Santa and the elves aren’t so cuddly in these Nordic Christmas horror gems

A young boy named Pietari battles a mythic Santa in Rare Exports: Christmas Tale.

Santa Claus and his elves at the North Pole are the center of Western Christmas tradition. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the main source of fantasy, but there are other darker versions of elvish creatures around the world.

If you're in the mood for something a bit different for your holiday entertainment this weekend, I highly recommend a Christmas double feature that draws inspiration from Nordic folklore: Elves, a new Danes series that was just released on the internet last month, and a delightful 2010 Finn film called Rare Export

There are some things that have been said but no major revelations.

On Christmas eve, a real Santa Claus is discovered in Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

A Christmas Tale is a rare export.

A Christmas Tale has its roots in two short films by a company that makes commercials. The firstRare Exports Inc., was released online in 2003 and showed a trio of hunters searching the wilds of Lapland for a wild Santa Claus. The company released a sequel short film in 2005. Jalmari Helander, who directed both of them, found financing to make a feature-length film based on the concept. We're very happy he did.

A Christmas Tale is an action horror film about a group of people who discover the truth about Santa Claus.

Pietari and Juuso are curious about the mining operation on the mountain.

Riley knows there is something special under the mountain.

Pietari is reading about the original Santa of Nordic folklore.

Pietari is going to defend his home.

The local reindeer have been slaughtered.

The abandoned mining operation was found by Pietari's father and other local men.

The local children have left straw effigies in their beds.

Aimo, Piiparinen, and Rauno make a shocking discovery.

The old man seems to be interested in young Pietari.

A new business venture.

The official synopsis is as follows:

The real Santa Claus has just been found in northern Finland, on the eve of Christmas. Santa isn't the one you want to see. Pietari and his father attempt to sell Santa to the leader of the multinational corporation sponsoring the dig when the local children begin mysteriously disappearing. Santa's elves will do everything in their power to free their leader from captivity. The nightmare is a commentary on modern day morality.

The film takes place in a place called Korvatunturi, which is said to be the home of a Santa Claus-like figure. The folklore figure is usually depicted wearing red robes with a sleigh pulled by reindeer, and the translation is "Christmas goat" or "Yule goat". The legend says that Joulupukki is an evil creature, but he is not. The version in Rare Exports is similar to the one in Central and Eastern Alpine lore, which tells of a figure who punishes naughty children on Christmas.


The Brothers Grimm and Tim Burton are more important to Rare Exports than the wholesomeness of Miracle on 34th Street. It's quite striking. The story moves along quickly, with all the right beats, because Helander's camera lingered lovingly over the frigid landscape.

Onni Tommila, who plays Pietari, is an amazingly emotional young actor who anchors the film. We feel his fear and determination to ward off Santa and his elves, because of his deep need to win his father's approval, given the recent loss of his mother. The film gives an explanation for how Santa can be so many places at once on Christmas eve. It all adds up to a Christmas tale that is both exciting and sad.

A young girl and her family are on a Christmas vacation in Elves when an ancient menace stalks their island.

The Elves.

Elves finds inspiration in a combination of elverfolk that live on hills and mounds, and the troll and hulduflk, who are hidden in the folklore of the Nordic countries. These are wild, forest-dwelling creatures and in the hands of series director Ron Ezra, they are very effective menacing Christmas monsters.

A family of four travels to a remote island in the Danes archipelago to see their family member over Christmas, only to find that the island is controlled by a strongly religious community. The folklore and myths were inspired by real, monstrous beings. When the girl in the family finds and brings home a baby elf, she inadvertently messes with the balance and throws everyone on the island into a life-or-death battle for faith, family, and pure survival.

The girl who causes the chaos is named Josefine. She has a soft spot for all animals, but her parents refuse to let her get a dog. They will come to regret that decision. They hit something with their car, but there was no sign of it when they got to investigate. She befriends the baby elf and tells her brother about its existence.


The adult elves don't take kindly to what they think is the theft of one of their offspring. Things get bloody very quickly when a misguided Josefine decides the elves are being locked up against their will and turns off the electric fence. The elves are formidable opponents because the first scene depicts the offering of a cow by local islanders, which is devoured by strange, unseen snarling creatures in a matter of minutes.

Elves is just six half-hour episodes.

The family's car has sticky gunk on it.

The family admires the Christmas tree they cut down.

There are charms hanging from trees.

The baby elf is adorable. It won't stay a baby forever.

The only one who knows about the baby elf is the brother of Josefine.

Karen begins to suspect.

Live wants to leave the island.

Mller wishes the outsiders had listened to his warnings.

The elves can rip a man's head off.

The powerful forces of nature are depicted in these mythical creatures, and scholars tend to think of them as representative of the harsh environment. At your own risk, challenge or disrupt that natural order. That theme is present in all Elves.

Mller's warning to stick to a particular road on the island was ignored by Josefine and her family, as well as cutting down a local tree for their Christmas decorations. Karen, a local woman who has been raising her orphan granddaughter Liv to succeed her as island guardian against the elves, spelled out the taboo for them.

Karen and Mller warned her, but she also has a genuine bond with the baby elf. The emotional stakes of the series are fueled by the unlikely friendship and the competing groups intent on keeping them apart. It seems like a painful separation is inevitable, as neither can safely occupy the other's world. Elves is a perfect Christmas binge, with six half-hour episodes, and the finale leaves open the possibility of a second season.

Amazon Prime Video has a streaming rental of A Christmas Tale. Elves is available for streaming on the internet. The film is in Danes with English subtitles. If you want a triple feature this holiday weekend, you can add the 1989 French film, Dial Code: Santa Clause. Home Alone's predecessor, the darkly violent, is available on DVD and on the DVD-R.