When December comes along, TV programmers grab the opportunity to wheel out It’s A Wonderful Life and the The Snowman again for the umpteenth time…
When December comes along, TV programmers grab the opportunity to wheel out It’s A Wonderful Life and the The Snowman again for the umpteenth time. And as great as they are, you can’t help but wish for something a bit more interesting to watch.
Luckily, this festive period sees the cinema release of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale out now. A unique take on the mythos of Santa Claus, it has been getting rave reviews across the world and is definitely worth braving the cold for. To mark its release, we look down ten of the most unusual Christmas films to watch this holiday….
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
The quintessential alternative Christmas film. Originally released under the Touchstone brand as Disney didn’t want to be associated with it, the film has now become such an accepted festive classic that it barely even qualifies as an ‘alternative’ Christmas tale. Despite its gothic styling, it has its heart is exactly the same place as any other holiday favourite you care to mention.
If you went to see a holiday family comedy produced by Steven Spielberg, you wouldn’t expect to see an old woman murdered by a stairlift. Yet this jet black comedy from Joe Dante delivers a much needed dollop of nastiness to counter-act the holiday spirit. Parents worry it’s too violent; kids just find it hilarious.
Billy-Bob Thornton gives a career best performance as Willie Stokes, a departmental store Santa slash burglar is this beautifully warped comedy written and produced by the Coen Brothers. All the clichés are there for the character’s redemption – the lonely single mother, with a son desperate for a father figure, but Stokes remains gleefully unrepentant throughout the whole film.
Dickens’ classical A Christmas Carol has been replayed so many times in film and television, what with it being a very easy go-to plot for the lazy Christmas special. So you might wonder how you could make it interesting again. Two words: Bill Murray. Playing Ebenezer Scrooge recast as a 1980s television executive, Murray is on fine form. When the three ghosts come they are genuinely creepy, which is something missing from most versions of the tale.
Eyes Wide Shut
The great Stanley Kubrick’s last film is still not fully acknowledged by many, even a decade after its release. A dreamlike tale of sexually charged adventures starring the then-married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, unlike most holiday set films it only uses Christmas as an aesthetic. Instead of a big Christmas Eve finale, it just has the powerful reds and greens of the season searing through every frame without dominating the plot.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
This bizarre, surreal film was made on a miniscule budget in the 1960s and rediscovered as a so-bad-its-good cult classic by 90s Generation X-ers. Full of terrible special effects, cheap sets and a robot made of cardboard and tinfoil, it does have an undeniable cheesy charm and an unbelievably catchy theme tune. It also features the same plane-refuelling stock footage as Stanley Kubrick’s classic Dr Strangelove!
It seemed like in the late 70s and early 80s every holiday had its own slasher movie made around it so this festive take on Halloween doesn’t seem like much of a surprise. What makes Black Christmas so notable however was that it was actually released four years before Halloween. Christmas has always been a time for ghost stories and a psychotic killer on the loose easily fills in for a Dickensian spirit.
Doug Liman’s twenty-something take on Pulp Fiction is another film in which Christmas is merely a back drop to more important things in the characters lives. Very much a 90s period piece, even featuring a pre- Tom Cruise Katie Holmes, the film captures that point between being a child and being a parent where Christmas doesn’t really mean much, and is just another reason to party and get drunk.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
In this wonderfully trashy 80s horror flick, a young boy sees his parents gunned down by a carjacker in a Santa costume on Christmas Eve. He grows up in an orphanage run by ironhanded nuns who do even more damage to him, and one Christmas Eve twenty years later he finally snaps. It’s not going to win any awards, but for some exciting Christmas chills you could do a lot worse.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Deep in the mountains of Lapland, something has awoken. A group of reindeer herders have captured something deadly. Might it actually be a real Santa? Based on director Jalmari Helander’s online short films, it’s great fantasy-horror with sharp sense of humour and genuine excitement. Left-field but also full of heart, it’s sure become part of the cannon of Christmas cinematic classics in years to come.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is out now.