Every year, as Christmas rolls along, we have the same arguments about the season and its surrounding pop culture. By now, you’ve probably memorized your own argument in favour of or against Die Hard being a Christmas movie, and you’ve got at least two or three obscure titles to smugly refer to as Christmas movies when you need to up your Film Twitter cred. Perhaps you’re knee-deep in Hallmark heaven/hell right now or maybe you’re avoiding everything festive for as long as you possibly can. Whatever the case, December remains the perfect month to snuggle on the couch and watch films as the dark nights roll on and you crank up your heating. The usual suspects will always be on television, from Elf to Miracle on 34th Street to the not-Christmassy but definitely a beloved seasonal regular The Wizard of Oz. But maybe this year you want a little spice in your sugar, an alternative to the syrupy sentimentality of goodwill to all men. We’re here for you and we’ve compiled a selection of Christmas films that offer new shades to the season. Now, I didn’t want to go too hipster with this list. All the films in question have to have a tangible connection to the season. Being set during December and having a Christmas tree in the background of one scene doesn’t count (sorry, Brazil). I also wanted to avoid more obvious alternative Christmas movie titles such as Gremlins, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and John McClane’s finest hour. Feel free to recommend your own choices in the comments. I’m sure you’ll all be eager to tell me of the ones I’ve missed out and how their absence is unforgivable. Season’s greetings!
If there’s one man I trust on Christmas film recommendations, it’s the Pope of Trash himself, John Waters. Also known by the title You Better Watch Out, Lewis Jackson’s proudly schlocky B-movie horror is what happens when the kid from the song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus goes on a murderous rampage. After being scarred for life by seeing ‘Santa’ get hot and heavy with his mother, low-level toy factory worker Harry decides that it is his ordained duty to bring back the purity of Christmas by becoming the one true Santa. Of course, this involves a few instances of creative murder, such as smothering one of his co-workers with a sack full of presents made from their own place of work. Making Santa into this transgressive figure that can be used for cheap scares is nothing rare in the horror genre, but Christmas Evil is surprisingly smart in how it takes on topics of consumerism and cynicism as they have co-opted the season. Harry genuinely believes in the beauty of Christmas and damns the adults who have ruined it for the innocent children.
Night of the Comet
Director Thom Eberhardt’s 1984 sci-fi comedy horror was a pretty big hit in its day but nowadays it’s best known as one of the films that influenced Joss Whedon in the creation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s not hard to see why he’d be so taken with this film, which is a hugely enjoyable B-movie pastiche about a comet that vaporizes the majority of the world’s population, leaving one plucky teen girl and her sister to deal with the zombies left behind. It’s got undead battles, shopping montages set to Cindy Lauper, valley girl snark, and total self-awareness over its bonkers concept and all the parallels to golden age science-fiction within. And to top it all off, it’s set at Christmas, so it counts!
Bell, Book and Candle
The same year that Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart made Vertigo, today widely considered one of the best films ever made, they appeared together once more on screen for Bell, Book and Candle, a decidedly sweeter affair. Indeed, it was part of Columbia Pictures’ deal with Paramount that the actors do the film in exchange for the Hitchcock thriller. Novak and Stewart never really had much sexual chemistry — no wonder, she was 24 and he was 50 at the time — but they still make for a sweet couple in this festive supernatural rom-com. Novak plays Gilliam, a free-spirited witch who admires her neighbour from afar and goes to magical means to ensnare him. Through modern eyes, it’s all a bit twee and morally questionable, but the retro witchy charm remains and Kim Novak was never more charming on-scree. This is also the movie that partly influenced the creation of Bewitched.
Christmas in the Belgian city of Bruges sounds like a dream to most people. What better place to spend the holiday season than a beautiful European haven rich in history, gorgeous architecture and all that beer? If you’re rookie hitman Ray, then Bruges is nothing but a contemptable wasteland that constantly reminds you of your own mortality. Martin McDonagh’s film work has never been as thematically rich or emotionally tangled as his plays, but his debut feature as a director, In Bruges is still one of the best things he’s ever made. Christmas isn’t mentioned much but the sheer overwhelming melancholy of the story and setting is a perfect encapsulation of the holiday as it is for so many people. The two leads, played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, are killers for hire who are haunted by their ingrained Catholic morality, and Bruges at Christmas is the most apt backdrop for such an emotional journey. If you can’t go through a sweary existential crisis on Christmas, when can you?
The Long Kiss Goodnight
True story: My parents love this film. They will watch it every single time it’s on television, scrambling through the most obscure channels on their Sky package to find the next showing of it. When the Shane Black written action-comedy premiered in 1996, it was considered an under-performer and, along with the previous year’s mega-flop Cutthroat Island, helped to tank Geena Davis’s career for a few years. With hindsight, it’s safe to say that Davis may have been a bit ahead of her time in terms of making the jump to being an action star. She’s clearly having a ball as the amnesiac assassin who sheds her homey small-town mother façade to go back on the job and kill a lot of baddies in the snow. And hey, if Die Hard gets to be a Christmas movie then so does The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Header Image Source: Columbia Pictures