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Diabolique Magazine’s Christmas Crackers: Favorite Films for the Festive Season

Happy Holidays from Diabolique Magazine! In this special collaborative piece, the team has picked out some of our favorite festive films to watch during this special time of year. Though some of the titles below may not appear on conventional Christmas lists, they all embody the themes, messages and heart of the holiday period and we hope you find a unexpected gift or two among them.

Kat Ellinger: Editor-in-Chief
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Christmas is a time for magic. Well, at least if you follow the pagan tradition, which I do – magic, feasting, general decadence, and enough wine to put Dionysian bacchanalia to shame. And when it comes to my favorite films to watch around this time, nothing in the world is more magical to me than the sublime fantasy realm of Hayao Miyazaki. While most people rush to crack out the Disney, for me Ghibli wins every time. It’s not just the innovation, the beautiful humanity crafted into the characters, the folklore or the gorgeously rendered artwork that makes the director’s animations so special.

Miyazaki creates a world that you can truly get lost inside. He ignites that sense of childish fascination and wonder inside of me, which for a writer is where all the real magic comes from and so must always be treasured. Picking a favourite Ghibli is like picking a favorite child. I loathe to have to choose, and have gone back and forth while deciding on my selection for this list. But, if I am forced to single one out, and believe me this is painfully difficult, then I am going to have to go for Howl’s Moving Castle (2004).

In essence a love story, it focuses on young Sophie; a Cinderella of sorts who happens to live in a world where magic is real, and witches and wizards partake in spellcasting battles in the name of the king. Sophie gets a curse put on her, by a particularly nefarious witch, that ages her; the real stinger of which is she can’t tell anyone about it. So, she flees home and takes refuge with magician Howl, who lives in a magical castle on legs; think Baba Yaga style (he also has a bit of an anime idol look about him, but is hilariously vain as a result). So begins a masterpiece in fantasy adventure, where fire demons bring castles to life, flying is possible, and you can wake up in a different town at the flick of a switch. For every light and fluffy moment there is a dark shadow to be found. Steampunk stylings mix effortlessly with fantastical landscapes. And love and tenacity triumph over adversity and the darker side of human nature. Potent stuff. So, do yourself a favor and ignore those re-runs of Home Alone (1990). Get some Ghibli to inject a real sense of Christmas magic into the holiday season.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Samm Deighan: Associate Editor
Les parapluies de Cherbourg/The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

I know this might be a little out of place on a list overflowing with holiday horror films, but fuck it. I was having a particularly difficult time narrowing this down to one choice, because I am the type of insane person who loves anything Christmas-related (which is particularly absurd considering that I’m an atheist); I will even watch godawful made-for-TV movies if they happen to be holiday themed. And while I love some of the more traditional Christmas films like Die Hard (1988) or Elf (2003), there are basically five loose requirements that guarantee I will love a film: a script set during the holidays (or with a major scene during this time) but without a specific Christmas focus, relegating it more to the background; people singing about their feelings (and/or falling in love); a dramatic sense of spectacle; melancholy; and at least a little bit of snow. Which brings us to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the undisputed master of this inane combination of themes and one of the most beautiful films ever made. If you haven’t seen it, it isn’t worth explaining the plot and it’s not worth apologizing for the fact that it’s a musical (more of an opera, really); all that really matters is that you sit down and watch it as soon as humanly possible.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Rebecca Booth: Assistant Editor
While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Like most horror nuts, I consistently watch a lot of dark, bleak and violent films so a palette cleanser is most definitely needed every so often. Christmas is a time when I lean towards such lighter fare, as I’m surrounded by friends and family who don’t necessarily share my fascination with genre or cult cinema. For me, the holidays denote comedy, romance and happy endings; each year, without fail, While You Were Sleeping (1995) takes pride of place atop the pile of festive family films. A romantic comedy starring two of my favourite actors, Sandra Bullock as Lucy and Bill Pullman as Jack, this classic Hollywood caper is a charming case of mistaken identity. Peppered with crazy characters, a jolly soundtrack, and a heartfelt narrative, the film is welcoming, warm and uplifting, perfectly capturing Christmas cheer.

Lucy’s life hasn’t quite gone to plan; she left school to look after her father when he became ill and finds herself living alone after his death, with few friends and in a job that was meant to be temporary – collecting tokens in a metro booth. Though she keeps to herself and is incredibly lonely, Lucy is a deeply caring character and loved by all who know her. She spends her time dreaming of one day visiting Florence, as she planned to travel the globe with her father; Lucy’s mother died when she was young and her father often reminisced that her mother “gave him the world”.

Asked to work during the holidays, as she is the only employee who doesn’t have a family, Lucy saves a commuter, Peter (Peter Gallagher), when he is mugged and falls onto the tracks. At the hospital, a nurse overhears Lucy mutter to herself that she was going to marry Peter, who she has had a crush on for months. Peter has fallen into a coma, allowing a comical and heartfelt relationship with Peter’s family to develop. A successful, superficial and arrogant character, Peter has little time for his family, allowing Lucy’s lie to grow as she is taken under the wing of the Callaghans. She doesn’t have the heart to tell them the truth because they feel comforted by her presence and, for the first time, she in turn has a family and a home.

Several narrative turns – including a pregnancy rumour, the sudden appearance of Peter’s real fiancée, and a wedding – ensue with amusing and charming results, as Lucy tries desperately to avoid both the well-meaning suspicion of Peter’s younger brother Jack, who is falling in love with her, and her true feelings for him. I most definitely recognize my wonderful and wacky family in the Callaghans, and see more than a little of myself in the introverted Lucy. The film permits me to be ridiculously sentimental during this one time of the year, in its brazen display of the importance of family and friends and how these relationships should be treasured all year round, not just when we’re forced to acknowledge them. It also reminds me that, as we celebrate the current year and prepare for the next chapter, there is good in this world, it is worth fighting for, and to enjoy every minute of this wonderful journey. My passport doesn’t have a stamp for Florence yet – but it will. Someday. Until then, I know that in my family and friends, I have the world.

While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Peg Aloi: Contributing Writer
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Stanley Kubrick’s final and, possibly, most controversial film. The anticipation of a sexual thriller starring real-life power couple Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise generated a lot of buzz. Would Tom’s character be a closeted homosexual? Alas, no. Would their marriage survive working with the intense director? It did not but, hey, they had problems.

Set during the Christmas season in Manhattan, EVERY SCENE of this sophisticated and disturbing film contains a brightly lit Christmas tree. Some of the trees are enormous and opulent, some are small and homey but, yes, every single scene setting contains one. It’s a metaphor for what’s going on in the film, but exactly what that metaphor is may be a matter of some mystery or debate. Is it meant to show that something sinister lurks underfoot even during our most earnest attempts to garland our lives with good cheer? Or simply a message that the brighter things shine the more they may be hiding something dark? Aside from the film’s stunning visual beauty, there is a mystifying and rather creepy segment portraying a sex slave party at the home of wealthy socialites, with overtones of a cult-like pagan ritual. The music by Jocelyn Pook lends an eerie soundtrack to this scene, and the fallout from it sets the tone for Cruise’s downward spiral. I consider this film a must-see for Kubrick fans. It also contains the single most effective final line of dialogue of any movie ever. Happy Holidays!!!

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Simon Ball: Contributing Writer
Horror Express (1972)

Trains always seem to have been a part of our family Christmas. Both my father and my grandad were railwaymen and Von Ryan’s Express (1965) always seemed to be on the telly during the festive season. I mean, what could be more seasonal than a trainload of POWs escaping the Nazis? Well, how about a late Victorian steam locomotive thundering through the snow – complete with a mind devouring alien?

Yes my choice is Horror Express (1972), a Hispano/British co-production based upon the John W. Campbell story Who Goes There? which also gave us The Thing (1982), Christopher Lee is anthropologist Professor Saxton, returning to London from China on the Trans-Siberian Express. In the baggage car, Saxton has the frozen remains of an ape-man, which unknown to him was possessed by an alien. Naturally it thaws out and people die. Even after the train cop wastes the critter the alien just hops from one passenger to another so its up to Saxton and Dr Wells (Peter Cushing) to save the day, with the help of a highly improbable Cossack police officer (Telly Savalas). The mix of Victorian costumes and settings, together with Cushing and Lee make Horror Express every bit as comfortable as a Hammer Gothic and ideal for a late night Christmas shocker.

Horror Express (1972)

Gremlins (1984)
Felicity Burton: Contributing Writer

For me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a viewing of Joe Dante’s maniacal, magical, madcap 1984 festive classic Gremlins. It is the perfect film for those of us who eye the sentimental schmaltz that Christmas can bring with more than a hefty dash of cynicism. Gremlins is the anti-It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), as shown by the name of the sleepy little town the gremlins cause havoc in – Kingston Falls. Gremlins is the perfect blend of horror and comedy, and while it does have a mean spirited streak, this is balanced so well with its more farcical elements that it’s impossible not to love the villains of the piece. Gizmo is cute, but the vicious gremlins he begets are so much more fun, whether they are taking out the town misanthrope, invading the local dive bar, or singing along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

Rubber puppets shouldn’t have charisma, but thanks to the phenomenal skills of the special effects team, the wee little monsters really do seem alive. Okay, maybe that’s a step too far, the effects have aged. Not badly, by any stretch, but they have aged. But they will always have the charm that CGI will just never be able to capture (Please, Hollywood, never remake/reboot/reimagine/whatever meaningless term is used for a complete dearth of originality it!).  Christmas is a time for tradition, and since I was young Gremlins has been part of my Christmas tradition. Terrifying as a child, joyful as an adult, Gremlins is a funny, frantic, gleeful whirlwind of anarchy and chaos. Tis the season indeed.

Cody Noble: Contributing Writer

While not a very original choice for this list, it’s nonetheless difficult to separate Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984) from this time of the year. The opening credit sequence, in particular, with “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)’ playing over a snowball fight really helps to sell the holiday setting. But an ordinary holiday flick it is not. Eager to find an unique gift for his son, aspiring inventor Randall Peltzer stumbles upon a Chinese antique store and purchases the adorable mogwai, Gizmo.

Unfortunately for the Peltzer family, they break the cardinal rules of getting Gizmo wet and feeding his subsequent spawn after midnight, resulting in the titular critters — the gremlins. These guys are the real stars of the film. As if they were Santa’s little helpers on strike, these mischievous buggers are chaotic, humorous and, even at times, frightening. Sequences like when Mrs. Peltzer is alone in her house with five new-born gremlins and the final encounter with Stripe in the department store prove memorably suspenseful. Meanwhile, the scenes where the gremlins raid the local bar and watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) in the movie theater are delightfully absurd. If anything, the film is worth watching just to see bitter, old Miss Deagle being launched into the night via her stairlift like Santa’s sleigh. Naughty-list be damned!

Gremlins (1984)

Aaron Carruthers: Contributing Writer
Christmas Evil (1980)

If you are looking for an alternative to yearly viewings of perennial holiday favourites, may I suggest Lewis Jackson’s 1980 slasher film Christmas Evil (also known as You Better Watch Out and Terror in Toyland).

The movie stars Brandon Maggart in a career best role as Harry a put upon schlubby man who works in a toy factory and grew up with an extremely warped sense of the holidays after seeing his mother kissing Santa Claus under the tree as a child.

When he’s not stalking kids across rooftops, so he can write their names in naughty/nice leather bound books, Harry is fetishistically getting his Santa suit ready for his night of gift giving and murdering the people that wronged him.

Christmas Evil is a black horror comedy that is tonally all over the place, and all the better for it. There are moments of genuine humor that cut abruptly to “Santa” killing people with a duck shaped axe outside Midnight Mass.

While it didn’t garner the controversy that 1984’s Silent Night Deadly Night did upon its release, with mother groups protesting outside theatres, Christmas Evil sadly fell into obscurity for a while. Thankfully, the film is now readily available to fans of the movie. Imagine Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause (1994) mixed with Taxi Driver (1976), along with a hint of Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986) and that’s the best way to comprehend this one of a kind movie and former section 3 video nasty.

Christmas Evil (1980)

Shane Dover: Contributing Writer
Love & Peace (2015)

Love & Peace (2015) is a fantastic, fun and utterly charming film from my favorite director, Sion Sono. It’s a recent film, but one that just gets me into the Christmas cheer this year. The film follows a man who gets a pet turtle, and cares for it very much, before he’s forced to flush it down the toilet due to workplace bullying. He’s distraught, however, luckily homeless-sewer-Santa is there to feed the turtle a special concoction that accidentally makes him giant! The man is, through chance, set onto a path of becoming a rockstar (and eventually becomes David Bowie) with a host of discarded, but now living, toys helping out ‘Pikadon’ (the turtle) in finding him again. Sound crazy? It certainly is, but it’s a riot from start to finish, and the finale on Christmas Eve is quite heartwarming. Whilst the film doesn’t revolve around Christmas as such, the fact that a central character in the narrative may or may not literally be Santa, and the finale taking place on Christmas Eve certainly places it on my list of must-watches over the holiday season.

It’s a punk-rock opera with elements of comedy, romance and kaiju films with a sprinkle of Christmas miracles, and comes wrapped up in an unexpectedly family friendly film from a director who often worked within the ‘ero-guro’ world (with films such as Love Exposure (2008), Himizu (2011) and Suicide Circle (2001)). If you’re a fan of Sono’s other works, this film is filled with familiar faces (Makita Sports as the angry boss, Mano Erina as a girl on the train) and I absolutely love every performance Hiroki Hasegawa puts in. One of the best soundtracks in a film as well, watch it for the sort of insane fun that only Sono can bring.

Love & Peace (2015)

Joseph Dwyer: Contributing Writer
Straw Dogs (1971) and Home Alone (1990)

Upon first seeing Sam Peckinpah’s brutal and complex film Straw Dogs (1971), about a young American couple harassed by their rural neighbors after moving to a small British town, I felt a strange, uncanny feeling, as if I had seen it before. This came at the height of the battle between locals and the couple (played by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George), when Hoffman’s character David finally stands up to an ultraviolent, drunken home invasion. Suddenly images of Kevin McCallister, Macaulay Culkin’s eight year-old character in the Christmas classic Home Alone (1990), flashed through my mind. I realized, doubtlessly, that director Chris Columbus and the others responsible for Home Alone must have taken a hint from the perverse intensity of Straw Dogs.

In the earlier film, Hoffman defends his house with boiling oil, loud, disorienting music, a fire poker, a shotgun, and most memorably, a giant bear trap. In Home Alone, Culkin dupes Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) with tar and feathers, toys, a tarantula, a burning doorknob, Christmas ornaments, a clothing iron, nails, swinging cans of paint, a BB gun, a blow torch, etc. Essentially what I am trying to say here is that Home Alone and Straw Dogs would be an ideal double feature to curl up to on Christmas, giving you an opportunity to dwell on the presentations of violence in each, from cartoonish to abject.

Straw Dogs (1971)

Home Alone (1990)

Kieran Fisher: Contributing Writer
Black Christmas (2008)

I’ve never been a fan of Bob Clark’s 1974 classic original, Black Christmas. For me it’s just far too slow paced and boring.  I have nothing but respect for it as it was pivotal in ushering in the reign of the American slasher film, but it just lacks the excitement I need when it comes to films with unfortunate souls being picked off one by one. When it comes to slasher fare I like sleaze and cheese; I’m as low brow as a horror fan can be, so it’s no surprise that Glen Morgan’s much maligned remake from 2008 hits my sweet spot.

I mean, the villain gets jiggy with his own mother, kills her and makes Christmas cookies out of her flesh, which he enjoys with a big glass of milk. That scene typifies the film’s mentality in a nutshell and it’s just glorious in my eyes; I get why some people hate it, but for this guy it was love at first fright and it’s been a permanent fixture for me every holiday season since its initial release (I’m proud to say that I was one of the only people who caught it in theaters). Additionally, the movie looks splendid and festive, and it isn’t shy about decorating the tree with a few eyeballs either. Overall, a true unsung gem I feel will become more appreciated with time.  Sure, it’s been nine years already, but give it a few more and you’ll see. YOU’LL ALL SEE. Unless Billy comes for your eyes anyway…

Black Christmas (2008)

James Gracey: Contributing Writer
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

While arguably not a ‘traditional’ Christmas film, this daring sequel to Jacques Tourneur’s moody classic Cat People (1942) still features a story that takes place, at least in part, at Christmas time. After the tragic death of Irena (Simone Simon), who believed she was descended from a race of Satanic cat people, her widower Oliver (Kent Smith) marries confidant Alice (Jane Randolph) and the pair relocate to the suburbs to raise their daughter, Amy (Ann Carter). Amy is a strange, lonely child prone to flights of fanciful reverie. Unable to separate fantasy from reality, she conjures herself an imaginary friend who takes the form of the ghost of Irena, her father’s deceased first wife. As Oliver and Alice worry about Amy’s psychological fragility, the girl finds herself in real danger when she befriends elderly neighbour Mrs Farren, inadvertently inciting the jealous rage of the old woman’s estranged daughter.

Under the guiding hand of producer Val Lewton and directors Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise (who would deploy a similarly chilly, ambiguous approach in his later adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House from 1959), The Curse of the Cat People unfolds as an understated, oddly touching psychological study of the mind of a lonely young girl. Possessing fairy tale-like qualities, by turns tender and terrifying, it is a highly unusual, but immensely fitting sequel to Tourneur’s film. Some of its most memorable, striking moments are rendered in beautifully wintery imagery, such as the various shots of Irena standing in a snow-blanketed garden, and its climax, which unfolds on Christmas Eve, as Oliver and Alice desperately search the snowbound neighbourhood for their missing daughter.

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Chris Hallock: Contributing Writer
12 Monkeys (1995)

The Christmas season may arrive as a comfort for many, but it feels more like impending armageddon to me. Ironically, a mid-90s dystopian nightmare helps me cope with the visions of mass consumption, gridlock, and distressing gatherings (slam)dancing in my head; that acrid elixir is Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995), a tightly conceived, ruthlessly desolate futuristic thriller inspired by Chris Marker’s stunning La Jetée (1962), with significant nods to Alfred Hitchcock. I’m hesitant to call Gilliam’s interpretation a remake, and would describe it instead as an expansion (based on a screenplay by David Peoples and Janet Peoples) of possibilities introduced by Marker in his static, visionary short film. 12 Monkeys may only be tangentially associated with Christmas, but it possesses many intriguing connections nonetheless.

It begins decades after a lab-created virus has decimated most of the earth’s human population. Small numbers of imprisoned survivors subsist underground as research subjects for a small team of scientists bent on humanity’s return to the surface. Bruce Willis portrays James Cole, a prisoner of “strong mind” chosen for a dicey mission into the past. His goal is not to stop the historic outbreak, but to gather clues to its origin. Time travel is an imperfect and unpredictable science, so Cole is forced to navigate several sets of timelines that stretch the fabric of his mind, and challenge his faith in his own identity.

From the outset, Gilliam embellishes his vision with Christmas-themed imagery: future Cole, a surface scavenging “volunteer”, traverses a snowy terrain of post-apocalypse Philadelphia, clad in a futuristic hazmat suit fashioned with what resembles strings of decorative lights; a rendition of “Silent Night” accompanies him as he explores a collapsing temple of consumerism – seemingly frozen in time – in search of useful “specimens”. The church-like structure is adorned with rotted wreaths and gift displays, and Cole is observed by an angelic sculpture, an ominous allusion to the Prophecy of Seven Plagues that permeates the story.

Other instances appear throughout as we witness an institutionalized Cole, mistakenly sent to 1990 (six years prior to the outbreak), meeting would-be revolutionary Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), a privileged animal rights activist and living cartoon who rails against the mass consumption of animals and retail products, clearly a critique of the capitalist butchering of a holy celebration. Cole’s appointed-psychiatrist-turned-comrade Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) experiences a magnetic link to Cole’s plight stronger than a mere bout of déjà vu; she jokingly signs off on a voicemail with a resounding “Merry Christmas”, unaware that she’s imparted future-altering information in her message.

Further examples can be found, such as Cole and Reilly seen racing around 1996 Philadelphia while workers install decorations in the backdrop. Santa himself makes an appearance when the pair, bloodied from a previous encounter with a violent pimp, exit a city bus. “Silent Night” makes another sonic appearance when Reilly and Cole “shop” for disguises in an upscale department store (the same from the film’s opening), again with a decorative angel presiding over them.

Gilliam’s vision can summarily be described as a snow globe shaken to reveal a furious storm of memory, dreams, and madness initiating paradoxes that thwart Cole at every turn. By the climax, Gilliam takes the story full circle, reconciling with Marker’s original intent. The Christ figure Cole, as futile as his effort may be, sacrifices himself, not to save an irredeemable society, but for love unbound by time and space.

12 Monkeys (1995)

Jay Kay: Contributing Writer
Just Friends (2005)

For me, a well-crafted Christmas film should always encompass the holiday spirit as well as the theme that no matter what mistakes we have made, we can find redemption. These themes especially pertain to the way people that we care about can hurt us as well as letting the “one” get away. We’ve all been through that in our lives; it connects us like the holidays.

When Just Friends came out in 2005, I must have watched it five times over during that holiday, and at least once each year after. Very few other holiday films mean so much to me. I cannot think of a better movie that encompasses an awkward, feel good story against the canvas of laugh out loud holiday comedy. Just Friends revolves around Chris (Ryan Reynolds) who by happenstance is forced to make an emergency landing back in his New Jersey home town. Humiliated as an overweight teenager, Chris heads off to Los Angeles to change his life and his destiny, to lose weight and show everyone he can be a success. Over the Christmas weekend, he spends time around his disconnected family (mother Julia Hagerty and brother Chris Marquette), an obsessive singer he manages (Anna Farris) who wants him all to herself, while trying to find a way out of the “friends zone” he is in with his true love, Jamie (Amy Smart).

You will not find a holiday film more appropriately cast then this. Reynolds is the most charismatic ad funny leading man in film. Creating unforgettable characters as well as incredible comedic performances and timing, Just Friends plays off the connecting and understanding storylines of family hell during the holidays, and reconnecting with those who you left behind as well as true love under the dysfunctional mistletoe. Just Friends is one of my holiday favorites; the awkwardness, holiday spirit, great performances, and laugh out loud comedy all play into this modern holiday classic, which is a present for all.

Just Friends (2005)

Jeremy Kibler: Contributing Writer
Edward Scissorhands
(1990)

Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton’s 1990 poetic, heartbreaking, original fairy tale about a toy inventor’s unfinished, shear-handed android, means more to me than most. Not to sound hokey or get all nostalgic, but the hold this movie has on me goes back to my childhood when I owned the VHS (still do) and watched it on a loop. I also remember being Edward for Halloween many moons ago. Even though Edward’s spiky black leather suit and his knives for hands scared me half to death, the gentle, childlike nature of the character was never lost on me. And the science books are wrong: it doesn’t snow because of below-freezing temperatures and moisture; it snows because of Edward sculpting his beautiful ice sculptures. Watching it again as an adult, the offbeat magic is still there. From both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp being in top form as their collaborations go, to the matchless Danny Elfman score over the spooky credits, to the gothic design of the castle that sits on a mountaintop high above a suburban neighborhood of pastel-colored houses, to the lovable warmth of Dianne Wiest as an Avon Lady, to Winona Ryder as the girl Edward learns to have a connection with, this movie is perfection.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Sheila M. Merritt: Contributing Writer
Dead of Night (1945)

A Christmas party for children in a British country house: kids in costume; merriment abounds. What could possibly shatter the revelry? In the classic 1945 anthology film, Dead of Night, there’s an installment that sets up the premise and answers the question. The character of teenaged Sally (Sally Ann Howes) recounts her experience with the supernatural.

Sally, along with fellow adolescent Jimmy Watson (Michael Allan), are responsible for entertaining the youngsters.  Jimmy’s home of the last six months is the venue for the festivities. When he and Sally are hiding from the others during a game, she shivers in the cold place they are sequestered. He tells her: “It’s a cold from beyond the grave.”

Jimmy relates that in the 1800s, a murder had been committed in the house. Trying to seize on Sally’s reaction to the news, Jimmy makes a move on her. She flees from his sloppy attempt, winding up in a creepy corridor. In an adjacent bedroom, she hears whimpering and sobbing. There’s a child in the bed, one she doesn’t recognize from the party. The boy tells her his name is Francis Kent and that he’s frightened by his sister, Constance, who hates him.

Sally comforts Francis, and tucks him into bed while singing a lullaby. She bids him “Goodnight,” and he responds with a measured “Good-bye.”

Historically, the Kent siblings existed, which adds to the chill factor. The segment itself is dated and forced in some ways. Fifteen-year-old actress Sally Ann Howes, portraying Sally, is not completely credible. Nonetheless, the tale profoundly unsettles me. The eerie tone set by director Alberto Cavalcanti, plus the atmospheric cinematography of Douglas Slocombe and lighting by Stanley Pavey, create a frisson of disquiet that perfectly embraces the English tradition of a ghost story for Christmas.

Dead of Night (1945)

Erin Miskell: Contributing Writer
Scrooged (1988)

Christmas is the perfect time for horror. However, it’s also the perfect time for comedy. One of my all-time favorite Christmas movies is Richard Donner’s 1988 laugh-fest Scrooged. Featuring the imcomparable Bill Murray taking the lead as the Ebenezer Scrooge character, the film is set in 1980s New York City, where a bloodless television president is challenged by three ghosts to review his past, examine his present, and glimpse his foreboding future in a bid to change his ways.

Scrooged is wrought with all sorts of comedy, ranging from snarky wall hangings to Murray’s extreme sarcasm to the slapstick of Carol Kane’s Ghost of Christmas Present. In fact, it’s this very pairing that makes the movie sing for me. It’s the perfect cause and effect equation: for every smart ass response that Murray’s Frank doles out, Kane’s Ghost has to hit him, and hard at that. Really, who doesn’t have that person in their life that you just want to literally beat some sense into? It could be your mother, colleague or longtime childhood friend. It’s fun to live through these characters, because they say and do things that no self-respecting person with a moral compass would in real life. As a bonus, we get to see bad behaviors punished, which is always satisfying.

At its core, though, the message of Scrooged is hopeful. If a nasty mess of a human being can change his ways, that means that there’s a chance we can reach our full potential. There’s something about this season that makes us want to be better. Scrooged reminds us that it’s not about changing for others; it’s about changing to be a better person for ourself. One toaster to the face at a time.

Scrooged (1988)

Steven Thrash: Contributing Writer
A Christmas Story (1983)

There is a myriad of memorable movies that I watch over the Christmas holiday without fail, as so many people do this time of year. And even though it sits among the countless titles in my DVR, like an old VHS gathering dust on a cabinet in those bygone video stores, I tune into TBS religiously on Christmas Eve for the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story (1983). For me, Christmas just isn’t complete until I’ve seen Ralphie wearing that hideously pink bunny suit. But with all the film’s charm and unforgettable moments, can you imagine another actor playing the old man and swearing at the Bumpuses’ dogs? And what would you say if I told you that A Christmas Story got its big break in Playboy magazine? Well, here are five fun facts you might not know about one of the most beloved Christmas movies.

Jack Nicholson wanted to play the part of Ralphie’s father – the old man. Before he passed away in 2007, director Bob Clark said in several interviews that Jack Nicholson was interested in playing the old man, but unfortunately the studio could not fit his exorbitant salary into the film’s modest budget. Clark sent Nicholson a copy of his script for the project and Jack loved it. As good as the late Darren McGavin was in that role, I think Nicholson would have brought a different level of elan to the part.

Without Playboy Magazine and the film Porky’s (1981), there wouldn’t be A Christmas Story. “It’s a short story that originally appeared in Playboy Magazine,” said author Jean Shepherd who wrote the book from which A Christmas Story comes – In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (1966). “The chapter appeared in Playboy and that year won the humor award.” Years later, filmmaker Bob Clark wrote and directed the raunchy comedy Porky’s. The film was a surprise hit, so Clark was given the opportunity to pick his next project. He chose to adapt that chapter of Shepherd’s 1966 book into his Christmas classic. Clark worked closely with Shepherd for almost ten years, before the movie made it to the Silver Screen.

Want to see another Christmas film by director Bob Clark? Check out the horror, yes horror film Black Christmas (1974). Nine years before A Christmas Story, Clark was scaring up audiences with his slasher classic Black Christmas. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is most commonly credited with launching the slasher sub-genre of horror, but before Michael Myers there was Black Christmas. It’s a fantastic horror film, but I feel it takes a lot of flak from credits, because of its controversial ending – the killer gets away with murder. And he is safely obscured in the sorority house as the film fades to black, while the lovely Jess (Olivia Hussey) is left all alone.

Flash Gordon appeared in the original cut of A Christmas Story. In a deleted scene, Ralphie imagines himself battling Ming the Merciless (Colin Fox) alongside Flash Gordon (Paul Hubbard). Ralphie saved the day with his BB gun AND his hero from the radio serials and comic books he loved so much. Next time you watch the film, check out the credits. Editors never bothered to remove Flash and Ming from the cast list. They’re there. Give it a glance.

The Leg Lamp: The old man’s “major award” is based on the old Nehi drink logo, which featured a sexy pair of legs to promote the company’s fruit-flavored sodas starting in 1924.

A Christmas Story (1983)

 

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