Let me take you on a cinematic journey through the Yuletide holiday. While a normal journey would cross into familiar territory of the many iterations of “A Christmas Carol,” “White Christmas,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” this journey will skip those in favor of darker lands. Past the comedies like “A Christmas Story” and out of the realm of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and even “Bad Santa,” we enter the obscure holiday films. I am talking about the films brought out during the holidays that have just enough “yule” to tide us through the holiday.
Let’s start with the Christmas classic, “Die Hard.” I know it’s a stretch but it all takes place during the attack of Nakatomi Plaza during a work related Christmas party. One of the employees’ estranged husband happens to be none other than NYPD Officer John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, who caused nothing but trouble for the would be robbers during their Christmas heist. The whole time there are elements of the holidays splattered through this movie in clever ways. From the carols on the radio to the way John dresses up one of the men he kills in a Santa suit.
“Die Hard 2: Die Harder” takes place one year to the day after the events at Nakatomi Plaza. This time he is in an airport as it gets hijacked. He quips and kicks some ass all in the hopes of getting reunited with his wife. It’s not nearly swimming in the spirit of Christmas as the first but as it’s supposed to take place one year to the day, I count it. McClane is one unlucky dude on the holidays; not as if he has not paid that misfortune forward quite a bit over the years.
If you want to find more oddly obfuscated holiday pictures then look to Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns.” It’s a dark movie and seems to go way more over the top than the 1989 film that it proceeded. Nearly the entire film takes place during Christmas events in Gotham City. There are holiday parties, tree lighting ceremonies, mistletoe, and penguins with missiles on their backs. It even ends with the age-old line “Peace on earth good will towards men…and women.” If you have wee children you may prefer an alternative Burton film. Grab a copy of the movie that is Tim Burton’s answer to the Halloween movie and Christmas movie, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” There you can see stop motion animation at some of its most amazing. It is one of those movies that really does well for both holidays and the characters have a childlike delight as one who is new to the holiday of Christmas.
Speaking of great special effects, I want to take a moment to remember a real holiday misfit, “Gremlins.” A teenage boy gets a small creature called a Mogwai as a Christmas gift. This creature comes with very specific rules: don’t leave it in bright lights, don’t get it wet, and don’t feed it after midnight. After a mistake and basically breaking every single one of the rules the Mogwai has multiplied and has created its evil counterpart, Gremlins which promptly take over the town in short order. The movie is fun and creepy and was a marvel of special effects for 1984. It also has a great speech by Phoebe Cates about what happened to her father one fateful Christmas Day.
Maybe action and monsters are not your style. You might rather watch a movie about the raving drug crazed late nineties. The movie “Go” might be your style- written as three intertwining plots about people on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. One story involves the buying and selling of a drug, another character is on an adventure to Las Vegas and the other is caught in the middle of a police sting operation. It’s a comedy of errors and I don’t know if it has aged well from the nineties. Still, at its bare bones it’s a fun movie with a very colorful nineties attitude. At the very least it’s good for a cynical laugh.
The movie “Rocky” takes place during the holidays. From Thanksgiving when Pauly throws the turkey into the alley, until the New Years Eve boxing match between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. The holiday aspect of the films never overshadows this underdog story. It’s a feel good movie that is good year round and the rest of the series is a lot of fun as well. Rocky is a sweet story at its very core about his relationships with Adrian, Pauly, Micky and the other cast. They are his family of sorts, which is what the holidays are all about. They believe in him and he goes the distance with the help, love and support of those closest to him.
The movie “Lethal Weapon” takes place during Christmas. The entire opening even opens to Jingle Bell Rock. The action of this film is fairly intense and there are a lot of themes of family and suicide, which, as we know, rise in number during the holiday. It is not for those who aren’t craving a good old-fashioned buddy cop movie. Still, if you are in the mood for this type of movie in the vein of “Die Hard” look no further.
There are several horror films that are considered Christmas movies. The ones that are actually worth seeing are few and far between. For the old school horror fan there is “Black Christmas”. A mad man is killing girls in a sorority house on Christmas. It’s a creepy movie that actually precedes “Halloween” as a holiday slasher movie. That is as basic as it needs to be. What can I say about the remake? Avoid it if you can. Like “My Bloody Valentine” this movie is pretty much an in-name only remake.
If you are more into the tongue-in-cheek style of horror there is “Santa’s Slay” starring the wrestler Goldberg as Santa. In this movie he is the son of the devil and is murdering people who are naughty. There are cameos and silly jokes and violence a go-go. It’s a stupid movie. There are buffalos, curling, and strippers. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t become a holiday cult staple.
Lets not forget the other good movies that you can use as a holiday movie excuse. The events of the amazing movie “Brazil” start during Christmas.” Yet another Terry Gilliam movie “12 Monkeys,” takes place at Christmas. The beginning of “Cast Away” starts with a Christmas dinner that gets cut short. You literally can make this excuse with a plethora of movies that use the holidays as a background. All it takes is a bit of imagination when it comes to what you want to watch.
If you are sick of the standard fair of cliché movies every holiday then take time to remember that you can always be very open minded with what is considered a Christmas classic. When a channel decides to do a 24-hour marathon of a single movie you can offer another suggestion from that island of misfit movies and enjoy something different and maybe even share it with someone else.