Killer Snowmen, Stoned Santas: The History of Un-Merry Christmas Films

Happy holiday movies are alike; every unhappy holiday movie is unhappy in its own way

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The blueprint for the “classic” Christmas film was established by a quartet of movies that still air in heavy rotation each December: Holiday Inn, It’s A Wonderful Life, the original Miracle on 34th Street, and White Christmas. These movies have a lot in common. They feature cheery Christmas songs, they affirm love and togetherness, and they play well to filmgoers of virtually any age.

But those classics were made in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, a truly “all-ages” film is rare; though Hollywood certainly tries, audiences’ tastes have changed. We live in a time in which Arthur Christmas, a family-friendly animated movie, made less in its opening weekend than the raunchy It’s a Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Recent studio attempts to attract family audiences to movie theaters, including Fred Claus (2007) and the latest adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (2009), have been both critical and box-office disappointments. To find the real story of contemporary Christmas cinema, look no further than the fringes of Hollywood, where you’ll find an underappreciated subgenre: The unconventional Christmas movie.

There’s only one thing that defines every unconventional Christmas movie: a rejection of everything you’d get from a conventional Christmas movie. Genres vary, though they tend toward the violent or perverse; there are a surprising number of Christmas-themed horror movies (including no fewer than seven that feature a murderous Santa Claus), and several of the best action films ever made. These 12 offbeat Christmas films may run counter to the “tidings and good cheer” of the season, and it’s tough to imagine sitting down with Grandma and a mug of cocoa for a film like Santa’s Slay. But for anyone who barely survives a stressful day of Christmas shopping, or suffers through an endless, obligatory ugly sweater party, the unconventional Christmas movie is the perfect remedy.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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