When I first heard about Per-Ingvar Tomren and Magne Steinsvoll’s Christmas Cruelty! (2013 – AKA O’Hellige Jul!), I thought it was just another gory holiday hack and slash. But the story behind the film is much more compelling than I thought.
We follow a serial killer and his victims as they all prepare for Christmas in their own ways. This year, it doesn’t matter if you have been naughty or nice. Santa is coming to town no matter what, and he knows where you live.
Co-director Per-Ingvar Tomren tells how Christmas Cruelty! got started:
Co-director Magne Steinsvoll was the electrician in my apartment, and we started about how we both wanted to make movies… so we decided to make a movie together. A few months later, we started making Christmas Cruelty! The project was financed by the money Magne made as an electrician and musician, my disability pay checks, flea market sales, etc. Then we posted on Facebook that we were looking for people who wanted to help us make this movie.
The philosophy on Christmas Cruelty!:
I wanted Christmas Cruelty! to be as challenging as possible, so I would grow as much as I could as a filmmaker making it. I was very inspired by the story of how Francis Ford Coppola put together the iconic opening sequence of Apocalypse Now from some pieces of film he had found in a trash can in the editing room, these beautiful shots of helicopters that someone had considered garbage and thrown away.
I thought it could be interesting if an entire film was made out of pieces most people would consider trash as if we came across a trash can filled with film the editors of a trashy exploitation horror movie considered garbage. Pieces they had cut out because it would be either too brutal and fucked up to put in their movie or that were too mundane and boring, making the movie drag and lose momentum. Could we create something interesting out of this contrast?
And I also wanted the main characters to be very difficult to like, like Magne being very rude and hateful. Most of Eline’s dialogue would be exposition, something that is hard to make work in a movie. And me: a fat guy in a wheelchair. There was actually a study that showed that here in Norway the two groups people liked the least were fat people and handicapped people So, getting people to like someone like me is an uphill battle. Franklin Hardesty in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a great example of how a character like this can be very unlikeable.
Like George A. Romero or Srdjan Spasojevic with A Serbian Film, I wanted the movie to have a deeper meaning while being wrapped in a simple genre film. Christmas Cruelty! is actually a very personal story about my experiences with governmental institutions: health care service, social services, stuff like that. And I figured an evil Santa would be the perfect metaphor for the Norwegian government, someone appearing to be good and pretending they are bringing gifts and want to help people, but are actually horrible underneath and torturing and killing them instead. As someone who has been tortured… and killed… by people in governmental institutions, I felt this was a very personal way into a horror movie.
I have brittle bone disease (like Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable), so I pretty much grew up in Norwegian hospitals. The first time we contacted a doctor because I had broken my leg, I was just ignored and sent home without any treatment at all. When I was a toddler, they were trying to figure out what was wrong with me, and one of the things they did was to cut me to check if I was a hemophiliac. They cut way too deep and I almost bleed to death (had I been a hemophiliac, I would have died). I still have scars from this test. Sometimes, the doctors would plaster my fractures wrong so the bones would grow back crooked, and once a doctor just re-broke my leg to fix his mistake, all without any painkillers or anything. One time, they gave me too little anesthesia, and I woke up in the middle of surgery. They had sawed my leg bone into several pieces, and the surgeon was holding some of them in his hands and was about to put them back into a gaping wound below my knee. During my next surgery, they gave me way too much anesthesia, so I stopped breathing and was dead for a little while. So I had a lot of painful experiences to draw from when we made Christmas Cruelty!
The Making Of Christmas Cruelty!:
I wanted to go all in like my heroes, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, guys who would risk their homes, their health, and their sanity to make the films they wanted to make. I spent all my money making Christmas Cruelty!, and for several months, I only bought cheap noodles to eat. I broke two ribs while filming a scene were the killer Santa taped me up with duct tape. I broke my jaw while trying to get the sound of someone getting hit in the face during a Foley session. We did actually use the sound of my jaw breaking in the final movie. I also fractured my skull filming a scene were I hit my head against a table. I got some bleeding in my brain and permanent brain damage from that one. My apartment was totally ruined making this movie. The walls were drenched in blood. There were pieces of brain and skull in my ceiling, holes from chainsaws and knives in doors, etc. In 2019, I had to sell my apartment, and I’ve been homeless since.
In Christmas Cruelty!, I get dismembered with a chainsaw and the killer Santa had very limited vision because of his Santa mask. Neither of us had any protective gear. So we saved that scene for the final day of shooting, in case I got killed for real. We made a video before filming where I said I didn’t blame anyone else for me getting killed or mutilated, and that they would be allowed to use the footage of me being killed in the movie if they wanted to.
We filmed the opening scene at my mom’s house, and she had a handyman doing some stonework outside, and he could hear baffled cries of pain through duct tape, people getting raped and, from time to time, someone would go outside to have a cigarette. He would get a glimpse of taped up people covered in blood. So when my mom get home, he asked, “What is going on in this house?” “Oh… It’s just my son. He is making a movie.” “Oh. Okay.”
We also need a circular saw for the opening scene, so the stuntman and I went to a hardware store to buy one. We were saying stuff like, “Do you think it will handle all the blood?” “Is the blade big enough to get through the bones?” And finally, “You have to remember. It’s just a baby we’re killing.”
We heard a gasp, turned around, and there was a man with a terrified look on his face holding a baby. He started to run away from us, so we figured we should leave before the police showed up. So we ended up having to buy the circular saw at another store.
Doesn’t this make you want to see Christmas Cruelty!? I know I’m pumped to see it, and I can’t wait for the upcoming Unearthed Films release in Christmas 2022.