The Big Question is a semi-regular outing where multiple Daily Grindhouse contributors and friends offer their answers to some burning question. The results…may surprise you.
This week’s big question is…
What movie do you always watch during the Holiday season?
December tends to be about traditions. Annual observations and events that mark the end of the year and all sort of various holidays. This week’s Big Question wants to know about your Holiday season film rituals—is there some movie you watch every year around this time (and it doesn’t even have to be Holiday-related)?
Brett Gallman — CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS
I’m not sure how this one even happened. When I saw this with my then-girlfriend (who later decided to marry me, despite the fact that I would drag her to movies like CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS), we both dismissed it, agreeing that it was too silly and even a little bit lame, especially considering its terrific cast. Somehow, though, we came back to it when it hit video, and it’s been a staple in our holiday rotation for nearly a decade now. That’s right: in our household, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS receives the same reverence as A CHRISTMAS STORY and NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION, which complete our unofficial holy trilogy of annual holiday movies that we must watch. I imagine this is how fruitcake must work for the people who can stomach it: nobody in their right mind should actually like CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS, but it’s somehow become an indelible part of the holidays.
No, Christmas just isn’t the same anymore without Jamie Lee Curtis’s deranged quest for hickory honey ham, the cursed image of botoxed Tim Allen, or Dan Aykroyd terrorizing both of them for skipping Christmas. Also, this might be the ultimate test of Roger Ebert’s Stanton-Walsh Rule, which states that “no movie featuring Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh can be altogether bad.” CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS tries very hard to prove otherwise with the even more cursed image of Allen in a speedo, but even that can’t sink a movie where Walsh drags the Toolman’s childish, selfish ass.
Jay Alary —BAD SANTA (2003)
I despise Christmas movies. Other than an obligatory, annual LOVE ACTUALLY screening (at my partner’s insistence), the only seasonal movie I want to revisit each year is BAD SANTA. It’s a dark comedy, perhaps the darkest I’ve ever seen, and it fills my black, shriveled Grinch heart with pure joy. Billy Bob Thornton is perfectly cast as mall Santa/career safecracker, Willie T. Stokes, an alcoholic so deep into his addiction, it’s a wonder he can operate safecracking equipment, let alone standing upright. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, but Tony Cox, as a mall elf and Willie’s partner in crime is a profane pleasure and Brett Kelly, as Thurman Merman (try saying that name without laughing), is an acting presence from a different galaxy (that’s a good thing!).
It’s all the handiwork of director Terry Zwigoff (CRUMB, GHOST WORLD, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL), who, along with screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, creates an uncompromising holiday film that is far from sentimental and very, very funny. Thornton was born to play this role—I cannot think of a single actor who could have let himself go seemingly off the rails yet remain in total control. I don’t believe the film could be made today, it’s that offensive, but hey, it exists and I’m elated that it’s a regular presence in my life. The Blu-ray has two cuts to choose from: the theatrical cut (Zwigoff’s preferred cut), or the unrated cut–extra crassness for your pleasure!
Sarah Jane — MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944)
When I was younger, going to the movies on Christmas wasn’t an actual thing people did normally. My first job was at a movie theatre when I was 16 and I would volunteer to work on Christmas day because I always wanted to get away from family for awhile and also because it was dead. Gone are those days now as there are always several new movies choices coming out around the holidays, some even on Christmas day. I enjoy seeing a movie on the holiday. It breaks up the day and gives you something to look forward to after the post-gift comedown.
Last year, we took our 9-year-old to see MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS on Christmas day. If you’ve never watched the movie, it’s an absolute delight and I encourage you to watch it immediately. My husband introduced me to the movie several years ago. I loved it so much, it’s become a tradition to watch it annually during the holiday season. The film follows the Smith family over the course of one year in the lead up to the 1904 World’s Fair. Judy Garland leads a brilliant cast in this musical from Vincente Minnelli. If you don’t fall in love with Margaret O’Brien in the course of the film, you aren’t human. I can’t promise you won’t cry when Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to O’Brien. It’s a total weeper moment for me and I’m guessing for you, as well.
This Christmas trip to the theatre, though, is all about UNCUT GEMS for me.
Bill Bria — A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)
I have a ton of movies that I make sure to watch every holiday season, which makes my Letterboxd every December look like a rerun. One of the films I’ve traditionally watched for the longest is Bob Clark’s A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983), the early-‘40s-set tale of Master Ralph Parker (Peter Billingsley) and his quest for the perfect Christmas gift. At this point in time, A CHRISTMAS STORY is regarded as a perennial classic, one whose reputation includes oodles of official merchandise as well as an annual 24-hour marathon television airing. Back when I was growing up, however, this wasn’t exactly the case, and I still remember how my grandfather and grandmother introduced me to the movie. It became a cult classic seemingly exclusively within our family, and we’d quote the film and make references to it over and over throughout the next few years, whether it was Christmastime or not. Eventually, the rest of the world seemed to catch up to us, and even if the reality was more that it was other people like us who made the film popular nearly 20 years after its release, it still felt like a family victory.
Beyond the ties to my family, A CHRISTMAS STORY is special to watch for me every season based on its perfect blend of sardonic satire and genuine warmth. Ralphie and his family are portrayed lovingly as well as deeply flawed, with Ralphie himself the perfect encapsulation of that approach: he’s a lovable kid who selfishly whines about the presents he’s getting, attempts to bribe his teacher for grades and mercilessly beats up his bully, amongst other things. That mixture of sour and sweet makes for a fantastic double feature with Bob Clark’s other yuletide film, BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), as the films portray the holiday with various degrees of subversion. Watching A CHRISTMAS STORY every year reminds me how annoying and weird any family (including mine) can be, as well as how lucky many of us are to have them.
Justin Yandell — NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
My immediate family has watched NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION every single year since 1990. I’ve never done the math, but I’m pretty sure this puts it in my Top 3 for Number of Viewings. The other two would be A CHRISTMAS STORY and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. The third VACATION movie is the only one of these I can still watch after all these years.
I can remember the first viewing with clarity. We rented the VHS the night before we were to leave for our grandparents’ house. There was something special about that brief period of time between school letting out and hitting the road for our annual yuletide tour of Oklahoma. It was the verge of Christmas, the merriest precipice on Earth. The tape rolled, Animated Santa appeared and immediately plunged his jolly ass off the Griswold’s roof. His reindeer did not give the slightest of shits. I was rolling on the carpet, gasping for breath. Looking back, I don’t think I’d ever seen Santa portrayed like that. The old holiday movies always portrayed Santa as a near-ethereal wiseman there to either save Christmas, or teach those precocious kids the Ostensibly True Meaning of the once-pagan holiday. To a ten-year-old, Santa electrocuting himself on twinkle-lights was downright subversive.
My brother and I spent the next week telling every grandparent, cousin, aunt and uncle we could find, “Shitter’s full!” In fairness, I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I’d never heard a toilet called a “shitter” before and MODERN PROBLEMS had already taught me large vehicles contained and also spilled toxic waste with some regularity. Between this and the recent arrival of my youngest brother, it was a particularly good Christmas. One of our very best. I think we began traditionally watching CHRISTMAS VACATION after that because like so many white middle-class families, we saw a funhouse-mirror version of ourselves in the Griswolds. They bickered, fought and put each other through Hell, but in the end they always presented an ideal of family unity. As our extended family fit ten, fifteen, twenty-two family members into one living room, I think my immediate family needed an annual ninety-minute vacation to John Hughes-era Chicago. With recent viewings, I’ve come to see us more like Clark in the attic, eyes misty with nostalgia, looking through a window to that one year everybody didn’t want to kill each other.
Ale Gonzalez — LOVE ACTUALLY (1993)
I completely acknowledge that LOVE ACTUALLY may not be the best holiday film in the world, and that yes, it’s a little corny. Still, I can’t start my holiday season without watching it! It’s been a long standing tradition for me, but only over the last three years has it become truly special because it’s something I now get to do with DG’s own Rob Dean that helps me feel closer to him during the holidays. See, the holidays are a little bittersweet when your closest friends live thousands of miles away and you can’t see them, but I think that’s the entire point of LOVE ACTUALLY and why I appreciate it so much—love is so different for all of us, especially during these celebrations that make otherwise complicated relationships even more challenging to navigate.
I think the film itself works really well as an anthology that ultimately evolves into one story, and it also never fails to make me a little misty-eyed despite how many times I’ve seen it. Of course, some story lines are more entertaining than others (none beating Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman’s, though), but I think it works with what the film is trying to say. Usually watching it on Thanksgiving night, LOVE ACTUALLY is a perfect reminder that maybe sometimes the holidays suck the way they did for Thompson’s or Laura Linney’s characters, or sometimes the season inspires you to finally talk to your crush or marry someone you just met, but love actually is all around, and that’s worth celebrating on its own.
John Reents — A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Take your pick of Ebenezers Scrooge: Reginald Owen (1938), Alistair Sim (1951), Fredric March (1954), Mr. Magoo (1962), Albert Finney (1970, SCROOGE), Scrooge McDuck (1983, Mickey’s Christmas Carol), George C. Scott (1984), Billy Murray (1988, SCROOGED), Michael Caine (1992, THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL), and a few I’ve never seen (with apologies to Patrick Stewart). I love the story of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I love the different ways it’s been interpreted over the years. I love the sitcom versions in all their redundant glory.
Why? Because, as unwise as it may be to admit this in print, I see a lot of myself in Ebenezer Scrooge. I’m not an especially social person. Moreso now than I used to be, but not as much as I’d like. It’s not out of any particular malice toward humanity. I have bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder, conditions which have kept me home many nights that I spent watching movies by myself. And when you have a disordered mind, and spend a lot of time by yourself, it’s easy to forget about the world outside of your own head, let alone the world outside your living room.
So, when Scrooge goes home to a cold, dark, and empty apartment, it’s difficult not to be reminded of my most antisocial years, when my depression was at its worst. As the spirits lead Scrooge through his past, present, and future, I can’t help but think of the sleepless nights when my anxiety took me on similar journeys. Ultimately, Scrooge comes out a better man than he ever was. Revisiting A CHRISTMAL CAROL(s) is a reminder that, no matter how dark and lonely life may seem, no matter what you’ve done or who you may have hurt in the past, no one is beyond redemption.
Rich Love – INVASION USA (1985)
INVASION USA is an out and out classic of Cannon Films, maybe the best example of one of their movies (though you can certainly make solid arguments for other great films like DEATH WISH 3 or AMERICAN NINJA). It’s so over the top and silly, the insane levels of violence in this film are spectacular. What’s the plot of the film? Terrorists invade the USA, and fucking CHUCK NORRIS STOPS THEM! The terrorists are a random assortment of Russians, Cubans, bikers, and whoever else right-wing types were terrified of in 1985—it’s never explained who they are, how they came together or what their actual plan is. The movie’s plot (what there is of one) is hampered by the fact that it was originally meant as a much longer film, but was cut down because it was well over 2 hours. So Cannon Films assumed that it would be better if they cut out all the plot points and kept all the action bits. They were exactly right about that. Whenever the terrorists are trying to do something, Chuck just magically appears at the nick of time to stop them. It’s never really explained how or why Chuck knows to be there, and it shouldn’t be. We should just assume he has superpowers, like he no doubt does.
Why do I always watch INVASION USA at Christmas time? Like a lot of great action films (LETHAL WEAPON, DIE HARD) the plot of the film loosely happens around the holiday, and there’s something fun about watching Chuck Norris mow down criminals with an Uzi at Christmas time. I’m a weirdo who really likes spending time at the holidays with my family and friends, but there’s something very therapeutic about relaxing to one of the most violent films ever made after my family’s holiday get-together. Really few films, if any, can compete with the body count in this one.
It also helps that I’m a dude who spends his holidays drinking whiskey and listening to Manowar and watching asinine action films. But no scene in film history quite captures the magic of the holiday season like this for me. Happy Holidays!
Matt Wedge — PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)
I don’t really have regular Christmas viewing traditions, but if we consider New Year’s Day a part of the holidays, then Brian De Palma’s monument to cynicism has become appointment viewing over the last few years. For some reason, despite the actual story and message (showbiz chews up the weak/naive/sincere and rewards the predatory) being a downer, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE has become a comfort food movie for me over the years. Much of that has to do with the terrific songs by Paul Williams, but also the phenomenally weird tone that De Palma conjures for his rock opera take on Faust. Sitting down to this as my first movie of the year has become my preferred way of washing away the inevitable stench of disappointment that comes along with the year just ended.
Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi — SCROOGED (1988)
My entire family are Bill Murray fans so the edited-for-television version of SCROOGED was an ubiquitous part of the Christmas season. At some point, every year, it would play in the background as we traveled from one relative’s house to another. Neon. Chrome. Shoulder pads. The movie is so ’80s you can practically smell the hair mousse. Nostalgia alone isn’t enough to keep me returning to Bill Murray as the network television vice president and all around jerkface, Frank Cross. There’s the quotable dialogue (“What’s this Frank? It’s a TOASTER!” and “I’ve never liked a girl well enough to give her twelve sharp knives.”) The classic themes are updated for the modern world: greed will only get you so far, death awaits us all, and it’s never too late to change.
There are cameos of anyone and everyone from Robert Goulet to Mary Lou Retton. A fantastic supporting cast bolsters the film including Carol Kane, Bobcat Goldthwait, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, and Robert Mitchum. But it’s Michael J. Pollard’s Herman, the first role I recall seeing him in, that resonated the most with me. His character’s actions result in a pivotal moment for Frank which never fails to bring on the waterworks. Or, as David Johansen AKA Buster Poindexter AKA The Ghost of Christmas Past put it, “Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel.” Now, excuse me while I grab a tissue. I seem to have something in my eye. Again.
Jeremy Lowe — SANTA’S SLAY (2005)
The ludicrous idea that there is a war on Christmas is one of the most laughable conspiracy theories that the religious right has come up with. As insane as this concept is, if there was one movie that would work as a how-to video, it would be SANTA’S SLAY. It’s so subversive. Taking all the traditions of an established Christmas story and turning them on their head fills my heart with joyous glee!
In this horror, comedy, slasher movie, Santa Claus (Bill Goldberg) is actually a demon, more specifically the devil’s son, who innumerable years ago gambled with an angel and lost. Since he lost the bet, Santa has had to be the giver of joy and good tidings for the past 1000 years. When the time frame for the wager has run out, Santa isn’t very joyful anymore. To make up for lost time, Santa goes on a gore-filled killing spree that combines the brutality of Jason Voorhees and the humor of Freddy Krueger from the later A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies.
As raunchy and gory as SANTA’S SLAY is, it still maintains a sense of whimsy. I love it as an R-rated slasher romp, but if they had toned it down just a bit to a PG-13 rating, I could see it being held in the same regards as Michael Dougherty’s 2015 holiday favorite, KRAMPUS. How is SANTA’S SLAY fanciful? The fact that the origin story of Santa Claus is played out in a flashback through Rankin & Bass (RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER) style stop motion animation is about as good as it gets. Besides that, having the teenagers facing off against the demon Santa gives SANTA’S SLAY a MONSTER SQUAD vibe to it.
Honestly, I had passed by SANTA’S SLAY so many times when I originally saw it in the stores. The cover art looked hokey, and I was a horror snob. I’m glad curiosity got the best of me, because now I can’t go the holiday season without watching SANTA’S SLAY at least once. It’s a holiday tradition in my house! Subvert the holidays and do your part to help fight the war on Christmas!
John Rieber — BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
I was lucky enough to see this in a darkened movie theater, leaving BLACK CHRISTMAS as one of my most intense filmgoing experiences.
The setup is simple: a couple of sorority sisters remain behind as everyone else heads out for the Christmas holiday. But, as we see in the opening scene, someone has entered the house and taken up residence in the attic. Director Bob Clark, rightfully lauded for his holiday classic A CHRISTMAS STORY, opens the films with the killer’s POV, used a few years later by John Carpenter in HALLOWEEN. Clark finds the perfect balance of violence, suspense, and black humor to keep the audience on edge.
The film is drenched with a sense of dread, as Olivia Hussey stars as the sorority sister who answers the obscene calls and ultimately ends up alone in the house with the killer. Margot Kidder also stars as one of Olivia’s sorority sisters, and she’s got a wicked sense of humor and an acid tongue…this was just prior to her breakout role as Lois Lane in SUPERMAN. Kidder really elevates the film with her caustic wit…and the film is full of familiar faces, a great cast who all deliver stellar performances. Kier Dullea stars in the movie as a boyfriend who may or may not be the killer – Dullea of course was in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
Veteran character actor John Saxon also stars – and action movie fans will always remember him showcasing his kung fu moves in the Bruce Lee classic ENTER THE DRAGON. Since this was a low budget film, Keir Dullea worked only for a week, and never met Margot Kidder! He barely met John Saxon either, but the film is edited in such a way that he appears to be present throughout the film…
Around 1986, Olivia Hussey met Steve Martin for a role in ROXANNE, and Martin said “Oh my God Olivia, you were in one of my all time favorite films”. Hussey assumed it was her breakout role in ROMEO AND JULIET – but she was surprised to find out it was BLACK CHRISTMAS! Martin claimed he had seen it over 20 times!
Alex Lanz — HOME ALONE (1990)
“I made my family disappear….”
As a cute blonde child in the early ’90s, no Christmas was complete without the annual HOME ALONE marathon. I can’t remember a Christmas that didn’t include our juvenile booby trapping domestic terrorist. I mean come on. We’ve got a John Hughes holiday classic (Don’t forget about his Thanksgiving staple – PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES) with Daniel Stern, Joe Pesci, JOHN CANDY, and Macaulay Culkin.
Looking back, my love for HOME ALONE most likely started from the flood of requests from family to recreate classic scenes and my fascination with the mischief that he was able to pull off on the Wet Bandits. I must have begged for a Talkboy from 1991 – 1999. Sadly, I never got my hands on one of those either.
Cast and gadgets aside we must include the musical component. Every song on the soundtrack seems to be on everybody’s Holiday playlist. And let’s talk about John Williams for a second. We have a multi-Oscar winning composer responsible for the mood and music of JAWS, STAR WARS, and INDIANA JONES. That’s just before HOME ALONE. The list is endless. Williams’ body of work has put him the Composer Hall of Fame and set a high standard for how a film score can drive the tone of film. Williams’ score helps to bring each trap to a climax before hitting you with the screams of our intruders and sound effects of the trap.
This has been fun, but you’ll have to excuse me as I make a gigantic ice cream sundae, snatch a Little Nero’s pizza, and chug a few Pepsi’s with Fuller. It’s HOME ALONE time in the Lanz household.
Jon Abrams — JACKIE BROWN/ DJANGO UNCHAINED/ THE HATEFUL EIGHT/ ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Very unofficial tradition, but Quentin Tarantino movies have frequently enough been released on Christmas Day that they tend to be go-to viewing for me and certain members of my family. I saw JACKIE BROWN at Christmastime back in 1997, and saw DJANGO UNCHAINED with my cousin and his wife on X-Mas Day 2012 and THE HATEFUL EIGHT totally alone because that’s the kind of Christmas it was that year. This Christmas we’ll probably watch ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD together because the Blu-Ray came out a couple weeks back and not only do I have my own copy floating around, but that’s probably what I’ll be giving my cousin for Christmas. (Nobody say anything to him!)
Beyond that, MARS ATTACKS! because it was also a holiday season release originally and it never fails to bring me joy, and GREMLINS 1 & 2. Even though my niece is terrified of the Gremlins.
What about you, gentle reader?
Do you have a movie you watch every year during the holiday season?
Let us know in the comments below!
Tags: bill murray, Billy Bob Thornton, Black Christmas, chevy chase, Christmas, Christmas With the Kranks, chuck norris, Ebenezer Scrooge, Holidays, Home Alone, john hughes, Judy Garland, Love Actually, Phantom Of The Paradise, Quentin Tarantino, Santa Slay, Scrooged, Tim Allen, Traditions