The holidays are upon us again and we’re abuzz with Yuletide spirit here at the EZED. When December rolls around, we like nothing better than sliding a turkey/stuffing/mashed potato TV dinner into the microwave, popping open a 40-oz bottle of Miller High Life, and warming up the old VCR for a long night of nostalgic seasonal classics. Let’s see what’s in the Christmas queue!
Whoa, hey, don’t go in the attic, little Cindy-Lou Who! The original “The calls are coming from inside the house!” movie, predating When A Stranger Calls by five years, Black Christmas makes the most of the fact that a sorority house is a pretty lonely place to be on Christmas Eve. There are plenty of evocative shots of departing revelers, abandoned campus greens, and long empty hallways here, as the approach of the holiday is marked by a deeper and deeper silence. And the ringing of the phone. The weird, unhinged quality of the obscene phone calls is what most people remember (grunts, animal shrieks, taunts, and the sound of a little girl crying), but Margot Kidder’s performance, as she drinks herself silly, makes inappropriate remarks, and stumbles around while her few remaining sorority sisters meet gruesome ends, is fun, too. Avoid the recent remake.
The Ice Harvest
Based on Scott Phillips’ terrific crime noir novel, this one stars John Cusack as a mob lawyer who just can’t seem to get out of town on Christmas Eve with the $2 million he’s embezzled from his cold-blooded clients. The delight here is in watching Charlie Arglist (Cusack) drive around and around snowbound Wichita, Kansas, fucking over and being fucked over by his shady companions. The Ice Harvest also includes one of Yuletide cinema’s most wince-inducing scenes: the one in which Arglist buys gifts for his estranged kids ($1.49 shrink-wrapped plastic junk from a 24-hour bodega) in the small hours of Christmas Day, as part of an ill-conceived plan to gain access to his ex-wife’s house. Oh, and another one: Christmas Eve at Wichita’s most dismal titty bar.
Silent Night, Bloody Night
No, not Silent Night, Deadly Night, the crappy ’80s slasher movie. We’re talking Silent Night, Bloody Night here, with all the Andy Warhol Factory regulars. I’d be willing to bet that John Carpenter saw this one when it came out in 1974. Same tale of a sociopath come home to wreak havoc, but on a different holiday. This one wanders a bit through a couple of fairly standard slasher murder scenes until it suddenly raises its game halfway through via several flashback scenes. These scenes, depicting a revolt in an insane asylum, have an otherworldly feel worthy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or a Richard Kern underground reel. Featuring Candy Darling, Ondine, Mary Woronov, and (weirdly) John Carradine, Silent Night, Bloody Night is the Christmas slasher movie that Andy Warhol never made.
Christmas is in the air in Less Than Zero, but it’s meant to serve a metaphorical purpose. Newly returned home from school for winter break, freshman Ivy Leaguer Clay reunites with Blair and Julian to make the rounds of holiday parties. But Christmas in California (the fake snow, false cheer, garish plastic trees, trucked-in ice sculptures, ersatz plaster icebergs floating in luxury pools) is meant to signify the disconnect between the characters and their emotions, between their aspirations and their grim realities. Bret Easton Ellis is said to hate this adaptation of his novel, which only makes it better in my eyes.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Let’s face it. Santa Claus is essentially an aloof and unknowable figure, living in mysterious seclusion at the North Pole, employing various arcane mystical powers to maintain us under constant surveillance (to distinguish the nice from the naughty) and traverse the globe in a single night. Oh, and he sneaks into our houses at night. Rare Exports imagines a world in which an American corporation cracks open a mountain in Finland and unleashes the tyrannical, child-devouring fiend Santa Claus. But first you get a plague of elves (emaciated, red-eyed, filthy old men in rags) who go house to house snatching naughty children and dragging them off in burlap bags to Santa’s lair. Ideal for anybody who once found the whole notion of sitting in Santa’s lap to be kind of disquieting.
Ho, ho, ho! If your idea of holiday cheer is attending a Christmas Eve orgy with your favorite four-foot-nine-inch-tall, control-freak Scientologist, you’re good to go with Eyes Wide Shut. This movie might have been a creepy masterpiece on the order of A Clockwork Orange, but we’ll never know because Stanley Kubrick died before he could finish it, and then anonymous Warner Bros. hacks made wholesale changes to Kubrick’s rough cut, including digitally altering several scenes.
But only because the Martians are pretty stupid. Angered by the fact that Martian children are obsessed with the Santa Claus they see on their Martian TVs (they get excellent reception with their Martian rabbit-ear TV antennas), the Martians head off to Earth in their spaceship constructed of spray-painted egg cartons and coffee cans on a mission to kidnap Santa. But the Martians’ freeze-rays are no match for Santa’s high-velocity jolliness and soon holiday spirit prevails once more. Especially memorable for the guy in the floppy polar-bear suit and the guy in the cardboard box who’s supposed to be a robot.
Yeah, it’s Christmas. Christmas in 1183 AD, and the throne of England is up for grabs. Plenty of royal court machinations here, none of which I remember too well, as I haven’t seen this movie since it was in regular rotation on HBO, back in the mid-’70s. I was going to put Ron Howard’s ghastly The Grinch Who Stole Christmas in this slot, but that movie, with its sour, leering, unnerving Jim Carrey performance, is much too depressing for this list.
Okay, I’m reaching here, but this wartime psychological drama does include a climactic scene on Christmas Eve, plus the familiar Yuletide conventions of honorable suicide, wartime imprisonment, suppressed homoerotic fixations, and David Bowie (not singing with Bing Crosby here).
“I said, ‘Next!” goddamn it! This is not the DMV!”
Yeah. The one and only.
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