Five High-Fun, Low-Schmaltz Holiday Films for Geeks
It's the time of year for eggnog, present wrapping and terrible, awful, no-good bullshit Christmas movies. Seriously, is there any holiday more beleaguered by cheesy garbage than Christmas? While yes, there are gems that balance the sentiment with a good story, a little edge and maybe some laughs, most fall horribly flat, sucking the life out of the holiday and reminding you why more suicides happen at this time of year than any other. Still, it can be fun to pop in a holiday-themed flick and get into the spirit once you're feeling that third eggnog (or your weed-infused Christmas cookie, if that's your jam), and there are a few movies that get the job done without being too, well, Christmas-y. Here are five of my favorites.
5) When you want your Christmas with plenty of gunplay and explosions:
The first stop on our journey through film's magical Christmasland is one of the all-time great Christmas movies: Die Hard! Super cop John McClane is trapped in a highrise with some terrorists on Christmas Eve and has to take them down more or less single-handed before they ruin Christmas for the whole damn Nakatomi Plaza. There are plentiful references to the holiday to get you in the mood, and a nice, Christmas-style message about the importance of being close to your loved ones on the holiday — even if those loved ones are being held hostage by the always awesome Alan Rickman.
You might also enjoy: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon are top-notch Christmas action fun. The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Last Boy Scout have their moments, too.
4) When you want your Christmas with some monsters mixed in:
What could be a better Christmas gift than a cute, cuddly Mogwai? Well, given how things turn out, the answer is likely "damn near anything" — but it seemed like a really good idea at the time. Joe Dante's cute-then-creepy monsters take out a nice American town, just in time for Christmas, and we all learn a valuable lesson about sticking to people's Amazon's wish lists while gift shopping. Or at least, you know, following the instructions the thing came with.
You might also enjoy: Rare Exports has a very different, very monstrous take on Santa. And I've heard good things about that Krampus movie.
3) When you want your Christmas with cheesy movies, comedic riffing and obscure pop-culture references:
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
At my house, it wouldn't be Christmas without the annual viewing of at least one of the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 holiday episodes. I typically opt for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a bizarre, candy-colored assault on decency and the very idea of Christmas spirit. It's a god-awful Christmas cash-in about, well, exactly what the title says: Santa Claus has to stop some bad Martians who kidnap him so he can save their kids. It's nonsensical and stupid, but the MST3K crew really gives it the business.
You might also enjoy: There's one other full-on MST3K Christmas movie, simply titled Santa Claus, and it's just as messed up in its own way. You might also have a look at the encore of RiffTrax Live: Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny next Tuesday, December 15, at various metro theaters, or the version available from the RiffTrax website.
2) When you want your Christmas to be bleak and horrific:
Horror and Christmas make for strange bedfellows, but at least some of the time they also make for awesome movies. Sure, Gremlins is a horror movie of sorts, but unlikely to really scare you unless you're ten years old. Black Christmas, on the other hand, is genuinely chilling, even forty years after its debut. A group of sorority sisters are harassed, and eventually killed, by a creep who likes to make obscene phone calls and really has some issues with women. The result is lots of dead sorority sisters and a whole subgenre of films — slashers, to be specific — forever in this movie's debt. No matter how dark your Christmas is, it's going to look pretty good in comparison once this film is done.
You might also enjoy: There's really nothing like Black Christmas, but you could try out Silent Night, Deadly Night or one of the other many second-rate Xmas horror cash-ins. Or you could cleanse your palate with Black Christmas director Bob Clark's other Christmas movie, the charming, if overplayed, classic A Christmas Story.
1) When you want your Christmas completely mind-melting and bizarre:
Everything Is Terrible's Holiday Special
If you want a psychedelic journey to the dark heart of Christmas, look no further than Everything Is Terrible's Holiday Special: an hour-long sensory assault made up of hundreds, maybe thousands, of clips from the worst, most insane Christmas specials on the planet, all mixed up and fused together for maximum carnage. I've never seen anything else like it, and believe me, I've looked. It's everything you hate about every cheesy holiday special you've ever been forced to sit through, filtered through some damn strange sensibilities. Simultaneously the most Christmas thing ever made and a complete mindfuck, this is one you really need to see — and you can buy it directly from Everything is Terrible.
You might also enjoy: Like I said, there's nothing else like it. Try puting on the old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special and eat five grams of psychedelic mushrooms? That might come close. Maybe.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.