12 movies to get you through the Holidays!

cardona-christmas

Not everybody loves the holidays… and I’m not just talking about those cranks in Al-Qaeda.  The rush to shop and entertain or even just to attend countless house and office soirees, school pageants, key parties and gubernatorial keggers can be overwhelming.  While some folks get blue at Christmas, others get angry and still others get even, dressing in blood-stained Santa Claus costumes and wielding fire axes.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the holidays are here and have to be dealt with or at least gotten through.  We Movie Morlocks are going to spend these last days before December 25th offering up a wealth of movie suggestions to help you make your way through the Yuletide.  Let us begin.

xmascurse

Let’s say you actually loveChristmas.  I’m right there with you.  I’m a big old Christmas corndog who can quote IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) from top to bottom; I well up for the first time when little Mary whispers “George Bailey, I’ll love you ’til the day I die” and don’t stop leaking brine until the closing credits.  But instead of this classic or any of the usual suspects – MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S (1945), CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) – I’ll go out on a limb and recommend Mexican filmmaker Rene Cardona’s SANTA CLAUS (1959, seen at top), about which I wrote the other day.  It’s a traditional Christmas movie with a twist.  Actually, several twists.  It delivers the requisite saccharine yet doused with an agave-scented insanity.  And if you won’t bite that particular worm, consider ye THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1943, seen above), produced by Val Lewton for RKO.  It’s a bittersweet Christmas story with a ghost you won’t soon forget (and not just because she’s hot!).  If Christmas spooks appeal to you, then please revisit SCROOGE (US: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, 1951) with Alistair Sim in the title role and some very cool holiday haints.  It’s heart-warming, creepy, funny, creepy, well-acted, creepy, impeccably-shot (except for that technician who gets caught reflected in Scrooge’s hallway mirror) and throughout kind of creepy.  Plus, it’s got Ernest Thesiger, from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), in it!

die-hard

Let’s say you like Christmas okay but you’d prefer to cut the sugar with spice.  What could be a better fit than an action movie set at Christmas time?  I ho-ho heartily recommend DIE HARD (1988, above), whose 20th anniversary we celebrated this year.  This John McTiernan joint has all the sparkle and dazzle of the holidays, in addition to suspense, sardonic humor and lots of broken glass.  Watching it anew, I wonder if those who survived the hostage takeover at Nakatomi Plaza back in ’88 lost their jobs this year due to the economic downturn.  What better film to chase DIE HARD for a two-fisted Xmas double feature than LETHAL WEAPON (1987), which likewise has all the signifiers of the holiday season plus a saucy spin on the classic bullet-through-the-carton-of-milk gag.  And if these American-made Christmas actioners aren’t to your taste, then try ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969), a James Bond Christmas movie with Tyrolean hats, fur collars, skiing, fireplaces and even a Christmas carol that asks the musical question “Do you know how Christmas trees are grown?”   Well… do you?

fearless_vampire_killers

Let’s say you’re the sturdy kind who doesn’t mind the snow but it’s just that Christmas itself kind of works your last nerve.  In that case, I recommend Roman Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967, above).  This is set in snowbound Transylvania, has jingle bells, sleighs and even bobsledding (albeit using coffins) plus a jolly fat man who instead of delivering toys and spreading joy is hunchbacked and snaggle-toothed and a little on the evil side.  But tell me that’s not an infectious smile!  Along similar snowy lines, I also recommend Peter Medak’s THE CHANGELING (1980), a winter-set ghost story not set during the holiday season, starring George C. Scott, who also put in his time as Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Roger Corman’s SKI TROOP ATTACK (1960) has all the pine and packed powder of a Currier & Ives print with none of the schmaltz.  Ditto Irving Jacoby’s SNOW TREASURE (1968), in which Norwegian children smuggle gold out from under the red noses of the Third Reich with the help of altruistic ski-Nazi James Franciscus.  In this season of giving, I think back to the climactic sacrifice of Franciscus’ Aryan shredder – the first movie character I ever saw choosing death to help others. 

in-search-of-the-castaways

Finally, if it’s just escapism you want – from snow, from snowflakes, from snowflake cookies… then I humbly suggest you go IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962) with Maurice Chevalier as he helps Hayley Mills track her shipwrecked sea captain of a father.  This underrated and seldom discussed Disney live-actioner is chockablock with magic and wonder, as is MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961).  Both of these movies are based on the novels of Jules Verne and both played a big part in sculpting my personal aesthetic as a child.  And MYSTERIOUS ISLAND has cool stop-motion creatures created by Ray Harryhausen.  Ray Harryhausen movies should be no-brainers at Christmas… they’re larger than life, they level whole cities and they don’t need batteries.

13 Responses 12 movies to get you through the Holidays!
Posted By medusamorlock : December 19, 2008 6:22 pm

I’m with you especially on “Mysterious Island”, plus the castaways shoot that giant bird and get to eat a delicious prehistoric turkey-ish dinner, very appropriate for the holidays!

Wonderful list, RHS!

Posted By medusamorlock : December 19, 2008 6:22 pm

I’m with you especially on “Mysterious Island”, plus the castaways shoot that giant bird and get to eat a delicious prehistoric turkey-ish dinner, very appropriate for the holidays!

Wonderful list, RHS!

Posted By Kevin Tymes : December 19, 2008 9:59 pm

SKI TROOP ATTACK? You are my brother forever! Yes, yes, yes. Who else but you would honor that and in turn, honor me! Merry Christmas

Posted By Kevin Tymes : December 19, 2008 9:59 pm

SKI TROOP ATTACK? You are my brother forever! Yes, yes, yes. Who else but you would honor that and in turn, honor me! Merry Christmas

Posted By Jerry : December 20, 2008 10:27 am

A comparative essay on Curse of the Cat People vs It’s A Wonderful Life would be quite intriguing. Personally, I found the similarities astounding, and the fact that Curse came out a full 3 years before that other beloved Christmas film almost illegal : ) Needless to say, they are a perfect double bill.

Posted By Jerry : December 20, 2008 10:27 am

A comparative essay on Curse of the Cat People vs It’s A Wonderful Life would be quite intriguing. Personally, I found the similarities astounding, and the fact that Curse came out a full 3 years before that other beloved Christmas film almost illegal : ) Needless to say, they are a perfect double bill.

Posted By Erica : December 20, 2008 10:46 am

Awesome list. I think “Gremlins” also deserves a mention, for those dreaming of a black christmas!

Posted By Erica : December 20, 2008 10:46 am

Awesome list. I think “Gremlins” also deserves a mention, for those dreaming of a black christmas!

Posted By moirafinnie : December 20, 2008 11:39 am

The Curse of the Cat People (1943) is a great pick for a Christmas movie. Not only does the film enchant and disturb, but it comes closer to capturing a small child’s darkly magical viewpoint of reality than almost any other film, thanks in no small part to Ann Carter‘s beautiful performance.

I’m with you on Mysterious Island (1961) as mandatory Ray Harryhausen fare, especially that cool scene when Michael Callan and Beth Rogan are sealed up in the honeycomb!!

You’ve set a pretty high bar for all of us Morlocks, RHS. Thanks!
Happy Holidays,
Moira

Posted By moirafinnie : December 20, 2008 11:39 am

The Curse of the Cat People (1943) is a great pick for a Christmas movie. Not only does the film enchant and disturb, but it comes closer to capturing a small child’s darkly magical viewpoint of reality than almost any other film, thanks in no small part to Ann Carter‘s beautiful performance.

I’m with you on Mysterious Island (1961) as mandatory Ray Harryhausen fare, especially that cool scene when Michael Callan and Beth Rogan are sealed up in the honeycomb!!

You’ve set a pretty high bar for all of us Morlocks, RHS. Thanks!
Happy Holidays,
Moira

Posted By Jonathan Lapper : December 21, 2008 9:26 pm

Or let’s say you’ve never even heard of Christmas and don’t want to. Well then, I’d recommend “Destination Moon” because they don’t mention Christmas once in that movie. Not once! “Touch of Evil” works too. And “King Kong”. You see where I’m going with this.

All Hail Medusa Morlock!

I know she didn’t do this post. I just wanted to hail her.

Posted By Jonathan Lapper : December 21, 2008 9:26 pm

Or let’s say you’ve never even heard of Christmas and don’t want to. Well then, I’d recommend “Destination Moon” because they don’t mention Christmas once in that movie. Not once! “Touch of Evil” works too. And “King Kong”. You see where I’m going with this.

All Hail Medusa Morlock!

I know she didn’t do this post. I just wanted to hail her.

Posted By Jonathan Michael Rainan : November 26, 2014 11:32 am

One of my favorite vampire films! “The Fearless Vampire Killers”…what a riot of a movie! I think it was pure genius of a comedy, and oh so scary!!!!I look forward to seeing it every time it’s on!
I’m a big fan of Hayley Mills, even named my comet goldfish after her! “In Search Of The Castaways” has remained to this day one of my childhood favorites! That big bird did look like a huge turkey…ha! Happy Thanksgiving!

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