Like a film franchise that just won’t die (hello, Jason Voorhees), my annual list of alternative Christmas films is back. With the usual Christmas films being talked about every year, why not venture off the snowy path and into the dark wintry woods with these 10 alternative Christmas movies...
Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You
It isn’t Christmas until you’ve heard Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You blaring out of shops and houses for the millionth time. Clearly, Ms Carey wasn’t content in having one of the biggest Christmas songs of all time as she decided to make an animated movie based on it too. However, instead of using the basis of the song about wanting a lover for Christmas it has been switched to wanting a dog for Christmas so little Mariah can take part in the local school show. The animation is hideously out of date, the characters' heads are abnormally large and the tweeness of it all is so grating you’ll wish to be put in a locked room with a Mariah Carey Christmas album on repeat.
12 Deaths of Christmas
Another Christmas horror film, only this time it has a female as the killer. Specifically, it is a female twist on Krampus. A British film based on a German urban legend (!) that suffers from the usual horror tropes that mainly involve bad acting and ridiculously loud jump scares. However, the eerie sound of the killer shuffling along is enough to give a few sleepless nights.
The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas
This made-for-television film doesn’t feature the original Munsters cast as most of them had passed on by the time this was made in 1996. The storyline sees Herman decide to give Little Eddie a good old-fashioned Transylvanian Christmas (whatever that entails!). There are appearances from Wolfman, Mummy and Gill-Man along the way. Sam McMurray does his jittery best as Herman but the whole film looks & feels like a cash-in on a once loved property. It being in colour doesn’t help either; part of the magic of The Munsters was it being in black & white. This was the last film outing for the characters from Mockingbird Lane, and it’s easy to see why.
Friday After Next
“Cook it up!” The third instalment of the Friday franchise is set at Christmas time. Craig and Day-Day are back in the old neighbourhood, but their life is interrupted when a crack-fiend dressed as Santa Claus breaks into their house. The Friday franchise is likely to offend the more sensitive of souls. For everyone else there are some funny moments throughout and this third film is infinitely better than its predecessor. Ice Cube’s stoner Christmas comedy is one to enjoy with friends and (smoking) tings.
The Nativity Story (2006)
Another biblical story about the birth of Jesus? Wait! This is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who went on to helm Twilight two years later, and stars Oscar Isaac, who went on to be the best damn fighter pilot in the galaxy 20 years later. It also holds the special honour of being the first film to have its world premiere in Vatican City. None of these matter when you realise it is a bit of a stinker. Even at 101 minutes it feels three times that as it drags the storyline along like a dead donkey. There is no vast biblical epic here instead it has all the hallmarks of a low budget offering from a group of first-time filmmakers.
The last theatrical feature film from director John Frankenheimer was not, it seems, a positive experience for most involved. Vin Diesel left the project before filming began due to conflicts with Frankenheimer. Charlize Theron calls it the worst movie she ever made. The ending had to be reshot after test audiences took against it. Which in turn meant that the film which had Ben Affleck dressed as Santa opened at the end of February instead of the holiday season. This heist movie about a reluctant ex-con going back on the job for one last con has been told many times before (and better). Trying to have the same action and humour mix that Shane Black is so good at, Reindeer Games fails for the most part. However, the subsequent director’s cut of the film makes for a much better, more in-depth version.
Susan Slept Here
Debbie Reynolds' star power was undeniable during the 1950s. She had appeared in Singing in The Rain and Hollywood bigwigs had started to take note of her as an all-round entertainer. Susan Slept Here is one of her lesser known films yet she is still hugely entertaining as the 17-year-old girl sent to live with 35-year-old Hollywood screenwriter Mark Christopher (played by Dick Powell). Yes, this age gap romance is icky for today’s audiences, but back then it did brisk business at the box office and put Howard Hughes’ RKO studio in the back for the first time ever (he sold the studio immediately). Susan Slept Here also has a one-of-a-kind narrator – An Oscar. That’s right, the film is narrated by an Academy Award gold statue. The film is a thinly-veiled dig at the perils of stardom set among an age-gap romance.
Directed by John Ford and starring his favourite actor, John Wayne, this Western is a retelling of the story of the Three Wise Men. Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz and Harry Carey Jr play bank robbers who stumble across a dying woman and her new born baby. This is one of Wayne’s finest Western performances yet sadly it gets overlooked. His face can tell a thousand tales and those faces are on display here as he, and his fellow robbers, try to save a baby even though they go through hell themselves. Not your usual Christmas movie however, this is one entertaining parable of a well-known story.
Steve Martin’s early 1990s film output was middling to say the least. Films such as My Blue Heaven, Father of The Bride and L.A. Story saw the legendary comedian try to reign in the wild and crazy guy and go for a more reserved almost dramatic acting stance. In Mixed Nuts he is less the main star and more the sun with other actors orbiting him. It is an ensemble piece that includes Adam Sandler, Juliette Lewis, Liev Schreiber, Parker Posey and Jon Stewart all before they were massive global stars. It’s co-written and directed by Nora Ephron. However, Sleepless in Seattle this is not. One line of dialogue see’s a call centre worker moan at the lack of calls by saying: “You’d expect everyone to be thinking of jumping out of windows or slitting their wrists on Christmas Eve.” There is a lot of gallows humour as the story revolves around a crisis helpline centre on Christmas Eve. Seeing it through modern-day eyes this film has a lot more in common with the work of Larry David than the delightfully upbeat Ephron.
The Dead (1987)
Set in Dublin at the start of 1904 as a family sit down for a Feast of the Epiphany (so not technically a Christmas film but it still has that haunting winter look to it). It's adapted from the short story by James Joyce by director John Huston, who was dying during filming. Classed as one of the unfilmable Joyce pieces, Huston takes an ordinary dinner party and creates a well-crafted chamber piece that not so much as gets going but stands still as it is the dialogue that is most important. Occasionally, funny and light-hearted and then, at other times, dark and treacherous with a truly memorable performance from Anjelica Houston. A film of understated lyrical beauty.