Written by Rachael Cheeseman
I adore Christmas. The whole ordeal. Festive jumpers that are so ridiculously expensive they should have pride of place in my wardrobe right next to my wedding dress. Christmas carols that no one quite knows all the words to and that are sung at the top of our voices in whatever key we choose. So many presents there's literally no room for people to get into my house, and, of course, the sappiest movies known to mankind. I love a good Christmas movie, and not just the wishy-washy feel good kind either. Die Hard (it bloody well is a Christmas movie, don't even get me started) is always a firm favourite in our house, as is The Santa Claus, Miracle on 34th Street and of course Muppet Christmas Carol. Coincidentally, If there's a Muppet version of any classic tale it automatically becomes the superior version of that story, that's just fact. But even I must acknowledge that not all Christmas movies are winners, in fact, some of them barely even make sense and a few are just downright weird. Let me talk you through some of the Christmas movies you won't believe even exist. Spoilers ahead.
1. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
I kid you not. This is a real film. But not just a film, a musical! Now, take a moment and see if you can conjure up any conceivable Christmas story to fit that title. I guarantee you won't be anywhere close to the real thing. The real thing is so shockingly bad and obscure even Sharknado can look down on it in haughty derision. In this 1972 American holiday tale, Santa (I say that instead of Father Christmas only because it is an American film and they call him Santa in the movie) gets stranded on a beach in Florida because his sleigh gets stuck in the sand. Naturally, his reindeer desert him to flee the heat – apparently reindeers know no loyalty. With some singing and dream sharing/telepathy/magic, Santa calls some local children to him to help. The children “help” with a plethora of nonsensical ideas, and basically bring Santa a menagerie's worth of animals thinking this will somehow be useful. Seriously, one of them brings a flipping gorilla. Explain to me any crisis that was made better by the addition of a gorilla. So once operation “Uhhhh maybe animals will help" inevitably fails, Santa preaches to the children the importance of not giving up and tells them the story of Thumbelina, which - get this - is actually just a separate movie plonked right down in the middle of this one, credit sequences and all! Once the run time has been sufficiently padded by this bizarre interlude, a dog belonging to one of the children displays previously unmentioned "magical" abilities and calls the Ice Cream Bunny. The bunny takes Santa back to the North Pole and the sleigh teleports back there of it's own volition because… reasons. Fin.
What, in the name of Chris Cringle is that all about?
2. Christmas Evil (1980)
You know what really gets me in the Christmas mood? 80’s slasher flicks, obviously. Is it even Christmas if you haven’t seen someone blinded by a delusional psycho wielding a toy soldier as a weapon? No. No it is not. Luckily for us, director Lewis Jackson was there to fill this need with his epic movie Christmas Evil.
When young Harry Stadling witnesses his mother engaging in some hanky panky with old St Nick himself (not really, it’s his dad in a costume) he reacts the way any normal well adjusted child would: with a little casual self harm and a lifelong obsession/delusion with becoming Santa Claus. Can you say Oedipus complex?
As an adult, Harry is a low-level toy factory worker by day, and creepy wannabe Father Christmas by night. He withdraws to his New Jersey apartment every night, which is filled with Christmas decorations, he dons his Santa suit and watches the neighbourhood children, keeping meticulous notes as to whether they are naughty or nice. Creeped out yet? It gets better. When a work colleague lies about his whereabouts to get Harry to cover his shift and the toy company he works for show that they care more about profits than the children (can you imagine!) it sparks a murderous rage within our leading man. He takes to the streets delivering toys to those he deems to be good and brutally murdering those he believes to be bad until eventually an angry mob catches up with him and pushes his van (or Santa mobile, if you will) off a bridge. Merry Christmas!
3. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Sticking with the Christmas horror theme for a moment, let me take you to a world where Santa’s elves take the form of naked old men and Father Christmas is an ancient evil far more concerned with punishing the bad than rewarding the good. It’s dark, it’s gory, it’s bloody horrifying; it can only be a Finnish Christmas movie (seriously, those guys know how to do horror).
This film really is bizarre so bear with me.
Ok. It starts in Lapland, where a British research team are doing some drilling and come across an ancient burial site in which something is hidden. Two boys, Juuso and Pietari, eavesdrop on a conversation between some of the researchers and gather that the burial ground has something to do with Father Christmas. Back at home Pietari reads up on some Santa folklore and discovers he is a monster of sorts that beats, tortures, and eats children and is generally just kind of unpleasant. I don’t know what kids’ Christmas stories are like in Finland but it certainly puts my childhood fear of dim-witted Christmas burglars into perspective.
Anyhoo, the movie then spends some time scarring us with glimpses into Pietari’s life as son of a reindeer slaughterer (why is that even a job?) and demonstrates his far from idyllic relationship with his father. While setting traps for wolves, Pietari captures one of the naked elf men and things quickly spiral out of control from there. Suffice it to say, by the time the film is over there has been horror and bloodshed and the creepy naked men are trained up to be mall Santa’s and shipped all over the world... You know, it doesn’t seem as weird when you watch it. Seriously just watch it.
4. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
I feel like this one shouldn’t need much elaboration. Santa Claus and Martians. It’s already weird; it already defies belief. Don’t you think? No? Fine, I’ll elaborate.
Firstly, let me get out my biggest issue with this film. The title. At no point in this movie does Santa Claus conquer anyone! He is kidnapped, nearly killed, and eventually released. That’s not conquering. That’s a hostage situation with a safely negotiated release.
But, I digress. In 1964 director Nicholas Webster posed the question what if there was life on Mars? What if that life, while intellectually superior, was filled with beings who lacked any freedom or originality? What would concerned Martian parents do to help their children in such a world? They’d kidnap innocent earth children and Santa Claus and force them to work in a toy factory on Mars, of course.
Obviously, the story can’t be as straight forward as that. Not all the Martian’s are happy with this idea, they believe Santa will distract the children of Mars from the righteous path they tread. So, naturally, they attempt to sabotage and murder Father Christmas and the young children who are helping him. Luckily they are unsuccessful and the entire situation is resolved when one of the Martian’s, who has been aiding Santa, is voted a good substitute to the actual St Nick and he and the kiddies are returned safely to earth. Sound terrible? It should. The film has been consistently voted one of the worst movies of all time. Perhaps the strangest thing about this film is the lack of creativity. You would think a story that puts Santa in space would at least have some imagination on its side, but Santa Claus Conquers the Martians brings us such characters as Momar (the mom Martian) Girmar (the girl Martian) and Bomar who is, you guessed it, the boy Martian. It really is just so very bad. So bad. So so bad. I would consider it worth a watch for a good laugh, if nothing else.
Christmas movies really do only need to do one thing. They need to make us happy. That’s all any of us are looking for from a good holiday film. What brings us that feeling is very much down to individual taste. Maybe a good horror story puts a smile on your face, maybe frozen dairy bunnies are what put you in the Christmassy mood (who am I to judge?) Whatever the reason there is such a weird and wonderful plethora of movies out there, at least it guarantees that everyone can find something to bring them some Christmas cheer. So, explore some of the stranger offerings. You never know, you might find a new holiday favourite. But for me, Christmas will always mean: me, a cup of hot chocolate and Bing Crosby in White Christmas. Bliss.