by Dayton Ward
What’s that? You say you’re tired of the networks trotting out such well-worn annual staples as Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer or even How the Grinch Stole Christmas? You want an alternative to TNT’s yearly marathon back-to-back-to-frikkin’-back airings of A Christmas Story? Wanna give Ebenezer Scrooge the finger? Well, then have I got a list of holiday viewing choices for you.
While each of the following movies is set on or around Christmas, and feature to varying degrees plot points or other references to Christmas, I’m pretty sure our mothers would agree that very few (if any) of these titles would constitute “appropriate holiday faire.”
That is, unless you live in my house. In that case? Buckle up.
In keeping with the Forgotten Flix mission statement, the following selections (save one) all were released sometime during “the 80s and Beyond!” As this isn’t intended to be a “Best of” list, I’m also counting on folks to chime in with their favorites. With that in mind, away we go:
Invasion U.S.A. (1985)
Chuck Norris fighting bad guys in a mall full of Christmas shoppers? We all dream of stuff like this…anything to avoid standing in line to buy that overpriced basket of soaps and lotions from Bath & Body Works. Norris is Matt Hunter, a retired CIA agent called out of retirement when a group of communist-backed guerillas begin wreaking havoc in Miami. The movie has plot and logic holes big enough for Santa, his sleigh and all nine reindeer (That’s right, even Rudolph) to pass through, and the acting is, to put a polite spin on it for the holidays, atrocious. But, it’s Chuck Norris, and like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone, we watch because of the man heading up all the action. Invasion U.S.A. may even have helped to spawn one of the numerous Chuck Norris Facts – “Chuck Norris doesn’t celebrate Christmas; Christmas celebrates Chuck.”
Bad Santa (2003)
Billy Bob Thornton as a drinking, carousing Saint Nick? This is absolutely not the movie you want to screen with the family after Christmas dinner. Thornton plays Willie Stokes, a seasonal employee working as Santa Claus at the local mall. Each Christmas Eve, he and his partner in crime, Marcus, deactivate the mall’s security systems and rob the place, which helps to fund the coming year until they return for the next Christmas. When they move their shtick to a new mall, mall cop Bernie Mac gets suspicious and starts sniffing around, and things go bad for everybody from there. If there’s a message in this flick, it’s probably that working as a mall Santa is only slightly less humiliating than being a horse inseminator, or Donald Trump’s hairdresser.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Christmas Eve, 1971: Young Billy Chapman witnesses the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of a man wearing a Santa Claus costume. In other films, this horrific act would serve as the birth of a superhero, devoted to fighting crime and defending the holiday season from all would-be evil-doers. Not so here. Instead, little Billy and his brother are sent to an orphanage run by cruel Catholic nuns, which along with the countless punishments he’ll suffer for the slightest of infractions is the real trigger for the mental meltdown Billy will suffer in years to come. As time passes, Billy becomes more and more deranged, until Christmas Eve 1984, when his employer tasks him with dressing up as Santa. That’s when the wheels come completely off, with our boy setting off to hand out some particularly ghoulish penalties to those he deems deserving of “punishment.” And at the top of the list? The Mother Superior who made his life hell at the orphanage, but that still leaves time for everybody else who gets in his way or otherwise whizzes in his Wheaties. Silent Night, Deadly Night was reviled by critics, but that didn’t stop it from becoming a modern cult classic and giving birth to four sequels. Jingle all the way to the grave, baby.
Don’t expose them to bright light. Don’t get them wet. Don’t feed them after midnight. Heed these three simple rules, and the cute little fuzzy things make fantastic Christmas gifts. Ignore the rules, and you’ll be back in line at Best Buy, buying your kid a copy of the Garfield DVD. Of course, following the rules would result in a pretty boring flick, so it’s good for us that Zach Galligan along with pretty much everyone else in this movie is wholly incapable of following directions. In no time, gremlins are running amok and terrorizing the sleepy little town of Kingston Falls. It’s always the sleepy little towns that have the coolest parties, right? In addition to its own sequel, we have Gremlins to thank for such cinematic greatness as the Critters and Ghoulies films. Oh, and along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins is responsible for the creation of the PG-13 movie rating. Only in America can a movie about monster fur balls have that kind of effect.
The third of the four Vacation movies starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, the forerunner to Tim “the Toolman” Taylor so far as hyper-enthusiastic fathers are toward the holidays. Clark is all about Christmas, you see, and he’s bound and determined to put on the perfect holiday with the entire family in attendance, just like Christmas was back when he was a kid. Given his penchant for success (or lack thereof) at planning anything other than a bowel movement in the two previous Vacation films, we all know how this adventure works out. Still, it’s hard to knock any movie featuring a house so decorated with Christmas lights that space shuttle pilots can use it as a point of orientation while in orbit. Throw in an irksome cat’s unfortunate encounter with Christmas decorations, a spontaneously combusting Christmas tree, a rampaging squirrel, and Randy Quaid dumping his RV’s toilet into the sewer of an upscale yuppie neighborhood (something I always wanted to do), and there’s just no way a movie like Miracle on 34th Street can compete.
Joel here… Personally, I love Dayton’s first five picks. What do you think? What are some of your favorite subversive Yuletide favorites?
Be sure to check out the second half of his list tomorrow!
And until next time remember, a flick is only forgotten if you’re not talking about it!