With all the repetition of the season, the dirge-like death march that is that same couple dozen songs and movies being played from November 1st through December 25th, we’ve got to ask — if only to defeat the monotony —
What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path Christmas movie?
WENDI FREEMAN: EASTERN PROMISES starts with a child abandoned on Christmas, and Naomi Watts’ pursuit to find the mother’s relatives. It is a tale of family and mob deception during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with the main villain being a kindly patriarch preparing his restaurant for the holidays and making borscht. I love the scenes of children running around and being scolded for their violin playing as much as I love the naked knife fights.
MIKE McGRANAGHAN: I’d have to pick George Roy Hill’s 1973 masterpiece THE STING, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, that movie doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with Christmas. you brain-dead hippie!” You are absolutely correct. Sort of. THE STING actually opened on Christmas Day that year, so I’m counting it. (I’m a rebel, Dottie. A loner.) This is a great movie to watch on December 25 of this, or any, year. It also makes a perfect present for the film buff in your life. So yeah, I’m going with THE STING.
BRETT GALLMAN: Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: Glen Morgan’s confectionary re-imagining of BLACK CHRISTMAS is a terribly unfaithful update of Bob Clark’s enormously unsettling classic. It does just about everything we roll our eyes at when it comes to remakes by taking an entirely different (read: more splattery, silly) tone and revealing the identity of the mysterious Billy — honestly, if not for the title, holiday setting, and sorority location, it’d be unrecognizable as BLACK CHRISTMAS. And to all of this I ask: “Who cares?”
Look, I get it — when I first saw this one in theaters, I was at the height of my cynicism regarding remakes. Exhausted not only by the horde that had already seen release but also those on the horizon, I was immediately skeptical of anyone so much as laying a finger on something like BLACK CHRISTMAS. I thought it was one of the worst movies of the year back in 2006.
All of this is today that twenty-something me was a real jerk when it came to this sort of thing. Even though I can still (obviously) acknowledge that it completely upends the original, I see that as more of a virtue now. How many remakes are perfectly content to just coast on a familiar title and go through the motions? No one can accuse Morgan of doing this. His BLACK CHRISTMAS is full of sharply-written, sassy characters, outrageous gore, and a wacky backstory that almost borders on parody — in fact, it’s almost as if he was needling Zombie’s direction with Halloween a full year early. So, no, it’s decidedly not Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS at all — instead, it’s what that film might have looked like if it had arrived in the mid-’80s.
Ironically, where Clark’s original is a precursor to the pack of cookie-cutter slashers, this one is a gloriously, loving throwback to those films, and it plays like gangbusters now that we don’t have nearly enough of them anymore. One might say it’s as fresh as a newly-baked batch of human flesh cookies.
JOHNNY DONALDSON: I have a personal tradition of watching SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT and the BLACK CHRISTMAS remake. I think Silent Night is just great, trashy, unwholesome comfort food that skewers the saccharine capitalist joviality of the holiday. BLACK CHRISTMAS is in no means a better overall horror film than its classic predecessor, but it’s a better *Christmas* horror movie, lit up in gaudy red and green hues like some Mario Bava holiday special, and using more of the season’s accouterments (baked flesh “gingerbread” cookies, icicles and candy canes sharpened into unholy weaponized shanks) as giggly, blackly comic punctuation to the deaths in Glen Morgan’s bad-taste holiday horror flick. I dig it a lot. A lot of people hate it because it’s soooo different from the original — garish instead of subtle, gory instead of suspenseful, laden with campy, trashy exploitation backstory over being mysterious about its killer’s origins — but to me its like the difference between TEXAS CHAIN SAW and its first sequel. One is a great, scary horror movie, the other is a great, over the top splatterpunk cartoon.
MIA MAYO: DESPERATE LIVING is my Christmas Story. It just fills me with such warmth and happiness, I figure it’s what people mean when they say they feel “merry” or “jolly.” The look of the film also is very inspiring. I have a dream Christmas dinner party, where everyone comes in their most Mortville-festive outfits, and we eat a giant fruitcake that looks similar to a roasted Queen Carlotta with an apple in her mouth.
RICH MAIER: EYES WIDE SHUT takes place right before Christmas. You kinda have to understand Stanley Kubrick’s strange sense of dry humor to really get the film. Not quite the perverted movie that everyone seems to think it is. Definitely Tom Cruise’s greatest role.
JOVY SKOL: EVERLY. Salma Hayek returns to the genre that greatly misses her by presenting us a fresh kind of action movie, one set mostly in the confinement of one apartment. After her unseen boss accuses her of a betrayal, Everly (Hayek) is the target of a variety of hitmen and killer prostitutes with attitudes to match. In a style heavily inspired by Asian cinema, director Joe Lynch (WRONG TURN 2) throws us in the middle of bloodshed we can’t escape from with a lead character we are rooting for as she fights alone. What motivates her is making sure her daughter and mother gets out alive, all set during the Christmas holiday. Capped with ending accompanied by a haunting rendition of “Silent Night” will leave viewers wanting more.
JEREMY LOWE: Christmas themed horror movies have always been one of my favorite sub-genres. Nothing spoke to me quite like SANTA’S SLAY. It’s filled with gore, laughs, and even a Rankin-&-Bass-style animated sequence. The humor in SANTA’S SLAY is very Herschell Gordon Lewis in style. By that I mean, the punchline to the joke is the kill. It really doesn’t get more subversive than to have an all-Jewish cast in a Christmas movie. You can’t go wrong with Bill Goldberg as the killer Santa Claus, either. “He’s making a list… pray you’re not on it!”
JOHN REENTS: One of the things I love about Billy Wilder’s 1960 classic THE APARTMENT is that it takes place on and around Christmas, but it isn’t a Christmas movie. Wilder and his frequent screenwriting parter I.A.L. Diamond use the holiday to underscore the loneliness of the characters and the difference between being single in the city and married with a family in the suburbs during the Christmas season. In the film, Jack Lemmon plays a guy who climbs the corporate ladder by letting the married men in upper management and their girlfriends use his bachelor pad as a trysting place. The closest THE APARTMENT comes to religious allegory is Lemmon’s character growing up and learning to, in the words of his Jewish neighbor, be a mensch… which Jesus also eventually did, albeit under slightly different circumstances.
JONATHAN HOLUBIAK: I have two more popular ones.
DJANGO UNCHAINED, mainly because it came out on Christmas, and I saw it on Christmas, and it’s one of my top films. So the association stuck.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, (another) one of my favorite films. Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio are excellent as usual, and a major plot point is Christmas, as their two characters continue to speak and cross paths on the holiday, including the scene where Hanks ultimately finds and captures Frank (Leo’s character).
MATT WEDGE: It’s not a perfect movie and the ending definitely has some issues, but I love Alex de la Iglesia’s THE DAY OF THE BEAST. A bumbling priest in Madrid becomes convinced he has figured out the antichrist will be born on Christmas day and sets about to fight him in the most inept and sacrilegious ways possible. It’s all very funny, violent, and still sort of sweet at the same time — like all the best Christmas celebrations should be.
ALBERT MULLER: The thoughtful side of me says Keith Gordon’s excellent & under-seen A MIDNIGHT CLEAR, because quality. The pure sensation side of me says NIGHT OF THE COMET because NIGHT OF THE COMET, have you seen that flick? It’s awesome.
MAC BELL: ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is always a holiday staple on this end. Bond, Blofeld and bobsled chases go extremely well with an eggnog. And hearing George Lazenby’s Bond wish a SPECTRE thug “Merry Christmas” after delivering a holiday punch always helps take the edge off during the season.
VASHAWN QUINONES: The Joel Silver classics. DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON. THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT and MANIAC COP 2. And even though it’s not Christmas-themed, it was released on Christmas Day, so I would add JACKIE BROWN to the list.
JON ZILLA: It’s well past time, I think, to reconsider THE ICE HARVEST as an anti-holiday classic. The sole noir-type film we ever got from comedy Buddha Harold Ramis, this is a lemon-sour crime movie teaming up two of the great Christmas cranks of our time, John Cusack (BETTER OFF DEAD) and Billy Bob Thornton (BAD SANTA). They play a pair of angry losers who rip off mob money but then run into a hell of a time getting out of town, due to worse-than-usual seasonal weather. Randy Quaid plays the deranged gangster they robbed, and if you don’t think Randy Quaid can be scary, you ought to check out Randy Quaid’s Twitter page. Or this movie. Connie Nielsen, Mike Starr, and particularly Oliver Platt are note-perfect in their roles, and I still can’t get over how gleefully nasty the movie is, coming from Harold Ramis, who by all accounts was nothing but joyful in life.
Also, I can’t believe Vashawn went through all the Shane Black movies without getting to IRON MAN 3, THE NICE GUYS, or especially KISS KISS BANG BANG, which is about Christmas in Hollywood, which, trust me, is weird as fuck if you’ve never experienced it yourselves. Also:
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