Tis the season to be jolly, a time for peace and love on earth and good will to all men…or if some of cinema’s more sardonic festive films are to be believed, a time of hard drinking, over the top violence and psychotic critters.
We’re not all looking forward to Santa season are we? After all who doesn’t dread the candy cane coloured consumerism of the festive season. How else would you explain the sleugh of satirical anti-Christmas movies that have invaded cinemas down the years? So join us as we yell “Bah! Humbug!” in the direction of traditional festive fare and salute 12 of the least Christmassy Christmas movies in Hollywood history.
Bad Santa (2003)
The stench of stale booze and cigarettes permeates every pitch-black minute of the Billy Bob Thornton starring comedy, Bad Santa. As a conman masquerading as a department store Santa, Thornton’s character has few redeeming features, which is only fitting for a hilariously foul-mouthed film that wrings every ounce of misanthropic merriment from its mean-spirited star.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Yes, yes it’s one of those life-affirming films that is perennially associated with the Santa season, but have you ever stopped to look beyond the tear-inducing ending to Frank Capra’s classic Christmas flick? I mean what’s so Christmassy about financial ruin, attempted suicide and George Bailey’s nightmarish vision of Pottersville? Still, it really is a wonderful film.
To be completely honest we have very little sympathy for the Kingston Falls residents who get ripped apart by the rampaging Gremlins in this timeless classic. After all, just how hard is it to follow the rules of Mogwai ownership? Nevertheless there’s a festive backdrop to the ensuing on screen shenanigans which amongst the carnage even includes a surprisingly frank monologue on why Santa doesn’t exist. And all this from a film marketed towards kids.
Die Hard (1988)
Now I have a machine gun. Ho! Ho! Ho! Ah yes, nothing says Christmas quite like a shoeless man in a vest yippee-kayaying his way around the Nakatomi Plaza whilst taking on an army of European terrorists armed only with a standard issue sidearm and some pithy one-liners. ‘Die Hard’ gave Bruce Willis his big break and despite its festive setting is possibly one of the least Christmassy Christmas films you’ll ever see. It’s still undoubtedly one of the best though.
The Ref (1994)
Burglary, kidnap, blackmail; Denis Leary’s laundry list of criminal activity in this caustic Christmas comedy is longer than our wish list to Santa. The film may not have been the success it could have been, but Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are superb as the feuding couple at the heart of the action whose barely concealed animosity offers a wry glance at the inevitable seasonal squabbles which permeate every family Christmas.
Batman Returns (1992)
In later iterations (*cough ‘Batman and Robin’) the caped crusader became camp as Christmas. But there are no Bat nipples in sight here as Tim Burton does his thing with a typically brooding take on a Gotham style Christmas, complete with festive rockets, a disfigured crime boss and a man in a suit who knows exactly if you’ve been naughty or nice.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
More Tim Burton, this time the kook-fuelled director brings his own particular brand of bizarre to this gloriously gothic stop-motion animated tale. The antics of Pumpkin King Jack Skellington, who kidnaps Santa after growing tired of terrorising people, has become something of a pop culture phenomenon and a mainstay of most people’s festive film experience. Though it’s more creepy than Christmas, it’s a superb film crammed full of macabre merriment.
Black Christmas (1974)
One of the pre-cursors to John Carpenter’s brilliant Halloween, Black Christmas is an eminently enjoyable teen horror set in a sorority house on Christmas Eve. It’s grisly stuff, full of ominous phone calls and a series of typically gruesome killings. It’s also one of the first flicks to use the festive season as a horror backdrop and still stands out as one of the best slasher films.
Okay, Scrooged has an annoyingly upbeat Christmassy ending. But for the preceding hour-and-a-half there’s a distinctly dour tone to this mean-spirited take on the Charles Dickens classic. Of course most of that comes from the brilliant Bill Murray, who’s superb as the cynical, cold hearted TV president. He’s so cruel he even considers stapling antlers to mice in an effort to boost the ratings.
Home Alone (1990)
Yes, Macualay Culkin looks cute, and yes it’s funny when he puts the aftershave on. But underneath the resourceful child left at home to fend for himself schtick, lies an altogether more sinister story involving an eight-year-old brutally deflecting the unwanted attentions of a duo of clumsy cat burglars whilst simultaneously dealing with the emotional trauma that his family have forgotten him. It’s not a Christmas movie, it’s the cause of a lifetime of psychological ills and one very big therapists bill.
Jack Frost (1996)
You know how it goes. A serial killer’s on his way to death row in the week before Christmas and gets involved in an accident with some kind of toxic waste that turns him into a mutant snowman who then goes on a killing spree to exact his revenge on the Sherriff that caught him. It’s classic Christmas fare right down to the point where the heroes use hair dryers to save the day. No, really.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
They made Santa into a serial killer, so it was no wonder that critics and parents circled wagons to ensure this 80s horror flick got banned upon its original release. Looking back it’s all pretty tame by today’s standards, though one of the victims does get impaled on reindeer antlers. Despite the controversy, Santa’s killing spree continued for a staggering four, yes four, sequels.