There’s a time and a place for the Christmas prankery of Home Alone - namely ‘never’ and ‘in the bin’. Consequently, with December 25th mere weeks away, I thought I’d pull together an alternative Christmas movie viewing list, notable for not one appearance of Macaulay Culkin or Joe Pesci being punched in the nuts.
Why not work your way through a few of these while eating your alternative Christmas dinner (chips and Lucozade) or wearing your alternative Christmas jumper? (this one is my personal favourite)?
As ever, let’s start with some brutal killings…
Ignore the 2006 remake, this 1974 Canadian slasher is one of my favourite films ever, horror, Christmas or otherwise. Based on a series of real murders that took place in Quebec around Christmas time, it follows a group of college students being stalked by a deranged serial killer lurking within their sorority house. He’s a polite killer - he always calls in advance of a kill - but deranged really is the key word here. You never learn why the killer wants to kill off the residents of the house, unless I’m missing something in the translation of “YuCKAUgGAGAGAUNT”
FACT: Black Christmas is the very definition of a cult classic, yet comedian Steve Martin once claimed to have watched it twenty-five times.
“It’s Christmas eve in L.A…” and John McClane just wants to shoot bad dudes while wearing a vest. Weirdly enough, I actually met someone who had never seen Die Hard the other day. Didn’t catch their name, didn’t really want to know them after that. Yet if you do happen to fall into the category of ‘person whose never seen Die Hard’, I’d recommend John McTiernan’s 1988 film as the quintessential action movie of the eighties for the following reasons: it’s still the role that defines bad guy Alan Rickman for me, as well as lead Bruce Willis. Not only that, but it’s still the movie that makes me ponder buying a vest whenever I’m in Primark.
FACT: John McClane’s catchphrase “Yippee kai yay, motherfucker” was recently voted number ninety-six in Premiere Magazine’s ‘100 Greatest Movie Lines’. As any boy who was eight in 1986 will tell you, that’s ninety-six places too low.
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians
A perennial fixture of most ‘worst movies ever’ lists, this 1965 science-fiction film, in which Santa is kidnapped by Martians for the purpose of handing out presents to Martian children, is a pretty kooky viewing experience. There’s no denying that it’s basically terrible, but it’s pretty damn funny in places too, and it’s adoption by the brilliant nineties comedy series Mystery Science Theatre 3000 has only served to grow its cult. There’s a musical based on the movie that runs in both Chicago and California. Someday I will attend. I will be truly happy to do so.
FACT: Rumours of a remake have been circulating since 2000, with David Zucker as producer and Jim Carrey attached. The project is rooted in development hell. It’d be happy for it to stay there, truth be told.
Another eighties classic, Joe Dante/Steven Spielberg’s 1984 comedy-horror Gremlins has endured as a brilliant Christmas movie. Much like Ghostbusters, released the same year, it’s frequently as scary as it is funny too, being criticized by many upon release for its many violent sequences. In fact, such scenes resulted in the Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) reforming its rating system within two months of its release. This is a fact I forgot about until I watched it again earlier this year and remembered that the scene where the Gremlin Stripe withers and dies is truly, thrillingly disgusting. I’m pretty sure I wrote a letter to Santa as a child one year asking him for a Mogwai too.
FACT: While Scottish post-rock band Mogwai named their band after the (cute) creature which goes on to spawn the (evil) Gremlins, the band aren’t especially vocal fans of the film. Guitarist Stuart Braithwaite once commented: “we always intended to get a better name, but like a lot of things, we never got around to it”.
My favourite of all the pre-Christopher Nolan Batman movies, played out against a backdrop of a white Christmas, the gothic chill of Gotham City seems colder than ever. Truth be told, the fact Michael Keaton’s second appearance as the Caped Crusader is set at Christmas has as little do with the films brilliance as it does just taking place during winter. The frosty landscape of Gotham, coupled with a sensational turn by Danny DeVito as arch nemesis Penguin (wanted by Batman for a string of child murders) means that the core of Tim Burton’s movie has a dark, ice-cold heart – a bit like anything Piers Morgan might turn up in on television this Christmas.
FACT: Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan and Tom Selleck were all considered for the title role with Burton only pumping for Keaton after casting him in 1988’s Beetlejuice. He was undoubtedly a good choice, despite us never knowing what the also considered Bill Murray would have done with the role.
Despite being set at the height of the Christmas period, Terry Gilliam’s jet-black satire of state bureaucracy follows the mental decline of office drone Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) as he attempts to locate a woman who appears nightly in his dreams. And despite being frequently wry (sometimes laugh out loud funny) there’s little festive or joyful about this 1985 movie, especially if you view the purer, later released uncut version with a darker, more thoroughly miserable ending. That said, Brazil is a masterpiece of a film - the very fact that it’s a story set at Christmas only makes the whole thing seem a little more unnerving.
FACT: Geoff Muldaur’s version of Amy Barroso’s 1939 song ‘Aquarelo do Brasil’ (‘Watercolour Of Brazil’) is the leitmotif of the movie. A version was also recorded with vocals by Kate Bush, but never used.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The iconic imagery contained within Tim Burton’s stop motion fantasy film has been so appropriated by angsty teenagers crying in their bedrooms, it’s easy to forget what a brilliantly unique film Jack Skellington’s story was upon its release in 1993. Based on a poem Burton wrote during him time as a Disney animator in the early eighties, the film went on to be released under the Touchstone Pictures banner after the Mouse House decreed the film would be “too dark and scary for kids”. That may have been a tad cautionary by Disney, but it did result in a film that can be enjoyed by adults too not being buried away in the file titled ‘kid’s stuff’.
FACT: The film was rereleased in 2006 in Disney Digital 3-D, along with a special edition of the soundtrack containing covers of the films songs by the likes of Panic! At the Disco and Marilyn Manson. Not only that, but I spend most of my days wishing Burton would stop dicking around with Johnny Depp and make films like this again.