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An Unconventional Spin on Holiday Films

rare-exports-movie-coverWith another Christmas gone by and the New Year approaching I’ve just about finished my annual tradition of binge-watching holiday movies. Ever since childhood I’ve associated the month of December and its corresponding onslaught of decorations, carols and cookies with a television set airing non-stop seasonal programming. As I’ve gotten older, though, my tastes have changed.

Once upon a time we didn’t have Netflix or Hulu or DVRs. Before then we didn’t have DVDs or cable television, or even VHS tapes. During my childhood we had no option but to scour the (print) TV guide that came with the Sunday newspaper and keep track of when Christmas specials would air. I could hardly contain my excitement anticipating the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman. My absolute favorites, though, came out of the Rankin/Bass stop-motion studio and included Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (featuring Bumble the abominable snowman) and The Year Without a Santa Claus (featuring the brothers Heat Miser and Snow Miser).

Back then we had to mark our calendars and tune in at specified dates and times to watch these classics. Nowadays you can look up any of these in the Minuteman Library Network catalog and borrow them, or likely find them available on-demand to stream with the touch of a finger. This convenience allows for the discovery of hundreds of holiday films, and I have been enjoying watching some less-traditional picks this year.

If you tire of wholesome classics like Miracle on 34th Street and White Christmas, I recommend The Night Before, starring the comedic duo Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Along the same irreverent lines, R-rated options include Bad Santa, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Office Christmas Party, starring Jason Bateman, and A Bad Moms Christmas, with Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell. Rife with drunkenness, drug use, and exotic dancers, these choices may not be kid-friendly, but could lift the spirits of harried grownups this holiday season.

Amid the chaos of shopping and preparations, some movies offer relief by depicting Christmases gone horribly wrong. Imagine cute gifts turning into monsters and wreaking havoc as the mogwai do in Gremlins. Think your family is high maintenance? In The Ref, a burglar takes an entire family Christmas party hostage and the attendees become so unbearable you find yourself empathizing with the criminal. In the alternative classic, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, hapless Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) finds his plans to engineer the perfect holiday going terribly awry.

As a horror movie fan, I gravitate toward Halloween flicks more readily than the Christmas classics, but fortunately some cross-genre films eliminate the necessity to choose between the two. Some, of course, fall into the so-bad-they’re-good category, such as Silent Night Deadly Night and Jack Frost (and its sequel). I genuinely and non-ironically enjoyed Krampus though, and just discovered Rare Exports, which may rise to the top of my all-time favorites list. Both films hearken back to mythological origins of today’s sanitized Santa Claus. Krampus brings the eponymous Central European creature into the dysfunctional American family setting in a decent yet typical slasher film. The Finnish gem, Rare Exports, focuses on Joulupukki, the pagan Christmas goat. In a rare feat it combines comedy, horror, lovely cinematography, and touching father/son relationships.

What if you’re sick of Christmas altogether? Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights stands out as the most well-known of the few Hanukkah movies out there, and will have you humming “The Chanukah Song” from its soundtrack till New Year’s Day. Speaking of which, New Year’s Eve, while met with mixed reviews, features an all-star cast directed by Garry Marshall. Departing from holidays altogether, The Shining and Misery, both based on Stephen King books, depict what can happen as a result of getting snowed in. On a more upbeat note, the heartwarming Edward Scissorhands has beautiful ice sculptures and snowfall without overabundant Christmas imagery.

During the last week of the year I still have some appetite left for yuletide viewing. I plan to settle in with a hot chocolate for a Die Hard and Die Hard 2 double feature to watch John McClane endure a couple of  harrowing Christmas Eves. Perhaps I’ll venture out to the cinema to add something new to my list. Blumhouse Productions, the company known for Halloween and Happy Death Day, has just released Black Christmas, in theaters now!

Lydia Sampson is the Assistant Director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the January 2nd, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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