Here in the United States, the final three months of the year are always filled with holiday cheer, and each festive event comes with its own set of movie-viewing opportunities. The season begins with Halloween, a holiday that affords everybody the opportunity to re-watch their favourite horror classics. Then we meander our way over to stuffing our gullets with Thanksgiving screenings of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on repeat. And of course, before we come to watching our personal favourites with friends on New Year’s Eve, Christmas delivers its own selection of desirable films.
But rather than indulge in the traditionally effervescent nature of the Christmas spirit, let’s be honest with ourselves – in many ways, Christmas is a much more unsettling and frightful holiday than Halloween. Here are five films that prove my point.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Henry Selick’s stop-motion masterpiece is still a timeless work of gleeful ghouls and malicious merriment. Tim Burton is often mistakenly understood to be the film’s auteur, but it is Selick who directed the film, and it is his careful and considerate technical achievements that truly set it apart. The Nightmare Before Christmas is as aptly titled for its holiday appeal as Halloween (1980), and still manages to generate a grin of nostalgia out of even the most cynical of Burtonites.
The Box (2009)
The Box is certainly the most questionable of the five films I have picked, but in my fervent attempts not to recommend the standard hack-slash dime-a-dozen plastic-wrapped manufactured twelve-dollar action-figure horror films in which people kill people with icicles, I am forced to take some liberties in my interpretation of “Christmas themed” (I will see this list burn before I put Santa’s Slay (2005) or Jack Frost (1997) on it). The Box, guided by Richard Kelly’s knack for obscurity and surreal misdirection, tells the tale of the consequences that come with giving a simple gift. So you know… giving gifts… Christmas…
The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Admittedly, calling this one “Christmas-themed” might also be a stretch. While The Mothman Prophecies is often shaky in its pacing, excessively melodramatic, and liberal in its interpretation of the source material, Richard Gere gives a surprisingly convincing performance in this investigatory thriller about the nature of secrets and things beyond our control. Will Patton is great as a genuinely disconcerting and sympathetic local. And the Christmas connection is… well, I’d hate to spoil the end.
Not a single brightly coloured Christmas tree can be seen in this chiller, but Adam Green’s non-Hatchet horror flick gives every reason to be fearful of the holiday season. A simple narrative, executed well (despite a few moments of excess) leaves three skiers stuck on a ski lift for days. An engrossingly claustrophobic film with strong pepperings of dark satire that will be easy to relate to for those already fearful of spending a week confined with the ones “they hold dearest”.
The undisputed reigning king of Christmas horror classics, Gremlins is a dreadfully delectable amalgamation of everything one comes to expect from a true, heart-felt Christmas yarn: a thoughtful present that teaches us moral obligation outside of material desire; the twinkle in the eye that passes between lovers under the mistletoe; even the clumsy familial relationships we come to expect from A Christmas Story, Home Alone and their ilk – all wrapped with a neat li’l grotesquely green bow. Gizmo is the ultimate holiday gift – he is as adorable and sincere as a Christmas puppy. And like the Christmas puppy, once the cuteness wears off we begin to understand that Gizmo comes with responsibilities. Because if you don’t follow the rules…