I readily admit that I am a total Grinch. There are many reasons for this, though having worked retail for half of my life is perhaps the largest one. So when my beloved October ends and November creeps in, with its now unavoidable Christmas trappings of bright lights, cliché music, and saccharine movies, I am usually not a very jolly elf.
Which is why I am grateful for the surreal offerings out there for the macabre minded. I’ll let everyone else guzzle eggnog and marathon It’s a Wonderful Life—I prefer my holiday fare with more bite.
So for anyone who’s sick and tired of claymation Rudolphs and singing snowmen, here’s a trifecta of alternatives to put you in a better mood:
3. Santa’s Slay
Santa is not the cheery fellow the songs would have you believe—he’s actually the son of Satan, forced to deliver presents to children because he lost a curling match to an angel a thousand years ago. No, really.
And now the thousand years of the contract are up. Santa’s finally free to return to the “slaying” he really wants to do. And as he descends upon the aptly named little town of Hell, only teenager Nicolas Yuleson and his plucky girlfriend Mac can stop him.
This movie has Bill Goldberg of WWE fame playing Santa. His sleigh is pulled by a demonic buffalo. And he destroys a strip club on Christmas Eve whilst cracking terrible puns. If that doesn’t entice you, you’re probably not my kind of people.
There’s ridiculous gore, cameos from Fran Drescher and Chris Kattan, and a tense curling match to decide the fate of all future Christmases. I stumbled across this in the dollar bin several years ago and it has since become a holiday tradition with my best friends. It’s truly a movie that has to be seen to be believed.
’Twas the night before Hogswatch… and all through the house… not a creature was stirring… except for a tiny skeletal rat in a black hooded robe.
The Discworld—which floats though space suspended on the backs of four elephants, which in turn stand on the back of the giant turtle A’Tuin—is a world not totally unlike ours. Sure, there’s magic and wizards and tooth fairies and boogeymen. But it’s still very recognizable.
They even celebrate Christmas there, though they call it Hogswatch and their version of Santa has tusks. Hogswatch is just as crucial a part of their winter season as Christmas is for us; so when an assassin bumps off the Hogfather, someone has to take his place to spread festive cheer and deliver all of those presents.
In steps Death, a fellow everyone recognizes pretty quickly: the robe and scythe and overall boniness usually give him away. Joined by his cantankerous manservant Albert, the diminutive Death of Rats, and aided by his mostly-human granddaughter Susan, Death has to ensure that the people of Discworld still believe in Hogswatch magic by dawn—and that the killers of the Hogfather are properly punished. Or else the sun will never rise again…
Based on one of Sir Terry Pratchett’s finest books, Hogfather is a rare treat. It’s dark and macabre whilst also being sweet and inspiring. Michelle Dockery, who has since shot to fame as Lady Mary on Downton Abbey, is stupendous as Death’s prickly and practical granddaughter Susan. Death himself is endearing in his desire to bring people joy rather than fear for a change. And there are some incredible messages at the story’s core.
What makes us human? Our intellect alone? Or is it our imagination, our systems of belief that can bring us hope and happiness even in the darkest of seasons? Like all of Sir Terry’s stories, Hogfather is unexpectedly philosophical at points but doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at the clichés and conventions of the holiday it pays homage to. In short, it’s the perfect blend of cynicism and optimism to appeal to both the Scrooges and the Buddys.
1. The Nightmare Before Christmas
And speaking of skeletal fellows who just want to be loved, that brings us nicely to this holiday staple and all-time favorite. Jack the Pumpkin King is a monster who’s grown tired of his traditional holiday of Halloween. When he discovers the white wonderland that is Christmas, he decides to try his hand at gift-giving rather than scaring. Things, naturally, go awry. Possessed toys, carnivorous wreaths, heavy artillery used against skeletal reindeer—it all makes me go “Ho ho ho!”, at least.
This movie has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, which naturally adds a polished patina of nostalgic love. But it’s also the sort of film that can be newly appreciated every time you return to it. The claymation adds depth and the attention to detail makes every piece of the background interesting. It literally takes dozens of viewings to properly appreciate everything going on in terms of the character design and interactions.
There are fabulous songs from Danny Elfman that are perfect for group sing-alongs; if you don’t know all the words to “This Is Halloween,” I sincerely pity you. It’s the holiday film only Tim Burton could have dreamed up, very wrong and yet oh so right. If Christmas could only have the Jack Skellington treatment every year, I might be more amenable to being surrounded by the red, white, and green kitsch for almost two solid months.
So to all the Scrooges, Grinches, and Gremlins out there who share my pain this time of the year, I hope that these offerings will help spike the too-sweet Yuletide punch that can be disgustingly cloying. Hang in there and try to not kick anyone in the jingle bells. Halloween will be here again sooner than you think.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.