12 Days of Christmas

Vintage Science Fiction Month: SF Stories About Christmas

Vintage Science Fiction Month is the brainchild of the Little Red Reviewer. The objective: Read and discuss “older than I am” Science Fiction in the month of January.

When you think of Christmas stories, the first genre that comes to mind is probably not Science Fiction. But decades of initially flippant but increasingly earnest proclamations that “Die Hard is a Christmas movie!” indicate that perhaps the notion of what constitutes a “Christmas Story” is somewhat malleable. Naturally, none of this is new. Witness To Follow a Star, a collection of nine science fiction Christmas stories published in 1977, featuring stories from Golden Age stars dating back to the 1940s and 1950s. One of the great things about reading vintage SF is the continual discovery that everything old becomes new again at some point (in this case, debates about what makes something a “Christmas Story”).

To Follow a Star book cover

On its surface, the notions of Science Fiction and Christmas represent something of a contrast, but such conflicts can be useful in storytelling. As is typical of collections like these, the stories are a bit uneven, but it’s always nice to read something along these lines during the holiday season. Quick thoughts on each story:

  • Christmas on Ganymede by Isaac Asimov – Cute little short story written in Asimov’s traditional non-style, with a button of an ending that you might see coming, but which brought a smile to my face.
  • Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus by Frederik Pohl – Naturally Pohl takes on the commercialization of Christmas and imagines a far flung satirical future in which “department stores begin celebrating the Christmas sales rush in September”, imagine that absurdity! (I don’t talk much about my day job here, but I work for a digital retailer that starts their Christmas sales rush in July, so I had a nice chuckle at this part of the story.) Amusing predictions aside, this is perhaps not your typical romantic Christmas story, but that’s ultimately where its heart lies.
  • Santa Claus Planet by Frank M. Robinson – A man crash lands on an alien planet, and finds that the natives have rather odd and perhaps gift-giving traditions. An interesting, if exaggerated and fatalistic, exploration of the power dynamics inherent in gift giving. Not terribly Christmassy, to be sure, but interesting.
  • Christmas Tree by John Christopher – Short tale of a space traveler who plays with fire and ends up getting grounded (i.e. stranded) on the moon because his body can no longer the trip back to earth. Spoilers, I guess, but while the character will miss Christmases back home, this is not especially Christmassy either.
  • The Star by Arthur C. Clarke – One of Clarke’s most famous short stories, this won’t exactly put you in the Christmas mood, but pitting the cold hard science against the faith of believers (in this case Christians) will certainly make you think. This is not the first time I’ve read this story, and even knowing where it’s going – an excellent rug-pull at the end of the story where everything clicks in a devastating way – does not diminish its power.
  • The Christmas Present by Gordon R. Dickson – I guess they wanted to put all the bummer stories in the middle of the collection, which makes sense. This is another story about how aliens learn about Christmas, this time with tragic results. It stands in stark contrast to Asimov’s earlier story in this collection (which also deals with aliens trying to figure out Christmas), which is a nice touch.
  • Christmas Treason by James White – Much is made of the “lies” we tell kids about Santa and Christmas, and as you might expect, science fiction authors (and fans, for that matter) are the type who will not accept traditional explanations of the logistics of Santa’s delivery service. In the case of this story, kids with teleportation and psychokinesis powers assume that Santa must have a series of underground bunkers secreted throughout the world to support his Christmas Eve shenanigans. The only thing is: these bunkers are actually nuclear missile silos. While certainly a recipe for disaster, James White takes a decidedly more fun view of the situation and does a reasonable job balancing the tone of the story (which does need to walk a rather tight line).
  • The New Father Christmas by Brian W. Aldiss – In an increasingly automated world, will the machines and AIs adopt Christmas traditions in strange ways with unforeseen consequences? I suspect the writers of Futurama might have been inspired by this story in their conception of Robot Santa…
  • La Befana by Gene Wolfe – Christmas is about the birth of Earth’s savior, but what about other planets? Neat idea, and Wolfe uses one of my favorite Santa precursor legends in this short story.

As already mentioned, it might seem odd to see mixtures of Science Fiction and Christmas, but as it turns out, I’ve read several collections of Christmas Science Fiction stories, and there are probably a bunch of others. There are other collections from various authors, like Isaac Asimov’s Christmas (which is a collection of stories from Asimov’s magazine, rather than the author himself), but also some specific authors who seemingly specialize in the holiday, like Connie Willis’ A Lot Like Christmas and John Scalzi’s A Very Scalzi Christmas. All of these collections have their charms, in part because I like the contrast inherent in this micro-genre, and To Follow a Star is no exception (though I think I would probably recommend Willis and Scalzi books ahead of this one, for whatever that’s worth).

Next up for Vintage Science Fiction Month: Space Beagles!

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Two years ago, I watched all of the films in the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise. This post was started at that time, but for reasons beyond remembrance, I never posted about this absolutely insane series of movies. I probably missed the Christmas window and who wants to read about killer Santas in February? I mean, sure, I do and I’m betting a significant portion of the people reading this do, but there’s only about five of you, so that’s not saying much. Anyway, when I upgraded the blog earlier this year, the draft of this post is surfaced every time I bring up the WordPress dashboard, and this is the perfect time to cover the lunacy of the Silent Night, Deadly Night series. Buckle up, it’s gonna get weird.

Silent Night, Deadly Night – I covered the original during the Six Weeks of Halloween a little over a decade ago. I wasn’t particularly impressed back then, but I liked the Christmas setting and loved the grizzled old man that tells young Billy that “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!” After a decade of exploring other Santa slashers and some repeat viewings, I have to say that this movie has grown on me. I still can’t really claim it’s good, but as these movies go, it actually has some things on its mind. It’s not just controversy and sex and gore; it genuinely tries to explore things like repression and guilt. Lilyan Chauvin’s performance as Mother Superior drives the point home with a straight-faced intensity that contrasts the silly material in a way that can be offputting at first, but which I have come around to.

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Indeed, the whole film is a study in contrasts. The joyous nature of Christmas versus the nudity and violence of a slasher? It’s mean spirited but somehow also feels good-natured? Again, I can’t claim it’s great at that and the filmmakers were certainly well aware that they were working within an exploitation framework, but they were at least trying something. Also of note: an infamous Linnea Quigley performance. Small, but memorable. Look, if you’re still reading this, you’ve already seen this and know that the really weird stuff happens later in the series.

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 – I first watched this around the same time as the original, and was severely disappointed. It turns out that approximately 50% of this movie is just clips from the first film. Low-budget 80s sequels did stuff like this all the time, but this is excessive even by those standards. As the story goes, the producers actually wanted to stitch the entire sequel together with old footage. Director Lee Harry claims he was able to convince them to pony up some cash for new scenes. And that stuff is bonkers.

Eric Freeman in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2: Garbage Day!
Garbage Day!

Eric Freeman gives an outlandish, truly unhinged performance, and the “Garbage Day!” sequence has rightly become a cult classic in its own right. As such, it has risen in my estimation over the years… but I’m still annoyed by the first half of the movie. Maybe it would work better if you hadn’t just watched the first movie? This is objectively bad in most respects, but it’s a sorta fascinating and wildly entertaining failure.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! – This movie should be so much better than it actually is. I’m going to describe a bunch of stuff about this movie, and it’s going to sound awesome… but it is emphatically not so. Unlike the first two movies, whose inadequacies are somehow endearing, this one just plods limply to the finish line without anything of real interest. So here goes: The infamous “killer Santa Claus” Ricky Caldwell has miraculously been kept alive in a coma for six years by a mad scientist/doctor experimenting with ESP. Inevitably, he awakes from his coma and sets off to kill a young woman who has some psychic connection to him, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake.

Bill Moseley in Silent Night Deadly Night Part 3: Better Watch Out!

It’s directed by Monte Hellman! It stars Bill Moseley as Ricky! Both of those guys are great! Robert Culp shows up as a cop chasing Ricky! The character design of Ricky replaces the entire top of his head with a glass dome, revealing his brain! Hell, just writing this makes me want to revisit this. It can’t possibly be as bad as I remember, can it? And yet, I’m virtually certain it’s even worse than my memory of it. That I’ve, like, repressed how bad it is. The best thing I can say about it is that you might be able to watch this closely and analyze enough of it to figure out what NOT to do in a slasher movie.

Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 – At this point, the series basically abandons any pretense of being a sequel. This is one of those I can’t get this script made unless I pretend its a sequel to an existing franchise sorta jams. As such, there’s no connection whatsoever to the previous three movies. It’s about a reporter who stumbles upon a coven of witches that worship some sort of satanic bug larvae or somesuch. It does take place during Christmas, but it’s barely got any of that sort of atmosphere.

Clint Howard in Initiation: Silent Night Deadly Night 4

It’s actually all just an excuse to Screaming Mad George’s bizarre FX and concepts. As such, this movie gets really grody. Along the way, we’re treated to a quintessential Clint Howard performance as Ricky, the gross errand boy of the witches. So this isn’t really a sequel in anything but name, but it does bring the whole “interesting failure” component back to the franchise. It’s hard to recommend because it’s just so… grody (which I already said but it’s really the one word review of this movie), but if you’re into that sort of thing…

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker – This is it, folks. The series culminates in one of the most bizarre takes on Christmas horror ever put to film. Like Initiation, this has no connection to the first three films and is basically a sequel in name only, but it has more Christmas atmosphere and yes, even some form of ambition. It’s a sorta mashup of Santa Slasher and… Pinocchio?

Mysterious killer toys are being delivered throughout the land, and a young boy who witnesses the death of his father becomes too traumatized to speak. His mother must try to get him past his trauma. Perhaps with the help of local toymaker, Joe Petto and his nefarious son, Pino. Oh, and Joe Petto is played by Mickey Rooney. Clint Howard kinda/sorta reprises his role as Ricky, though he’s not a grody servant of witches anymore (or yet? Is this a prequel to part 4? I mean, it doesn’t really matter, but still.)

And that’s just the beginning. This thing gets more and more bananapants as it goes, leading to a truly insane finale. I might be building this up a bit too much in my head right now, but this movie was the thing that convinced me that writing a post like this would be a worthwhile affair. Like, really, this is a terrible movie, but I love it. That’s kinda the story of the entire series, and this one is a prime example.

So there you have it, five truly awful movies… with lots to love if you’re a fan of bad movies, which I apparently am. If you want to put yourself through this, all of the sequels are available for free (with commercials) on Tubi (at least, as of this writing). As for me, I’m making preparations to watch the remake/reboot/whatever this year. I’m sure it will be terrible. I’ll probably enjoy it. I don’t know if I have the stomach for the fan-made Silent Night, Deadly Night 6: Santa’s Watching, but you never know. Merry Christmas!

The 2013 Egg Nog Tasting

Family Holiday traditions are very weird, like how my family does an Egg Nog tasting every Thanksgiving… after dinner. You know, because we’re still hungry and it’s not like Egg Nog is filling at all. In fairness, it was a tradition born by accident. One year, literally everyone thought they were in charge of bringing egg nog, so they brought a couple and we ended up with, like, 15 of them. Since then, we’ve intentionally started doing this. Sometimes, this gets super complicated and involves blind tastings and whatnot, but the last couple years have been pretty informal. Check out some previous recaps: [2013 | 2012 | 2010 | 2008].

The past few years have represented an attempt to find different egg nogs instead of crowning the same two every year (usually local mainstays Wawa or Swiss Farms). This has been fine, but I don’t think any of those actually beats our normal champions. This year, we returned to previous champions, and went for some new things too. Not a crazy number of entries this year though:

2015 Egg Nogs

For posterity, the Egg Nogs pictured here are (from left to right):

  • Swiss Farms Premium Egg Nog
  • Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog
  • Wawa Egg Nog
  • Turkey Hill Egg Nog
  • Organic Valley Eggnog
  • International Delight Classic Nog
  • Upstate Farms Premium Egg Nog

So we’ve got three former winners (Swiss Farms, Wawa, Upstate Farms), two standard, middle of the pack entrants (Southern Comfort and Turkey Hill), one I don’t remember having before (but which I apparently have), and one that isn’t even Egg Nog. It’s always amusing how these weirdos try to trick people into drinking this stuff. The giveaway is the use of the word “Nog” without the corresponding “Egg”. That International Delight nog is described as a “Festive Dairy Beverage” whatever that means. You might think this would be a shoe-in for “Worst in Show”, but in reality, it was kinda just like milk with some cinnamon and nutmeg or something. Not bad at all, but not really anything like an egg nog either.

In an odd turn of events, Upstate Farms got under some people’s skin and ended up taking the award for worst egg nog. I didn’t think it was that bad, but it was clearly inferior to the top two, Wawa and Swiss Farms. Someone mentioned that Upstate had a sorta artificial, chemically character to it. I didn’t really get it, but whatever! Swiss Farms took first place, and at this point, remains undefeated. Personally, I still go for Wawa, but that’s just me.

It was fun, as usual, but it was a pretty low key year. Perhaps next year will be the year we finally break down and make our own egg nog. If we can get over our fear of making everyone sick, which seems likely? I feel like it should be simple enough, but we’ll see. Otherwise, I want to find something I can bring to rival Swiss Farms. It’s good, but I don’t know that it’s quite as dominant as its performance the past few years indicates. Until next year!

The 2013 Egg Nog Tasting

A tradition born by accident, my family’s Egg Nog tasting happens every Thanksgiving. One Thanksgiving many moons ago, thanks to poor coordination, everyone brought one or two Egg Nogs, and thus we ended up with, like, 14 different types. I’m not actually positive what year this really went into overdrive, but ever since that fateful year, we’ve actually planned to have that many Egg Nogs, and have even gone so far as to orchestrate a double blind tasting in order to determine the Best Egg Nog (the “worst” is usually a pretty easy and uncontroversial decision that does not require any real debate). I mean, we’re not scientists here or anything, but this is pretty rigorous for a family gathering. I could have sworn I did a better job recapping each year’s proceedings, but only a few previous tastings have been chronicled: [2012 | 2010 | 2008].

One thing we’ve noticed is that the same Egg Nogs tend to show up every year, and we’ve got a few that consistently win (notably local mainstays Wawa and Swiss Farms). Last year we made a rule that the previous year’s winner (and “winner” of worst nog) could not return. This year we made a concerted effort to seek out completely new and obscure Egg Nogs. I was actually shocked at how well we did in this mission, though of course there were a couple repeats. So let’s do this, the Egg Nogs of 2013:

2013 Egg Nogs

For posterity, the Egg Nogs pictured here are (from left to right):

  • Turkey Hill Egg Nog
  • America’s Choice Holiday Favorite Egg Nog
  • Bolthouse Farms Limited Edition Holiday Nog (Low Fat)
  • Promised Land Old Fashioned Egg Nog
  • Trader Joes Egg Nog
  • Trickling Springs Creamery Farm Friend Fresh Egg Nog
  • Califa Farms Almondmilk Holiday Nog
  • Lehigh Valley Holiday Eggnog
  • Borden Eggnog
  • Silk Seasonal Nog

The only returning contenders were the Turkey Hill, which has pretty much always shown up (but always places somewhere in the middle of the pack), and the Silk Seasonal Nog (which has won “worst” in the past). The Borden was arguably a returning contender as well, though it’s now packaged in a resealable container (Borden was always famous for being canned) and while they claim the recipe is the same, this stuff was nothing like the Borden of years past (which was also a middle of the pack performer). Indeed, the Borden was nearly toxic and came out a weirdly bright, almost glowing color. Gross.

But as bad as it was, Borden was still at least marginally identifiable as Egg Nog. One thing I’ve noticed about the competition for worst egg nog is that it is dominated by entries that aren’t actually “egg” nog. They’re always just “Holiday Nog” or “Seasonal Nog” or “Coconut Nog” or some such lie. These really aren’t Egg Nogs, but they’ve got some nutmeg and they’re trying to capitalize on the season. I guess that’s fine for big Soymilk fans, but when you have these right next to real Egg Nog, that just makes them seem all the worse. This year’s competition was between the Bolthouse Farms Low Fat Holiday Nog, which was packaged so deceptively that we didn’t realize what it was until we nearly gagged on it. Silk was its normal self, but the real revolution in bad flavor belongs to Califa Farms Almondmilk Holiday Nog. It was so bad, I think it somehow hurt my eyeballs. The decision was unanimous.

The competition for best was a little better, though I do think the champions of years past (Wawa, Swiss Farms, Upstate Farms) would have trounced all of this year’s competitors. Indeed, the normally middle of the pack Turkey Hill was a clear favorite heading into the blind tasting, which only featured three Egg Nogs this year: Turkey Hill, America’s Choice (whose box sez “fa-la-la-la-yum”, which became its unofficial name), and Promised Land (whose label proclaims “From the finest Jersey Cows”). It was close, but Promised Land came out the victor.

Egg Nogs

It was a fine year, but I think we need to have something like a Tournament of Champions next year, and bring back all the best Egg Nogs. I’m also toying with a rule that we should not accept “holiday nogs” that are not actually Egg Nog. Of course, that would limit options for the “worst” award, though I suppose “Light” egg nogs (or Borden!) could qualify. But maybe instead of worst, we bring back “flavored” egg nogs (which were banned several years ago). We’ll have to wait until next year. But me, I’m going to hit up Wawa sometime this week and get some real Egg Nog…

Holiday Link Dump

Things are getting festive around here, so here’s a few quick links for your holiday enjoyment:

  • Arnold’s Very Special Xmas Party – With very special guest… Mike Tyson!? I have no idea where it came from, but this video is astounding.
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas by Colin Nissan – A more detailed account of the infamous twelve gifts. Sample:

    On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two turtle doves. Wow, she’s really into the avian theme this year. Um, thank you? I guess I’ll just put them in the kitchen with the partridge and the pear tree, which suddenly seems a lot bigger than it did yesterday.

    Things get weirder and weirder as the 12 days continue. Heh.

  • Crazy Christmas Cards from 1955! – So this guy found a box filled with Christmas cards from his grandfather’s failed attempt at starting a greeting card company a few years after WWII. It’s an interesting story, but this card is just profoundly weird. Look at this thing:

    Weird Santa Card

    Yikes. Also kinda awesome. It’s too late to order now, but he is selling them, which is pretty funny because while the whole project bankrupted his grandfather, it’s probably selling pretty well these days.

  • Bing and Bowie: An Odd Story of Holiday Harmony – The backstory behind the improbable Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” (which, because it’s in a newspaper, doesn’t actually have a link to the song, which you can watch on Youtube).
  • It’s Beginning to Look Alot Like Fishmen – A Lovecraftian take on Christmas music, based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Heh.

That’s all for now, hope you all have a happy holiday!

The 2012 Egg Nog Tasting

Every year, on Thanksgiving, my family has an Egg Nog tasting. It’s a tradition born by accident. One year, several of us mistakenly thought we were responsible for bringing egg nog, and thus we ended up with, like, 8 egg nogs and devised an impromptu tasting event. In subsequent years, the number of entries rose and our methodology grew stronger. Oh sure, it’s still not perfect, but even the attempt at a double blind taste test seems pretty good for such an informal event.

In general, the egg nogs are judged for two awards: best and worst. Since the number of entries can get out of hand and you can only drink so much egg nog at once, we generally limit the competition to straight nogs, not those fancy flavored things (i.e. no pumpkin spice for us). This year, we added an additional restriction that last year’s winner and loser should not be part of this competition. Since the same two brands seem to win every year, we thought this would yield some variety. So the field was a little smaller this year, but the tasting was as fun as ever:

Egg Nogs

For posterity, these are the eggnogs pictured (from left to right):

  • Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog
  • Giant Light Egg Nog
  • Freddy Hill Farms Creamy Egg Nog
  • Shop Rite Egg Nog
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog
  • Upstate Farms Premium Egg Nog
  • Nice! Egg Nog

It wound up being a small list, to be sure, but a lot of “missing” brands were things we’ve had several times before. With the exception of SoCo and I believe Upstate, the others are all new. Funnily enough, the race for best egg nog did come down to Upstate Farms, Southern Comfort, and Freddy Hill Farms, with Upstate Farms narrowly edging the competition in a blind taste test for its first win.

The race for worst egg nog was also interesting. I expected the “So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog” to wipe up the competition, and there were definitely a few people who thought it was the worst thing evar. However, the Giant Light Egg Nog (70% less fat, 1/3 less calories!) won decisively in the voting. The Coconut Nog wasn’t excessively bad in my opinion, though it didn’t really taste like egg nog. It was like coconut milk with nutmeg, maybe a bit thicker. But the Giant brand Light Egg Nog was absolutely disgusting. A word of advice: if you’re trying to watch your fat intake or calories, just don’t drink egg nog. You’ll be much happier.

All in all, another successful tasting. We’ll have to coordinate better next year and get some better, high quality, more obscure options.

Holiday Horror

‘Tis the season… for cheesy horror movies! It’s something of an annual tradition here at Kaedrin, though the pickings are getting a bit slim these days. Two of the three movies below are only slightly related to actual holiday scares. That being said, I always seem to have fun with these movies, even if they aren’t so great:

  • Sheitan – So some morons go to a club on Christmas Eve, get kicked out, then decide to spend the holiday at the country house of a girl they just met. Little do they know that the caretaker, Joseph, has other plans for the crew. Satanic plans! Yeah, so the film’s big problem is that the protagonists are complete and utter douchebags. French douchebags! Sometimes this isn’t the worst failing in a horror movie, but there’s a distinct lack of horror here as well (at least, until the end, when things get a little better). Vincent Cassel actually turns in a fun, scenery chewing performance as the satanic Joseph (and apparently he also plays Joseph’s wife!) The film is shot well and there’s something interesting in the general story. Unfortunately, it’s all ruined by our douchey protagonists. **
  • Films to Keep You Awake: The Christmas Tale – Ahh, now this is more like it! Still not tremendously holiday focused, but at least there’s a Santa-suit-wearing criminal in this one! 5 kids discover a woman (the aforementioned Santa-suit-wearing criminal) trapped in a well. It turns out that she’s a bank robber on the run, so the kids attempt to blackmail her into giving them her stolen money. Things don’t go as planned. Also: Zombies (kinda).

    Santa Suit Wearing Criminal

    It’s far from perfect, but it’s fun and actually pretty tense at times. The kids all put in good performances, and the Santa-suit criminal manages to be pretty menacing after a while. There’s a weird movie-within-a-movie thing going on that I’m not sure entirely works, but the general story works well enough and the ending is sufficiently satisfying. ***

  • Demonic Toys – Yeah, so I don’t think this one has any relationship to the Holidays at all, except that a bunch of toys are attacking everyone, which is actually pretty cool. Don’t get me wrong, this is not fine cinema, but it’s fun schlock, and while there’s a silliness to the proceedings, I did like the backstory. Something about a demon who wants to be reborn and needs to possess a pregnant woman, who happens to stumble into said toy warehouse. Ok, fine, there’s not much to the story or, well, the movie, but I had fun with it. I mean, Baby Ooosy Daisy? Awesome. It’s actually a pretty bad movie, but fans of bad horror might enjoy it… **1/2

Well, there you have it. There are still a few more Holiday Horror movies in the queue, including Don’t Open Till Christmas (though this is apparently no longer available from Netflix) and Santa Claws (get it?) Well, there’s always next year!

Link Dump

Hope everyone had a great holiday, here’s a few more links for your enjoyment:

And, of course, lots of Holiday/Winter beers reviewed on the Kaedrin Beer Blog

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Early Christian history shows a lot of attempts by Church leaders to attract followers by setting their holidays to coincide with existing festivals and celebrations. In the case of Christmas, the Church chose December 25, as it coincides with pagan winter solstice festivals that were popular in most cultures. As such, most of the folklore surrounding Christmas is an amalgam of both Christian and Pagan traditions. Examples include Christmas trees, mistletoe, and, of course, Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, as we know him, can largely be traced back to the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published in 1823 and written by Clement Clarke Moore. However, Moore was pulling from a long tradition of Christmas gift givers, which were, in themselves, pulling from older pagan traditions. And while our current vision of Santa is jolly, many of the precursors are more varied. We all know about the “naughty or nice list”, but we generally shy away from graphic descriptions of what happens to the naughty. Many older traditions did not. Case in point, the Finnish “Joulupukki”, which translates to “Yule Buck” or “Yule Goat”.

One of the reasons pagan cultures chose to celebrate the Winter solstice is that the shortest days of the year are in December, and once you reach the solstice, the days start to get longer again. In Finland, these festivals would celebrate the return of the daylight and would often feature a personification of the evil spirits that were leaving as the days got longer. These spirits were often wore goat skins and horns and demanded presents. It was a loathsome creature, and it frightened children (which parents no doubt used to their advantage, getting their kids to act nice). Once the Christian traditions reached Finland though, this somehow got flipped around, with the spirits now benevolent and delivering presents instead of wreaking havoc.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a new Finnish movie that wonders what would happen if we discovered the original “Joulupukki”. According to the research of the film’s main character, young Pietari, the original Santa was not a very pleasant character, so villagers tricked him into freezing water, then covered the resulting ice cube in sawdust and so many rocks that they created a new mountain. Cut to present day, and a crazy American businessman is attempting to find the real Santa, and is excavating a nearby mountain, much to the dismay of local Reindeer ranchers. Pretty soon, their Reindeer show up dead and children start to go missing.

This is not your typical holiday movie, nor even is it your typical holiday horror film, a subgenre I’ve been exploring over the past few years. It takes a while to get going and while I enjoyed the ending, it was a bit of an anti-climax, as you never really get to see the true horrific power of Santa (on the other hand, I do wonder if that sort of explicit explanation would lose something)… That being said, the film has a dark, dry sense of humor that isn’t quite explicit, but which made me laugh out loud several times. This is the debut film of writer/director Jalmari Helander, and it’s clear that he has a good eye for interesting visuals and while he does not resort to many horror tropes, he does manage some creepifying visuals, such as the weird wooden dolls that Santa’s little helpers leave behind while they’re kidnapping naughty children or, heck, even Santa’s little helpers themselves.

The ending of the film escalates into the absurd, but in an entertaining and welcome way. My favorite part was when young Pietari suddenly turns into an 80s action hero and starts dropping one liners like “It’s either me or Santa. I suggest Santa.” (OK, fine, that was 2 lines, but still.) I’m still not entirely sure what to make of the epilogue, though it’s still a wonderfully absurd notion.

In the end, I don’t know that this is up there with the Christmas horror classics like Black Christmas, but it’s probably still an upper tier picture, and it’s well worth a watch for fans of dark holiday shenanigans. ***

Update: After the movie, I headed over to the local beer bar, Eulogy, and had a nice Austrian beer called Samichlaus. Guess what that translates to.

Holiday Link Dump

It’s that time of year, enjoy:

That’s all for now. With any luck, I’ll be seeing Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale on Wednesday, so perhaps a review…

Update: Added some links…