John Waters’ 1974 classic Female Trouble, celebrates ugliness as beauty and crime as art. In short, it’s a glorious shriek of maniac fun, telling the story of Dawn Davenport (Waters’ regular star, Divine), who leaves home on Christmas Day before embracing life as a single parent, sociopath, nightclub star, and insane criminal. If It’s A Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic because it opens and closes on Christmas Eve, then Female Trouble is a Christmas classic because it includes the best Christmas scene ever committed to decaying celluloid! Dawn wakes up, angrily muttering, “I better get those Cha-Cha heels”, before going downstairs to greet her parents. Dawn opens her presents, and when she doesn’t receive the Cha-Cha heels that she craves, she runs riot, stamping on the Christmas presents, and pushing the Christmas tree over, onto her mother, who lies trapped and sobbing beneath the over decorated tree. Dawn then shouts at her parents, “I hate you! Fuck you! Fuck you both!” In short, it’s a characteristic Merry Fucking Christmas from the great John Waters.
THE JUNKY’S CHRISTMAS (1993)
In 1993, Francis Ford Coppola commissioned Australian animator Nick Donkin to produce an animated film to accompany a recording of cult author, William S. Burroughs, reading his short story, The Junky’s Christmas. The resulting film, directed by Donkin and Melodie McDaniel, tells the story of Danny, a drug addict searching for somewhere to stay and a means to get high. He eventually sells a found suitcase for three dollars, and cons a doctor into slipping him a quarter gram of morphine. Danny checks into a dive hotel, planning to get high over the holidays, but hears the moans of a man in the next room. Danny goes to see what’s wrong. In the neighbouring room, the young man tells Danny that he is suffering from kidney stones. Realising that the hospital will believe that the man is faking his suffering to get drugs, Danny gives him his own meagre fix to ease his pain. Returning to his room, Danny expects his own Christmas to be a nightmare of withdrawal, but then a light from the heavens pours over him – his simple act of human kindness has been rewarded, and Danny scores the immaculate fix. The Junky’s Christmas is a strikingly unlikely tale of human generosity.
What’s the worst way to ruin Christmas? Dud gifts? Inviting the wrong people over for Christmas lunch? Actually using the word, “Christmas”, amongst politically correct preferrers of the term, “Holiday Season”? Off prawns at the Christmas barbecue? No, no, no, the surest way for Christmas to suck is by having a serial killer turn up to sing, “Jingle Bells”, as evidenced by these four minor classics of the Christmas horror movie subgenre. In Bob Clark’s grim, nasty, and utterly terrifying Black Christmas (which was disappointingly remade in 2006), a college sorority house is terrorised by a singularly creepy stranger who makes frightening phone calls and then murders the sorority sisters – in a series of staggering kill scenes – during the icily quiet Christmas break. In the perfect stomach-churning anti-It’s A Wonderful Life Yuletide triple bill, Christmas Evil (“the greatest Christmas movie ever made,” according to John Waters), and Silent Night, Deadly Night feature vicious serial killers dressed in Santa suits, while Don’t Open Till Christmas boasts a killer knocking off anyone in a Santa suit. With this sicko foursome, Christmas is the season to kill or be killed…
A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)
If you’re after a true “family film” – and a Christmas one at that – you can’t go past 1983’s A Christmas Story. Directed with bracing irony and genuine warmth by the under celebrated Bob Clark (feeling much more festive here than he was with his epochal 1974 slasher flick Black Christmas, and nowhere near as sleazy as he was with his famous teen sex romp Porky’s), A Christmas Story is adapted from Jean Shepherd’s classic novel, and tells the tale of knockabout 1940s kid Ralphie Parker (the excellent Peter Billingsley, who is now a successful producer in Hollywood), who’ll do just about anything to get his hands on a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. Whenever Ralphie pitches for his dream gift, he’s met with the same response (“You’ll shoot your eye out”), leading to a quietly desperate comic journey that still sits happily as one of the great Christmas films. Sure, it’s not subversive with regards to sex, violence, or sacrilege, but A Christmas Story is far from the usual sugary bluster served up around this time of the year, and has a tartness of spirit that effectively undercuts its Norman Rockwell-inspired visuals.
What is it with three of the best action movies of all time? This blood-and-guts triumvirate – which redefined action cinema in the eighties – is all dosed up with subversive Christmas spirit, using the cheery holiday as a background for violent mayhem. In the jolting epic, Die Hard, an office Christmas party (often one of the lowlights of any working year) is made even worse when Alan Rickman and his not-so-merry band of robbers-masquerading-as-terrorists crash the festivities, only to eventually be given a Christmas gift of bullets and battery by Bruce Willis’ hardened cop. The equally thrilling Lethal Weapon, meanwhile, begins with “Jingle Bell Rock” and ends with a family united around a Christmas tree, but has plenty of murder, torture, and inspired gunplay in between. And in the epochal First Blood – even though it never explicitly says that it’s Christmas time during the movie – Sylvester Stallone’s aggrieved Vietnam vet is seen knocking over a few Christmas decorations when he’s being brutally sandbagged by the bigoted constabulary in a small town who obviously believe that it’s better to give than it is to receive…as long as that means that what they can give is a beating. Merry – whack, kick, punch – Christmas!