Ahhh, Christmas: a time of films and animated TV specials. We all have our favourites, but the networks air the same ones every year. While I’d never suggest retiring A Christmas Story, it would be nice to have a little variety put in the rotation. So, I’ve compiled a few less common Christmas films and TV specials that are well worth seeking out.
By Adam Clarke
The Twilight Zone: The Changing of the Guard (1962)
“’Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity’. I have won no victory. Now I am ashamed to die”
There are actors and there are actors and few of ‘em were of the caliber of Donald Pleasence. In this Zone—available on the season three box set—the brilliant actor plays an elderly professor who’s been laid off around Christmas. Fearing that he has lost his purpose in life and, worse still, made no contribution to society, Pleasence plans suicide.
The Twilight Zone had two Christmas specials and this gem of a story is often overlooked for that reason. However, “Guard” is probably one of the finest scripts that Rod Serling had ever written. Serling perfectly captures what it is like to contemplate suicide and Pleasence delivers a rich, unbeatable performance as the gentle schoolteacher. Don’t be warded off by the dark subject matter, “Guard” is the best thing you could possibly watch this Christmas.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
“You can’t get milk from an old queer’s tits”
Tokyo Godfathers is a wildly funny anime from the makers Millennium Actress and Cowboy Bebop. The film concerns three homeless folks—a middle-aged alcoholic, a gay cross-dresser (inexplicably described as “a woman with a secret” in the film’s American trailer) and a young runaway—on a quest to reunite an abandoned infant with her parents. We follow them from Christmas to New Year’s as the trio encounter stick-wielding youths, a magic fairy and a few reunions with family they’ve left behind. While the “everything happens for a reason” plot may rely too much on coincidence for some, Tokyo Godfathers never fails to entertain.
The Tick: The Tick Loves Santa! (1995)
“Once in a while a little boy loses it and comes after Santa.”
Back when Saturday mornings were worth getting up for, The Tick was part of a Fox animation powerhouse including Eek! The Cat and the Spiderman cartoon where everything revolved around Kingpin. The Tick, like Eek, charmed kids and adults with offbeat humour and pop-culture spoofs and the Christmas special—available on the second season DVD set—is no different, as an electrical accident transforms a thief in a Santa suit into an unstoppable menace.
The Tick was a once-in-a-lifetime show and not even creator Ben Edlund’s attempt to revive the character in a live-action series did it justice. I ask you, what other cartoon would take a break in the action to jump to two security guards discussing why they hate Christmas before an evil imposter Santa breaks in and tears the head off an automated St Nick display?
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part II (1987)
Speaking of evil imposter Santas, if you’re going to watch one Christmas-themed horror flick this year and Black Christmas is rented out, it’s time to rent this. While by no means a good movie, this slasher sequel is one of the most ridiculously entertaining films you could watch this side of The Wicker Man. You’ve got a killer who looks like Bob Saget on ‘roids (played with eyebrow-wagging glee by Eric Freeman), screams “punish!” and “naughty” every 15 minutes and fails to even laugh convincingly while terrorizing his fellow non-actors. The whole film is an exercise in questionable judgment and, while not something everyone will be entertained by, bad movie lovers should get their hands on this immediately and savor every casio underscored frame of it.
Oh, and half the footage is a flashback to the previous film, so it’s two movies in one! That’s the gift that keeps on giving, right?
Santa Claus (1959)
“You must be evil if you want a doll”
There have been a lot of unconventional depictions of St. Nick in the movies, ranging from “orphan raised by roaming elves” (Santa Claus Is Coming To Town) to “schmuck gets whimsical opposite of the curse from Thinner” (The Santa Clause), but few are as completely out-to-lunch as this movie.
Here, Santa doesn’t live in the North Pole, heavens no. He lives in outer space! There Claus—with the help of Merlin the magician, child laborers and an army of robo-reindeers—watches over children when he’s not chuckling at nothing for long periods of time.
He also tackles a mincing devil from the bowels of Hell for the soul of a little girl.
Santa Claus is completely gonzo, and I can’t recommend it enough. You have to see it to believe it. Though not currently available, copies pop up time and again at second-hand stores, so keep your eyes peeled.
So, if you’re looking to spice things up for the holiday season, you can’t go wrong with Donald Pleasence, evil santas or a Japanese cartoon.
Merry Christmas, movie house!