A piece for Omnified by Jess Sweetman
Can you smell the snow in the air? Like many of my fellow Berliners, December foists upon me the all-encompassing need to remain indoors, wrapped in a blanket, stuffing Pfeffernüsse into my face until at least mid-March.
Alas, the mainstream has always failed me when it comes to Christmas movies. “Love Actually” makes me want to develop time travel in order to prevent the invention of cinema, while “Die Hard” is an overhyped advertisement for American imperialism. Happily for me, however, late-stage capitalism has my back, as well as the backs of all of my lazy brethren, lavishing us with the ever-giving gifts to bad TV that are Netflix and YouTube. As such, I bring you the ultimate list of terrible holiday movies to keep you on the couch and away from the high budget studio films and a healthy lifestyle this festive season.
Much has been written about the phenomenon of the 1963 British short film that most Brits have never heard of, but it’s a celebrated New Year’s Eve tradition in Germany, several Scandinavian countries and beyond. For me, the 11 minutes of repetitive slapstick are on par with being beaten over the head with a gilded episode of “The Benny Hill Show.” For the many viewers across Europe who watch religiously as the year ends, it’s a glorious tradition. Go figure.
You know how in the last paragraph I was really sniffy about how those silly Germans love that goofy slapstick relic from the 60s? Well…um…
Throughout the 1980s, “One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing” was shown on British TV as a Christmas Eve tradition. Children across the country watched this Disney movie while the sun went down and the excitement built. In a way, I think it personifies everything amazing and wrong about being English. There are plucky nannies clambering around on dinosaur skeletons, pampered Englishmen, silly schoolboys and really offensively racist impressions of Chinese people. Sure, now it seems to be a tradition on par with other great British customs, like colonizing places while claiming we were doing a good thing, but it’s really not Christmas in my household without a viewing. If you do watch, be warned that Peter Ustinov’s performance will cause extreme clenching, leading to permanent face and neck pain. If you can’t stomach it, there’s an alternative: just play the video below of the theme tune, watch it on a loop and dance around your living room. Believe me, I’m in no position to judge.
I once tried to convince my friend Shane to legally change his last name to McIan. That’s how dedicated I am to the work of British actor Ian McShane, whose role in the comfortably bizarre and badly color-graded “Pottersville” falls somewhere between Indiana Jones’s dad and Ed Gein. Couple that with Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks’ exploration of furry culture, some guy with a really terrible Australian accent, a charming but under-used Judy Greer, and Michael Shannon, the thinking man’s Ray Liotta, as a protagonist whose overall look is “confused,” and you have a fairly warm waste of an hour and a half. Postscript to my story, Shane didn’t change his name and several years later, oh look, the re-rise of fascism happened. Coincidence? I think not.
Bow down you no-good fools in the face of cinematic history. “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is not only awarded the awesome responsibility of frequent appearances in the lists of worst movies ever made, but it’s also readily accessible to you in your nearest one Euro store, or if you’re really cheap, YouTube. I’d suggest putting this one on in the background while you perform some other festive activity, like avoiding your parents’ phone calls, breaking your teeth on the candy canes you weren’t going to eat, or thinking about tinsel.
Ah the 80s, when men were real men, women were real women, and children’s films were just extended advertisements for Coca-Cola aimed at the “junior market,” as Coca-Cola calls them, or “children” to everyone else. But hell, I’m leaving it on my list, if just for John Lithgow scaring kids.
Hallmark Christmas films are crack for people who are too lazy to go outside. These churned-out living editions of 50s women’s magazines are notable for their similarities, featuring plucky kids, fun locals and super-hot glassblower dudes in jumpers. The storylines mostly see heartless 30-somethings with good hair from New York discovering that their marketing executive jobs are meaningless in the face of cozy small-town life. Face it, these little slices of eye-valium are the cultural phenomenon we deserve.
Dead-eyed, lustrously-coiffed, former kid from “Party of Five,” Lacey Chabert is a queen of the genre: possibly because it’s that or office work, possibly because she’s kept against her will in a bunker somewhere under Utah and forced to churn out 8,000 festive movies per year without sleep or food. I’m not one to comment on how studios get their work done, I’m just glad they’re here to show us that the true meaning of Christmas lies in telling women that the lives they thought they wanted (silly women) are meaningless compared to the thrill of marrying a widower in knitwear and settling down in a small town.
I will fight anyone to the death who besmirches Tori Spelling. This made-for-TV Courtney Love has showered us with gifts throughout the illustrious career that she bravely reached out and snatched from her successful producer father, like the real-life Cinderella she is. Why would you dare distrust the genius who brought forth such gems as “Mother May I Sleep with Danger?” and “Death of a Cheerleader”? “The Mistle-Tones” is pure Spelling genius, with the added bonus of one of the sisters from “Sister Sister”, a bunch of cringe-inducing, overproduced, royalty free Christmas songs, and, if that isn’t enough, that guy who’s in all of those films is in this one too. I dare you not to enjoy yourself.
Director Michael Feifer has my favorite IMDB page listing of all time. Why? Because this dedicated auteur not only churns them out at a rate that would make Eric Roberts sit down for a minute. But somewhere in his illustrious career of making slightly cheap, fairly gory serial killer movies, such as “The Hillside Strangler,” Feifer switched, almost overnight to family movies about animals saving holidays. What happened? We may never know. But I’m assuming it was definitely something involving three ghosts visiting him on Christmas Eve to reveal the error of his ways.
Nothing says Christmas quite like the realm of sports entertainment. This magical and often unseen gem in the genre of films sponsored by Vince McMahon is a welcome foray into Hallmark’s territory. The plot is perhaps the greatest of all time, featuring a former bounty hunter turned elementary school teacher returning to her New Jersey hometown at Christmas to help her family get some bad guys, all the while pretending to her snooty (read not from New Jersey and not a bounty hunter) fiancee that that’s not what she’s doing. It’s the only Christmas movie I’ve seen for a while with full action sequences. I’ll take what the good people at WE have earnestly churned out for me. Bravo!
Female Trouble is the quintessential Christmas film, it has everything you need: sex, glamor, Edith Massey, and very few actual mentions of Christmas besides an angry Dawn Davenport, played by Divine, pushing over the family Christmas tree in protest for not being bought her cha-cha heels. Family annoying you at Christmas? It’s time to play “Let’s reenact Female Trouble.” You’ll thank me.
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