The holidays are upon us! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Saturnalia, you’re no doubt going to spend some time bustling around some relative's crowded house trying to avoid the most heated fights and the crankiest uncles. Most of you will end up in front of the TV where some variety of "It’s a Wonderful Muppet Christmas Miracle Story on 34th Street" for the thousandth time, but if you’re clever enough to bring a few of your own DVDs, you may be able to celebrate the inherent weirdness of the holiday season in style (and possibly alone—some of these are too gory, freaky, or incoherent for the family to enjoy). Here are ten of the weirdest Christmas movies around.
JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996)
A bizarre relic of the time when Arnold Schwarzenegger was an actor, Phil Hartman was alive, and Sinbad was employed, “Jingle All the Way” was a weird mixture of Christmas satire and futuristic jetpack adventure. The story of two desperate dads (Schwarzenegger and Sinbad) vying to purchase the very last Turbo-Man action figure, the film was hastily rewritten by producer (and "Home Alone" director) Chris Columbus to focus more on the crass commercialization of Christmas and to feature more of an anti-consumerism vibe (primarily represented in the scene where Arnie beats the crap out of a gang of toy counterfeiters, lead by sinister mall Santa Jim Belushi). Unfortunately, the newly written segments failed to jibe well with the rest of the story’s madcap antics, and the movie writes itself into a corner that it can only escape from by dressing Sinbad and Arnold up in tight spandex Turbo-Man costumes and strapping them to jetpacks. While a few reviewers gave the film points for at least halfway trying to discuss the cheapening of Christmas and the dangers of consumerism, most people couldn’t fail to notice the numerous Turbo-Man toys and action figures released in concert with the movie and gave it a pass overall.
JACK FROST (1996)
No, not the syrupy Michael Keaton vehicle from a couple years later, although the two films have an eerily similar “origin story” for the titular character. Jack Frost (in this movie a serial killer, in the other, a neglectful father and bluesman) suffers a car accident, smashing into a “genetics truck” on the way to prison and becomes an animate snowman with incredible powers. Instead of using said powers to reunite with his estranged son, however, serial killer Jack Frost naturally embarks on a deadly path of revenge, mayhem, and carrot-rape. This movie is actually a good deal more notable and popular than the bland and forgettable Michael Keaton film, if only because it features one of Shannon Elizabeth’s first on-screen performances as a naked lady in the shower, but make sure your copy of Jack Frost comes with the seal of quality on the cover—a hideous grinning icy skull.
HOME ALONE 4 (2002)
1990’s “Home Alone” was and is one of the best family comedies and Christmas movies ever written, a product of comedic genius John Hughes at his creative peak. 1992’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” wasn’t nearly as good, but was arguably better than it had any right to be and featured almost all of the original cast. 1997’s “Home Alone 3”...existed, and featured no real connection with any other films other than a phoned-in John Hughes script and director Raja Gosnell, editor of the past two films. Nobody liked the third movie (except Roger Ebert for some weird contrarian reason) and it was assumed that the franchise had finally been milked for all its worth.
Then came “Home Alone 4,” a made-for-TV mess featuring the legendary starpower of French “That Squinty Guy from that Space Alien Show” Stewart as chief antagonist and absolutely nothing else worth talking or thinking about. Hughes didn’t write, produce, or really have anything to do with the noisome flop, a tired rehash of the formula centering around the McAllister family’s messy divorce (Merry Christmas!). While intended to launch a Home Alone TV series, HA4 ended up almost killing the franchise for good until yet another made-for-TV installment (featuring Malcolm McDowell and Ed Asner at possibly the lowest moment of their professional lives) was released this year.
DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984)
Did you know that in England, they say “Happy Christmas” instead of “Merry Christmas?” And that every year around Yuletide, razor-wielding serial killers stalk the streets of London butchering everyone they see wearing a Santa outfit? It’s a weird tradition, I know, but it was documented on film in the British holiday-horror film “Don’t Open Till Christmas,” the perfect film for anybody who is seriously sick of all the Christmas crap and for anybody looking for an excuse to get kicked out of the house. The story, such as it is, follows blandly attractive Englishwoman Kate and her sleazy flute-playing boyfriend (remember ladies—never trust a flautist) as they half-assedly try to figure out who killed Kate’s Santa-loving dad and went on to horrifically murder any Londoner wearing anything like a Santa outfit—even sexy ladies! A grim and grisly movie that uses dim lighting and ugly set design to accurately convey the horror of living in Britain in the '80s, this film is objectionable enough to draw all the negative attention away from anything else at the family get-together.
CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)
Like “eve,” get it? Returning to America, we get maybe the first of many films where people dressed up as Santa Claus are killers (as opposed to people dressed up as Santa Claus getting killed). “Christmas Evil” starts with the origin of main character Harry’s homicidal insanity: one time when he was a kid, he saw his dad (dressed as Santa) going down on his mom (insert your own “under the mistletoe” jokes here)! Not a fun thing to see on Christmas Eve, I think we’d all agree, but sort of flimsy justification for adult Harry’s murderous Santa obsession, which leads him to steal toys from the naughty, chop up preppies, and confront torch-wielding mobs of suburban New Yorkers before a truly bizarre twist ending that shows us all that Harry was the real Santa after all, meaning that the real Santa is in fact a hatchet-wielding sexually repressed spree killer. Fun fact: John Waters is such a huge fan of this film that he got it reissued in 2006 as a DVD, complete with his own commentary track. Additional fun fact: Harry is played by small-time actor Brandon Maggart, whose only other significant accomplishment was fathering enjoyably weird musician Fiona Apple out of wedlock. What traumatic Christmas secrets could have inspired the album, “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do?”
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
The most terrifying and influential thing to come out of the Canadian film scene since William Shatner, “Black Christmas” is commonly considered one of the first “slasher” films. All the major criteria like POV shots from a mysterious killer’s perspective, a remote house full of nubile victims, and (duh) slashing were all big parts of “Black Christmas,” although to modern viewers it may seem oddly tame with its single-digit body count and shocking lack of nudity. A success in Canada (it was actually based in part on a series of Christmastime murders in Quebec), it flopped in America, where it was lamely retitled “Silent Night, Evil Night” after producers worried that potential audiences would dismiss it as yet another blaxploitation film. American reviews at the time concentrated on the gore and the alleged misogyny (the Christmas tie-in didn’t help either) but modern critics consider it an overlooked cult classic and a triumph of atmospheric '70s horror.
“Elves” is a movie suffering from a significant number of artistic and technical difficulties, perhaps the most striking of which is that there’s only one elf in the entire movie. Summoned by a pagan “Anti-Christmas” ritual performed by bored hottie Kristen and her two interchangeable hottie friends, the Elf starts the holiday hijinks by literally stabbing the balls off of a pervy mall Santa. Soon the motive behind this and other elfin murders: the elf was bred by Kristen’s grandpa, who is a Nazi wizard (and also Kristen’s dad, ick) so that it would impregnate the virgin Kristen and found the beginnings of the new Master Race. A simple enough plan, but the Nazis hadn’t planned on the intervention of non-pervy mall Santa and washed-up detective Dan “Grizzly Adams” Hagerty, a tough-as-nails cigarette-puffing man who’s not willing to take any mystical Nazi incest lying down. Will Kristen be able to unlock the secrets of Grampa’s magical “elfstone” or will America fall beneath the tromping boots of thousands of three-foot-tall foam-rubber elves? There’s only one way to find out (Tip: You might be able to convince your family it’s the prequel to Will Ferrell’s “Elf,” which is a disturbing movie in an entirely different way).
RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)
Finnish people spend their time doing one of two things: defending themselves from Russian invaders or defending themselves from bloodthirsty elves. Finnish cinema is full of classic films about the Russian invasion (“Talvisota” is particularly recommended) but so far the high point of Finnish bloodthirsty elf fiction would be “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” a 90-minute feature based on the two earlier “Rare Export” shorts about the traditional Finnish practice of capturing and taming wild Santa Clauses. "A Christmas Tale" is sort of a prequel to the shorts, detailing the origin of the wild Santas and a young boy with a very justifiable fear of that right deadly old elf. The uniquely weird and threatening Finnish and Scandinavian Christmas traditions play a big part in this movie—Santa and his elves (brainwashed and aged humans capable of incredible speed and resistance to pain) are shown as being able to whip the naughty to shreds with a bushel of twigs, to sense the presence of children in order to hunt them down and make them into “Christmas stew,” and to be appeased only by grisly slaughter or gingerbread cookies. Although the plot sort of wanders a bit, the movie manages to be both hilarious and genuinely frightening (sometimes simultaneously) and the gorgeous Lapland countryside helps distract from the occasional low or no-budget special effects.
SANTA WITH MUSCLES (1996)
The answer to the ancient question, “What could be better than Santa with bones and skin and a nervous system?” “Santa With Muscles” is one of a possibly infinite number of terrible decisions made by Hulk Hogan. In this film, the Hulkster plays an egotistical millionaire (no stretch there) who, in the course of escaping the police, hits his head while disguised as a mall Santa, leaving him no logical choice but to believe he’s the real Santa Claus. Like any other buff amnesiac wearing an ill-fitting Santa suit, Hogan finds himself battling an evil scientist (played by neutral-to-good scientist Ed Begley, Jr.) determined to shut down an orphanage to dig out the magical crystals commonly found beneath many financially destitute orphanages. One of the vanishingly few reasons this movie is still available is that it marked the film debut of a twelve-year-old Mila Kunis, ironically appearing with fellow future "That 70s Show" actor Don Stark (who plays Hulk Hogan’s primary elf).
Next: Hilariously Awkward Holiday Photos
SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)
A sci-fi kidnapping caper filmed in SPACE-BLAZING COLOR, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” may be one of the reasons why everybody in the late '60s was on drugs. The Martian aristocracy, a race of mildly green humans wearing poorly-designed scuba masks, determine that the only way to guarantee the survival of Martian culture will be to abduct Santa Claus and have him introduce the concepts of fun and Christmastime to Martian youth. Evading the hapless Air Force, the Martians unwittingly bring two Earth children along as stowaways. These apple-cheeked youths work together with the children of Mars to defeat the robots and bears of the evil Voldar, a fun-hating Martian traditionalist with an unsettling resemblance to Frank Zappa. Will conservative Martian society be upended by Santa Claus’ bold reforms? What role will Dropo, the laziest man on Mars play in the new Santaist government? The only way to make sure is to try to track down a recording—it’s probably easiest to find it in the form where it earned the most infamy, as part of season three of cult TV hit "Mystery Science Theater 3000."