Corin Hardy’s Top 10 Alternative Christmas Movies
Corin Hardy’s Top 10 Alternative Christmas Movies
We asked director and visiting NFTS tutor, Corin Hardy, whose multi-award-winning horror, The Hallow, which recently won this year’s Empire magazine’s award for ‘Best Horror Film 2016’, to come up with an alternative list of Christmas movies to the usual suspects that come round year after year.
Corin is a former Screen International ‘Star of Tomorrow’ and attached to direct the upcoming remake of The Crow as well as action adventure Hellbent for Paramount.
Corin: “So to help me select my top 10 alternative Christmas films, I gave myself the mandate that to qualify as a Christmas Movie, the films have to not only be a perfect watch at Christmas, but must also take place during the Yuletide period.”
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
My favourite ‘holiday’ is Halloween, so Tim Burton’s (Henry Selick’s) imaginative and wonderful stop-motion feature, which sends the nightmarishly glorious and colourful denizens of Halloween-Town on a journey of discovery after their leader Jack Skellington investigates what makes Christmas, Christmas in Christmas-Town, is the perfect Alt-Xmas movie. It’s also the best and most pure stop-motion feature film ever made, before things got TOO sophisticated, refined and CGI enhanced. Tim Burton’s mind has never been so purely realised, his abstract characters exist in a world of their own and Danny Elfman’s score deserves its own West End musical.
I’m sure you’re going to spot a bit of an ongoing theme by the time I have completed this list. But it doesn’t get much better than holing up in front of the fire with some mince pies and mulled wine accompanied by a cinema-full of Gremlins singing along to Snow White before laying waste to a small American snow-covered town. Joe Dante’s movie is ‘Amblin’ gone anarchic, with its fantastic mixture of practical FX & Puppetry (by the legendary Chris Walas) this mischievous creature feature is too much of a festive treat. Don’t forget the rules...
I can say for sure that John McTernan’s film is the greatest Christmas action movie of all time. Bruce Willis’ NYPD wise-cracking cop John McClane fights off Alan Rickman’s greatest villain of all time, Hans Gruber and his gang of terrorist thieves, in a tall LA office building on Christmas eve. Die Hard has everything; it’s fun, it’s violent (it has a visceral grittiness sorely missing from todays neutered PG-13 action blockbusters) and it’s got a ton of heart too. It very nearly starred Sinatra or Schwarzenegger in the McClane role, but that’s another story... Pass the turkey please.
The unholy offspring of Nightmare Before Christmas and Gremlins, last year’s Krampus embraces tone and other visual elements from those films, but makes its own monstrous festive footprint in the snow… When a disillusioned young boy loses faith in the Xmas spirit, he tears up his Xmas list and unwittingly calls upon the terrifying Krampus and his army of evil elves, possessed toys, a vicious Jack-In-The-Box, Ginger-Dead men and a Scare-Bear to terrorize his family and neighbourhood. It’s a darkly delicious delight and Mike Dougherty’s film also utilises an impressive, practical FX heavy approach to pull off it’s magnificently ghoulish illusions. Send the little’un’s to bed and watch it this Xmas. Or keep the little’un’s up and terrify them a little bit. You decide!
I hear the sequel is out right now, but this anarchic original is a riot of terrifically subversive proportions. Terry Zwigoff directs an outrageous black comedy crime caper around Billy Bob Thornton’s obscene drunk, sex-addicted, department store Santa, who enlists the help of his dwarf assistant to rob the malls they inhabit. But it is the unexpected off-kilter friendship that somehow blossoms between Bad Santa and Thurman Murman, an innocent and naive boy who is obsessed with Father Xmas, that somehow, despite all the darkness and depravity (and there is lots), makes this come through as the ultimate, heart-warming Alt-Xmas movie! One to watch with Xmas pudding soaked in a bottle of fine Brandy.
RARE EXPORTS : A CHRISTMAS TALE
Jalmari Helander’s darkly humorous and epic fantastical horror feature debut is truly out there. But without doubt an Xmas movie. It looks like a high production value Spielberg movie and has elements of Tim Burton, Del Toro & Carpenter, which is not a bad mix in my mind. It centres around a group of eccentric Finnish reindeer farmers in Lapland led by young, intrepid Pietari (stand out performance by 10 year old Omni Tomilla) and his grieving father Rauno, who after discovering all their animals apparently slaughtered, investigate a nearby mountain in which American scientists have made a strange and significant discovery that might just be the dwelling place of 'Santa Claus'. But like Krampus, this isn’t the rosy-cheeked, ‘Holidays are coming’ Coca-Cola version, this is something much, much, much…. Well, you just gotta see it.
I’m a big fan of both of Burtons ‘original’ moody, cartoon-noir Batman movies, before the franchise went first ultra campy, and then gritty realist in Nolan’s hands. But there’s something about the stylised German-Expressionist Wintery Yuletide setting as well as the grandiose gothic score (Elfman’s best?) and the inky blue-black cinematography of Stefan Czapsky in ‘Returns’ that makes it a perfect Xmas movie to snuggle into the sofa with. I loved Michael Keaton’s Batman, although here he gets a little upstaged by the trio of villains led by the greatest Catwoman to ever grace the silver screen; the magnificent Michelle Pfieffer, Christopher Walken’s crooked tycoon Max Shrek (the clue is in the name) and Danny Devito’s devious and tragic Penguin (wearing Stan Winston’s oscar nominated prosthetic makeup) who attempt to take over Gotham City. I like to think of this sequel as ‘Batman Saves Xmas’.
THE NICE GUYS
The most recent film on my list is written and directed by Shane Black who has a thing about Christmas. Indeed most of his movies (including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Iron Man 3 and Lethal Weapon, and he was also the person to give Die Hard its name) are set around the festive period. When asked about it he said “Christmas represents a little stutter in the march of days, a hush in which we have a chance to assess and retrospect our lives. I tend to think also that it just informs as a backdrop.” The Nice Guys was one of my favourite films of 2016 an old school buddy action romp with lovable and sometimes idiotic characters, like they used to make em’. It’d make a nice boozy double bill with Bad Santa. Shane Black rules. Mince Pies in the oven.
Although some assume John Carpenters Halloween (1978) to be the first slasher movie, it could be argued that Black Christmas (1974 – Bob Clark) truly paved the way for the genre. It’s Christmas in Canada and college student Olivia Hussey (Romeo & Juliet) and her musician boyfriend Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey) are going through a rough patch. The roughest, in fact. So much so Olivia decides to stay at the sorority house with a few friends (Superman’s Margot Kidder being a stand-out as Barb) rather than share Christmas together. However, things get a lot worse when, in a precursor to When A Stranger Calls and Scream, an unhinged killer begins making obscene phone calls from inside the house. It’s up to Elm Street’s John Saxon to save as many lives as possible as Christmas runs red... You might not initially think that a slasher movie should be a good fit for Xmas, but it's freezing cold outside and there's a fire crackling indoors, it’s tense, creepy, well made and it's the first instance of a murder happening while carol singers are standing on the door step… The late night midnight Xmas movie!
I’m going to wrap up my Festive list with the popular Nativity Play known as Rocky IV, which is impressively written, directed and starring Sylvester Stallone. Maybe it’s the epic Russian mountain training sequences that see Rocky hauling ass, trucks and logs through the snow, or the fact that the colossal end bout is set in the Soviet Union on Christmas Day, but the fourth installment of Rocky’s journey, in which he travels to Russia to (**spoiler alert**) avenge the death of his best friend Apollo Creed and fight the giant Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgen) is a heart-warming blockbuster for the whole family! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Pass the Port.
Merry Christmas everyone!