Strange tidings – rogue Christmas films

Published

Credit: Hugo Cheung

Silas Pease
Writer

It’s that time of year again. Exams and coursework deadlines are devastating students across campus, and many people are looking for ways to calm down from the stress. It’s also Christmas. Many people may wish to still watch some holiday-themed films to relax and get into the festive spirit, while others may want more than the classic feel-good sentiments offered up by so many classic films like It’s a Wonderful Life and The Muppet Christmas Carol. That’s not to say that there are only family-friendly entries out there. There are many horror flicks set around the holidays, but they aren’t categorised in the most accessible or popular genre of film. Other films balance between darker tones and holiday spirit, and some are unintentionally dark (like the nightmare-inducing graphics of early 2000s motion capture in The Polar Express) and may be more appealing for it. Some people naturally want to go for more macabre options, and why not? So, with that in mind, here are two more off-the-wall Christmas films that might interest some people during this festive season.

Batman Returns (dir. Tim Burton, 1992)

As Tim Burton’s second and final directorial addition to the Batman franchise, this film sees Michael Keaton’s caped crusader battling a host of fun and campy villains against the backdrop of Gotham City in the run-up to Christmas. While not integral to the plot, the festive setting offers a fun new area for Burton to explore. It’s a true insight into how the holidays might go down in his household, with many setpieces and character designs ringing familiar to another of his most famous works, 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. This helps to reinforce the film’s off-kilter holiday feel and creates some fun fight scenes and costumes.

While it drew criticism for being at times too dark and is a far cry from the style of most superhero films today (and to be fair, even those at the time), I would argue that this film toes the line between dark and surreal in a way that is classic to Burton’s style. Or, at least, earlier Burton.

This flick also boasts a fun villains roster, including the likes of Danny DeVito as the Penguin and Christopher Walken as himself an evil businessman hellbent on gaining control of Gotham city. The undeniable star of the film, however, is Michelle Pfeiffer’s delightfully deranged Catwoman, who chews the scenery with every time she appears on screen. A role considered for many stars including Cher, Meryl Streep, Annette Bening, and Madonna, ultimately Pfeiffer is what makes this film as memorable as it is.

Gremlins (dir. Joe Dante, 1984)

Not to be confused with the superior Gremlins 2, which sadly isn’t connected to the holiday, this movie is just plain weird. Many people might have actually already seen it recently, as it was showing in a few theatres in Glasgow earlier this month. It’s in many ways a send-up of classic 1950s monster movies, but the blend of horror elements mixed with dark humour may be jarring for some. Set during Christmas in an idyllic town where nothing would ever go wrong, something goes wrong – the townsfolk soon find themselves overrun by vicious little monsters hellbent on chaos and destruction.

Many people will no-doubt already know of this film, as it has become somewhat of a cult classic. The mogwai have become pop-culture icons, instantly recognisable on merchandise, even for those who haven’t seen the films themselves. This film also bears the odd distinction of being partially behind the creation of the PG-13 rating, as it wasn’t violent or scary enough to be considered full-out horror, but also wasn’t considered suitable enough for very young audience members.

The Christmas element of this film is also key in offsetting the violence brought by the gremlins against the postcard-esque kitschy feel of the town during the holidays. This film is by no means perfect, but the festive quality makes it easily a worthy Christmas flick, if a non-conventional one.