By RJ Bayley
Everybody likes Christmas. Shut up yes they do. It’s a time for gathering with the family and crowding round the TV to pop on a classic festive feature. Everyone’s got their favourite; they’re a tradition in themselves. They remind you of worry-free childhoods, they give you a dose of snow even when reality refuses the muster the white stuff and, most importantly to many, they’re an acceptable way of spending time with your family while sitting in silence.
But it’s not all the saccharine sweetness of Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. If you’re a writer wanting to tap into that Christmas movie market you don’t need to stick to the friendly fat reverse-burglar. As these Christmas genre movies show, there’s plenty of room to mix Old Nick with St. Nick.
After the incredible success of Batman ‘89, Burton was given carte blanche to do what he wanted with the sequel, and boy did he go to town. The film is magnificent at taking yuletide traditions and smashing them to pieces, literally in some cases. Giant presents explode into a flurry of crazed killers, fairy lights pop from machine gun fire and soon-to-be corpses get catapulted into a Christmas fir. Don’t worry though; there’s a violent mad man dressed as a bat ready to do whatever it takes to save Gotham and its Christmas. Incinerate criminals with his flash car’s jet engine, launch slabs of concrete into people’s necks, whatever it takes.
See also: Iron Man III
There could be an entire article on 12 Murderers That Dress Up Like Santa. Video Nasties: love them or loathe them, these films were cheaply made and still get special releases and legions of fans. Silent Night, Deadly Night tells the cheery tale of a boy who witnesses his parents dragged out of their car on a deserted roadside and murdered by a man dressed as Papa Chrimbo. Naturally, he grows up to become a spree killer wearing the same costume himself. It’s a defiantly sour film that delivers no warm feels, creepy situations and genuinely haunting imagery. Its cult following years later is testament to this mean-spirited gem.
See also: Christmas Evil, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, 3, 4 & 5, Silent Night.
It’s become a Christmas tradition in itself for at least 3 Wetherspoon Bores to wave their pints of Tennent’s at you while proclaiming “the best Christmas movie is DIE HARD, m8.” Tedious as it is to hear for the 857th time, they’re onto something. The film would be iconic anyway, but the Christmas topping just gives it that extra special edge. John McClane is that perfect prick of an uncle who has deep seated problems, but on the surface is the coolest, most sarcastic, sardonic grinch who adds the cool to Christmas. “Now I have a machine gun ho ho ho.”
See also: Die Hard 2 (sue me.)
Christmas allows creature features to get really out there and inventive with the beasties they have on display. Krampus’ creative use of a jack-in-the-box, a Christmas angel, elves and gingerbread people are some of the best beasties there’s ever been. As a writer, it’s an excuse to let your imagination run riot by twisting festive favourites. Somehow, the Christmas setting seems to allow that combination of the comedic and the horrifying flow more easily. Krampus is proof that the saying “you don’t see the creature in the best monster movies” is utter nonsense.
See also: Gremlins
Is it sci-fi? Is it fantasy? Yes, both, but for the purposes of this entry we’re focusing on the unlicensed nuclear accelerators strapped to their backs. It’s an unfairly maligned movie, nowhere near as bad as some of its detractors state. It’s actually loads of fun, with the right amount of Christmas cynicism mixed with genuine festive good time vibes. The characters all have sparkling moments against the backdrop of the season, like Ray and Winston’s religion chat, there’s a rousing sing song of Auld Lang Syne and you get to see the squad in Santa hats.
See also: Brazil
Speaking from experience, Bruges is one of the very most Christmassy cities on Earth. The beautiful architecture, the cobbled streets, the rich sense of history and identity. Sometimes a film is good enough to just be an excuse to visit a place. In Bruges however, offers superlative Christmas proxy sightseeing, but also slots in hilarious comedy alongside a nail biting slow burn crime story of two hitmen on enforced holiday. The characters are an absolute pleasure to spend time with and ultimately, in the spirit of Big JC, this is a crime film about sacrifice for others.
See also: The French Connection, Lethal Weapon, L.A. Confidential.
Tim Burton’s back on this list. How could I leave him out of the gothic category. The closest thing cinema has to a true auteur outside of Roger Corman, Burton’s movie has become an mini industry in itself, usurping The Lost Boys as goths’ go to film. The writer’s imagination runs riot, presenting us with skeletal reindeer pulling a coffin shaped sledge, and the very fate of Christmas and Santa himself at stake at the hands of the evil Oogie.
See also: Edward Scissorhands.
It was supposed to kickstart a new The Lord of the Rings cinematic franchise. It never quite did, but it was a great success regardless and a wonderfully traditional feeling Christmas movie. There are few scenes more warmingly festive than an inadequately dressed fawn under a glowing lamppost in a beautiful snowy forest. The kids being protagonists allows us to join them in childlike wonder at a fantastical land.
See also: King Kong (2005)
It’s from Aardman Animations, the folks behind the sublime Wallace & Gromit, so it was always going to be fun. No one however, expected it to be this fun. Moving into CGI allowed the writers to let themselves get carried away with their imaginations, theorising how to make the impossible possible and get all those presents delivered in the space of 24 hours. On top of that is an exciting plot with some wonderfully zany characters and the funniest joke about an older generation’s perspective on women I’ve ever seen.
See also: The Polar Express
The feel good family friendly antics of Arthur Christmas are all well and good, but what about a film with lines like “you’re an emotional fucking cripple. Your soul is dog shit”? Bad Santa has got your back. It just shows what you can do when you let the very worst of your hungover self write your Christmas screenplay. It’s a film with a legacy because for its majority it’s the most misanthropic thing this side of Cannibal Holocaust.
See also: Trading Places
Public holidays, Christmas included, are for old James Bond movies. Not the new ones where he cries in a shower and thinks he’s Jason Bourne. The old ones. The classics. The top shelf good stuff. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is particularly apt: not only is it set at Christmas, but most of it takes place against the snowy backdrop of the Bernese Highlands, Switzerland. Blofeld’s lair, Piz Gloria, has its halls decked and there’s even a proper sit down Christmas dinner. Combined with the surreal brainwashing plot and visuals, it provides a trippy Christmas treat.
See also: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
If you want to watch a good fight this Christmas, visit any Glaswegian pub. If you want to watch a great fight this Christmas, watch Rocky IV. The best of the ‘silly Rocky movies’ sees the Italian Stallion attempting to lay the smack down on a, funnily enough, unsportingly enhanced Russian athlete. On Christmas day no less. You can practically feel the icy sting of winter air against your cheeks as Rocky works out against the blinding whiteness of the tundra. Sure to bring back fond yule memories of grandad’s annual rapid back and forth rotation under a horse yoke in the shed.
See also: Ben Hur (there’s chariot racing and a nativity scene – the pickings were slim)
RJ Bayley is a full time voice artist, radio DJ and film journalist for Popcorn Horror.