Ahhh, here come the Winter Holidays and it’s time to get happy, psycho or stuffed, in all senses of the word. Families have been gathering together for Thanksgiving and Christmas and other Winter holidays bringing tons of fancy booze and cholesterol and calorie-laden treats, but it’s only been in the last three decades that we have been able to truly plan our holiday viewing fare, unless it’s going out to see one of a hundred different versions of The Nutcracker. TV started the boom with annual showings of How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.
In the late 70’s TV began to creatively fill the long hours of cooking with something different, like The Twilight Zone Marathon, which many still wrap themselves into today eagerly awaiting their favorite tales of twist endings. A couple of years later, local competing channels would up the ante with nonstop showings of Christmas Story and The Godzilla Series from the 50’s through the 70’s. With the advent of home video you could bring home all kinds of things. My mom started insisting I bring anything but holiday movies, and I was eager to comply, even though I have soft spots for classics like Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.
I liken bad and weird films to an offbeat and sometimes tipsy uncle. I would search for good seasonal offerings, but I also became aware of holiday films that were so off-kilter or so awful they earned a small place in the hall of fame of Le Bad Cinema. Some of these titles are so bad they are good, and I wonder if some of the others exist only so friends could tie each other up and force each other to watch the film until one cried “Uncle!” Here are some of the films that made my list for the worst of the worst. Be forewarned that some of the trailers are NSFW, and many contain spoilers or a bit of nudity.
#12 The Lady In The Lake, 1947
Raymond Chandler set up this tale of a missing heiress, blonde bombshells, slimy gigolos (Not Jugalos) and murder victims on Christmas Eve, but it could have taken place on Easter, St. Patrick’s Day or Take A Stenographer To Lunch Day, and it wouldn’t have made a difference or a lick of sense more than this does. Chandler’s foil gumshoe, Phillip Marlowe, relates the odd tale in first person, but for the most part you see the mystery unfold through his eyes using the camera’s point-of-view. Unless someone is standing in front of a mirror, or we shift back to Marlowe’s recollection of the events, we don’t see the private eye at all. This all seems like an awkward precursor 3D, with people acting as though the camera were a person, leaning into it, throwing drinks at it and even slapping it. It’s weird, but not very good weird. TMC has it. keep a look out.
#11 The Nutcracker In 3D
I had no idea this warped version of the oft-told ballet existed until I started research for this article, but reviews on IMDB range from “Mind Blowing” to “Needless” and “God awful.” Having seen the trailer, I think all three descriptions may apply. I mean, what can you say about a Nutcracker saga that features a singing and dancing Nazi Rat King? It may not be the best thing to rent for Christmas Eve, and certainly not for Hannukah.
#10 Elves 1989 (trailer NSFW)
If you can find more than one elf in this film, I’ll buy a Yule Log for you to wash away the taste of this doo-doo log. Once again, Nazis are trying to ruin Christmas and breed a master race, hoping to mix the genes of a murderous pixie with the innocent Aryan blood of a blonde virgin who has hopes of Santa saving her. Too bad Santa is an unemployed ex-department store Santa on the bum (played dismally by Dan Haggerty of Grizzly Adams fame who obviously took this part on to keep his coke addiction going). It has a few good
#9 Don’t Open Till Christmas, 1984 (trailer NSFW brief female nudity)
I must admit I like this one, but only because it is such a sleazy movie from the word go all the way to the end titles, and I am not exaggerating. In a nutshell, some psycho who was traumatized by someone in a Santa suit is going around hacking up every corner Santa and department store Father Christmas into gory little bits. He kills one victim every night for the twelve days of Christmas and it’s not pretty. I dare all of you male readers not to wince when you see poor Santa trying to take a leak in the Men’s Room only to have his candy cane cut off with a straight razor. It’s pretty graphic. But for you bad movie lovers, a few brews before watching will take some of the edge off.
#8 Thankskilling, 2009
It’s crude, it’s stupid and very amateurish, but it has a stuffing full of heart. Essentially, a group of friends raised $3,500.00 and made a sophomoric horror comedy about a demonic turkey conjured up by a Native American shaman to punish certain descendants of certain pilgrims. The result is a fowl-mouthed puppet named Turkie that slings jokes and body parts with rapid fire and ferocious glee. For me, it’s a so bad it’s good film with that spirit of “Hey, gang, Let’s put on a show!”
#7 Home Sweet Home 1981 (trailer NSFW but not that bad)
Fitness guru Jake Steinfeld (Body By Jake) gets his first and probably only starring role as an escaped mental patient (Yup, another one of those) who slashes and gashes his way through holiday traffic so he can systematically bump off the Bradley Family one by one in various ways with various degrees of “B” movie satisfaction. Jake giggles and howls before and after every kill, stopping only to shoot LSD under his tongue. There is a pretty good death with a moody teen who dresses like a 3rd rate Paul Stanley and is never without his electric guitar. This cinematic offal has acquired a decent cult following. It is currently unavailable on DVD, but old VHS copies surface on eBAY.
#6 The Magic Christmas Tree, 1964
A testament to the holiday matinee garbage that kids were subjected to all through the sixties. It’s also an excellent example of what was known in the movie business as “Four Walling a Picture.” Some individuals would crank out a kids film for as little moolah as possible, usually without sound on the set, using very poor quality film. After the dubbing was complete, four or five prints of the opus were made and they would rent out theaters in every city it played to make sure they got every penny at the box office, which was sometimes quite a haul. Usually, the producer would buy short ten-second TV commercials that were shown during afternoon cartoons to bombard kids with these wily teasers. olds who had to sit through it while their parents did some quick shopping or shared a highball at the local bar.
There are no movie sets to speak of, just people’s homes. And it’s obvious it was filmed in one small neighbor hood. The plot, such as it, is goes like this — an obnoxious kid helps an elderly woman, who dresses like a witch, retrieve her pet cat Lucifer. I’m pretty sure that the first words in the film are “Lucifer, Oh Lucifer.” Not your average holiday dialogue. As a reward, the Witch gives him a magic seed to plant at night and a magic ring to take care of. Within a few hours, the kid has got a full-grown talking Christmas tree that I swear sounds like a cross between Jack Benny and Charles Nelson Riley. The ring grants the boy powers, but since there was not much of a budget for special effects, not much happens. Well, except that things speed up or slow down, and Santa pretends to be tied down to a chair with invisible rope. Eventually the kid gets humbled for being a jerk with his powers. The film is excruciating, but also has that train wreck effect for some people who can’t tear their eyes away.
#5 Blood Rage 1983 (trailer NSFW)
In 1974, a family goes to the drive-in to see The House That Cried Murder, and eleven year-old twins Terry and Todd sneak out of the car to snoop around the grounds. Terry spies a hatchet conveniently laying in the back of a pick up truck, and plants it into the skull of a jock diddling his date in the back seat of a nearby sedan. Terry smears blood all over Todd, which sends the hapless twin into catatonic shock more or less sealing the frame job. Ten years later, Todd escapes the hospital to be with his family and this sets off Terry into another killing spree.
Like the other holiday slashers listed above, this one is best viewed once the family have gone, unless Granny and your ten year old cousin list The Tool Box Murders as one of their favorite movies. The truth is, if not for a scene where the turkey is carved, you wouldn’t know what time of year it was. Blood Rage is a film teachers should bring to acting school in order to point out every single mistake. Even competent actress Louise Lasser (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) stumbles and slurs as if suffering from too much cough syrup, and binge eats in front of the fridge with her boobs almost popping out of her ill-fitting house frock. Gore hounds might want to check it out because it has a certain style to it, and the kills are good and bloody.
#4 A Christmas Story Two 2012 (Trailer Not Safe For Anyone)
Until today I had no idea this sequel existed. After viewing the trailer, I wish I had remained in blissful ignorance. Watch it and see if you agree
Santa Claus, 1959
I pondered a bit before adding this one to the list, since it does a decent job with its tiny budget, and it’s competently directed by Rene Cardona, who would go on to do much bigger films. But the cultural aesthetic is so off the charts compared to American children’s sensibilities that it seems to venture into a cross between a Twilight Zone Christmas episode and a Fellini Movie. Santa lives high in the clouds, but in lieu of elves he has sort of a benevolent sweatshop with kids of all nationalities making toys. The observatory where he looks for good and bad boys and girls is positively Freudian. Merlin the magician gives him the ability to go up and down chimneys and puts some other magic potions in his sack to get him out of fixes. Meanwhile, Satan is pretty pissed that it’s Christmas and sends Pitch, a demonic Imp, up to the surface to set traps for Santa and coax children into vandalism and stealing. It only gets stranger from there. A favorite of mine.
#3 Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, 1964
One of the few films as bad as Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (and both films use the Whammo Air Blaster toys as alien weaponry). Once this film made it to the public domain it was almost canonized when it became one of the best episodes of TV comedy Mystery Science Theater Three Thousand. Filmed in an abandoned hangar in Long Island using dinner theater actors this fairly successful film suckered tons of kids out of their lunch money.It’s one of those films where everyone laughs way too hard at the jokes that are not one bit funny and you just want to grab them and say “Stop it!!”: You can make quite a potent drinking game out of this one. You are either going to hate it or happily wallow in it’s tawdriness.Sing along at the end.
#2 Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny, 1972 (clip has commentary)
Attention, holiday shoppers! I am really scraping the bottom of the barrel now. For years I had heard rumors about this film, which was reputed to be the worst kids film ever made. But it was impossible to get ahold of unless you were lucky enough to find one at a Church rummage sale. I finally came across a copy on eBay, and when it arrived it did not disappoint. It is awful to the point of disbelief.
While Santa is vacationing at a Tom Sawyer-style amusement park in Florida, his sleigh gets stuck in the sand. No matter how hard anyone tries, the sleigh will not budge. It is at this point we realize just how little money the producers had. Because as Old St. Nick tells the children a story to pass the time until help arrives, the action cuts to a filmed play version of Thumbelina directed by war hero and nudie cutie film director Barry Mahon — and they show the whole film! The Mahon film gives the sets a psychedelic flair which might hold your interest for a nanosecond, but it just adds to the weirdness. Thumbelina ends, and just as Santa is about to tear his beard out, he exclaims, “I know! I’ll get help from my old pal, The Ice Cream Bunny.” Cue one of the most disappointing and WTF moments you could ever want to see. I tried to find an original trailer, but this Rifftrax adaptation is much easier on the nerves.
#1 The Star Wars Holiday Special, 1978
Generally considered the most ill-advised TV Christmas special of all time. 15 minutes into the show, the station’s switchboard was so overloaded with calls from angry fans that they probably just walked away from it until the show was over. The show was hyped to the max, but the Star Wars alumni are only in it for a few minutes. And the cast must have eaten up the entire budget, because the bulk of the show featuring Chewbacca and his family is painfully threadbare, and the special effects (including some animation) look half finished. The special aired on CBS just once, and then was probably sealed in a vault. Cheap, badly duped-looking prints have made it to sci-fi conventions and some places on the internet. Watch it at your own risk. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.