Christmas time, mistletoe and wine, children screaming in terror and adults running for their lives! True it isn’t as wholesome or catchy but for some, the saccharine pictures that accompany this time of year induce as much disgust as a plate of Brussel Sprouts and custard. So for the people that crave something darker, something devious or something altogether quite unconventional for your Christmas movie viewing, you may want to check out some of these movie classics, cults and crackers (in more ways than one), that suggest ‘Tis the season to be jolly and there is more than one way to make a jolly good Christmas movie!
10. Krampus (2015)
Making a healthy worldwide profit and earning slightly mixed (edging into warmer) reviews, last year’s Horror/Comedy Krampus from Michael Dougherty seems like a very appropriate place to start on this list. From the chaotic family Christmas snap shots in the Bing Crosby backed opening to the difficult and uneasy family gathering that follows, this is very much an anti-Christmas film at first glance. Suggesting that Christmas is the season to endure painful family get togethers and is the time of the year we all quarrel, fall out and have our homes invaded by difficult people. However, the film eventually opens out from this comic calamity into a deliciously dark film imbued with the mischievous spirit of Joe Dante’s best work. Mixing genuinely scary, old school, frights with dark laughs and a throwback sense of campfire Horror folklore, Krampus is a treat for the fan of monster movies of old and for those who prefer their Christmas tales with a little more bite.
9. Jack Frost (1997)
Not to be confused with the sugary family romp of 1998 that saw Michael Keaton as a dad brought back to life as a snowman to enjoy time with his son (moving on), this B-Movie Horror offering truly relishes its B. The basic concept sees a death row serial killer called Jack Frost genetically transformed into a murderous snowman thanks to an industrial accident. Despite savage reviews, this feature, if taken in the right spirit, is so bad it’s a heck of a lot of fun. The effects, corny dialogue, questionable performances and mad (if occasionally inventive) death sequences make Michael Cooney’s ridiculous Horror romp an object of Christmas cult affection. The 2000 sequel however….
8. Batman Returns (1992)
After making a dark and expressionistic statement with DC Comics’ most famous hero onscreen in the 1989 hit Batman, director Tim Burton arguably helped birth the brooding big screen Batman we know today and with his 1992 sequel he delivered a Christmas film unlike any other. The snow strewn Gotham in this rather visceral and definitively dark sequel, saw the director show as much (if not more interest) in villains Catwoman (Michelle Pfieffer) and The Penguin (Danny DeVito) as Batman (Micheal Keaton), with a film that likened the The Caped Crusader to his villains, as an outsider out of place with – supposedly – normal people. From Bat-filled Christmas trees, cat chewed fingers, inky blood filled water death scenes, Danny Elfman’s emphatic score and penguins with rocket packs, this was not your traditional Christmas film. Yet it says a lot about the holiday season and even more about the nature of being consigned a freak, outcast and/or monster by this cruel world. It continues to be a popular and important entry in the cinematic world of the Bat, not to mention a favoured Christmas watch for those who tire of the glossy, sugar-coated, hallmark card movies of this time of year.
7. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Back at the time of release this slasher film from Charles E. Sellier Jr. was the subject of much controversy, with outraged parents picketing cinemas and calling the film a vile attempt to destroy the innocence of Christmas. The adverts/posters heavily featured the killer dressed as Santa and this was enough to outrage families looking out for their kids, so much so the film was pulled from theaters. However, since this point, the film has gone on to attain quite the following, even spawning four sequels! The film is not so much about Santa Claus being a killer, as it is about a young boy who is disturbed by a tragedy in his youth and comes to associate Santa and Christmas with pain and suffering over the years, resulting in a disturbed adult. Psychologically it is one of the more chillingly delivered entries in the Slasher sub-genre and while earning terrible reviews, many see this as an example of a slasher that had substance behind the body count.
6. Gremlins (1984)
Joe Dante’s filmography is littered with passionately constructed films that take devious delight in having satirical stabs and subversive shindigs onscreen, see the likes of his B-Movie adoring classics like Piranha or his underrated Family/Horror The Hole. However, in 1984, this great director was to deliver arguably his finest and most impactful achievement in Gremlins, which takes the Christmas movie and gives it rabies. The film is littered with playful nods to creature features and the tone is every bit as naughty as the excellent score and the title creatures themselves. Essentially a simple tale of cultural oversight and disrespect for the laws of nature resulting in chaos, the film also has a ravenous consumerist message pertaining to the holidays…as well as top notch practical effects and moments of very effective Comedy and Drama.
5. Black Christmas (1974)
Bob Clark’s psychological slasher predated Halloween by a few years and the latter has no doubt gone on to achieve much higher ranking status but that does in no way detract from what a distinctive film Black Christmas is. Becoming a cult classic after its original release, this film is credited by many, as kick starting some of the slasher genre tropes that Halloween popularised. The plot sees a group of sorority girls stalked by an unknown assailant at Christmas break and as the tagline read, “Have Yourself A Scary Little Christmas”, there is certainly credence to that, thanks to some real moments of prolonged dread and tension. Of all the seasonal set slashers that were to follow, some still call this mysterious and thrilling offering the best of the lot, the film was remade in 2006 with far less success, so if you haven’t already, maybe you could seek out the original this holiday season.
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
There is still a debate as to this film falling more in with the Halloween movie crowd, than the Christmas movies but whatever the case, Henry Sellick’s cross-holiday stop-motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas is, for many, a landmark of this season. The magically macabre Family Musical picture is stunningly animated and features unforgettable songs by Danny Elfman that bring Tim Burton’s story and characters to life onscreen. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a film that has left an imprint on culture, even inspiring a fashion and an attitude of its own among the gothic youth culture and to this day numbers like “What’s This”, “This is Halloween” and “Making Christmas” still have many an audience jumping for joy, as the film is constantly revived for one night only cinema screenings every year! Jack Skellington, Sally, Zero, Oogie Boogie and the many other warped and wonderful characters of this film will truly live forever in cinema.
3. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2009)
Of all the films listed, none are bleaker visually and narratively than this dark Finnish Horror tale, that is under-cut by passing moments of comedy here and there, as well as a dark mythological tale that tips the idea of Santa on its head. The engrossingly dark tone and unshakable imagery of a rather horrifying Santa Claus, mixes brilliantly with a plot that offers family drama and some original thrills. Rare Exports evokes an air of John Carpenter at times (especially in its harsh snowy setting alà The Thing) and Jalmari Helander’s writing and direction gives us a Christmas tale unlike any before, or since.
2. Lethal Weapon (1987)
Richard Donner’s Buddy Cop Action/Comedy Lethal Weapon is the defining film of its ilk and with the dynamite pairing of Mel Gibson’s borderline psychotic Martin Riggs and Danny Glover’s exasperated veteran Roger Murtaugh, this weapon hits the bullseye every time. However, so many people forget the Christmas season that surrounds this film and instils it with that much important sense of family and friendship, which comes to really play a part in the development of the movie’s leads and their characters. Lethal Weapon is still effortlessly cool, quotable, exciting and with a weight that helped create two iconic characters at the movies. The charisma is there from the first scene and this is a Christmas film that tackles tradition in that it prioritises the need for friends and family, while also delivering a thrilling and hilarious ride at the same time.
1. Die Hard (1988)
What else? Some still debate whether John McTiernan’s Action classic should be called a Christmas film at all but for this writer there is no question. The whole plot revolves around the holiday season, not only in setting up ruthless criminal Hans Gruber (an Oscar worthy Alan Rickman) and his gang’s hostage taking antics at Nakatomi Plaza but also in the characters of all those involved in the film. Christmas is at the centre of the film, it is what places the characters there, it is what drives our vest wearing anti-hero cop John McClane (Bruce Willis – as if you needed us to tell you that), who wants to get home to his kids and make amends with his estranged wife. McTiernan’s film is violent, pulse pounding and features so many jokes and sequences that have gone on to be classic big screen moments. Die Hard is the ultimate Christmas film, especially for those who aren’t all that keen on Christmas, as it offers some of the core traditional structures of the Christmas film, while filling every frame with a scene-stealing devious villain in Rickman, sweat-drenched heroics and glass shattering action. Plus it adequately displays to us humans what a TV Dinner feels like. Now we have ended the list, Ho-Ho-Ho.
Are there any films you think we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.