Classic Cult: Christmas

Christmas is a time for family, fires and forgiveness, and no more is this apparent than in the films televised during December each year. Endless showings of Toy Story and Love Actually illustrates the public’s fundamental desire to see something light hearted and fun, whilst also managing to capture the Christmas spirit. However, for the cult enthusiast, there are a multitude of options which allows for alternative viewing, so long as you don’t rely on the TV guide to make it happen.

Regularly featuring on lists of worst films ever made, Santa Conquers the Martians (1964) is an alternative Christmas tale that sees Santa kidnapped so he can bring Christmas joy to the people of Mars. Featuring a young Pia Zadora and one of the most entertaining attempts at creating a polar bear in cinema, it remains a great cult classic. For fans of The Flaming Lips, Christmas on Mars (2008) is a definite must see. Written and directed by the band’s frontman Wayne Coyne, and featuring the entire band in the cast, this is arguably the most psychedelic science-fiction Christmas feature around. Containing an almost indecipherable plot and frequent bouts of superfluous colours and foetuses, Christmas on Mars epitomises cult cinema.

A Muppet Christmas Carol would be the obvious film from the Jim Henson Company to watch at this time of year, yet they boast a number of other great Christmas features. Most notable of these is made-for-TV movie The Christmas Toy (1986). In a world where toys play when people aren’t watching, but who are frozen forever if caught out of their normal place, Rugby the plucky tiger plush toy is on a mission to try and be this year’s Christmas present, so he can remain the favourite toy for another year. With more than a passing similarity to Toy Story, it is undoubtedly one of the best low-key Christmas family films. Babes in Toyland (1986) is another television film and features all the necessary elements for a top notch cult film: a young Drew Barrymore, Keanu Reeves, singing, nursery rhyme characters, a villain who lives in a bowling bowl and Pat Morita (aka Mr Miyagi) as the Toymaster. Despite being a relatively atrocious film, it remains entertaining nonetheless.

Horror is a genre which dominates cult Christmas films, from the slashers of the ’70s and ’80s to more recent attempts at bringing a scare factor to the festive season. Some of the classics include Black Christmas (1974), Christmas Evil (1980), Gremlins (1984), Santa’s Slay (2005) and Jack Frost (1997). However, Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) is one that particularly stands out. The development of the lead character, who becomes increasingly psychotic after witnessing the massacre of his parents, justifies it as one of the better horror Christmas classics.

Good cult Christmas films have been relatively sparse in recent years, however, Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) breaks the mould with its slick combination of comedy and horror. A tongue-in-cheek film that looks at the ‘secret’ behind Santa, it is an entertaining foray into the alternative Christmas story.

Remembered for its iconic line, “You’ll poke your eye out,” A Christmas Story (1983) is a coming of age story that rivals Home Alone. Following a nine-year-old boy named Ralphie, who despite the best efforts of everyone around him, does everything in his power to ensure he gets a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Watchable time and time again, it is one of the top cult comedies to see at this time of year.

Finally, no cult Christmas is complete without Scrooged (1988). It’s fantastic blend of horror and comedy, starring Bill Murray as a conceited, cynical TV executive, makes it the first stop for anyone looking for alternative Christmas viewing. There have been countless productions of A Christmas Carol but few are as original or entertaining as Richard Donner’s adaptation.

There is no need for anyone to watch endless re-runs of overplayed and clichéd films at this time of year. The alternative possibilities available will provide enough entertainment to far exceed the festive period. It simply remains a difficulty as to where the best place is to start.

An expanded version of an article first published in The Student, Tue Dec 6th 2011.

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