Barrghh Humbug: The Kerrang! Alternative Christmas Movie Guide
You know how it’s going to go come Christmas day. You lie down on the sofa after stuffing your face full of food and you fall fast asleep shortly after through the sheer boredom of the entertainment options on the telly being absolutely dreadful. It’s always the same. You’ve either got bloody miserable sods being bloody miserable sods on Eastenders, half-forgotten celebrity desperados clowning around on a ballroom floor, or Kevin McCallister being an insufferable little twerp on yet another rerun of Home Alone. It’s almost enough to make you yearn for a swift return to work, just to alleviate the skull-crushing drudgery of it all.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Who says Christmas can’t be a little edgy? What this yuletide season needs is more blood, guts, horror and hilarity. Sorry Nan, we’re not watching It’s A Wonderful Life again, there’s some evil children with murderous intentions on the agenda this year!
‘Tis the season to be gnarly…
Workaholic city gal Angela (Rachel Nichols) ends up trapped in her office tower on Christmas Eve, where she’s stalked and preyed upon by a crazed security guard with an Elvis obsession. Sounds pretty rubbish on paper, but this tension-filled game of cat and mouse is a thrill from start to end. Wes Bentley’s preppy weirdo turn steals the show and even provides a light-relief chuckle or two along the way. Be warned though, there are some truly gruesome scenes that might make more squeamish viewers initiate an unwelcome sequel experience of their Christmas dinner. It’s all done with a spirit of gleeful absurdity that charms and entertains, across a taut 98 minutes that whizz by in a flash.
Three bored suburban teens break into an empty mansion and wreak havoc, only to discover that they’re not as alone as they thought, when the groundskeeper checks in on the property. Sounds something like a set-up you’ve heard before, right? But this one doesn’t play out as you might expect, with the poor sap becoming the victim of an accident that leaves him paralysed and fighting for his life. The three girls must choose to finish the job to save their bacon, or call it in and face the life-altering consequences. Of course they opt for the former, and the depraved lengths to which they’ll go to makes for a fascinating psychological study. With more twists and turns than its limited plot has any right to offer, this is an almost Chaucerian tale of morality and murder most foul. If we’re being super generous…
THE CHILDREN (2008)
Something’s gotten into the children and it isn’t just dodgy sprouts! This homegrown chiller goes for the classic horror trope of evil kids with a lust for blood and carries it off with a playful sense of terror and ever-heightening dread. Two families gather for the holidays in an idyllic cottage in the remote British countryside, but the kids aren’t what they seem, with only teen Casey (played by Hannah Tointon) seemingly aware of their dastardly designs. It’s flawed in execution admittedly, but there’s much fun to be had, even when you’re facepalming at the idiotic decisions characters all too often make. Be careful it doesn’t make you look at your young nieces and nephews with a degree of suspicion afterwards, mind…
BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006)
A remake of the 1970s slasher cult fave for the MTV-generation. In other words, it’s largely idiotic jump-scare fodder that demands you don’t dwell on any of it too much. Instead, revel in the cast of pretty young things being picked off one-by-one through a series of inventive and elaborate death scenes. The plot – as far as it bothers with one – revolves around a maniac escaping from an asylum to return to his childhood home on Christmas Eve, only to find it’s a sorority house now. “Christmas is more about warding off evil spirits than Halloween” says one of the girls early doors, in a flimsy attempt at justifying the whole thing having a festive setting. Dumb fun.
ROCKY IV (1985)
‘Rocky IV is not a Christmas movie!’ cynics will scoff, but the only way that’s a valid point is if you mean that it’s actually a movie that could and should be enjoyed all year round. Rocky Balboa – now well established as a loveable punchbag, impervious to pain – must avenge the untimely death of his old foe-turned-chum Apollo Creed, at the very-large-hands of Soviet man-mountain, Ivan Drago. So, off he pops to Moscow for a gruelling 15-round bout that’s inexplicably held on Christmas day, while his son watches through gritted teeth back home. No wonder the kid ages about 10 years and has anger issues in the space of the few months between the events of this movie and the saga’s next instalment. Apparently there’s a Sylvester Stallone cut of the film that’s around an hour longer. That must be the version that includes extended montage scenes of Drago singing Christmas carols…
THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994)
The Coen Brothers’ most overlooked and unfairly maligned picture captures the true spirit of Christmas. Yes, that’s right, it’s a movie about money, capitalism, greed and schadenfreude. Tim Robbins plays Norville Barnes, the hapless stooge thrust to the top of Hudsucker Industries as part of an attempt to manipulate the company’s stock valuation. But the board hadn’t banked on ole Norville having a trick or two up his snot-encrusted sleeze. Better yet, it’s all beautifully filmed with Hudsucker headquarters towering above the snow-flecked streets of New York City, with a suitably seasonal-flavoured score to match. There’s even some room for a love story, a redemption tale and a bundle of laughs along the way. It’s that rarest of feats: a family-friendly Christmas movie that doesn’t resort to cliché and well-trodden terrain. Y’know, for kids…
Who doesn’t love a story about an army of maniacal little monsters terrorising suburbia while laughing their asses off at their frightened victims? Doesn’t that just scream Christmas to you? If you prefer to see in your festive celebrations with a healthy dose of seasonal cynicism, this might just be the perfect Christmas movie. From those early scenes soundtracked by Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) to the unforgettable introduction of the adorable Mogwai, Gizmo and the parade of anarchy that follows when it all goes pear-shaped (s/o to the mum who shows the evil critters who’s boss in her kitchen), this is a total and utter riot. It’s even got the little green devils singing Christmas carols at one point. Festive af m8.
DIE HARD (1988)
Yet another of those movies that upsets purists who think Christmas movies should be all sleigh rides and wholesome family-friendly schmaltz. Bore off. Shouldn’t Christmas be a time for inclusiveness? Exactly, and Die Hard is literally set on Christmas Eve at a Christmas party. It’s also got RUN DMC doing a Christmas song on its soundtrack. Note how NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) single-handedly brings joy to the people, like some sort of vest-wearing, gun-toting Santa, by fighting off the evil Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his band of Scrooge-esque shitheaps. Who can forget the classic scene where McClane daubs the words: ‘Now I’ve got a gun. Ho-ho-ho!’ in blood on the sweater of one of the heist-baddies? If that doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside then maybe the problem is you, pal.
TRADING PLACES (1983)
John Landis’ ‘80s comedy classic is set at Christmas and New Year’s in a freezing cold Philadelphia, bears a Dickensian sentiment and at one point features Dan Ackroyd in a natty old Santa suit holding a pistol to his head in despair. Festive. It’s a typical fish-out-of-water case of rags to riches and riches to rags, all predicated on a $1 bet between the Duke Brothers – two horrible bankers seeking to settle a debate about whether genetics or upbringing shape a person’s life and destiny. If you can overlook one or two of the movie’s more ‘dated’ gags, this is an endearing, underdog tale of revenge, played out in the most entertaining manner.
BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
It’s Christmas in Gotham, which basically turns Batman’s manor into a gone-wrong snowglobe, complete with deadly mistletoe, villains exploding out of gifts and a gang of penguins with candycane-like rockets strapped to their backs. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. This also includes the most iconic cast of anti-heroes assembled in the Batman movie universe, boasting Michelle Pfeiffer as a sultry Catwoman, an ultra-devious Danny DeVito as the Penguin and Christopher Walken doing amazing evil businessman things as Max Shreck. Hell, why not go one further, there’s a case to be made for this being director Tim Burton’s best Christmas movie…