On this side of the world the nights are getting dark and long, and much time is spent settling down with mince pies in front of the television screen. But as one might expect, too many viewings of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) have resulted in a sickly sweet feeling from which I’ve found myself seeking a diversion. Luckily, I’ve found just what I was looking for in the obscure delights of the Belfast based cult-film event, Movie Bar.
Every couple of months the group space of the historical Ulster Hall is transformed into a B-film fan’s dream. Sofas, beanbags and bar stools decorate the floor, accompanied by a licensed bar, and pop up projection equipment screening carefully selected horror, sci-fi and just plain obscure films. And given that we’re now in the month of December, it was no surprise to see a Christmas-centric double-bill playing at the latest screening. Christmas Evil (1980) and Black Christmas (1974) were on offer, accompanied by trailers for other seasonally appropriate B-movies. How could I resist?
And so, in the spirit of enjoying the festive season without suffering too severely from that sickly sweet sensation, I’ve reviewed both of these films, and three more of my cult Christmas favourites.
Christmas Evil (1980)
Harry, a simple worker in a corporate toy factory, is deeply traumatised by a troubled past. Oh, and Harry still believes in Santa Claus. One day, as payback for all those who have bullied and mistreated him, Harry dons the suit and persona of Santa in a twisted desire to live out the role. Queue everyday toys made creepy, surrounded by modified old fashioned dolls and soldiers, this Santa goes to sleep in his personally constructed wonderland of gifts. Treated as mentally deficient by his brother, it won’t take much to push Harry over the edge this Christmas.
Soon enough, keeping giant ledgers of good and bad children progresses into taking revenge on those who Harry feels need to be taught a lesson. Ridiculous characterisation and comically over the top violence make Christmas Evil one I’ll be returning to, for all the wrong reasons.
Black Christmas (1974)
Remade in 2006, this is typical sorority-house horror. Strange phone calls and girls going missing are early clues that there’s something sinister on the loose. While the numbers decrease, suspicion and finger-pointing escalate as each character’s background reveals a potential motive. Gory deaths and clues pile up in front of the audience, but are generally concealed from the protagonists, providing a suspenseful thrill as the narrative escalates. It’s a fantastic “don’t trust anyone” game of cat-and-mouse, surprisingly likely to hold the viewer’s attention until the final moment. As far as terrible Christmas B-movies go, this is at the top of the pile.
The Blackout (2009)
A monster movie had to feature in my picks somewhere, and Gremlins wasn’t quite obscure enough to make this particular list. I needed something equally as terrible as the aforementioned double bill and The Blackout is definitely up there.
On Christmas Eve, power surges and frequent tremors lead to a complete black out in Los Angeles. The residents of an apartment block find themselves without a mobile phone signal and suddenly not as alone or secure as they presumed. This is all about noises in the dark, faulty torches, people getting separated and basically everything nightmares are made of. Something is out there and it’s hunting. Nothing magical, it’s sure not The Descent (2005) by any means, but a nice festive romp of the same nature.
Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)
This is essentially Christmas Evil in reverse. There’s a killer on the loose in London with a penchant for killing Santa. Scotland Yard are on the case, but can they catch up with this menace before he makes his mark an annual tradition? Brutal and hyper violent ‘the gift of terror that just won’t wait’ is a giggle-a-long fantasy of completely absurd proportions.
Rare Exports a Christmas Tale (2010)
This is by far my favourite Christmas film of recent years. Unlike anything I’ve seen before, this film approaches its subject matter via one of my favourite modes of filmmaking, that of a dark and threatening fairytale viewed through through a child’s eyes. The Finnish are known for their short films, and this feature is a true testament to the creative talent within the country.
The perfectly ironic tag line, ’This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus’, subtly hints at the truth behind what is soon revealed to be the ‘closest ever guarded secret of Christmas’ hidden deep within the Korvatunturi Mountains. Young Pietari, the son of a reindeer farmer, begins to suspect something’s amiss when the reindeers don’t come back to the ranch and are found massacred. It’s up to him to investigate. This is without doubt the most original Christmas feature out there to date and has made its way into my annual viewing schedule.
It’s important not to loose sight of what Christmas is about for each individual. Everybody has their own traditions and reasons to celebrate the holiday with cheer. If you’re stuck in a bit of a rut this year, try something a bit out of the ordinary, but don’t take advice from any of the previously mentioned characters for goodness sake. Eat, drink, be merry, scare yourself silly for a few hours, and indulge in a few nasty surprises. It’s all in the name of hearty fun.