Our ever surreal holly jolly season has returned and is soon also coming to close once more. As such, it’s always good time to check out the many pieces of popular culture that make us think about the holidays. They can encourage what we love about them, hate about them, or other something else entirely. These seasonal bits of popular culture can help to enhance our many opinions in many ways; each with their own styles and flavors. Since I tend to enjoy the more absurd, heavily imaginative or cynical among them, let’s dive deep into some movies and specials that I enjoyed the most.
* Rare Exports – To start things off, I want to talk about the film from the poster above. Rare Exports is a Christmas tale like no other! More or less, Santa is a supernatural powered wild man, who is captured by a team on an excavation of an ancient burial mound. When a nearby reindeer herd owned by ranchers are killed by this wild Santa, a local businessman steps in to claim Old (SCRATCH, I mean) St. Nick to cover everything. Needless to say, this strange Santa-like man wasn’t the only powerful being to hail from that ancient land. It’s a bleak tale of innocence, corrupt morality, and battling views. Its dry take on humor mixed with numerous scenes of absolute dread and terror make this horror-comedy an absolute treat for the season!
* Black Christmas – While this film was more about the proto-slasher exploitation film atmosphere, it still counts as a film for the season of Christmas time. What starts as a Christmas party crashed by “The Moaner”, who later executes one of the party goers for snooping around too much. Unlike most slashers, this one is fueled by a sense of mystery and heavy suspense… something the genre should have more of on a whole. What makes this movie is most of the murders and following scenes are related to Christmas! There’s killings with Christmas decorations, for goodness sake! So whether it’s the audacity of the killer’s obscene phone calls or the ominous lurking menace that the villain poses, there’s plenty of intrigue within this classic horror piece; hell the fact it helped to create the slasher genre might be reason enough.
* Die Hard – I like to say this film is overrated thanks to one of my old college peers, who may as well be religiously wanking off to this film and its sequels… But no matter, its become a really weird Christmas tradition of sorts. Bruce Willis plays a cop from out of the area whose stuck in one of the worst christmas parties of all time, in some ways this is both figurative and literal! In a sense it’s a very American Christmas tradition or should I say “Uh’Mer’Ca” as Bruce Willis marches through the Nakatomi Building and delivers a smackdown to some terrorist assholes. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of escapism, considering the holiday season disappoints many.
* ANY Christmas movie by Tim Burton – While countless audiences have grown tired of Tim Burton, there was a time he delivered delightfully cynical images that appealed and intrigued viewers all over. The so-called Christmas Trilogy (as referenced here) pretty much captures this duality of the “season of joy” with every day anguish, anxiety, and alienation. Anyone can tell you that every Christmas narrative has some form of conflict, but this conflict of the individual made these films very captivating. Identity crisis, social frustration, and exploitation of commercial consumerism have all played their roles in these films to great effect.
* Bad Santa – I’m a bitter and angry asshole… and so is this movie! This is one of the angriest films I’ve ever seen in my existence! Just when you think a character is given an arc to become the better person, it’s dashed with some hardcore cynicism from either said character or from someone else. The environment these characters live in is wonderfully toxic, but not to the point of being a cartoon. The titular “bad santa” is what helps to make this movie. He’s a no-good jerk whose plan is to disguise as a mall santa so he can score big by robbing the stores around him… in addition to having a little fun first. He’s a parasitic mooch, a pervert, he sucks as his jobs and is one of the most vile role models anyone can imagine; we simply can’t help but enjoy his failure because he’s so despicable! With that, it’s sharp-tongued comedy gold with a heart of deathly black coal!
* Brazil – A Gilliam classic that is by far one of the best dystopian movies alone! We see a lowly government employee’s suspicions and curiosities get the best of him as he’s dragged deep into the truth about his totalitarian nightmare of a life! Every fear about consumerism and justified within this film as well, rife with Crimbo satire sure to cause a chuckle or two. Hell, this film dives into how such a culture has corrupted all we used to enjoy about the “holiday season” itself. This empty copy of the season has reduced you to an empty shell driven mad by shopper’s anxiety and capital greed. Why not take a load off and have a hardy cynical laugh about how all we love (including things outside of the season) have been reduced to a depressing farce by maniacs and control freaks, eh?
* Silent Night, Deadly Night – If Black Christmas started a trend, this movie capitalized on it! Here’s the story about an orphan out of cold-hearted revenge! After driven to psychosis by a drunk Santa-Con wannabe, he goes on a passionate rampage punishing all the “naughty ones” out there with some holly jolly murder! Over all, it’s a pretty over the top premise, but it’s a fascinating set up for otherwise okay slasher flick. In the end, the villain is still kinda sympathetic. The season has ruined his life and all of these experiences have warped his mind into a stew of illness. Compared to countless other entries and copy-cats within the genre (including the hilariously awful sequels), this film isn’t half bad.
* RiffTrax Live Holiday Events – Ever since they started by mocking old Holiday Shorts with guest Star WEIRD AL YANKOVIC, this has become a mainstay fixture within cinemas all around the country! Our favorite riffing comedian trio gets ready for an awful holiday “classic” to tear apart every year, usually leaving the audience in stitches from laughter. While the movies themselves are awful MST3K fodder, what makes these events magical is the magnificent jokes that turn already campy movies into a delightful farce. And what’s more magical during the Christmas season than a night of celebration and laughter with a side of winter cheer?
* The City of Lost Children – What’s that? I’m cheating! Well, technically I am and technically I’m not! The intro sequence shows a child more or less being overwhelmed by the stress of Christmas. Sure, the rest of the movie doesn’t really dive too deep into it (besides, “it was a nightmare”), the rich imagery slowly sliding into a hellscape is surely enough for this movie to make this list! Besides, this bizarre steampunk dystopia is awesome enough to see in its own right! Plus, Ron Perlman plays a cowardly and often childish carnival strong man!
* Rugrats Hanukkah Special – You might be asking me what a lighthearted cartoon special is doing on a list that’s otherwise so subversive? Quite frankly, I was a kid once and I was super happy to see a cartoon that I watched did a Hanukkah special while lampooning the commercialization of Christmas. And what was interesting was how the events were portrayed and comically misinterpreted by the characters. It was silly, but a nice little touch from Nickelodeon. But hey, very few mainstream cartoons touched upon Jewish holidays and culture; and as both as proponent of inclusiveness and being interested in my father’s side of the family (who have a long history within Jewish culture), this episode was one to remember.
BONUS – It’s not out yet, but count me really eager for next year’s “KRAMPUS.” As some of my previous posts have proven, I love everything about the Krampus mythology. Plus, it’s made by the creator of the horror-comedy anthology “Trick ‘r’ Treat”, which remains to be one of my favorite movies.
With all that said and done, I encourage all of you to seek out these holiday treasures and enjoy something a little different this year. And with that, I plan on getting back to my original schedule of reviewing all sorts of awesome content. The season has been rough on me and full of stress, but I’m always up to the occasion! So, expect tons of good stuff soon!