If you are the kind of person who gets a little sick of all the good cheer at this time of year, then you just might be in the mood for a little more "coal in your stocking." That is when the downer Christmas movie gets its chance to shine. Most holiday flicks are all about making you feel good about family and Christmas and all that good stuff, but some films decide to go the other route and make you feel so damn awful about what you're watching that suddenly a burnt turkey and a family fight at the dinner table don't seem so bad.
Here are some of what I think are the most depressing holiday movies. If nothing else, at least they remind us it could always get worse. ...
One Magic Christmas (1985)
This movie is all about the guilt. In a long line of films that are meant to make you feel guilty about all of the overspending and extravagance of the holidays, One Magic Christmas stands out. It follows a poor family with no hope of a Christmas in sight, as the mom (Mary Steenburgen) works too hard and has lost her joy in the season. Sure enough, a Christmas angel (in the creepy form of Harry Dean Stanton) shows her the error of her ways. Throw in the extra plot lines of a kidnapping, a shooting and a drowning, and you have yourself one heck of a depressing Christmas flick.
So I guess the original idea was to inject some realistic family dysfunction into the story of a little girl who is convinced that she has rescued the one and only Prancer and has to nurse him back to health to rejoin Santa and the gang. Sounds pretty cutesy right? Wrong! The little girl's dad (Sam Elliot) is neglectful to the point of being downright abusive, and Elliot really goes for the realism as he looks like he wants to backhand the kid most of the time -- I mean, he tries to shoot the reindeer for Rudolph's sake. The filmmakers try to lighten up the proceedings towards the end of the film with a happy story of a girl and her magic reindeer, but it truly is a case of too little too late and the film remains a bring-me-down.
The Man Who Saved Christmas (2002) (TV)
This one might not be the saddest in the bunch but it definitely is not your run of the mill Christmas movie. I mean, how often do Christmas movies usually manage to work in an Anti-War message? Loosely based on the life story of Erector Set inventor A.C Gilbert, a toy-maker is forced to make munitions during WWII. His brother is sent to War, Congress gets involved and people get depressed. This is one of those movies that attempts to use the holiday spirit to make a grand point, but really, Christmas and politics should probably be required by law to stay at least 500 feet from one another.
The Christmas Shoes (2002) (TV)
OK, so this one has got to take the cake. If you're familiar with the book or the song, The Christmas Shoes, then you probably know what I'm talking about already. But, if you don't, get ready for the mother of all holiday bummers. The story in both the song and the made-for-TV film is about a little boy and his dying mom ... but wait, it gets better -- he is struggling on Christmas Eve to buy her a pair of new shoes to wear to "go to heaven" in. Now, don't you feel bad for complaining about not getting a PS3 for Christmas?
I'm still not entirely convinced how reminding audiences that they are alone, will grow old and eventually die is the best strategy for a holiday flick. Chazz Palminteri's Noel had an ensemble cast with interconnecting stories of people losing loved ones in various scenarios over the course of the holiday. Gee, mortality and lost loved ones -- count me in.
Y aura-t-il de la neige à Noël? (Will It Snow For Christmas?) (1996)
Well, no one does depression like the French, so I couldn't let this list go by without including this little gem. It's funny because when I first read the title I assumed it would be one of those charming French films with precocious children and talking pigs, a la Amelie. And boy, was I off the mark. The film is about a single mother living on a farm with her seven children in rural France, who is being exploited and abused by the local landlord while attempting to fight off starvation. Not exactly material for a Rankin/Bass special, I imagine.
So those were some of my most memorable Christmas buzz kills. These puppies went way beyond sad and into downright depressing. What other films can you think of that had you crying in your eggnog by the time the credits rolled?