Everyone knows about the canonical Christmas classics. No one can get through December without watching It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. All charming films, certainly. But I have always been interested in the alternate side of Christmas films. Some films exist to gleefully rip apart the holiday, pointing out all of the true emotions that many feel when they think of the mawkish holiday media. Tired of watching Frosty the Snowman for the eleventh time this month? Try and seek out one of these films.
Batman Returns-One of the most important aspects of Christmas is time with the family, right? Well, the two leads in this film have no family to share it with. Thus they take their frustrations out on the world – one making sure that people can have the experience they cannot, the other punishing them for it. This is just as good of a sequel to Batman as The Dark Knight is to Batman Begins. Not that one is necessarily better than the other, but both use their sequels to explore upon themes and philosophies barely examined in the original. In this one, isolation is the word of the day. In some ways, the fact it takes place at Christmas was vital to its success. The isolation of the characters is amplified, as it is for many who, for one reason or another, may have lost an opportunity to share the time with someone else. These people should not be forgotten.
Brazil-Many would not dare ask if Brazil is satirizing them. If you must ask, the answer is yes. Although the satire against bureaucracy is most remembered, the film actually takes quite a few swipes at consumerism. So, of course, the film takes place at Christmas. Everyone is too caught up with their own lives of shopping and working to understand the horrors around them. It becomes almost routine – people wear Santa hats when announcing torture, and armed security guards sing “The First Noel.” For what is meant to be a peaceful time, a lot of violence seems to happen. Brazil works on many levels – including a satire against the perception of Christmas versus the obvious reality.
Die Hard-Speaking of “the most peaceful time on Earth…” let’s take a look at this film, shall we? It is one of the more violent action movies in existence. It also takes place at Christmas, and uses the holiday as a back drop for what it sets out to do. How else to explain the scene with “Ho Ho Ho” painted on a corpse? Again, the fact that it takes place at Christmas is a discussion of how the world does not stop at Christmas. The news has been bombarded with terrorists attempting to carry out their attacks at Christmas. In fact, it seems to be occurring with greater frequency as time goes by. Die Hard may actually have been quite forward thinking, even if it was wrong on the idea that Bruce Willis is capable of defeating professionally trained mercenaries.
Eyes Wide Shut-Yes, this takes place at Christmas. The opening occurs at a Christmas party, and the ending involves shopping in a toy shop. In between…well, you know what happens. Or maybe you don’t. But the fact of the matter is, dysfunction is becoming a more common theme in any movies about holidays. And people don’t come more dysfunctional than the leads in this movie. Yet that is not what makes Eyes Wide Shut a twisted Christmas movie. There are rituals (as there is at Christmas) but it seems to make fun of all of them. The fact that our normal holiday bookmarks the bizarre ones that mark the film seems to indicate that maybe, just maybe, Christmas is quite bizarre in certain circles.
Gremlins-Quite a lot is made over the fact that the film takes place at Christmas. The plot springs into action over a Christmas gift, snowfall is in every scene (Question though: if Gremlins multiply when wet, and they walk around in snow, then shouldn’t they have overrun the planet?), the song “Do you hear what I hear?” becomes a song of absolute horror…the list goes on and on. WHY does the film take place at Christmas? In some ways, Gremlins are the ultimate dysfunctional family. Each one has some sort of personality and each seems to fight with the other. That may be a reason. The other reason is…well…frankly the film is more terrifying that way. A film like this is not supposed to take place at Christmas – and the characters all seem to know this. They each react in shock at the carnage surrounding them. Many remember this more as a comedy, but I thought it was one of the more effective horror films I had seen. The fact that it is a Christmas film only helps.
Night of the Hunter-Really, only the final scene takes place at Christmas. But considering what has happened in the film, it seems almost farcical that the characters be sharing a happy time. But maybe that is the point. The two children in this film have been terrorized to a point that would cause any man to go insane. And you know what? Maybe they did. I always thought that the film may have been slightly better if the film had ended one scene before the Christmas scenes. And now that I think about it, maybe that final scene is just the kids’ ideal representation of what they have lost. Christmas, to some, is a time of paradise that some can only aspire to. Observing the holiday from those standards, Night of the Hunter may be the best Christmas movie of them all.
Silent Night, Deadly Night-I did not particularly enjoy this story of an orphan who was traumatized by Santa, only to don the suit and doll out murderous punishment, but I know that it is as alternate to the usual Christmas message as possible. Many felt that turning Santa Claus (or a youth dressed up as Santa Claus) into a monster was inappropriate. But then, there are some fearsome implications about the Santa Claus mythos. A man who can spy on children and punish them? Well, there are reasons to be frightened. This may be the only film that taps into that dark side of Santa Claus. It is far from perfect, but it was at least willing to take a chance.