If you’re sick of the same old movies every year, Getintothis’ Del Pike picks out some alternative treats to hot up your mulled wine and feast your mince pies on.
It’s Christmas and you know it’s time to dig out your festive movies to get into the jingly spirit, but seriously, how many times can you really sit through Polar Express? Similarly, It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it’s only the Christmas theme that allows you to watch it on an annual basis. Elf, Home Alone and Miracle on 34th Street are all great movies, even The Wizard of Oz and that’s not even a Christmas movie at all, but surely it’s time for a change.
Getintothis are never ones to stick to tradition, so here we present for you, ten movies to get you in a festive mood. Some may be on the wrong side of wrong and some may already be on your watch list, but each of these movies are guaranteed to get your festive mojo working without feeling you’ve done this every year since you were born.
Crack open the Sherry and let’s begin…
10. Female Trouble (Dir: John Waters, 1974)
John Waters has a legendary relationship with Christmas, after presenting the world with his infamous essay on why he hates Christmas so much, he appears to have become eternally linked with the time of peace and joy. A John Waters Christmas , the album that includes Santa Claus Is a Black Man and Fatty Clause is an annual favourite in this writer’s house, and last year Waters took to the road in a Christmas themed live show.
It’s not a holiday that shows up too much in his movies but the Christmas setting of 1974’s follow up to Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble allows him to be as naughty as hell.
Divine’s portrayal of the ill-fated Dawn Davenport starts with her teenage years and her disappointment to not get a pair of cha cha heels for Christmas. In typical extreme diva mode, Dawn trashes the Christmas tree and heads for the road. It’s only a small but pivotal part of the film but it’s an excuse to escape the avalanche of made for TV movies and sample a slice of real trash at Christmas. Festive n Filthy, That’s Female Trouble.
For anyone who grew up with John Waters‘ movies as I did in my teenage years, there’s a certain trashy element to Christmas that draws a direct line to the imagery of John’s world. If you enjoy Female Trouble I urge you to check out that amazing Christmas album, the festive season will never be the same again.
9. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dir: Bill Melendez, 1965)
A long forgotten annual favourite that used to be shown every Christmas, but now resides in the five quid DVD aisle of B&M. Sacrilege. 100% guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit. It includes the brilliant dance sequence with the Peanuts gang frugging away to Vince Guaraldi’s brilliant jazz score. It would be no lie to say that my passion for jazz throughout my childhood was a result of the incredible soundtracks to Charlie Brown cartoons. Those beautiful complex scores made these animations the classiest around, just as Henry Mancini‘s scores made The Pink Panther show so memorable.The movie also features the heart-breaking scene where Charlie Brown is given the task of buying a Christmas tree and takes pity on the saddest twig of a tree, branding himself a blockhead once more. This is what Christmas viewing is all about.
8. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Dir: Peter Hunt, 1969)
Much maligned this Bond movie but a favourite amongst “real” Bond fans. With George Lazenby getting much closer to Fleming’s secret agent than most, it’s also the only Bond film to be set at Christmas. It really does have a festive feel too. Set in the snowy Mountains of Switzerland, in Blofeld’s Piz Gloria hideaway, it even has its own Christmas song in John Barry’s Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Made? Even Blofeld goes soppy at Christmas as he gives his angels of death a Christmas present each. Yes, it’s all part of his plan to take over the world by destroying all agriculture and livestock!!! but he’s tried. Give the guy a break.
George Lazenby was pretty much hated at the time, but in fairness he was filling some very expensive shoes and he was no Connery, but he somehow retains a certain charm, playing more of a romantic lead than fans were used to by falling for Diana Rigg‘s millionaire Countess, Tracey, and giving it all up for her hand in marriage.
The film is best known for its exhilarating ski scenes played out over John Barry’s heart-stopping score and Louis Armstrong‘s We Have All The Time In The World. It also has the most downbeat ending to a Bond movie, grimmer than Casino Royale’s. Merry Christmas Mr Bond.
7. Magical Mystery Tour (Dir: The Beatles, 1967)
Not a Christmas movie as such, but this was the BBC’s Boxing Day treat from 1967. A colourful feast of psychedelia, criminally screened in black and white (later rescreened in colour), the film left audiences bewildered. This was a lavish variety show that was years ahead of its time and even Beatles fans weren’t quite ready for it. In retrospect, we get I Am the Walrus, Blue Jay Way and Fool on the Hill alongside guest spots from Ivor Cutler and The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band singing Death Cab for Cutie. Seriously, what more can you want?
The whole thing foreshadows Paul McCartney‘s passion for surrealism and art and in fairness plays out as more of an art movie than a pop film. The Blue Jay Way sequence is still mind blowing and the restaurant scenes are nightmarish beyond belief. Even now this would be hard to take on a Boxing Day afternoon on a stomach full of mince pies.
6. Die Hard (Dir: Jon McTiernan, 1989)
The Christmas movie for adrenaline junkies and the one that catapulted Bruce Willis to super stardom. An office block is under siege on Christmas Eve and solo cop John Maclane is the only guy to avert the deaths of the office party revellers. In a non-stop series of high octane set pieces in lift shafts and hanging off the edge of the block, Die Hard is simply ace.
As each sequel becomes gradually less impressive, its worth reminding yourself how original the first one is. Despite the violence, Die Hard resides in the same 80s Hollywood world as Home Alone, and is just as much guaranteed to get you in the festive mood. Its also a good excuse to enjoy some hokey villainous acting from Alan Rickman, getting into practice for his Severus Snape role in the guise of the brilliantly named Hans Gruber.
Yippi kay yay Mother Christmas!!
5. Silent Night, Deadly Night (Dir: Charles Sellier, 1984)
A truly nasty piece of trash cinema finds young boy (Billy) witnessing the brutal roadside murder of his parents by a maniac in a Santa Suit. Fast forward to adulthood and the same kid gets a job in a toy store. A killing spree ensues and Christmas is never the same again. Set against the innocence of an all-American toy store, the film is made to feel all the creepier. Billy dons a Santa outfit himself as he decapitates one victim with an axe and uses antlers to impale another. The movie is wrong on every level, and is all the better for it.
Christmas just lends itself to horror movies as our selection here reflects. That golden era of trash horror in the 70s and 80s brought such classic titles as Christmas Evil, Don’t Open Til’ Christmas and Home for the Holidays, but Silent Night Deadly Night is the one for sickos like us. I speak for myself here of course.
4. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Dir: Terry Jones, 1979)
The ultimate alternative Christmas movie, rarely shown around the festive season (Wonder why?). The Pythons’ finest moment, justifiably controversial on release but surprisingly tame by today’s standards. Baby Brian Cohen is accidentally visited by three wise men on the same night that an even more famous baby is born down the road, thus follows a life of hilarious parallels with the chosen one. Everyone has their favourite bit, Biggus Dickus, the hermit in the pit, the very naughty boy sequence or the iconic crucifixion, but any of them are reason enough to slap this most hilarious of comedies on over Christmas.
If you’re still in the mood for more festive Python by the end of Life of Brian, why not pop The Meaning of Life on and enjoy the big musical finale Christmas in Heaven, where you can enjoy “The Sound of Music twice an hour and Jaws one, two and three.”
3. Tales from the Crypt (Dir: Freddie Francis, 1974)
This superior portmanteau (four great films in one) chiller from the notorious Amicus horror studio, directed by master cinematographer Freddie Francis, finds five strangers locked in a London crypt, each one sharing a premonition of how they will die. In a sequence that will be remembered by lots of us old enough to remember watching this as a kid, Joan Collins prepares for Christmas and is visited on the night before by a maniac in a Santa suit. It’s a manic 20-minute episode that sticks in the mind despite it’s ridiculous nature and could also be Joan Collins’ finest moment.
Amicus studios prided themselves on their portmanteau horrors, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden and Vault of Horror all provided us with nightmares as kids and remain a lot of fun today. Tales from the Crypt is the best of the bunch with a brilliant gothic score and great performances from a pre-Grand Moff Tarkin Peter Cushing and Get Carter‘s Ian Hendry. Chillingly genius I think you’ll find.
2. Black Christmas (Dir: Bob Clark, 1974)
Four years earlier than John Carpenter’s Halloween, this is the film that defines Christmas horror and is regarded as one of the very first American slasher movies. An all-girl sorority house prepares for Christmas, but one of the girls have gone missing. She is up in the attic, dead in a rocking chair with a plastic bag over her face, ho ho ho, whilst downstairs the other girls are dealing with obscene phone calls and a bumbling police investigation. An early appearance from Superman star Margot Kidder and an always welcome inclusion of horror legend John Saxon make this an essential Christmas watch. The technicolour fairy lights and the creepy Toronto neighbourhood add atmosphere that can’t even be matched by Carpenter. Not to be confused with the inferior 2006 remake.
1. Gremlins (Dir: Joe Dante, 1984)
This was probably on your Christmas movie list anyway, but needs to be top of this one. Eschewing all the niceties of your average festive flick but remaining strangely magical, Gremlins is still a must see. Thrill as Gizmo, the friendly mogwai duplicates into a thousand grisly gremlins and a plague falls on the sleepy town of Kingston Falls (the same set as Back to the Future’s Hill Valley). A film that was too grisly for a PG but too juvenile for a grown-up movie, it has gained cult status over the years. It has all the hallmarks of a Christmas movie, snow, Christmas songs, family themes and fairy lights and one of the most depressing festive stories on film told by Phoebe Cates. Mad.
Question… Why does Phoebe Cates carry on serving the Gremlins beer when they’ve clearly had enough?
Question,,, Why does Billy‘s Dad not get put away for unleashing terror on the town and untold damages?
Question… How does Billy‘s neighbour get away with being so racist?
Maybe I’m missing the point.
Possibly the greatest Christmas song ever, Darlene Love‘s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) from Phil Spector’s Christmas album plays over the titles, that alone is good enough reason to watch Gremlins. Or you could just listen to the song.
My memory of seeing Gremlins on release was watching it in the Plaza in Crosby one afternoon with absolutely no-one else in there and being punched in the face as I came out. These memories stick unfortunately.
Gremlins may just be the best Christmas movie ever, just make sure you pick out your own favourites and forget about that nasty 2016 outside. Oh no, I forgot Goodfellas!! Save it till next year.