Now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are officially behind us and radio stations are blaring the sounds of yuletide cheer, the holiday season is in full swing.
Along with the festive decorations and music, holiday films are a perennial staple of the season. And while there are many well-known favorites ranging from the venerable classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” to the 2003 comedy “Elf,” there are often a good handful of holiday films that go unnoticed.
Scene & Heard digs deep into the holiday movie canon to find films that range from sinister to sweet, along with a few alternatives, that all deserve the chance to illuminate your screen this holiday season.
“Black Christmas” (1974)
Most overlooked holiday films are far more cynical than something like “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “Black Christmas,” also known as “Silent Night, Evil Night,” is no exception in its tale of a schizophrenic psycho’s murderous reign over a house of sorority girls about to leave for winter break.
Directed by Bob Clark, who would later helm the beloved “A Christmas Story,” this independent Canadian film is for those who don’t mind a little spooky fun in their holiday proceedings. From repulsive and frightening phone calls to murders scored to holiday favorites, “Black Christmas” is an unforgettable slice of terror to accompany your Christmas fruitcake.
It was the first in a long line of what critics now refer to as “slasher” films, only “Black Christmas” is an entertaining Christmas horror film that favors atmosphere and story over a high body count, and it’ll still leave you screaming.
See Also: “Tales from the Crypt,” segment “And All Though the House” (1972)
“The Snowman” (1982)
On a much lighter note, this 26-minute animated adaptation of author Raymond Brigg’s children’s story follows a young boy who is whisked away by a cuddly snowman on Christmas Eve to an enchanting visit at the North Pole.
As the snowman soars through the air with this young boy to the whimsical tune of “Walking in the Air,” the pair marvel at the world’s many wonders, which include everything from playful whales to the Northern Lights. Once they arrive at the North Pole, the boy is introduced to a man in a bright red suit with a big belly that, when he laughs, shakes like a bowl full of jelly.
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, “The Snowman” is the antithesis of the lackluster 2004 film “The Polar Express,” mostly because it asks its viewers to believe in the magic of the season without all the flashiness that made the latter film a soulless adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s classic children’s book.
See also: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)
“Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
Director Tim Burton has allowed themes of greed and excessive consumerism to permeate holiday films such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Batman Returns,” but never has he approached the Christmas holiday with as much sentimentality as he did in 1990’s “Edward Scissorhands.”
Filmed in humid Florida towns such as Lutz and Land O’ Lakes, “Edward Scissorhands” tells the story of an abandoned young man named Edward who falls in love with the teenage daughter of the family who offers to take care of him. Edward attempts to conform to societal standards with the help of the family, but is often viewed as a sideshow freak due to his hands being made of scissors.
Burton’s film is very much a “Beauty and the Beast”-style modern fairytale, only this time the supposed beast is chased away from society by the ambivalent neighbors that were once infatuated with him. Before he leaves, Edward fashions a series of beautiful ice sculptures for the young daughter that causes a flurry of snow, reminding those that someone who can create a white Christmas in a warm Florida winter must truly be unique.
See Also: “Batman Returns” (1992) and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
There have been several film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – leading many critics and audiences to voice various opinions as to which is the best – but it would be hard to argue there is one as jubilant as 1992’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol.”
Casting puppeteer Jim Henson’s adored Muppet crew as the characters in Dickens’ prose, which features Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit and even The Great Gonzo as Dickens himself, the gang joins veteran actor Michael Caine as the detestable Ebenezer Scrooge.
The film follows the familiar tale of three ghosts visiting Scrooge on Christmas Eve to warn him of the consequences of his stinginess, but the cast and crew at The Jim Henson Company fill this one with memorable songs and masterful puppet work. Together, they make this one version of the classic tale that sticks by the main themes of Dickens’ work, but is memorable enough to keep revisiting.
See Also: “Scrooged” (1988)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Rarely have the lyrics, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake,” been as applicable as they are to the 2010 Finnish film “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.”
When a young boy discovers that a wealthy scientist has hired a group of workers to excavate what may be the evil, child-stealing Santa Claus of ancient Finnish folklore from a mountain near his home, he tries to protect his family and friends from what could be one unfortunate Christmas.
While the plot synopsis sounds a lot like the setup for a horror film, and the terrifying Santa Claus portrayed in “Rare Exports” is known only to punish naughty children in an extremely violent manner, the film is more like “Home Alone” meets “Jurassic Park” with a dose of Christmas cheer. Director Jalmari Helander offers an innovative and invigorating take on Santa’s legend, which easily positions “Rare Exports” as a new holiday favorite.
See Also: “Gremlins” (1984)