Silent Night, Festive Fright!

Christmas is Cancelled!

A Christmas Story. It’s A Wonderful Life. The Muppet Christmas Carol. Home Alone. There are movies infused with holiday spirit that make the sleeps until December 25th more bearable.

These are not those movies.

To celebrate the cinema release of Better Watch Out, we present our favourite movies that take a warped look at the most magical time of the year. And we’re not talking Gremlins or Die Hard. Below we have home invasion, murderous tots, Christmas Eve police brutality, Yuletide demons, and attempted suicide in front of a silly season Looney Tunes cartoon.

Happy Holidays everyone…


Better Watch Out (2017)

Chris Peckover’s film is a prime example of hemlock in the holly, but by Rudolph’s red nose it is a toughie to talk about. Packing more twists than a yoga convention, this festive frightener never fails to shock, surprise and delight. We can reveal this: One Christmas Eve, 12-year-old Luke is looking to finally make the move on hot babysitter Ashley. But, a home invasion seriously gets in the way.

Set in America but shot in Australia, antipodean Levi Miller is impressive as Luke, joined by countrypersons Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould (brother and sister in The Visit, here Ashley and Luke’s best pal). Avoid the trailer and a Google image search, both of which spoil Peckover and co’s carefully crafted surprises. Instead go to straight to the movie, for an irresistible selection box of suspense and shrieks.


Krampus (2015)
krampus-emjay-anthony

Imagine National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with a case of demonic possession and you have this seasonal shiverer. Overlooked at the cinema, Krampus deserves a second life haunting movie on demand services and blu-ray shelves, where its Stranger Things style retro-feel should find an appreciative audience. A Christmas loving kid accidentally summons Krampus – the anti-Claus – and he and his family must battle demons great and small (including sharp-toothed elves) during an endless Xmas night.

A fun cast includes Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony and Stefania LaVie Owen, while Trick R’ Treat director Michael Dougherty delivers another fright flick that expertly rides the line between horror and humour. And the final shot is both smart and unsettling…


Filth (2013)
Filth (2013)

A bent copper movie based on a novel by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, you know Filth ain’t gonna be pretty. But, little can prepare for you this coke n’ booze fuelled blast through the Christmas inferno of James McAvoy’s particularly unwell police detective. McAvoy is a revelation as the sick dick, manipulating and taunting those around him, while indulging in all kinds of naughty business.

Fitting in some ways that Filth is set at Christmas time, as John S. Baird’s movie often resembles a pantomime performed by the criminally insane in the deepest, darkest corner of Purgatory.

With the audience yelling, “Oh, he won’t do that!” “Oh no, he won’t!” “Ahhh, he did!”


Brazil (1985)
Brazil (1985)

There was a time, long ago, when the little girl sitting on Santa’s knee towards the end of Brazil asking for “my own credit card” was absurdly funny. Now it is just the way of things. Never has Christmas been as creepy as in Terry Gilliam’s prophetic vision of rampant consumerism and conformity. The tale of office worker Sam Lowry dreaming of escape from his drone existence in a bureaucratic dictatorship has all the ingredients for a life-affirming Christmas tale.

But, as children must learn Santa won’t always bring them what they want, audiences must realise a cheery Christmas message is not a guarantee. All summed up by Sam’s oily chief persecutor giving him terrible news while dressed as Father Christmas.


Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Christmas can be a lonely time. Particularly if you are successful doctor William Harford (Tom Cruise), who has just been told by his wife (Cruise’s then-spouse Nicole Kidman) that she has been fantasising about a hunky sailor.

With a revenge fuck now at the top of his Christmas list, Harford embarks upon a strange odyssey through the New York streets and into a joyless upper class orgy, his coitus always being interruptus.

It’s not going to be a white Christmas for anyone.


The Children (2008)
The Children (2008)

Children are evil, especially at Christmas. Moaning that they wanted the blue bike, not the red one. Opening a mountain of presents then complaining they’re bored. Or vomiting green slime before murderously turning on the adults in a remote farmhouse.

This underappreciated British gem is directed by Tom Shankland (largely found directing for the small screen, including The Missing) and written by Paul Andrew Williams (on London To Brighton form, rather than The Cottage).

Liberally borrowing from The Shining and The Brood, plus The Exorcist, The Innocents and The Omen, this still manages to be a fresh shocker. And a Christmas dinner scene, with the little terrors running riot, is absolutely terrifying.


The Silent Partner (1978)
The Silent Partner (1978)

Fantastic Canadian heist movie with Elliott Gould’s timid bank clerk anticipating a bank robbery, embezzling the money and blaming it on a Santa Claus garbed stick-up man. Christopher Plummer is the psychopathic wronged-robber and turns a white Christmas red as he attempts to retrieve his loot.

But, Gould has surprising twists of his own in this underrated Christmas cracker.


In Bruges (2008)
In Bruges (2008)

Everyone loves In Bruges, as well they should. It perfectly captures the bitterness and disappointment of an especially rotten Christmas, and how the past frequently returns to haunt you at a time not festive for everyone. And while there is plenty of wintry weather, the coke that misfit hitmen Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson snort is as close as they get to holiday cheer.

Then Ralph Fiennes’ anti-Santa Claus arrives with nasty plans for everyone who has been naughty…


Black Christmas (1974)
Black Christmas (1974)

Director Bob Clark’s brace of Christmas movies are hugely influential. This bleak Canadian horror movie established the slasher movie template a thousand imitators would follow, right down to setting the terror during key holiday periods. Clark’s A Christmas Story from 1983 is one of the most cherished seasonal movies and directly influenced The Wonder Years.

Here, an attractive cast includes Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Art Hindle, but Black Christmas’ atmosphere of dread and a dank winter chill is what lingers most.

There are multiple theories on who is actually the movie’s killer. Whoever it was, they should have put the makers of the dreadful 2006 remake on their list.


Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Returns (1992)

The world’s best superhero plonked into the most magical time of the year. No wonder Batman Returns is the finest of the non-Nolan Batmans (and yes, we’re also including the 1966 Adam West version, irony fans).

Burton is a director who makes snow sparkle on screen, and placing iconic Bat-characters against wintry backdrops results in his most beautiful film alongside Sleepy Hollow.

With key scenes of psychological darkness and mayhem set against Christmas pageants and in Xmas society balls and toy stores, this is a bizarro, Burtonised view of yuletide.


Prometheus (2012)
Prometheus (2012)

When hearing Ridley Scott was returning to the Alien universe we thought all our Christmases had come at once.

Of course, it turned out to be more distressing than chestburster heartburn and that the story was set at Christmas was acid in the wound.

Presumably, the choice to set it over the holiday period was for the story’s religious connotations of discovering God and the roots of human existence. But, Elf has more profound insight into the human condition and the meaning of life than this galactic turkey.

In space everyone can hear you say, “Did you keep the receipt?”


Less Than Zero (1987)
Less Than Zero (1987)

Bret Easton Ellis is now best known for warring with other literati and society types on Twitter. But, in the 1980s he was the most shocking voice of Generation X, nailing the blank nihilism of well-heeled teenagers. The film version of Less Than Zero sanatises much of Ellis’ debut novel, but watching these awful people slowly destroying themselves at Christmastime does allow for a certain amount of heartwarming goodwill.

Robert Downey Jr stands out as a beautiful self-destructive void putting a mountain of Colombian snow up his beak. Insert method acting joke here.


L.A. Confidential (1997)
L.A. Confidential (1997)

How do you make a five star neo-noir perfect? Have it begin during the silly season, around a police brutality subplot dubbed “Bloody Christmas” by the press. An act of prisoner beating affects the lives of numerous cops, including Guy Pearce’s straitlaced career detective and Russell Crowe’s troubled low level bruiser.

Like all great noir, this begins small and expands to encompass celebrity, greed, corruption and power. And proves that despite being bright and sunny in the desert it’s cold out in the city of angels.


Inside (2007)
Inside (2007)

The festive season is a time for helping strangers. Unless that stranger is Beatrice Dalle’s unhinged bogeywoman who targets Alyson Paradis’ heavily pregnant home alone wife.

Red Christmas would be a better title for this astonishing French horror, as Dalle cuts a bloody swathe across one violent Christmas Eve night. The plot is strong enough to support the jaw-dropping carnage, centering on why Dalle is actually doing all this to Paradis (sister of Vanessa).

A film that puts the X into Xmas.


Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)
Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice… A slasher film with Father Christmas revealing his sack contains knives, axes, shotguns and other weapons of slaughter. A more-interesting-than-it-should-be story depicts how a particularly nasty Catholic school breeds a psychopath, who returns years later to wreak havoc on his hometown.

Exploitation of the best kind, but when the film was released in the US a psycho Santa was too much for some parents who successfully campaigned to have the film withdrawn from cinemas.


Lethal Weapon (1987)
Lethal Weapon (1987)

Writer/director Shane Black loves Christmas. This movie, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 are all set in the latter part of the twelfth calendar month. Lethal Weapon was his first produced script and, like LA Confidential, sets a dark tale of crime and violence over Christmas in the city of angels.

Slyly subverting Christmas imagery, the film opens with a shot of cocaine substituting for real snow, and includes a bloody shoot-out in a Christmas tree lot and a car crashing through a house and crushing both Christmas tree and the presents under it.

But, it’s Mel Gibson’s suicidal cop Martin Riggs who guarantees this a place on the list. With the Christmas period having the highest suicide rate, the scene where Riggs attempts to shoot himself while a seasonal Bugs Bunny cartoon plays on the TV hits home with a bullet.

Merry Christmas everyone…


Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
iTunes Podcast: The Electric Shadows Podcast