The Nightmares Before (And After) Christmas

The Princess Switch (Netflix, 2018)

If you’ve heard the edition of Looks Unfamiliar with Anna Cale (and if you haven’t, you can find it here), then you will have heard me talking with a suspicious degree of authority about having to scroll really deeply into Netflix in order to find the sort of gloriously bad Christmas Film that you used to pretty much have to get out of the Video Shop because everyone else had already rented everything even halfway watchable. The reason for this is exactly what you are thinking – I am obsessed with gloriously bad Christmas Films and always have been. Not your ‘classic’ Christmas Films that it’s acceptable to talk about and sometimes even watch in polite society. The absolute bloody awful romantic comedies, family melodramas, religion-by-stealth ‘fantasy adventures’, juvenile strops about how “now I’ll never get that toy!”, washed-up character actors being accosted by youngsters asking “are you the REAL Santa” and replying “maybe I am…”; and bastarding animated revivals of the sodding bastarding Little Rascals that nobody asked for and that still make me shudder with whatever the mainlined hard drug equivalent of boredom is all this time later.

So yes, I’ve already got Holiday In The Wild, Let It Snow and Santa Girl queued up on Netflix, but this is a list of slightly older films that I saw a very long time ago, but which have resolutely refused to stop haunting me like Juliana Hatfield as that rubbish ghost in the Christmas episode of My So-Called Life ever since. The Christmas Martian I’m fairly sure I first saw in the extremely late seventies, in our old house with the Woolworths tinsel tree with clowns on it (there’s more on what that was all about here) and nativity scene with amusingly oversized random cow plonked on top of the television. Like Digby, The Biggest Dog In The World, it was one of those films that just seemed to be on every Christmas at one point until it just suddenly vanished. A Christmas Tree I spotted in the TV Times listings a couple of years later, and being too young to know any better, I was irrationally excited by the description which read, in part, “when a secret military test runs into trouble, Laurent, who is swimming, is shielded from the rays”. It is safe to say it was not quite the film I was expecting.

Along with the wholesome and lavishly budgeted likes of No Retreat, No Surrender and Love At First Bite, Silent Night Deadly Night was one of those films you heard a lot about long before you ever got to see it, courtesy of those daring individuals at school who had somehow wangled it out of the local Video Shop. Needless to say this was top of my Must See list for a long time, although I don’t think I actually got to see it until years later; in the meantime the sequel had actually been banned – yes, banned – in the UK, which only served to increase its sleazy mystique all the more. As a huge and unapologetic fan of The Wonder Years – a pitch-perfect period piece with a belting soundtrack that sometimes barely even qualified as ‘comedy’ and which is the main reason that I’ll still whack on Light My Fire when getting done up for a big night out – I simply could not believe that Christmas On Division Street actually existed and to be honest I still struggle to. The others I mostly saw at ridiculous o’clock in the morning while refusing to go to bed during student Christmas Holidays when overnight television was still a relative novelty, usually in the company of other cultural reprobates as if Bob Mills had seen us through the front window and thought “I should just copy that, but call it In Bed With Medinner so nobody will notice”. You had to make your entertainment in those days, usually involving things that weren’t.

I’ve been writing about these films in various capacities since way back when I was typewriting single sheets of A4 with a readership of about twelve; The Christmas Martian and The Christmas Tree were both featured in the much-missed (so people keep telling me) ‘Relics’ column in my old fanzine Paintbox, and bringing us right up to date, the former also made a page-filling cameo in the print version of The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society. Indeed, this list itself has been through a variety of incarnations, and lost and gained a couple of inclusions along the way – so I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to A Christmas Without Snow – and while I’ll be honest and say it was only ever a bit of filler and I wasn’t expecting it to be up to much, it’s actually a lot more fun than I remembered so here it is. Just don’t watch any of the films. But also do. Very much so. If you don’t… Sanna’s gonna be aaangry with you.

A Hobo’s Christmas (1987)
“The best thing about Christmas is family…”

A Hobo's Christmas (CBS, 1987).

A boxcar-hopping vagabond decides completely out of the blue to seek out the family he abandoned twenty five years ago for a life of two hours of pushin’ broom for an eight by twelve four bit room, and in the process discover the true meaning of Christmas by meeting the grandchildren he’s never met. His family, however, have some reservations. You’re laughing already, aren’t you?

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: 15th December, Five, kicking off an afternoon of you shouting about how they start showing Christmas Films too early.

Christmas Comes To Willow Creek (1987)
“If ever a town needed a Christmas miracle…”

Christmas Comes To Willow Creek (ITC, 1987).

A rights-troubling reunion of former Dukes Of Hazzard Tom Wopat and John Schneider in the guise of a pair of good ol’ boys never meaning no copyright infringement, who ensure long-haul delivery of a surprise for the whole town, via a perilous route and a series of capers that in no way resemble the erstwhile exploits of Bo and Luke. But is it canon?

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: 17th December, BBC1, already halfway through when you get home from your school’s final half-day of term.

Santa Claus (1959)
“An enchanting world of make believe”

Santa Claus (Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 1959).

Jaw-dropping Latin American-sourced action adventure in which Santa takes on a present-sabotaging Devil, like some lost episode of Futurama with visuals somewhere between The Singing Ringing Tree and one of the more migrane-inducing Video Nasties. Only nowhere near as entertaining as any of that sounds.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: BBC4, 20th December, as part of some 11pm ‘ironic films’ season.

Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus (1991)
“She wanted to know… He needed to know”

Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus (ABC, 1991).

Charles Bronson does the brow-furrowing column-screwing-up-and-throwing-away honours in a movie based on the original letter, in the tale real-life hardbitten hack Francis Pharcellus Church and his self-finding quest to answer a youngster’s query about whether there really is a Santa or mummy and daddy were just very bad liars. Lord Leveson would take a dim view of his conclusion.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: 21st December, Film 4, two hours after the film you actually wanted to see finished.

The Christmas Star (1986)
“Two kids made a believer out of him”

TV’s Lou Grant Ed Asner takes the lead in undistinguished Disney offering as shakily-named escaped counterfeiter Horace McNickle, whose cop-evading tactics lead to him – you guessed it – being mistaken for Santa by some nosey local youngsters. Foiling of ‘real’ criminals, moral-bending child-assisted recovery of loot, and inescapable discovery of the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas ensue.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: 22nd December, Five, 3pm sharp.

Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)
“He knows when you’ve been naughty…”

Silent Night Deadly Night (Tristar, 1984).

Franchise initiating Halloween-for-figgy-pudding-scoffers stalk’n’slash ridiculousness about an axe-wielding Santa-suited madman who gets pushed over the edge when he is forced to work as a last-minute grotto-dweller in a local store. Highly banned in the home video era and not at all copied from the virtually identical made-a-couple-of-years-beforehand Christmas Evil, honest.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: Christmas Party, manky VHS someone got from their ‘brother’s mate’, after you’ve failed to pull.

Christmas On Division Street (1991)
“The story of a friendship born on the streets of America”

Christmas On Division Street (Columbia, 1991).

The Wonder Years‘ Fred Savage tries his hardest to shake off did-they-actually-watch-the-show-then squeaky clean image as a wealthy youngster who takes it upon himself to perform charitable acts for neighbourhood hustlers and ne’er-do-wells, with violence and ‘language’ aplenty. Looks like Kevin Arnold really was man enough to come down to the streets with Omar.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: 22nd December, ITV, just after you’ve rolled in hammered from the work Christmas do and are in no fit state to comprehend it.

The Christmas Martian (1971)
“Christmas with a friend from space”

The Christmas Martian (Faroun Films, 1971).

French-Canadian goose-ahoy snow-sodden oddity in which discovery of green footprints in the snow (no, really) leads to two children being enticed into a spaceship by a chocolate-proferring alien who has apparently stolen Martin Degville’s face mask thing, and subsequent pitchfork-waving fumings of parents who don’t ‘get’ him. Where do you get your crazy ideas from, Mr Spielberg?

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: Christmas Day, ITV, whatever time you’ve been told is ‘too early’ to open your presents.

The Christmas Tree (1969)
“There’s a feeling that cannot be put into words… it’s been put on film”

The Christmas Tree (20th Century Fox, 1969).

Proto-eco-thriller get-knotted-Doomwatch Cold War blub-coercing tearjerker with William Holden as a heartless billionaire whose son becomes livid-blue-spot-festoonedly ill after swimming near a downed fighter plane which was, oh the irony, atomically armed by one of his subsidiaries. Atonement-fuelled quest for the perfect conifer is the upshot. Also, ‘Bourvil’.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: 27th December, ITV, while everyone’s out at the sales.

Santa With Muscles (1996)
“He knows if you’ve been bad or good…”

Santa With Muscles (Cabin Fever Entertainment, 1996).

A not-remotely-typecast Hulk Hogan stars as a bodybuilding billionaire on the run from the police, who discovers the true meaning of Christmas after adopting a Santa suit as ‘disguise’, hitting his head and developing amnesia, and believing himself to be the genuine article. Oh, and he saves an orphanage too. Well, you were waiting for that.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: strip-scheduled across Sky channels for the whole of Christmas. That’s not a joke either. We’re really going to benefit from losing the licence fee, aren’t we?

The Knight Before Christmas (Netflix, 2019).

Buy A Book!

You can find further tales of my love for unloved movies in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.

Further Reading

Christmas With BBC Records And Tapes is a feature looking at the eccentric festive singles released by the equally eccentric label; you can find it here.

Further Listening

You can find the edition of It’s Good, Except It Sucks on Christmas Movie Iron Man 3 – yes it is, stop arguing – here.

© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.