Christmas-themed movies and television shows tend to be painfully dull or needlessly frantic. Either all the energy of the piece is driven into the ground by a need to be earnest and heartfelt, or it’s ramped up to an intolerable degree in an effort to rollercoaster people into the holiday spirit. But not all holiday entertainment is warm fuzzies and chestnuts bursting into flames. If you find you just can’t take any more of that insufferable Hermey or one more miser learning the true meaning of Christmas, fear not. I’ve assembled a list of my Top 10 Unconventional Christmas Favorites to help get you through the holiday. Just click the image above for the full list. Enjoy!
Ten Dollys Partoning: A Smoky Mountain Christmas (1986)
In a TV movie made at what was arguably the height of Dolly Parton’s crossover media saturation, Dolly stars as a famous country singer (big stretch) who longs to get back to her country roots. Over Christmas, she goes back to her family cabin to find not only a gaggle of adorable orphans and a mountain man played by Lee Majors, but also a “mountain witch” jealous of Dolly’s beauty. Dolly as an actress has a natural charm that overcomes her limited range, but the best part of the movie is Anita Morris as Jezebel the witch. Deliciously, fabulously, hungrily devouring any scenery she can find, she’s what turns this earnest kind-of comedy/kind-of drama into a Christmas-camp classic. It’s actually become a family tradition at our house to seek out this movie on the DVR and do our own RiffTrax every year.
Nine Spies Remembering: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
It has nothing to do with warm feelings, gifts, reindeer or Jesus, but it does have Geena Davis as a superspy rappelling down a string of giant Christmas lights with an Uzi, while yelling, “Die screaming, motherfucker!” That’s got to be worth something right there. It’s firmly in the Die Hard category of ultraviolent action movies set during Christmas-time, but it’s wittier, knowingly sillier, and thus much more enjoyable. Samuel L. Jackson is great as the Samuel L. Jackson character, and this is one of the few times when Reny Harlin’s love of the ridiculous works as an asset.
Eight Toasters Flying: Scrooged (1988)
If you’re tired of Alistair Sims or even George C. Scott, try Bill Murray in an irreverent, but surprisingly faithful adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Murray’s version of the Scrooge archetype is a cynical television network CEO and a representative of the insidious yuppie class of the time. This time around, however, we have Bobcat Goldthwait’s patented spazzery, a pack of Solid Gold dancers and Marion Jones (Karen Allen) herself as the lost love. The best part, though: Carol Kane’s ditzy-but-violent Ghost of Christmas Present, who gets to smack Bill Murray upside the head with a giant, deluxe toaster.
Seven Slayers Slaying: “Amends” (Buffy The Vampire Slayer Episode 3.10)
While not the most exciting of Buffy episodes, it’s still rather important in the series’ overall arc, and it WAS written by Joss Whedon himself. Like Scrooge, Angel is visited by ghosts of his past…who want him to give in to evil and kill Buffy. So, I guess it’s not much like Scrooge at all. The supporting cast gets a few moments to shine, arguably more than either of the leads: Faith is seen at her most vulnerable, and Willow gets a few digs in about the holiday (“Being Jewish? Remember, people? Not everybody worships Santa.”). It’s also the welcome return of Robia LaMorte as Jenny Calendar, even if she is just an avatar of the most evil force on the planet. God bless us, everyone.
Six Sweetie Darlings: “Cold Turkey” (Absolutely Fabulous: Season 5 Special)
It’s the first major holiday episode of Ab Fab since “New Year’s Eve,” and it’s an all-out riot. Patsy is upset not only because Edina has decided to spend Christmas with Saffron (for the first time ever), but also at the reappearance of “dear” sister Jackie. Between visits from born-again Marshall and Bo and Edina’s overcompensation with a gigantic tree (“It would’ve just ended up as cheap furniture at IKEA! It looked much smaller from the helicopter.”), the show injects some genuine holiday good will…in its own campy, inebriated way, of course. A not-to-miss for Patsy fans, as Joanna Lumley gives one of her most entertaining performances of the entire show’s run.
Five Golden Girls: “’Twas The Nightmare Before Christmas” (The Golden Girls, Episode 2.11)
Sitcoms often do Christmas episodes, which by and large are rather forgettable, but how many have a 50-something woman talking about her lust for men in Santa suits? Yes, we find out that Blanche has a Santa fetish, and the girls get held up at gunpoint by a disgruntled Scrooge before the requisite moment of Christmas spirit at the end. The Girls had other Christmas episodes, but few can top the first one for successful jokes-per-minute and a perfect balance of earnest warmth and scathing one-liners. A prime example:
BLANCHE: I have been told I bear a striking resemblance to Miss Cheryl Ladd, although my bosoms are perkier.
DOROTHY: Not even if you were hanging upside down on a trapeze!
Four Muppets Dancing: It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)
Since it didn’t get a theatrical release, the Muppets’ third Christmas outing doesn’t get as much love as The Muppet Christmas Carol or even A Muppet Family Christmas, which is a shame. Family is only (officially) available in North America in a hacked-up version, while Carol was the first film made without Jim Henson, and it’s painfully, tediously obvious. Very Merry takes the stuffing out of the overpraised, over-exposed It’s A Wonderful Life‘s concept by showing Kermit what life would be like without him (evil banker Joan Cusack makes the theatre into Club Dot, where Scooter is a go-go boy and Beaker is a steroidal bouncer). It’s probably the only Christmas film to not only feature Whoopi Goldberg as God, but to also include an extended holiday-themed Moulin Rouge! parody with Miss Piggy as Saltine, the Sparkling Cubic Zirconia, singing “Santa, Baby.”
Three Robots Mocking: “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Episode 3.3)
It was a rather obscure and forgotten film, notable only for the first on-screen performance of Pia Zadora (if you don’t know who she is, consider yourself lucky), until picked by the Best Brains crew for treatment by Joel and the ‘Bots. Now, it’s a classic, albeit for reasons entirely different than originally intended. In one of MST3K’s funniest episodes, we get to see one of the worst films of all time (holiday-themed or otherwise) given exactly the respect and reverence it deserves. In the host segments, Crow even tries to add a new carol to the holiday canon: “Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas.” There’s a huge list of reasons it’s considered an episode as essential as the infamous “Manos: The Hands Of Fate,” but here’s just one: lentils.
Two Tow Missiles: “Xmas Story” and “A Tale Of Two Santas” (Futurama Episodes 2.4 and 3.3)
Things certainly are different in the year 3000. Palm trees are used for “Xmas” trees since pine trees went extinct, and now Santa Claus is a psychotic robot who kills anyone he determines to be naughty…which is everybody on the planet (except for Doctor Zoidberg in a nonsensical moment of Futurama brilliance). Voiced by John Goodman, Robot Santa Claus is a jolly-but-murderous holiday treat, and the show perfectly skews a host of Christmas clichés at a giddily kinetic pace. Santa returns for “A Tale Of Two Santas” and Bender’s Big Score, but voiced by John DiMaggio. While neither of those are as iconic or enduring as “Xmas Story,” they’re still worth checking out if only as a reminder that mistletoe is no match for a tow missile.
And An Irken Dooming Us All: “The Most Horrible Xmas Ever” (Invader Zim Episode 2.9)
Without a doubt, this is perhaps the strangest, most bizarre Christmas-themed piece of animation I have ever seen. Yes, even stranger than anything South Park did or even He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special. In his latest (and sadly, last to air) scheme to enslave/destroy humanity, Zim decides to masquerade as a figure that everybody trusts and loves implicitly: Santa Claus. And Santa wants to start a new holiday tradition of humans building a giant teleporter that will lead us to our doom (but it will still be fun and Christmas-y). Only Dib and a Santa-hating Professor Membrane fight back, and the episode concludes in a giant holiday-themed mecha battle with a huge, mutated spider-like Santa robot, of all things. Along the way, Jhonen Vasquez and company take huge pot shots at the commercialism that’s taken over the holiday and even other Christmas classics: the whole episode is framed by a story-telling, robotic Burl Ives-style snowman. Now, bow down before the power of Santa, or be crushed by his jolly boots of doom!
Everything on this list is readily available on DVD except A Smoky Mountain Christmas, although some of the titles may be available at stores only during the holidays. Remember, Christmas comes but once a year (for about two solid retail months), but most of these are enjoyable all-year round. Sadly, it does not include that classic bundle of lost television holiday cheer known as Christmas Evie.
From the Mind of JOHNNY M