11th Dec2013

Christmas Movies: Mainstays and Madness!

by Phil Wheat


After blogging about my favourite Halloween movies this past October, I thought I’d impart my nerdy wisdom upon you for the holiday season and give you a rundown of just what movies I’ll be watching this Christmas. After all it wouldn’t be Christmas without the family sat round the TV watching a movie whilst the festive feast cooks in the oven (of course not everyone gets to watch the movie – someone has to cook)

For me Christmas movies are split into two categories: Christmas Mainstays and Christmas Madness. Mainstays are those films that you always watch during the festive season, those movies that are constantly shown on TV during the holiday. And then there’s what I call Christmas Madness – these are the movies that only the seasoned holiday movie veterans choose to watch at this time of year. Beware you have to be strong-willed (and strong-stomached in some cases) to sit through some of these, hence the madness tag!

Of all the mainstay movies at Christmas there is nothing more traditional than It’s a Wonderful Life, but everyone’s seen that already, so what about some more modern festive flicks? For me you can’t get more festive than A Muppet Christmas Carol, after all what’s not to love about the classic seasonal story told by a group of beloved puppets. Oh, and Michael Caine. I know I’ll be watching this again this year, as I do every year. But it’s not only the Muppets than can do Charles Dickens, oh no. Another Christmas mainstay in our house is yet another adaptation of Dickens’ classic tale. Of course I’m talking about Scrooged, the darker-than-white comedy about a cynical TV exec (played by Bill Murray) who is visited by the spirits of Christmas, including a particularly scary ghost of Christmas future…

If cynical and dark is your thing there’s plenty of Christmas movies that fit the bill: Surviving Christmas, The Ref,  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (and its less than stellar sequel), and the darkest of them all, Bad Santa. But for many Christmas is all about fun, so your choice of movie should reflect that right? Well there’s plenty of fantastic Christmas comedies to take your pick from, including Elf, The Santa Clause, Fred Claus and my personal favourite, Ernest Saves Christmas – trust me, if you haven’t seen Ernest Saves Christmas then you haven’t experienced the true magic of the holiday season… OK that may be an exaggeration, but it is one hell of a funny flick and definitely deserves to be on your Christmas viewing list.

Then there’s Home Alone. Made in 1990, the film has become one of the most iconic and well-loved Christmas movies, and with a fantastic kid versus the world plot it was guaranteed to be a hit… However, there’s another kids versus the world Christmas flick that I think needs brought to the attention of the mainstream, Grounded (aka Unaccompanied Minors). The film follows a group of kids stranded at the airport after all planes are grounded during a snow storm who, besides trying to escape the clutches of the over-bearing security guards, create themselves a makeshift Christmas all their own. Featuring a host of surprisingly familiar faces, including Rob Corddry, David Koechner, Rob Riggle and Wilmer Valderama from That 70s Show, the real surprise is the name of the man in the directors chair – Paul Feig, who went on to helm a little comedy that you may know, Bridesmaids.

But my top pick for this Christmas, and a real festive film mainstay? That has to be the classic 80s movie Gremlins. And no I don’t need to explain why. You should know why. Just kidding.

So that’s my Christmas Mainstays, so what about the madness? Well, this is where it gets really grim. Thankfully to balance out all the saccharin sweetness of your typical Christmas movie there are plenty of fear-filled festive flicks to get your teeth into over the holiday season. Of course like the more mainstream holiday movies there are both good and bad festive films, so let me guide you in the ways of seasonal slayings…

Where to start? How about with a classic. The forefather (or sister in this case) of the slasher movie, Black Christmas is one of the earliest and best examples of Christmas horror, although it loses out to the Silent Night Deadly Night franchise in terms of sheer bloody fun – if you haven’t the first film in the series it is available on DVD here in the UK thanks to the fine folks at Arrow Video, although if I tell you the film features a kid witness the murder of his parents at the hands of a man in a Santa suit then turn round and slay a bunch of kids at a Catholic orphanage years later you might not want to watch it! A sequel followed three years later with the brother of the original killer now on the hook for his brothers crimes, eventually going on a killing spree of his own dressed as Santa. And the franchise doesn’t stop there, three more sequels followed.

But it’s not just the Americans who can make a decent Christmas horror… British actor Edmund Purdom parlayed his acting career in to a singular directing gig with Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas in 1984 – a film which saw London in a grip of terror as a serial killer bumped off anyone dressed as Santa. Talk about Bah Humbug! However, in all honesty, the less said about the film the better.

Out of all the festive fear flicks I’ve seen in my years as a film fan, the real standout (besides Gremlins, which seems to have stepped out of the horror boundary to become a bonafide Christmas classic) is the recently released Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. A Finnish fantasy horror, the film turns the myth of Santa Claus on its head and tells the story of a team of workers who uncover the grave of the “real” Santa Claus – a supernatural being who doesn’t reward good children, but REALLY punishes the naughty. Like the aforementioned Gremlins the film manages to balance horror with family-friendly atmosphere and can already be considered a modern Christmas classic.

So that’s it. My picks for your holiday season viewing. I may have missed a few of your favourites out but hopefully I’ve highlighted a few films you may not have seen or even considered watching this Christmas; and if you watch one film off my list then I did my job. I’ll bow out by wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And I hope Santa pops a few good movies in your stocking…


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