Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is time to focus on Christmas.
Okay. I know that Christmas stuff started showing up on shelves at stores the day before Halloween. I was just as sickened by it as you likely were. Believe me, there is a warm place in Hell for these people. Try to draw some comfort from that. I do.
Christmas time has brought about many a horror film and accompanying genre films, that are noteworthy. They can be broken down into three categories:
- Santa Claus as hero
- Santa Claus as villain
- General Christmas terror
Let’s address the first and likely the easiest of these categories.
Let me start out with one of my favorite axioms: The Older I Get, The More I Believe. To me, Santa Claus has become more real as the years go on. This could be the onset of senility, or I have finally grown a soft spot. Belief makes it much easier to see that Jolly Old Elf as a hero. Here are a few examples, most of which are in the realm of fantasy, rather than horror.
Santa Claus first appears on film in 1898, in the George A. Smith film “Santa Claus”. It can be found on the British Film Institute website, which contains a wonderful history of the UK Cinema. The film uses double exposure, showing the children sleeping and Santa on the roof. He fills the kid’s stockings and then disappears. The kids wake up, go through their stockings and celebrate their presents.
But Santa became so much more than just a present giver. Most recently, Alec Baldwin voiced him in “Rise of the Guardians” (2012), showing him as a sword-wielding, tattooed protector of children from the nightmares that plague them and hide under their beds. In 1989, Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty, who often resembles Santa in real life, plays a department store Santa who battles against a Nazi experiment that is restarted in “Elves”.
Sometimes, Santa is just fighting against the belief that he doesn’t exist. Films like “The Night They Saved Santa Claus” (1984), where a greedy oil company menaces the North Pole; parts of “The Santa Clause” trilogy, where Tim Allen helps some adults to believe again; and “The Polar Express” (2004), which is all about belief; are just a few examples.
Do you believe?
Of course, Santa’s greatest triumph is interplanetary. In 1964, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” graced the screen. The Martians, jealous of Earth children having fun at Christmas, kidnap Santa and a couple of kids and take them to Mars, where things don’t quite go the way they figure. Not only does Santa win the day, but he appoints a Martian to be the official Santa of Mars. One of the keynotes of this movie, aside from the catchy “Hurray for Santa Claus” theme song, was the performance of future 1980s bad actress Pia Zadora as one of the Martian children.
Yes. I have this on DVD. I have also noticed that a remake is in the works.
Now, if Santa can see you when you are sleeping, etc., and he can come down the chimney to enter the house, then it would be simple to chop you up with an axe while you sleep. Serial killers dressed as Santa became a theme during the 1980s, with films like “To All a Good Night” and “Christmas Evil” in 1980, and the “Silent Night, Deadly Night” franchise, which is up to five, or is it six. However, there is a 1972 origin to this trend. In “Tales from the Crypt”, Joan Collins dispenses with her husband, just in time for a deranged killer dressed as Santa to enter her house. Although we don’t see it, we know the encounter doesn’t end well.
Finland gave us a fascinating view as to the process of procuring Father Christmas. In the short film, “Rare Exports” (2003), it is explained that Santas are feral creatures, running naked through the Scandinavian wilderness. They are wild and dangerous and should only be captured by professionals. In a follow-up short, they show exactly would happen when one of these Father Christmases goes rogue. Recently, “Rare Exports” has become a feature film.
In 2005, wrestler Goldberg when up against angel, Robert Culp, in the unforgettable film “Santa Slay”. What is unforgettable about the film is the first ten minutes, when the evil Santa lays waste to a Christmas eve dinner populated with some of the most obnoxious people in creation, who were really good sports. Seriously! People like Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan, Rebecca Gayheart, the Sorell twins and James Caan, were massacred with extreme prejudice after they spend Christmas dinner sniping at each other. The whole scene is played to the hilt, with as much camp as possible. The rest of the film doesn’t keep up with the beginning, although the man-eating buffalo that pulls Goldberg’s sleigh is pretty epic.
But overall, Christmas is a holiday. It’s a season of giving. A time to be kind to our fellow man.
Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is often the complete horror package. Four ghosts, time travel, sick kids, nasty industrialists and more, can give anyone a chill.
They could use a bottle of Yorkshire Stingo for warmth.
My favorite versions each have a great horror element. In the 1951 classic, Alistair Sim is menaced by Michael Hordern, who is one of the best Jacob Marley’s in the series. To see the ghosts trying, futilely, to help a homeless woman and her children is heart-rending. In 1970, Albert Finney, one of the grubbiest-looking Scrooges ever, is taken to Hell and presented with “the Chain that he forged in life.” As a ten-year-old in a dark theater, this scene caused nightmares. Even in the comedy, “Scrooged” (1988), John Forsythe’s rotting corpse ghost is a classic and the children hiding beneath the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come’s cloak (Ignorance and Want) are also scary. Of course, having both Henry Winkler and Cicely Tyson playing the title role in a film version is also somewhat disturbing in its own right.
No discussion of Christmas menace would be complete without a couple of other films being given their due.
The original “Black Christmas” (1974), about a murderous psycho holding up in a sorority house attic, picking off its residents one at a time, is one of those rare films that doesn’t travel in a straight line. It twists and turns and doesn’t end until the credits roll. For me, this is one of the great films from the Slasher period of Horror Films.
I cannot speak for the 2000 remake.
Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), is a cautionary tale about messing with the natural order of things. Great animation, great music, great characters…a true Christmas classic and the wish of everyone who treasures Halloween over Christmas.
Who wouldn’t want a shrunken head for a Christmas present?
This discussion would not be complete without mentioning the anthesis of Santa Claus, namely “Krampus”. He’s the one who comes when you’ve lost your Christmas Spirit. There are a number of films featuring this spirit and one about his mother. I have seen the 2015 movie and highly recommend it, as it is both humorous and horrifying at the same time.
Here’s hoping that everyone has a great holiday season. May your time be filled with joy and happiness, and not Santas with axes and demons with snow globes. Enjoy!
Ya know… If you cross “It’s a Wonderful Life” with “The Exorcist” you get Pazuzu’s Petals…
1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians seemed interesting until you mentioned the potential remake. I have no problem in watching the original but Hollywood often makes bad remakes. A relevant example: Black Christmas (2006).
Agreed, but with an explanation. I have recently heard the argument that Hollywood is not remaking these films for those who fondly remember the originals. They (we) are of a different generation. Today, remakes are being made for the newer moviegoers. In spite of that, Hollywood should often leave well enough alone.