The Top 15 Non-Traditional Christmas Movies
Now that you’ve had your fill of peppermint, presents, and multiple viewings of AMC’s WHITE CHRISTMAS and MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, how about a little snark to go along with that special Holiday movie – sans the warm and fuzzy. It’s time for some mistletoe carnage and crafty comedy Geek style. In our gift to you, WAMG presents our list of the 15 best non-traditional films. Lovers of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE can consider yourselves excused cuz Santa Claus is coming to town in these “More Naughty Than Nice” movies.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (the 1974 version of course), generally acknowledged as the forerunner of the ‘slasher’ genre, is so graphic in its imagination that you don’t even need to see any gore or murder. BLACK CHRISTMAS, which holds up spectacularly well after almost 40 years, tells the tale of a group of sorority sisters that are hounded and harassed by a mysterious obscene crank caller. Circumstances take a disturbing turn when one of the poor gals winds up missing (She’s the one up in the attic throughout the movie! With the plastic bag over her head!). Up next is an investigation and the appearance of a few more dead bodies, ultimately leading up to a finale that will forever be etched in your mind when you tuck under the covers and prepare for sleep (which may actually never come). BLACK CHRISTMAS sports a stellar cast that includes Olivia Hussey (ROMEO AND JULIET), Margot Kidder (acting drunk and slutty), John Saxon (acting drunk and studly), Keir Dullea, and Andrea Martin (who would play the house mother in the forgettable 2006 BLACK CHRISTMAS remake). Add to the mix director Bob Clark, one of the most eclectic independent directors ever, and a born storyteller (the man was responsible for A CHRISTMAS STORY, PORKY’S, and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS). No doubt, if Bob Clark could’ve copyrighted the slasher movie concepts and cliches that he created, he would’ve been just as famous as John Carpenter or Wes Craven, maybe even more.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, the poster child for Holiday horror films, caused a huge stink when it was released back in 1984. Influential film critic Gene Siskel especially despised the film, going as far to list, on his syndicated TV show, the film’s producers by name and, wagging his finger like a sweater-vested church lady, wailed “shame, shame, shame” after each name. What got Siskel’s holiday hackles up was the distasteful idea to have a slasher film featuring Saint Nick as its bloodthirsty villain. It wasn’t even the first ‘killer Santa’ movie - CHRISTMAS EVIL from 1980 has that distinction) but SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is the most notorious because it had the balls to be released during the Christmas season and its holiday television ads attracted the ire of overly-sensitive parents, some of who actually went out and picketed various theaters in protest of it. Outraged moms and dads wrote letters to the film’s producers (“My little Billy is afraid to sit in Santa’s lap because of a TV commercial he saw for your disgusting film”). Consequently, the flick got pulled out of the cinemas and in some markets, including St. Louis, it was never shown theatrically at all. It eventually did find a big audience when it was released to video stores and several increasingly inferior sequels were spawned (though the great Monte Hellman directed part 3!). Lost in the controversy is that SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was actually a pretty solid and scary horror flick. Of course it was never meant for kids, who would likely have been scarred for life if they had seen the opening sequence where an escaped criminal in a Santa suit rapes and kills off a kids mom while the child looks on. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT has plenty of fun bloody death scenes and some great one-liners.
Here’s probably the raunchiest comedy to be set in the holiday season. Thorton’s the most, vile ill-tempered mall Santa ever. He and his “elf” Marcus (Tony Cox) are casing the place for a Christmas Eve robbery for goodness sake! Luckily one of the original “kings of comedy” Bernie Mac as the place’s security chief is on to him. BAD SANTA was the last live action feature film work from John Ritter (who hires the two cons) and the movie’s dedicated to his memory. Also memorable is TV “Gilmore Girl” Lauren Graham as a gal who really, really likes ole’ St. Nick! Really. This was the second fiction feature directed by acclaimed documentarian Terry Zwigoff (CRUMB).
THE GINGERDEAD MAN
Two words… Gary Busey. Need more? How’s this… Gary Busey as a convicted killer named Millard Findlemeyer sent to the electric chair, only to return as a gingerbread man cookie with a vengenace! Something as dreadfully awesome as this could only come from the mind of low-budget, genre-schlock-meister Charles Band. The writer and director also even wrote and performed an original song for this modern cult Christmas classic. Put on your PJs, grab a glass of milk and fill yourself with the holiday spirit as a questionably sane Gary Busey plays an insane homicidal gingerbread man hellbent on killing the woman who had him killed. Merry Christmas!
SUSAN SLEPT HERE
This 1954 holiday set romantic comedy is actually narrated by an Oscar statuette! A struggling veteran screenwriter, played by the former baby-faced tenor of 30′s musicals Dick Powell, is surprised to find a spunky juvenile delinquent under the Christmas tree. It’s Debbie Reynolds, Queen Organa herself (yup, Carrie Fisher’s Mom) just a couple of years after the classic SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Also in the cast are future TV stars Anne Francis (“Honey West”) and Alvy Moore (Mr. Kimball on “Green Acres”). This is one of the early feature films directed by former Loony Tunes animator/director Frank Tashlin. Later he would guide the movie careers of Jayne Mansfield and Jerry Lewis.
“All right, listen up guys. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except… the four a**holes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.” Warms the holiday heart, doesn’t it? NY cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is invited to his estranged wife’s Christmas Party “by mistake” and goes up against Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.” While not exactly your traditional holiday movie, this 1987 actioner will add a little spike to your glass of eggnog.
BETTER OFF DEAD
Sure, getting dumped for someone “more popular” doesn’t exactly set the mood for the holidays… But Lloyd doesn’t let that, or a crazed paperboy stop him from becoming a winner on the slopes! Well, except for the creative ways that he imagines killing himself… That slows him down a bit. There’s no better time for a dark John Cusack comedy than the holidays!
A snowman might not be my first choice for reincarnation, but in Jack Frost, but that’s the card Jack, a father who is too occupied with his band than his family, is dealt after his untimely death in a car accident. As a snowman, he now has the opportunity to make things right with his son before returning to the afterlife. This snowman tale is sure to warm your heart this holiday season.
John Water’s favorite Christmas movie is the 1980 oddity CHRISTMAS EVIL . After suffering a traumatic childhood experience involving his father in Santa Claus outfit, a disturbed toy factory worker fixates on Santa Claus in an unhealthy way. When Christmas cynicism pushes him over the edge, he takes on the role one Christmas eve to reward the good boys and girls – and to murder the cynics. So when he spies a little girl playing with her doll, that’s fine, she’s being nice – when he sees a little boy reading Penthouse, that’s a different matter. CHRISTMAS EVIL is a suitably surreal entry in the Christmas horror sub-genre and John Waters described it best: ”CHRISTMAS EVIL has a grubby look and mucky atmosphere, as if it were shot using the same crap film they used to shoot those 1970s drive-in concession-stand ads where the food came out looking wretched when its intention was to lure patrons to the snack bar!” CHRISTMAS EVIL is like a murky, clumsily violent dream an alcoholic stepfather is having during the holidays while passed out in his recliner, translated to shoddy film stock – and that isn’t an effect commonly or easily achieved by any movie. A masterpiece.
THE ICE HARVEST
THE ICE HARVEST a great example of modern film noir set, naturally, on Christmas Eve in Wichita, KS. Everybody in the film, including the people you’re supposed to be rooting for, shows an unsavory side. Billy Bob Thornton showed his with equal parts of passion and cunning. John Cusack, playing a mob lawyer involved in a plot to swindle his employer and the local mob out of some money, played his role with enough subtlety that he passes for an attorney, and with enough venom to let us know life has treated him wrong (and he has returned the favor). Everyone else runs the gamut from fawning to mischievous to I-can’t-believe-I’ve-gotta-spend-the-holiday- doing-this angry. It’s no spoiler to reveal that the plot had enough twists to keep any mystery lover happy, but THE ICE HARVEST, based on the novel by St. Louisan (and Wichita native) Scott Phillips, carried far more laughs than the usual December comedy and was a dark, dark way to spend Christmas in 2005.
SANTA CLAUS (1959)
Badly dubbed over in English, the madcap Mexican import SANTA CLAUS from 1959 is a peculiar pinata packed with pagan ritual, Arthurian legend and Western malarkey. SANTA CLAUS was one of those whacked out K. Gordon Murray hybrid specials that the famed showman would purchase from Mexico, redub, and unleash to kiddie matinees. As weird as the original version of this film probably was, what with the wind up reindeer, and Satan (called Pitch), and Merlin, and the Chucky doll wearing the cowboy hat, and the Rolling Stones giant lips on the wall and the radar dish with the human ear in the center…you can just lump that all into the category of ‘cultural differences’. I am pretty sure that the original version was a harmless, if somewhat trippy, kid’s film. But once the “English Version” editors got done with it, the results defied description. SANTA CLAUS is a Mexican fever dream of a kid’s Christmas movie, made by people who obviously hate children,
Get ready for the jingle bells. After being imprisoned for six years on a grand theft auto charge, Rudy Duncan and his cellmate Nick are finally going to be paroled. After hearing endless stories during his incarceration of Nick’s romantic correspondence to a woman named Ashley he has never met, Rudy is looking forward to returning to his family. When Nick is killed during a prison riot, Rudy decides to assume Nick’s identity and meet up with the unknown woman. Burdened with knowledge of Nick’s Indian casino employment past, Rudy finds himself in too deep with Ashley’s brother Gabriel and is forced to cooperate with a casino robbery that Gabriel and his gang have been planning with Nick in mind. Hold tight to that mug of hot chocolate – it’s going to be a bumpy sleigh ride.
REMEMBER THE NIGHT
This little known 1940 Paramount gem is slowly becoming a Christmas perrenial on the TCM (Turner Classics Movies) cable channel. Four years later stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwick would team again for the landmark film noir DOUBLE INDEMNITY for director Billy Wilder. In this Preston Sturges story, Stanwick’s once again is on the wrong side of the law. She’s a shoplifter in the custody of criminal prosecutor MacMurray who ends ups taking her with him to his family home for Christmas. Both actors would have great success in television decades later, Stanwick with the western drama “The Big Valley” and MacMurray with the long-running family sitcom “My Three Sons”.
This Western take on the Nativity story was filmed previously as a silent in 1916 and an early black and white “talkie” in 1936. This color version directed by movie master John Ford and starring his frequent collaborator John Wayne in 1948 is perhaps the best remembered. Three outlaws on the run come across a woman dying in an abandoned wagon alongside her infant. After she passes they take her baby and vow to travel across the merciless desert and deliver the child to the nearest town (at the risk of being caught by the law). Wayne’s two cohorts are Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carrey,Jr. (Senior starred in the 1916 film). Also in the cast are Ford stalwarts ward Bond, Ben Johnson, and Mildred Natwick.
There is no wrong time to watch Edward Scissorhands! Tim Burton’s imagination combined with a score by Danny Elfman sets the tone for magic that is sure to brighten the holidays. Johnny Depp is wonderful as the sensitive, creative character of Edward… Who is just a bit misunderstood. Oh, and try not to smile with delight as Edward makes it snow for the first time in their small town. It’s nothing short of spectacular!