❉ Your festive viewing doesn’t have to be It’s A Wonderful Life, Home Alone and Scrooge. Here’s We Are Cult’s alternative Xmas faves…
Forget The Snowman – ol’ coal eyes gets built, has a bit of a dance and becomes a puddle. Boo bloody hoo. We’ve seen it so often, it’s become ritualistic. Same goes for Santa Claus – The Movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Jingle all The Way. Let’s move on and grab one of these festive flicks instead – a cinematic selection box, with something for almost everyone. Tuck in.
Joe Dante’s wicked Yuletide yarn concerning the malevolent marauders is a delicious subversion of small-town Capra-esque America.
Phoebe Cates’ tragic tale of her Father’s festive demise underpins the film’s tone: trite schmaltz re-imagined with a hefty pinch of the darkly comic.
The true delight is in the destruction, however; anarchic havoc wreaked by the eponymous creatures is a Christmas treat all by itself.
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? The carolling Gremlins singing the film’s main theme.
To All a Goodnight (1980)
Directed by David (Krug off of Last House on the Left) Hess, it’s a “Santa slasher” with a revenge plot ripped from both Prom Night and Halloween.
More filler than thriller, it’s a fairly inept film, cheap as a garland of Tesco Value tinsel and about half as attractive. The soundtrack’s terrible too.
Still, it’s fairly fun to see Father Christmas as a force of antagonism rather than altruism, even if the character is something of a clumsy berk. The movie also has a slightly more knowing sense of humour than the afore-mentioned Jamie Lee-Curtis vehicle.
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? The “shower head”. Well, it’s a bit like a bauble.
Die Hard (1988)
Christmas is all about terrorists, guns and explosions, yeah? No? Someone tell that to poor John McClaine, Bruce Willis’ grizzly but charismatic NYPD Detective, taking on a band of German bastards, and in his bare feet no less.
Many watch this every year as part of their pre-Christmas build-up, an annual custom as much part of the holiday season as mince pies, cracker jokes and trying to finger the office temp at the work party. Which is pretty much what McClaine’s wife’s boss attempts during this.
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? When the terrorist’s body hits the cop car. Like the first snowflake of winter, only fleshier.
Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)
A unique take on the Santa slasher for two reasons.
Firstly, it’s British, and the UK didn’t produce many entries in the sub-genre. Watched purely as a nostalgia piece, the cold, colourless concrete of early 80’s London is a refreshing contrast to the greetings card glow of Hollywood tinsel.
Its second USP is that the Santas are the victims, rather than the assailants. And watching Saint Nick get his mush burnt whilst roasting chestnuts isn’t something you see every Chrimbo, is it?
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? Santa gets his cock sliced off. Seriously.
Black Christmas (1974)
A precursor to the slasher, this is a gleefully downbeat and sinister sorority horror. It concerns a demented murderer making genuinely disturbing phone calls, and hacking his way through a houseful of isolated college girls over the winter holidays.
The “twist” is something of a cliché by now, but as this is the one that started it we’ll overlook that. Watch it because no other Christmas film boasts the line, “Let me lick your pretty pink c**t”. Except possibly Miracle on 34th St (that Richard Attenborough’s a wag, eh?).
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? Any scene with Mrs MacHenry, the sorority housemother. She’s basically your auntie, pissed-up after a few too many sherries.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Another “Santa slasher” and arguably the best of the bunch.
Relentlessly gory and oozing gallows humour, it’s not afraid to dispense with the usual mystery element in favour of a roll of inventive deaths, including a brutally unpleasant double impaling on a set of antlers. Just what you want to go with your eggnog (what the hell is eggnog?).
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? We know we should nominate the strangulation by fairy lights, but it’s just got to be the sled decapitation. Inspired.
Jack Frost (1996)
No, not that Michael Keaton crap about a father re-incarnated as a snowman. This is entirely different crap about a serial killer re-incarnated as a snowman. The “killer snowman” genre is, to our knowledge, a field of just one.
The corny cracker puns gags are faintly smirksome but the sense of humour turns pretty sour with its “comedy” rape scene. “Ha ha ha, she’s being sexually assaulted!”
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? A victim gets strung up by fairy lights and fashioned into a human Christmas tree.
Bad Santa (2003)
Alcoholism, attempted suicide and a knee to the knackers; every facet of the modern holiday season is covered in this Coen Brothers-produced comedy.
Billy Bob Thornton plays the sozzled sleaze, and he could probably intoxicate a child through the power of his breath alone (even taking into account the gauze-like quality of a fake beard).
A foul-mouthed romp it might be, but there’s still a soft, gooey centre deep within its hardened exterior.
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? The kid sneezing in his face (which he doesn’t even bother to wipe).
Mixed Nuts (1994)
The comic misadventures of a Samaritan-style helpline on Christmas Eve. As the title unintentionally suggests, something of a varied bag in the tone department.
Appropriately, given its theme of mental illness, the end result can only be described as “wacky”. But hey, it’s got a transvestite, and trying to nail the exact nexus point at which Steve Martin stopped being funny can be a fun/sad parlour game all of your own.
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? The “nativity” scene at the film’s climax.
Terry Gilliam’s surreal homage to 1984 falls easily into the often polarising director’s wealth of works labelled “good.”
Satirical and savage in roughly equal measures, it’s probably the film that convinced Robert De Niro he had a knack for comedy. So yeah, the road to Dirty Grandpa starts here, sadly.
Try to convince the kids it’s a futuristic action adventure. Before they realise they’ve been hoodwinked, they’ll already be entranced by Jonathan Pryce’s Sam Lowry, the solitary sane figure in a world of bureaucracy, brutality and obedience.
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? Harry Buttle’s tree-side capture by government operatives.
The Ref (1994)
Supermarket chains may try to convince us that the festive period is all low-cost buffets with C-list celebrities, but this hilarious take on marriage counselling nails it far more accurately: Christmas is constant bickering with loved ones.
Starring caustic comedian Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey (Tinsel Town’s go-to man for portraying the underwhelmed) and Barton Fink’s Judy Davis, it’s the answer to the question, “What if National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation had a hostage scenario, good jokes, no Chevy Chase and was different in countless ways?”
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? The traditional Scandinavian Christmas feast, replete with absurd headwear comprising lit candles.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Pasolini’s hugely controversial and much-banned adaptation of the Marquis De Sade’s tale of slavery and humiliation.
Sadism, torture and degradation; in these respects the Italian version of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Alright, so this film has nothing to do with decking the halls with bells and holly (although it is panto star Ian Krankie’s favourite film, probably).
It’s just the most bleakly nihilistic example of celluloid we could muster. But look more closely and you’ll find some synchronicity with the season: spending time with people you hate under duress, being made to consume unpleasant foodstuffs and wishing you were anywhere but with your hosts.
❉ Most Christmassy Bit? Did we mention the bit where the captives are forced to eat shit? Happy Holidays all!
❉ Freelancer and copywriter Miles Hamer writes regularly for SCREAM Magazine, Comic Heroes, Horrorville, and SFX/Total Film specials.
❉ ‘Black Christmas: Collector’s Edition‘ was released by Shout! Factory on Blu-ray in USA & Canada on 13 December 2016, featuring a new 2K scan of the negative, audio commentaries and a whole second disc of bonus features.