the 1980’s with a powerful and unstoppable aggressive killer, a delectable high body count, and a significant calendar date to infamously memorialize the event, similar to Friday the 13th or Halloween dates that are have been synonymous to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. Generally speaking, Santa’s already this jolly mystical being worshipped by all and in “Christmas Blood,” that mysticism is really exploited, but as a frightful killer Santa who is seemingly able to be in two places at once and survive a barrage of bullets. Only a couple gripes linger that don’t necessarily derail Santa’s slay-ing of bitchy former co-eds, daft police offers, or any unfortunate person in his blizzard path of butchery. For one, the wordy title card sequence explaining the background of serial Santa’s 13-year killing spree is sorely out of place and slightly kills the buzz built up initially by the gruesome opening scene that sets the morbid tone. Secondly, on the technical side, the lighting is very dim lit. The coloring scheme from the decorative bulbs is festively great and there’s also a very low-tone neon red, blue, and yellow juxtaposed against a bleak, cold setting as if walking through Amsterdam’s Red Light district at night, but with less people, more snow, and no peep shows, but the overall lighting is thin-to-damn near black at times that, shamefully, shades some of the gore work into a silhouette something and your eyes attempt to define what is being seen, but can’t definitively consume the form. Luckily, numerous gory moments make the cut in the light that include exposed entrails and some sheer brutal force with an axe to the neck and to the vagina!.
Artsploitation Films present “Christmas Blood” onto DVD this December. Presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the details are a little lost in the dim lighting as mentioned before, but the image quality looks vibrant on colorful in the mise-en-scene lighting and there are no issues with artefacts. The Norwegian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track is rather pristine like a bow-wrapped present under the tinseled tennenbaum, gifted with clarity, synchronization, and no distortion in any aspect. English subtitles are available and are synched well. However, Artsploitation’s release offers no bonus materials aside from a static menu, but this Reinert Kiil’s “Christmas Blood” snarls Merry Fucking Christmas by bastardizing the popular Scandinavian folkore of the genial Saint Nick into a fierce and frightening killing machine!