The James Clayton column: calling for a killer Christmas

Is it possible to have a Christmas movie that doesn't have to be all happy and sappy?

We’re now into the advent calendar, which means that you should probably be well and truly stoked up on seasonal goodwill, singing carols with full gusto and getting excessively merry in a midwinter orgy of excess. Should you find, however, that you’ve so far failed to catch Christmas fever, have no fear. As expected, the multiplex is sure to have festive fare lined up in the projectors to put you in the seasonal spirit and obliterate any bah humbug moodiness. Ah, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the movies…

This year, your local cinema is likely to be showing the rom-com Four Christmases which sends Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn rushing around to see their disparate and deranged dear relatives for the holiday season. In 2007, Fred Claus – that man Vaughn in merry movie mode again – was released in the run-up to Christmas and the year before audiences were offered The Holiday (house-swapping hogwash that horrifically misuses Jack Black) as Hollywood’s annual yuletide blockbuster. It goes on like so in mainstream cinema: pretty much every year you can guarantee that they’ll be a great big gushy romantic comedy for cinemagoers.

‘Tis the season to be schmaltzy and, sure enough, everyone should take the time to celebrate all things heartwarming and wholly saccharine. But what if you don’t like chick-flicks or Vince Vaughn and instead fancy some dark matter as a diversion? It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t completely convincing as a suicide suspense thriller, and despite its despairing realism, it’s still ultimately too sugar-coated to be considered a truly existentialist Xmas flick.

I feel that spectators who aren’t in the mood for fairy lights and snowglobe sappiness have nowhere to turn, and that’s not on. Not everyone enjoys Christmas and for a great many it’s a pretty miserable time of loneliness, in-laws and torture by Cliff Richard records.

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Similarly, what if you’re a gore geek or fan of gratuitous violence looking for a cathartic kick of carnage at Christmas? You can get a bit of chaos in family-friendly freakouts, Gremlins and Home Alone, a touch of the gothic with The Nightmare Before Christmas or some action satisfaction in the Die Hard series, but otherwise the stocking is empty. Masses of maladjusted movie fans are frequenting the theatres feeling unloved whilst a targeted demographic of stereotypical middle-aged mums are well-catered for at this time of year, every year.

Aside from a recent remake of Black Christmas, we’ve been facing a dearth of dark and disgusting Christmas flicks on general release at the cinemas of late. Confronted by such light fluff as Four Christmases, I bet I’m not alone in wishing for more sinister seasonal treats to be shown on the big screen. On my Christmas list for next year then (it has to be that way, because obviously film production is a process that requires a fair amount of time, and more days than are on an advent calendar) I request a really horrible, schlocky film with bodies stacked high, scary occurrences on mass and the festive imagery iconoclastically unsettled. Of course I’ll still stick on It’s a Wonderful Life and have my “aww shucks” moment with Jimmy Stewart, but it’d also be nice if I could get some nastiness as well for a truly killer Christmas. Plus, opportunities for some outstanding holiday horror movies are going begging…

For example, The Christmas Chainsaw Massacre could be a yuletide cocktail that combines Tobe Hooper’s 1974 Texas-set slash classic with Deliverance and sends it into the snowy forests. It goes like so: a group of ignorant urbanites go out into the woods to chop down Christmas trees and find themselves at the mercy of hillbilly lumberjacks and their vast array of logging instruments in a dilapidated sawmill miles from civilisation. The cannibalistic woodcutters then proceed to deck the halls with the savaged entrails of the city-softies before cooking up their festive feast and settling down at the family for a delectable Christmas dinner with not a single sprout in sight.

Prefer monster movies to man-on-man munching? How about Der Weihnachtswolf: a hair-raising horror movie that draws upon the central European folklore and customs that form the core of Christmas tradition and gives a great beastie lycanthrope the chance to chew up the obnoxious relatives of a sweet old lady who lives in the forest. Merry metamorphosis! The hirsute anti-hero would then go on a rampage and rip up the peasantry of the picture-book town, pausing briefly to maul the Bürgermeister beneath the mistletoe before returning to his human state and finding fellowship with a band of gypsies. On a continent-crossing caravan trail that pitches up at another town Christmas market every year, a new horror franchise is established as the primal urge and lupine legend is unleashed on a fresh set of victims each winter.

What about Christmas of the Damned? This would be a spooky sci-fi chiller plotted around the children of a village who take on superhuman psionic powers as their minds are all permeated by radio-waves from the latest hot techno-toy (that they’ve all received as a present from their parents, of course). The adults are all hypnotised into carving each other up and not the turkey and the Queen is brainwashed into seceding to the mutant race of minors as she delivers her annual 25th of December speech. The young victors then clear the way for the extra-terrestrial overlords (for, yes, it is they who have ingeniously infiltrated planet Earth through children’s playthings) who come and claim our globe as their own. Alternatively, you can skip all the kid stuff and just crank out The Christmas They Came to Earth: a B-movie blast of snowflake-shaped UFOs that vapourise high-street shoppers and spew forth alien bugs that go mental in Santa’s grotto and spray caustic acid all over those who were only looking to sit on Father Christmas’s knee.

Delightful. All in all, it makes the flaming lavatory, iron-to-the-face torment of the Home Alone movies look tame. Movie moguls: get these gruesome ideas greenlit and acknowledge my intellectual copyright or find yourself written off my Christmas card list. This is the season of excess and it’s only right that this should be reflected on the screen. For horror fans looking to cheer themselves up in the perishing cold period of unreason, bring on the blood, guts and a jingle-jangle jolly crash of crude, unadulterated barbarism!

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James’ previous column can be found here.