Let’s face it: Between the shopping frenzy and having to put up with one’s relatives, the holidays are more stressful than they theoretically should be. Sitting down to decompress just to be confronted with the umpteenth broadcast of A Christmas Carol or The Miracle on 34th Street is enough to curdle one’s eggnog. (We here at Movie Ink tried to watch It’s a Wonderful Life once, but we couldn’t get past the title.) Here’s a selection of some of our favorite non-traditional holiday movies to help one endure the yuletide season:
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). In an effort to ween their children off television, Martians kidnap Santa and convince him to teach Martian kids how to have fun while fending off assassination attempts and acts of sabotage by a group of Martian dissidents — seriously. Believe it or not, it shows up on a lot of “Worst Movie Ever” lists.
Naughty or Nice? Considered one of the worst films ever made, it’s more inept than anything.
Black Christmas (1974). A movie with the dubious honor of being the first Yuletide-theme slasher film, loosely based on a true story. A group of college students played by the likes of Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and John Saxon face an obscene phone caller/deranged serial killer stalking them in a sorority house.
Naughty or Nice? This cult classic is naughty, but has been mellowed both by age and the abundance of countless similar movies that have cropped up over the years.
Christmas Evil (aka You’d Better Watch Out, 1980). Mere words cannot accurately describe how bizarrely surreal this one is, but here goes: As a young boy, Harry (Brandon Maggart) sees mommy doing more than just kissing Santa Claus; as an adult, he’s a miserable employee at a toy factory who takes to stalking and spying on bad children and adults alike before having a psychotic break, canceling Thanksgiving, making questionable deliveries as Santa, and generally running amok on Christmas Eve.
Naughty or Nice? An almost-forgotten cult classic described by John Waters as “the greatest Christmas movie ever made”, it’s unabashedly weird more than anything. (Really? A torch-bearing mob in the suburbs?!?)
Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984). A murderer prowls the streets of London, killing derelict Santas in various, violent ways, and a Scotland Yard detective must foil the killer’s lack of holiday cheer. British pop star Caroline Munro makes a cameo appearance that she no doubt later regretted. Long unavailable in the United States, it unfortunately didn’t stay that way.
Naughty or Nice? Let’s put it this way: It’s basically A Very Jack the Ripper Christmas, but less uplifting.
Gremlins (1984). A teenager’s Christmas present almost causes his hometown’s destruction on Christmas Eve, when it spawns an army of vicious, mischievous monsters. One of the two films (the other being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) that led to the creation of the PG-13 rating.
Naughty or Nice? This one is a little of both. The town (or at least what’s left of it) is saved, while Phoebe Cates’ story about her father’s fatal misadventure as Kris Kringle is simultaneously funny and creepy.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). A young boy witnesses the murder of his parents by a man dressed as Santa, gets shipped to the kind of orphanage that only exists in horror movies and Charles Dickens novels, and as an adult turns into an axe-wielding Kris Kringle himself. It inspired (for lack of a better word) a 1987 sequel that consisted largely of footage from the original dressed as flashback sequences capped off with a shooting spree that gives the phrase “garbage day” special resonance.
Naughty or Nice? Bloody and in bad taste, it became one of the most notorious films of the ’80s. Siskel and Ebert condemned it on air, Leonard Maltin asked “What’s next, the Easter Bunny as a child molester?”, and crowds protested in front of theaters nationwide. A fact largely glossed over amid the controversy is that the movie really sucks. That sequel however, is a piquant slice of cheese.
Bad Santa (2003). John Ritter made his last film appearance in this black comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton as a drunken, dissolute conman who works as shopping mall Santa along with his dwarf accomplice in order to rob the joint on Christmas Eve. Along the way he enters into a romance with a barmaid with a Santa fetish (Lauren Graham) and a troubled kid (Brett Kelly) living with his senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman). The feel-good movie of the season, for all the wrong reasons.
Naughty or Nice? Very naughty, and also quite brilliant. To its credit, it was screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010). A very bizarre Finnish film about reindeer herders whose Christmas takes an alarming turn when scientists blast open the largest burial mound ever discovered, and release the source of the Santa Claus myth: a supernatural being and his little helpers, who are hellbent on punishing the naughty and could care less about the nice.
Naughty or Nice? A breezy fantasy-adventure flick with a clever premise, it’s a little intense at times but not likely to upset grandma.