With Christmas just around the corner, I thought it only appropriate that I spend some time talking about such beloved holiday classics as It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story… oh, who am I kidding?! Instead, I’m going to showcase some of the weirdest Christmas movies ever made, the ones where the filmmakers were clearly drinking some heavily spiked eggnog while they made them and deserve a gigantic lump of coal in their stocking for what they did! Now, to all full-time followers of The Back Row, I must apologize in advance, as the majority of this article is going to be a cut-and-paste job. Last Christmas, I did some individual features entitled “Robin’s Weird Christmas Movies”, but I thought that for this year, I should combine all those movies together into one list. I’ve made some revisions and done some write-ups on a few additional movies in order to create a fully formed “Top 10” list, so you can now consider this The Back Row’s definitive resource for weird Christmas flicks. Let’s put it this way: last’s year cult “killer Santa” movie from Finland, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, just missed making the cut, so you know these selections are going to be pretty out there!
If you’re ready to have the joy and innocence of Christmas shattered forever, see below…
10. Christmas Evil (1980):
Ah, nothing quite destroys your Christmas innocence like a movie where a psycho dressed as Santa Claus goes on a killing spree! And this usually occurs because the psycho in question has experienced some sort of childhood trauma related to Santa Claus. At the beginning of Christmas Evil, young Harry witnesses Mommy being groped by Daddy while he’s dressed in a Santa suit. This leads to some pretty severe psychological issues for Harry as he grows up into a Santa-obsessed freak who believes that the yuletide punishment for those who are “bad” shouldn’t be a lump of your coal in their stocking, but a brutal, violent death. Thus begins a bizarre Christmas Eve where Harry plays Santa and alternates between cheerily delivering toys to children and murdering “naughty” adults. Oh, and this all leads to one of the biggest “WTF” endings of all time as Harry literally morphs into Santa Claus and flies his van off into the air!
While this is definitely faint praise, Christmas Evil is probably more entertaining than most of the other films on this list, thanks to a pretty good lead performance by Brandon Maggart (who incidentally, also happens to be the father of Fiona Apple!). It’s also amusing to see respected character actor Jeffrey DeMunn (a favourite of director Frank Darabont who can currently be seen playing Dale Horvath in The Walking Dead) in one his earliest roles as Harry’s brother. However, as warped and trashy as Christmas Evil is, it moves at far too slow a pace and takes forever to get where it’s going, so it requires quite a bit of patience to get through the whole thing. That said, the film does still have a bit of a cult following and its greatest fan is John Waters, who actually sat down to record a commentary track for the DVD Special Edition! Here’s an interview snippet with Christmas Evil director Lewis Jackson, who never made another movie after this, but credits John Waters with single-handedly rescuing his only film from obscurity.
9. Jack Frost (1997):
You may remember the PG-rated family-friendly version of Jack Frost, which starred Michael Keaton as a father named Jack Frost who is killed in a car accident, but is reincarnated as a snowman in order to come back and reunite with his son. However, one year beforehand, that film was actually preceded by a decidedly non-PG-rated non-family-friendly straight-to-video horror flick also named Jack Frost. The storyline for this one involves an evil serial killer named Jack Frost being killed when his transport vehicle accidentally collides with a truck carrying genetic material. This genetic material causes the killer’s body to fuse with the snow on the ground and he comes back to life as a murderous snowman. The moral of both these movies? If your actual birth name is Jack Frost, change it as soon as you possibly can because God’s got a really ironic sense of humour!
Anyway, the Jack Frost-incarnated snowman eventually goes on a Christmas murder spree through the town of Snowmonton, and the viewer is treated to bad acting, horrible special effects, and ridiculous death scenes galore. This movie has built up a cult reputation over the years and I remember Jack Frost getting a lot of rents from curiosity seekers during my tenure at Blockbuster Video, thanks to its attention-grabbing cover art. It would even be followed up a sequel four years later entitled Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Killer Snowman. I have to say that if my life depended on it and I had to watch one of the movies on this list in order to ensure my survival, I’d probably choose Jack Frost because it at least has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour about itself and provides plenty of entertainment value. “Before They Were Stars” aficionados will also enjoy seeing the film debut of a pre-American Pie Shannon Elizabeth (credited as Shannon Elizabeth Fadal), who plays a minor supporting role…
And, oh yeah, the Snowman also fucks her with his carrot!
8. Here Comes Santa Claus (1984):
I’m digging very deep into the archives of my brain to discuss this one since it’s been over 25 years since I’ve seen it. This movie was screened for my class at Christmastime all the way back when I was in Grade Two, but there were things about it that have managed to remain embedded in my memory ever since. I had to do some Internet research all these years later to try and remember what the name of this film was and I discovered it was a 1984 French musical called Here Comes Santa Claus, which was dubbed into English for release over here (so this was probably my earliest introduction to the weird sight of words not matching an actor’s mouth). Anyway, the plot of this bizarre oddity involves a brother and sister whose parents are captured and held as political prisoners by a group of mercenary rebels in Africa. When they write a letter to Santa Claus saying they don’t want any toys and that all they want for Christmas this year is for Mom and Dad to come home, Santa is so moved that he brings the kids to his workshop at the North Pole… which seems to involve taking a plane to Finland and hiking the rest of the way… I guess.
Santa soon embarks on a trip to Africa to rescue their parents but, unfortunately, he also winds up being captured by the rebels. However, a bunch of African children who still believe in the magic of Santa Claus conspire to help Santa and the parents escape. Other weird things in this film which have stayed with me all these years include a scary ogre who lives at the North Pole and tries to eat the children, and Santa getting into a fight with a crocodile while crossing an African river! No, I am not making any of this up! This should give you an idea of how much more liberal our public school system used to be if they screened a demented movie like this for kids in Grade Two! As you can imagine, video footage of Here Comes Santa Claus is hard to come by these days, but here’s a weird musical clip of Santa’s female assistant being kidnapped by the ogre while she’s dressed as Little Red Riding Hood! Sadly, all “Santa vs. Crocodile” footage has eluded my grasp thus far.
7. Santa’s Slay (2005):
If you know about my lifelong passion for pro wrestling, you’ll know that I can never resist the urge to watch any movie that stars a wrestler, no matter how bad it may be. I’ll admit that I was never the biggest fan of former WCW/WWE superstar Bill Goldberg, but when I read the plot summary of his first starring vehicle, Santa’s Slay, there was no chance in hell I was going to pass it up. Courtesy of IMDb:
In the Christmas Eve of 2005, Santa Claus (Bill Goldberg) arrives in Hell Township killing the locals. The teenager Nicholas Yuleson (Douglas Smith) finds that his grandfather (Robert Culp) is actually an angel that defeated the devil’s son in a curling match and because they had made a bet over it, the evil creature was forced to spend the last one thousand years playing a good Santa Claus, giving toys to the children. Now that the bet is over, Santa Claus wants revenge.
Wow, many horror films have featured evil villains in Santa Claus suits, but Santa Slay’s goes one step further by making jolly old St. Nick himself the villain! Many people have always cited Phoebe Cates’ infamous monologue from Gremlins as the cinematic moment that destroyed their belief in Santa forever, but, man, imagine finding out that the spirit of Santa Claus is all one big massive conspiracy and that he’s actually the son of Satan! Now, I’m not going to try and pretend that Santa’s Slay isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s goofy enough that hardcore horror fans with a twisted sense of humour owe it to themselves to watch it at least once. However, the film does kind of sputter to a weak, abrupt conclusion, and personally, I think its biggest problem is that it fails to live up to its ridiculously over-the-top opening sequence, which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but is definitely the highlight. Somehow, the filmmakers were able to assemble a group of recognizable actors (James Caan, Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan, Rebecca Gayheart) to play a miserable family arguing over Christmas dinner… until evil Satan Claus shows up and gruesomely kills them off in the first three minutes!
6. Santa With Muscles (1996):
What did I just say about not being able to resist the urge to watch a terrible movie starring a pro wrestler? Well, let’s just say that ever since I went to see No Holds Barred on the big screen back when I was ten years old, I’ve sat through way too many of the movies in Hulk Hogan’s filmography. However, nothing could possibly top the stupidity of the Hulkster’s infamous Christmas offering, Santa With Muscles. How’s this for an idiotic storyline? Hogan plays an asshole millionaire who gets involved in a police chase, so he tries to escape by ducking into a mall and disguising himself in a Santa suit. Unfortunately, he winds up receiving a bump on the head that gives him amnesia and since he is wearing a Santa suit at the time, he winds up being convinced that he is actually Santa Claus! Rumours abound that Hulk tried this very same trick to get out of paying 70 % of his assets to his ex-wife in their recent divorce settlement. Anyway, he soon winds up at a local orphanage, and as luck would have it, one of the kids there provides me with another “Before They Were Stars” moment. Do you recognize this girl?
Yep, that’s 12-year old Mila Kunis as one of the orphans. And, for some reason, the orphanage in this movie seems to have a grand total of three kids! In an ironic twist, Don Stark, who would go on to co-star with Mila Kunis on That 70s Show, is also in this film, playing the role of Hulk Hogan’s elf. And I’m not even going to get into the subplot involving Ed Begley, Jr. as a mad scientist who wants to blow up the orphanage because there’s a vault of magical crystals buried underneath it! The cast includes such other luminaries as Clint Howard, Garrett Morris and former WWF wrestler Brutus Beefcake, who plays an Oriental (?!) mad scientist! Not surprisingly, Santa With Muscles has managed to remain on the IMDb’s Bottom 100 list ever since its inception and is currently ranked even lower than Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Now THAT takes talent!
5. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987):
Remember the Simpsons episode about the Itchy & Scratchy Movie where at the end of the trailer, the voice-over guy rapidly reads the disclaimer “53 % new footage”? Well, they actually could have used that disclaimer for Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, a sequel where half the running time is literally composed of flashback footage from the original film! I already talked a bit about the infamous Silent Night, Deadly Night in my “Ten Great Death Scenes from Ten Not-so-Great Horror Movies” column as there was a tremendous amount of controversy surrounding this film when it was originally released. Parents’ groups picketed theaters with outrage over the idea that a horror movie would dare showcase a guy in a Santa Claus suit committing murder, even though this was far from the first film to ever do this (see #10 on this list). Siskel & Ebert did their part to add to the controversy with this angry condemnation of the film on their show.
One of the most outspoken critics of Silent Night, Deadly Night was Mickey Rooney, who also publicly condemned the film and would eventually express his disgust by… starring in Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker?!
Of course, all this notoriety only prompted more people to go see the film and, as you can see, it was successful enough to spawn no less than four sequels! The entire Silent Night, Deadly Night series probably could have occupied this list, but Part 2 is truly in a class by itself. As daunting as it may seem to select the worst sequel of all time, I’d say Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is a pretty easy choice! The story revolves the younger brother of the psycho Santa from the original film going on a murderous rampage of his own. The first half consists almost entirely of recycled flashback footage, but once the real story finally starts, the film becomes a very surreal laugh riot, thanks to one of the all-time classic bad performances from Eric Freeman in the lead role. When Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 was released on DVD, they tried to track him down to record a commentary track, but apparently, Mr. Freeman is currently “untraceable”. It seems that the guy isn’t too proud of his new-found fame as an Internet meme, as his crazed delivery of the line “GARBAGE DAY!!” has become one of cinema’s most iconic “bad movie” moments. You can see the clip at the end of this collage of insanity.
4. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964):
Oh, where to start when talking about what’s wrong with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? Well, how about the fact that Santa Claus doesn’t even conquer the martians?! I guess Santa Claus Chills Out with the Martians and Teaches Them Christmas Spirit just wasn’t a catchy enough title! Anyway, this drug-induced effort has become one of the most infamously bad films of all time, so even those who’ve never seen it have probably heard the title before. In case you don’t know the plot, it involves a group of denizens from Mars (i.e. a bunch of actors wearing green makeup, cheap costumes and helmets with antennas on them) who are unsettled by the fact that the Martian children are unhappy all the time. When they watch some Earth television and see the amount of joy that Santa Claus brings Earth children, the Martians decide to head to Earth to kidnap Santa and bring him back to Mars to spread Christmas cheer to their children.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has built up quite a cult reputation over the years and is ranked alongside such luminaries as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Troll 2 as one of the worst films ever made. I’ve sat through it more times than any sane human being should (only three times, but that’s still WAY too many!) and while it does provide some entertainment value and unintentional laughter for awhile, your patience does start to wear REALLY thin long before it’s over! The most annoying elements are Dropo the dim-witted Jimmy Stewart-esque Martian who provides the so-called “comic relief”, and constantly having to hear Santa Claus laugh jollily at EVERYTHING! If there’s anything worse than comedy that it isn’t funny, it’s having to watch the characters act like it’s funny and laugh hysterically! “Bad movie” buffs should also look for 10-year old Pia Zadora as one of the martian children and marvel at the idea that the worst performance of her career was still way ahead of her! Anyway, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians really started to develop its cult reputation after it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, so if you have to sit through it, that’s definitely the best way to do so.
3. The Magic Christmas Tree (1964):
Some Christmas movies are laughably bad and some are just painful, and this one definitely falls into the latter category. This movie originally caught my eye on one of the 42nd Street Forever DVDs, which feature some of the strangest trailers of all time, and screening The Magic Christmas Tree has become an annual holiday tradition at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas. Made for zero budget by a bunch of people who never did anything else ever again, The Magic Christmas Tree is every bit as bad as it looks in the trailer, though they try their darnedest to make it sound exciting. The most amusing part of the trailer is when the announcer says: “You’ll want to see the happy witch… the greedy giant… the runaway lawnmower!”. Well, the happy witch and the greedy giant got me intrigued, but they had me at “runaway lawnmower”! In fact, whenever a big Hollywood movie flops at the box office, I can only attribute it to one thing: not enough runaway lawnmowers in the trailer!
Oh, by the way, if you DO happen to love runaway lawnmowers, you’ll probably think The Magic Christmas Tree is the greatest movie ever made, as it features a wacky scene with a runaway lawnmower that drags on FOREVER! In fact, even though the film is only 60 minutes long, it takes about 30 minutes for the damn magic Christmas tree to show up! But, yes, The Magic Christmas Tree does deliver everything the trailer promises, including the happy witch and the greedy giant, though in spite of what that original poster would have you believe, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is nowhere to be found in this film! The big problem is that the people who made this film had no idea how to assemble any of these ideas together. The bare-bones plot involves a young boy bringing home a talking Christmas tree who grants him three wishes, and after using those wishes to do useful things like making people throw pies in each other’s faces (?!), the boy eventually learns the valuable lesson that greed is wrong. Or something like that. The movie is such an incoherent mess that it’s impossible to make sense out of anything that happens and may be the longest 60-minute film you ever sit through! Once again, if you just HAVE to watch it, make sure it’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Rifftax version.
2. Santa Claus (1959):
The first time I watched Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, I thought there was no possible way I could ever see a more bizarre Christmas movie, but the fact that it’s only #4 on my list would indicate that I was proven wrong. One should never underestimate the fine folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000 and their willingness to delve beyond the bottom of the barrel and uncover the stuff that’s buried underneath because the bottom of the barrel doesn’t even want to touch it. For one of their most infamous episodes, the MST3K crew unearthed an incredibly surreal 1959 Mexican import entitled Santa Claus, a film that was released when the Santa Claus legend was still a brand new phenomenon in Mexico. That may explain why their version of Santa Claus employs child laborers in a workshop on another planet that’s located above the North Pole! I had always assumed that this oddity never saw the light of day in the U.S. until it was shown on MST3K, but according to this trailer, Santa Claus won the Golden Gate Award for “Best Family Film” at the San Francisco International Film Festival! I can only assume that the judges must have been smoking the same drugs as the filmmakers!
I’m pretty glad I wasn’t a kid growing up in Mexico in the 1950s if this is what they were trying to pass off as the Santa Claus legend. Instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, I fear many Mexican children were having horrifying visions of Santa’s wind-up mechanical reindeer, or Satan’s demonic minion, Pitch, who runs around in a red devil costume trying to sabotage Santa’s efforts and ruin Christmas for everyone! However, on the list of my “Top 10 Favourite Mystery Science Theater 3000 Episodes”, I proudly ranked their Santa Claus episode at #2. The MST3K crew provide some of their all-time best riffing on this film, and this is one of those episodes that’s doubly funny since you wind up laughing at both the MST3K commentary and the film itself. As cracked-out as Santa Claus may be, it’s undeniably hilarious, with or without the aid of MST3K. Here’s one of my favourite sections from the episode.
1. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972):
The first time I watched Santa Claus, I thought there was no possible way I could ever see a more bizarre Christmas movie. Yes, I know I was proven wrong with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but there’s no way I could be proven wrong again, right? RIGHT?! Well, this time last year, when I was originally writing about all these weird Christmas movies, I had no idea this particular film even existed, but then I went to see what the newest release on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Rifftrax website was and found out about the monstrosity that was Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Yes, the MST3K crew somehow managed to find more celluloid crap buried beneath the stuff that’s buried beneath the bottom of the barrel. Believe it or not, most of the other weird Christmas movies I’ve featured here look like A Christmas Carol next to Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny! All those other movies have at least managed to crack the 2.0 barrier at the IMDb, but this film currently has an astonishingly low rating of 1.4! The first time I watched the sample of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny that they provided at the Rifftrax website, words just could not describe some of the images I saw.
The “plot” of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny involves Santa getting his sleigh stuck in the sands of a Florida beach while a bunch of kids and guys in creepy animal costumes try to free him. When they ask why there aren’t any reindeer attached to his sleigh, Santa explains that the cheap bastards who made this movie didn’t have enough money in the budget for them! Actually, no, he just tells them that they flew away on their own after he got stuck. Anyway, a giant bunny does eventually succeed at freeing Santa, but they never bother to explain why he is called the Ice Cream Bunny. Unfortunately, even though the movie is titled Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, the actual storyline involving Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny only takes up a small fraction of the actual narrative since it randomly decides to cut away to a musical version of Thumbelina that lasts for NEARLY AN HOUR! It’s obvious that all this other Thumbelina footage was filmed elsewhere and they tacked it onto the Santa Claus footage in order to pad the whole thing out into a feature-length film. Words just fail me here! Last year, after the rest of my family had gone to bed, I spent Christmas Eve watching Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny with the Rifftrax commentary, and while the MST3K crew provided me with a lot of laughs, I felt like Jacob Marley was going to visit me right afterward to scold me for wasting my life. DO NOT make an attempt to watch Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny without the aid of the Rifftrax commentary as attempting to sit through this abomination without it will be one of the most painful, excruciating experiences of your life. Watch at your own risk, people!