By Jake Rubenstein
Are those sleigh bells I hear? That must mean it’s the best time of year! With so much to look forward to during the holiday season, many families rejoice as they gather around the fireplace to drink eggnog, open gifts, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of good ol’ Saint Nick himself. However, we rarely seem to question the moments when our Yuletide festivities change trajectory and go horribly wrong. From Santa being kidnapped by Martians, to crazed killers wreaking havoc on their unsuspecting victims as a strange form of season’s greetings, look no further as we’ve got you covered on some of the strangest films to ever grace the big screen for Festivus season. Be sure to grab yourself a nice cup of hot cocoa and gather around as Fandor presents three must-see films that best suit our Weird Christmas tradition, and will hopefully suit yours for years to come!
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). Often considered to be a staple of “so bad it’s good,” Nicholas Webster’s classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians zaps the viewer with a playful concoction of campy goodness to sooth even the coldest soul. From Martians wearing tin foil hats to us Earthly beings witnessing the first onscreen appearance of the Mrs. Claus character, this film has it all! Featuring a young Pia Zadora best known for Butterfly (1981), Voyage of the Rock Aliens (1984), and The Lonely Lady (1983) in her first performance as Girmar, the film tells the joyous story of Santa Claus being kidnapped by Martians to ensure that their children would also be gifted presents, much like the children on Earth had been accustomed to for centuries.
After consulting with an 800-year-old Martian sage named Chochem (Carl Don), the Martians soon come to realize that the children of Mars are growing distracted due to their society’s overly rigid structure, that doesn’t allow for any sort of individuality or freedom of thought. Soon after, the Martians and Chochem come to a conclusion by agreeing that Mars would be best suited by a Santa Claus figure, much like their neighbors here on Earth. After traveling to our home planet, the Martians struggle to determine which Santa Claus is the real one between all of the fake Santas, leading to the eventual kidnap of two children (Donna Conforti and Victor Stiles) to draw the real Santa back to Mars. Seemingly a foolproof plan, the Martians continue the adventure by coercing Santa into making toys for their own children, with plenty of 1960s campy goodness incorporated along the way. To this day, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a particularly fun entry into the world of best-of-the-worst films, and is guaranteed to provide the whole family with a perfect dose of holiday cheer.
Black Christmas (1974). Unanimously agreed among cinephiles to be one of the most pivotal horror films ever made, Bob Clark’s (yes, the very same Bob Clark that had later went on to bring you A Christmas Story and Porky’s) Black Christmas serves as the first entry into what many of us perceive as the modern slasher film. Proving to be a work that has continuously tapped into the very real fear of its viewers, Black Christmas centers around a crazed killer named Billy (Albert J. Dunk), who taunts a group of sorority sisters before picking them off one-by-one as they get ready to leave for Christmas break. Although the kill sequences are highly stylized and feature ground breaking cinematography for the period, what has always stood out to me about the film are the multiple sequences in which Billy calls the house to taunt and threaten the women. Using a variety of vulgar language that some would only deem suitable for the likes of a Rob Zombie film, these scenes undeniably strike a chord with the viewer while also truly painting a clearer picture of the cynicism behind Bob Clark’s masterpiece.
Believe it or not, Bob Clark at one point had even considered creating more graphic murder set pieces to hit the stride of grindhouse features of the time, but felt that the film would be more effective if the sequences were more restrained and subtle on screen to match the overwhelmingly dark atmosphere of the picture, much like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Personally, I think this decision ultimately benefitted the work as well, by allowing these sequences to be tapped into the psyche of the viewer. Aside from the absolute terror that the picture delivers, Black Christmas also serves as a remarkable genre film milestone that features multiple top-notch performances from a star-studded cast including the likes of: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, and John Saxon, as well as dozens of other great character actors to fill the cast. Now streaming on Fandor, Bob Clark’s dreary masterpiece will continue to grow as a timeless piece of shock cinema, and truly must be seen to be believed.
Red Christmas (2016). Since the inception of Black Christmas, holiday horror has truly become a staple for the genre with films existing for practically every holiday that you could imagine. Particularly, Christmas horror has continued to remain a staple of the genre that features some powerhouse cult slashers such as Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), To All a Goodnight (1980), Blood Beat (1983), and my personal favorite, Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984). With the continued success of horror films that relish in the Festivus season, we’ve recently seen a reemergence of Christmas horror with the inclusion of canonical films such as: Krampus (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), Black Christmas (2019), All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018), and last but not least, a lesser-known gem titled Red Christmas.
Red Christmas tells the story of a mother protecting her family on Christmas Day from a mysterious hooded figure, and stars the legendary Dee Wallace who is best known for her appearances in horror films and cult classics like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Stephen King’s Cujo (1983), Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981), and the tiny creatures fan favorite known as Critters (1986). Playing on the concept of a satirical horror comedy, the film serves up a delicious dinner plate’s worth of bloody entertainment, while also managing to perfectly encapsulate the dread some of us experience around dysfunctional family gatherings. Hence the title, Red Christmas serves as a great holiday pick for gore-hounds of any creed, and is filled with some truly shocking special effects that reminisce on the gore filled horror films of the 1980s, all the while serving up some really creative comedic elements along the way. Now streaming on Fandor, Red Christmas is truly a film that best encapsulates our deep love for the weirder side of all things Christmas.