Do you like a little dark twist with your holiday movies? Maybe you're tired of always seeing Santa as the good guy, or watching some grouchy old holiday hater redeemed at the end of the movie. Perhaps you're a fan of cult movies with early appearances by unusual acting talent, bizarre and inappropriate music, or acting so amateurish you either have to laugh or run screaming from the room. In other words, you need cult films to get you through the holidays, not that contemporary Hollywood blockbuster stuff.
Originally this post was entitled "Cult Christmas Movies," but I got lucky and remembered a certain Hanukkah-related cult favorite from a few years ago. Once I started, there were so many movies to choose from. I had to decide whether Kiss Kiss Bang Bang counted as a holiday cult film (not yet), whether it was worth including Santa Claus: The Movie just because the title character is played by the actor who played the elder Jeffrey Lebowski in The Big Lebowski (David Huddleston), and whether I should include The Poseidon Adventure (or its remake) simply because I didn't have a New Year's Eve movie on the list.
Feel free to share any favorite holiday-themed cult movies that aren't on this list. 'Tis the season for some of us to enjoy some really good bad movies.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
This is an obvious choice -- it's probably the most popular movie on the list, so much so that I'm not sure it actually qualifies as a cult film. On the other hand, if a movie has Danny Elfman singing, I think that automatically grants cult status. (See Forbidden Zone if you don't know what I mean.) You don't have to be goth or a Tim Burton fan to like this sweet little musical where Halloween Town collides with Christmas Town. This movie had a long run in many cities this year in 3D, but nothing's wrong with the original stop-motion animation from 1993.
Babes in Toyland (1986)
This is a made-for-TV movie from 1986, but I had to include it because ... the cast. I'm a sucker for an unbelievable cast. My little brother and I caught this one on TV a few years ago, and we were riveted for at least five minutes at the sight of Drew Barrymore starring as a little girl transported to Toyland. She meets Jack of Jack-Be-Nimble, played by ... Keanu Reeves (pictured above). Eileen Brennan, Richard Mulligan and Pat Morita also appear. After a few minutes, we flipped back and forth between this and anything non-sucky we could find on TV. If you stumble upon this while stuck at your parents house, don't change the channel right away.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
When people think about culty Christmas films, this 1964 film is the obvious choice, the one that most people have heard about. The Martians decide that Earth culture via TV is ruining their children, especially the notion of Santa Claus, so they kidnap Santa and bring him to Mars. One reason for its cult status is that Pia Zadora plays one of the Martian children. I remember watching this as a child and feeling very disappointed by the snoozefest. Kiddie Matinee has all the details, plus a few stills and posters.
The Hebrew Hammer
Very few movies have been made about Hanukkah, and this 2003 film tried to remedy the shortage. The title character is a Jewish superhero played by Adam Goldberg who fights Santa's evil son (Andy Dick) to save Hanukkah. The cast also includes Peter Coyote, Nora Dunn, Mario Van Peebles and even Melvin Van Peebles as a character named Sweetback. Over on eFilmCritic, some guy named Scott Weinberg calls this "a damn funny movie" and I tend to trust his judgment on comedies. Monika Bartyzel collected some clips from The Hebrew Hammer earlier this month, and check out Patrick Walsh's interview with writer/director Jonathan Kesselman.
The Magic Christmas Tree
I've been hearing about this movie for years, and have seen a trailer for it a few times, but haven't had the opportunity to see the whole thing. Even though it's got a rare screening in Austin this week, I'm not sure I could last through what B-movie-lovin' film site Stomp Tokyo considers "the worst Christmas movie ever." A magic tree grants a boy three wishes, and he decides he wants Santa all to himself. Hilarity Moralizing ensues, and so do yawns and unintended laughs. Reading the Stomp Tokyo article, or watching the trailer, may be more entertaining than watching the actual film.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
Other movies have featured a serial killer in a Santa suit (Christmas Evil, for example), but no other horror movie has Will Hare as the ominous, freaky grandpa, stealing the whole movie in a single scene. That scene reached fanboy/cult status a few years ago in Austin at QT Fest, when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino re-enacted it, live. (Apparently Rodriguez uses his Grandpa imitation to scare small children ... all in good fun.) Scream queen Linnea Quigley also appears, as one of Santa's little victims (natch).
What do you mean, Brazil isn't a Christmas movie? It's set during the Christmas holidays. Remember everyone giving Sam Lowry those "gifts for an executive"? The security guards' choir practicing carols? And if you've seen the director's cut, you've seen one character wrapped up in giant red ribbon, and another character dressed as St. Nick. If you have the right sense of humor, this is a perfect choice for Christmas viewing. These days I tend to be a lot cheerier in my holiday movie choices.