Christmas: How bad can it be? In Hollywood, pretty damn bad
The Holiday Season is in full swing and so, too, is the holiday movie season. 'Tis season when we watch holiday classics such as It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. The season when we look forward to seeing those old stop-motion animated specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman. It is also the season of lists - not just who's naughty and nice, but "Best of."
Every year numerous articles identify the best holiday movies: which movies will make you feel all tingly inside and which films will fill you full of holiday spirit. There are very few "Worst of" lists around the holidays. Old Saint Nick probably has one that tells which children are the worst to their younger siblings, but he's not sharing. This article is a worst-of list. There may not be a consensus on the naughtiest children, but there is one on which movies are the absolute worst the holidays have to offer.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
If there is one film that celebrates the true - albeit warped - spirit of the American Christmas, Jingle All the Way is it. This is a movie that doesn't dwell on those happy holiday feelings like familial devotion and togetherness. It's a movie about buying stuff. And we all know that even though politicians and religious leaders like to make Christmas something more, buying stuff is at the core of the American holiday experience.
The governor of California - aka Arnold Schwarzenegger - plays a character that has been working way too much. He is trying to make as much money as possible so that he can buy stuff. He is completely disconnected from his son, so to repair their relationship he decides he should buy his son stuff for Christmas. Unfortunately, there is only one thing that his son really wants, and that's the TurboMan action figure that television and the movies have told the boy he must have. The Governor has to race Sinbad to get the last TurboMan action figure off the shelves of the Mall of America. If he doesn't get it for his son, he will be a failure as a father. And if the son doesn't own the TurboMan action figure on Christmas morning, he'll be a failure as a human being.
This movie contains all of the most important holiday elements: First there's slapstick violence. It's funny to watch people get hurt. Second, there's rampant consumerism. It's fun to buy stuff. And third, there's a dysfunctional family relationship that can only be repaired by buying stuff. We love dysfunction. Jingle All the Way is a movie about the American Dream ... or the American Nightmare ... sometimes it's hard to tell.
If extreme facial contortions and a red-neck protagonist with the mind of an 8-year-old are your thing, then perhaps you will enjoy Ernest Saves Christmas, a masterpiece of the Ernest film empire. Like many retirees, Santa decides that it's time to pack up and move to Florida in order to live the good life. But before he can completely give up the whole Santa thing, he must find a replacement. Unfortunately, there are a few glitches and Saint Nick ends up in jail. Once Santa's in the slammer, there's only one person who can save Christmas and it's not Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman. No, it's none other than the late Jim Varney's bizarre character, Ernest P. Worrel.
Before his death in 2000, Varney played Ernest in 14 films, in numerous television commercials, and even in a television series. The actor struck pay-dirt with a character that children loved and adults couldn't stand. Indeed, it is possible that the success of the Ernest movies was directly due to the fact that parents were given a choice: Watch Ernest for two hours or endure endless nagging from children who want to watch Ernest for two hours.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
In 1964, a small group of filmmakers set out to create a wonderful children's film that upheld the spirit of Christmas. Somewhere between the idea, the script, and the actual production, something happened. Something akin to a winemaker bottling a vat of grease or a chocolate manufacturer packaging animal droppings.
The children of Mars hate their lives. Why? They have to wear green make-up and diving goggles. Not only that, but they have no special holiday guy like Santa. Clearly the best thing to do is to kidnap Santa and a couple of Earth kids in order to bring them back to Mars. Santa apparently thinks this is hilarious, as he never stops laughing from the beginning of the movie 'til the end. Ultimately, Santa traps the bad Martians and finds a Martian to take on his role so he can return to Earth.
There are so many BAD things about this movie: The Martian costumes look like they were designed by people who scoured a garbage dump filled with scuba gear. The special effects are comprised of space ships on strings and golf balls painted to look like planets. And the story is just flat-out terrible. Everybody knows there's no such thing as Martians. And everybody knows that even if there were and Santa got kidnapped by them, an elf or a reindeer would come to save him.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Perhaps this movie would have been better named, "Silent Night, please-don't-force-me-to-watch-this-stupid-movie Night!" Murder and mayhem are probably better suited to Halloween when children dress like serial killers and adults wear leather fetish outfits and try to pretend like they're wearing costumes.
In this film, a young man who was tormented by Mother Superior at an orphanage goes on a murderous rampage in a Santa Claus suit. Cheesy horror movie music, '80s hairstyles, and a plot that steals shamelessly from numerous slasher flicks of the late '70s and early '80s are all the ingredients needed to create a very bad horror movie and an excruciatingly bad holiday film.
When Silent Night, Deadly Night first premiered, many parents were outraged by the images on movie posters of Santa carrying a bloody axe. They should have been outraged over yet another tasteless slasher film in which the killer hides his face and murders people at random. Angry parents picketed the theaters killing box office sales and ultimately burying the film on the video store shelf. For some strange reason, it was on this shelf that the movie found new life. Since the original 1984 version, we have been forced to endure Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation, and, most unfortunately, Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker.
Surviving Christmas (2004)
In late October, movie-goers were surprised and horrified by an early lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. On second thought, perhaps coal is too fine a metaphor for the new Ben Affleck vehicle. Perhaps vehicle is too fine a word for this disaster.
In Surviving Christmas, a millionaire played by Affleck bribes the family living in his childhood home to take him in for the holidays. Of course Affleck's character is a constant nuisance to the family. Of course there are a great deal of poorly executed slap-stick comedy sequences that would be right at home in a Ben Stiller movie but seem wildly out of place in a film like this. And of course there is the obligatory love story between Christina Applegate and Ben Affleck.
Though Surviving Christmas is an absolutely terrible movie, it does provide a glimpse of hope. The film came out on October 22 which probably means the studios knew that they had a steaming pile of doggy doo on their hands. They couldn't posibly expect people to run out and see a Christmas movie before Halloween - it's simply not reasonable. Maybe they released it early so that we might forget about it before the lights were even hung and enjoy the holidays in peace. There is a possibility that the studios have even learned something from this squashed tomato: that audiences enjoy intelligent movies during the holidays with inspirational storylines that do not feel contrived.
Then again, somewhere out there a studio has a script for Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 6. Let's just hope that script never gets into the hands of Ben Affleck. •