The Nightmares Before (And After) Christmas

The Princess Switch (Netflix, 2018)

If you’ve listened to 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 the need to scroll extremely 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 on 21st December because everyone else had already rented everything even halfway watchable. The reason for this is precisely the reason that you are expecting – I am obsessed with gloriously bad Christmas Films. Not ‘classic’ Christmas Films of the sort that are reasonably acceptable to talk about and sometimes even to watch in polite society. The absolute compellingly dreadful 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. You may well now be wondering if I have some kind of problem with The Little Rascals’ Christmas Special. I could not possible comment. Although I do comment on it in this.

Anyway, Holiday In The Wild, Let It Snow and Santa Girl are already queued up on Netflix, but this is a list of slightly older films that I saw a very long time ago, and 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 and nativity scene with amusingly oversized random cow in it 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 one year 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 that it was not quite the film I was expecting.

Along with the exceptionally 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 or at the very least claimed to have done so. Needless to say Silent Night, Deadly Night was top of my Must See list for a long time, although I don’t think I actually did get to see it until many years later; in the meantime the sequel had actually been banned – yes, banned – in the UK, which only served to increase its sleazy mystique. 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 other films I mostly saw at ridiculous o’clock in the morning while refusing to go to bed during student Christmas Holidays back 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 one of my old fanzines, 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 (available in paperback here). 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.

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

A Hobo's Christmas (CBS, 1987).

A boxcar-hopping vagabond suddenly decides completely out of the blue and for no evident reason beyond ‘goodwill’ to seek out the family that he abandoned twenty five years ago for a life of two hours of pushin’ broom for an eight by twelve four bit room, and thereby discover the true meaning of Christmas through meeting the grandchildren he didn’t know he had. 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 people moaning on social media 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 convenience store own brand good ol’ boys never meaning no copyright infringement, who take it upon themselves to ensure the long-haul delivery of a festive 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 Yuletide action adventure in which Santa takes and his helpers battle to thwart the plans of a present-sabotaging Devil, like some lost episode of Futurama with visuals somewhere between The Singing Ringing Tree and one of the more migraine-inducing Video Nasties. Only nowhere near as entertaining as any of that might sound.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: BBC4, 20th December, as part of some 11pm ‘Ironic Christmas Films’ season. Aaaaaaaahhhhh!

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, charting the real-life tale of 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 probably 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 but forgot about has finished.

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

Ed Asner takes the lead in and undistinguished Disney offering as shakily-named escaped counterfeiter Horace McNickle, whose cop-evading exploits lead to him – you guessed it – being mistaken for Santa by some nosey local youngsters. Foiling of the ‘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 against his will 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).

Fred Savage tries his hardest to shake off the did-they-actually-watch-the-show-then squeaky clean image The Wonder Years had saddled him with 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 the discovery of green footprints in the snow leads to two children being enticed into a spaceship by a chocolate-proffering alien who has apparently stolen Martin Degville from Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s face mask thing, and subsequent pitchfork-waving fumings from 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. And sadly not building a big robot suit and punching Thanos. Also starring France’s premier Bloke Who Was In Things, ‘Bourvil’.

WHERE YOU’RE LIKELY TO FIND IT: 27th December, ITV, while everyone’s out looking for bargains 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 inevitably discovers the true meaning of Christmas after adopting a Santa suit as a ‘disguise’, only this time with the novel twist of 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 stories 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 an edition of It’s Good, Except It Sucks with Phil Catterall on Christmas Movie Iron Man 3 – yes it is a Christmas Movie, stop arguing – here.

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