|by Collin Souter
It seems every year, a handful of filmmakers try to create a new “Christmas Classic,” a holiday charmer that will be watched and embraced year after year after year. A good 90% of them fail miserably. By no means is this a complete list of all bad Christmas movies. One could not possibly track down every sorry Santa shit-sack that comes down the chimney either in theaters, on TV or on video. It’s too daunting and thankless a task, but I did the best I could in a month’s time with the resources available to me, determined to publish it by December 1st. These are 25 films that stood out from my research, with a few honorable mentions of films I had either not seen, couldn’t find or took off the list because I already had a version of A Christmas Carol. They all suck. Don’t rent them. Happy holidays!
(in alphabetical order, because I don’t know how you rank crap)
1. All I Want For Christmas (1991) Poor little rich kids (a spastic Ethan “Randall” Embry and 8-year-old Thora Birch) ask Santa Claus (Leslie Nielson) to bring them the gift of reconciliation between their divorced parents. Of course, the plan doesn’t work, so the kids hatch a bunch of far-fetched plans to get their parents in the sack together before Christmas. One of the movie’s weirder moments is a duet between Lauren Bacall and Birch on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This innocuous trifle goes down easy enough until you get to the lite rock montage about 35 minutes in, the sort of thing Trey Parker loves to parody.
2. Babes In Toyland (1986) I triple-dog dare you to watch this. It stars Drew Barrymore, Keanu Reeves, Richard Mulligan and Pat Morita as “The Toymaster.” After a fatal car crash brought about by a musical rendition about Cincinnati (don’t ask), Barrymore lands in Toyland, an immagical, hallucinogenic, Barney-esque nightmare populated mostly by rejects from Disneyworld and Six Flags wearing bear, chicken and pig outfits. Mulligan plays the heavy, a man in a KISS costume named Barnaby who wants to turn Toyland into a world without toys.
Jaw-droppingly awful musical numbers help round out this sinister production, the most bizarre being Mulligan singing to a midget in a burnt chicken outfit. The late Morita cashed a paycheck as the lazy Toymaster, a craftsman who keeps the keys to the kingdom stashed away in his magic bong. Historically interesting, if only to gaze into Barrymore’s drug-addled, bloodshot eyes or to watch Keanu drive around in a pink, flowery go-cart…before singing about the joys of Ohio. A career-low for all involved. Even Fred Rogers would have winced at the amount of whimsy on display here.
3. Bad Santa (2003) Well, there had to be at least one movie on here that everybody loves, but me. Nope. Sorry. Not funny. I wanted to like it. Great cast, great director, funny concept…what’s not to like? Well, how about the fact that the movie tries to get by on only one joke, that of drunken Billy Bob Thornton dressed as Santa and screaming at children? Sounds funny on paper, but it’s a joke that gets repeated ad nauseum without ever once being funny or clever. Furthermore, Gilmore Girls’ Lauren Graham gets wasted in the role of Bad Santa’s girlfriend, a barmaid with a Santa fetish. Often lauded at the time for being an R-rated Christmas movie that almost got an NC-17, yet nobody seems to remember the brilliant, far superior 1994 comedy The Ref, starring Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis. I’ve been watching that movie traditionally since 1995. The current release The Ice Harvest is also a much better bet.
4. Call Me Claus (2001) While you’re at it, call Whoopi Goldberg a sober agent. In this TV movie, Goldberg plays a hard-nosed home shopping television producer who must take on the role of Mr. Claus (Nigel Hawthorne) once his contract expires on Christmas Eve. Yet another lazy Wacky Concept comedy that distinguishes itself by pondering, “what if we took Wacky Goldberg and made her into Kris Kringle? Think of the possibilities!” The result finds Goldberg basically playing the Straight Woman and repeating everyone else’s jokes in case we didn’t hear them the first time. Featuring a cameo by Allyse Beasley, whom you may remember as Agnes DiPesto on TV’s Moonlighting, typecast as a telemarketer.
5. Christmas With the Kranks (2004) More broad, badly-lit slapstick buffoonery from Tim Allen and company. More wacky sight gags accompanied by an aggressive score. More grown adults acting like juvenile hyenas on crack. Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis (embarrassing herself like never before) star as a couple who forgo the usual Christmas brouhaha when their daughter leaves their crib for the first time in 23 years, much to the dismay of their neighbors. I’m right with the Kranks on wanting to avoid all holiday-related activities, but they behave like such erratic twits, I don’t necessarily want them in my company.
6. Ebenezer (1997) To me, nothing’s more annoying this time of year than having to sit through yet another version of A fricken' Christmas Carol. Here, Jack Palance craps a yulelog of a performance as Mr. Scrooge in this Western take on Dickens’ classic. After winning a bar bet against Ricky Schroeder, Scrooge takes the lad’s horse and heads home for Christmas Eve, only to be paid a visit by the ghosts of Christmas This, That and The Other. Palance’s drunken stupor of a performance is so excruciating to watch and listen to, you just want to set him up with some Pepto Bismol and an enema just so he’d crap something.
7. Eight Crazy Nights (2002) Watching this movie is like hanging out with that friend who thinks all his jokes are hilarious and you don’t have the heart to tell him that he just doesn’t have it. Worse yet, he won’t leave. Of course, that’s how I feel when watching most Adam Sandler comedies. This animated effort is actually a Hanukkah comedy, but that still doesn’t excuse it from the list. In it, a 33-year old slacker gets in trouble with the law and must work as an assistant to a teen basketball coach as a sentence. I never understood Sandler’s wide appeal. I’ve liked him on occasion, but the weak box office intake for this film seems indicative of his audience’s willingness to follow him anywhere. Either that, or the 76 minute running time wasn’t worth the $10 admission. Personally, I wish more of his comedies were this short.
8. I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1998) Oh, please don’t. You know you’re in for an agonizing cinematic experience when you hear several boing! sound effects within the first five minutes. Jonathan Taylor Thomas plays the smarmiest, most annoying college student this side of Corey Haim who gets stuck in the middle of the desert by himself in a Santa suit and surrounded by vultures. I would have ended the movie right there, but unfortunately, the creators of this film had other plans, specifically to make a one-man Plaines, Trans and Automobiles as Thomas must trek from LA to New York in order to be home for Christmas to retrieve his father’s beloved Porsche. If Thomas’s screeching, piercing performance doesn’t kill your Christmas spirit, perhaps a two-ton yule log to the back of the head will.
9. Jack Frost (1998) It opens with Michael Keaton as the lead singer of a blues band singing about Frosty the Snowman. Oh, it gets worse. Keaton plays a family man who dies and gets reincarnated as a creepy CGI snowman, no doubt some instant karma from a higher power for his awful music. It takes a good half-hour before he dies, almost as if the makers of the movie wanted to prolong their ill-conceived gimmick as long as humanly possible. You can’t blame them. Once the concept kicks into gear, the movie commits unspeakable acts of gooey sentiment and cringe-inducing frivolity set to the worst pop music imaginable. It’s so much more awful than it sounds.
10. Jingle All the Way (1996) From Brian Levant, the director of Problem Child 2, The Flintstones, Beethoven, Snow Dogs and Are We There Yet? (sweet mother of God!) comes yet another movie in which we’re supposed to laugh along with the idea of Ah-nold Schwarzenegger in—of all things!—a comedy. Schwartz teams up with Sinbad as they each try to nab a homoerotic Turbo Man toy for their children for Christmas on the busiest shopping day of the year. It’s basically 88 minutes of children saying adult things and the adults acting like children again. Perfect for the kiddies, especially when Schwartz punches a reindeer in the face, then buys him a beer. Not as funny as it sounds.
11. Mary Christmas (2002) After a wealthy child (Jenna Boyd) writes a letter to Santa asking for a new wealthy mommy, a perky news reporter named Mary Christmas (Cynthia Gibb) is assigned to cover the “story” by spending the holidays with her and her wealthy widowed father (Duke boy John Schneider). A made-for-TV, sugar-coated nightmare featuring Tom Bosley as a “mystifying nanny,” as described on the DVD jacket. A half-hour into it, I switched over to the commentary track by Mr. Schneider, who felt compelled to explain every plot detail as though the screenplay carried the title “ChristmasGarry Christmas Ross.” Curiously, Schneider lists himself as Jonathan Richards as director on the DVD jacket. I guess Alan Smithee is too much of a dead giveaway these days.
12. Prancer Returns (2001) The most unmemorable character to get his own Christmas movie makes his triumphant return in this straight-to-video non-classic. This time, a lonely young boy finds Prancer lost in the woods in what has to be the weirdest, most over-stylized encounter between child and animal ever, one that recalls low-budget horror and Saving Private Ryan. Moments later, the boy gets chased by an angry cow and shot at by an angrier Jack Palance. While the cinematography is admittedly quite beautiful, the titular character remains so charmless, you keep thinking every one of his grunts conveys a severely disgruntled “Fuck you!”
13. Santa Claus (1959) Not to be confused with Santa Claus: The Movie, this profoundly disturbing Mexican import finds Santa battling wits against Satan, a flamboyant, prancing loon in red tights, redface makeup and red boxer shorts. Alternately depressing and head-scratching in its presentation of two anthropomorphic beings battling for supreme despotism, complete with stunned looking wooden reindeer. At worst, you might find a poorly dubbed VHS of this film lurking in a 50-cent bargain bin at a thrift store (I did). At best, you could also find someone who has a copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000[ episode in which this movie appeared, as Rhino Home Video has yet to release it. That particular episode is worth the hunt.
14. Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) This big budget, Salkind-produced movie opens in what appears to be a homeless shelter, but is actually a little house “on top of the world.” Here, Uncle Claus (not yet Santa) and his wife get caught in a horrific snowstorm and awake the next morning surrounded by elves who take them to their final resting place: The North Pole, where Mr. Claus is forced to become “the Chosen One,” aka the errand boy for the world’s brattiest children. The elves—headed by none other than Dudley Moore—dance merrily to only one song while the reindeer in this film sniff some golden angel dust, which causes them to break out into epileptic seizures before take-off, during which time they look disenchanted enough to want to take the old man out in his sleep. Meanwhile, an evil toy tycoon played by John Lithgow (in preparation for his psychotic roles in Ricochet and Raising Cain) plans to take over the holiday with a magic lollipop that causes kids to fly. Santa also manages to find what this movie believes is the only living homeless boy in 1985.
15. The Santa Claus 2 (2002) With the exception of Galaxy Quest, nothing screams “Fast-forward through me” like a Tim Allen comedy. This sequel to the 1995 hit finds Allen’s Santa reuniting with his teenage son, who has become a troublemaker at school, earning him a spot on the “naughty” list, prompting Santa to take an interest in him. As if that weren’t enough of a plot, Santa has to find a woman and marry her in 28 days or he will cease to be St. Nick. Definitely a movie to scan through, but maybe until its 50-minute mark when it’s just Allen and his new girlfriend—the only hot, well-paid public school principal I’ve ever seen—heading to the Christmas party where Allen hands out old toys to the bored adults. It’s a rather sweet and painless middle section, but once you hit the 1 hour 4 minute mark, it’s carpel-tunnel time with the remote again.
16. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) This would probably be considered by many to be the Citizen Kane of Bad Christmas Movies. Its title alone has made it a legend and it has even been made into a staged musical. It’s most famous, however, for being a debut film by a pint-sized Pia Zadora (the pint-ness refers to her acting abilities, which didn’t grow much as she got older). Useless trivia aside, this is still an inept and juvenile attempt at merging Santa Claus with science fiction, an attempt that, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be repeated. Rhino Home Video has released the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of this on DVD, which should be kept in your video library all year round.
17. Santa Who? (2000) Sometimes, you gotta wonder what makes a straight-to-video filmmaker get up and go to work in the morning. This represents the second Leslie Nielson-as-Santa movie and it’s just the sort of crass ineptitude you would expect from the video department at the Disney Studios. In this “effort,” Santa loses his memory and relies on a young twerp and the world’s worst news reporter to get his memory back. The video box proclaims “In the heartwarming and hilarious tradition of The Santa Claus,” which translates into, “We’ve run out of ideas on how to cash in on the holiday concept of St. Nick and his entourage of whimsy.”
18. Santa With Muscles (1996) This movie stars Hulk Hogan.
19. Surviving Christmas (2004) So dreadful, Fox released it theatrically in October just so they could put it out of its misery by releasing it on video the following December. Ben Affleck plays an insufferable, spoiled schmuck who hires a family in the Chicago suburbs—headed by James Gandolfini and Catherine O’Hara—to be his family at Christmas time. On one hand, it’s especially annoying and offensive to this Chicagoan, as there appear to be mountains in the background! On the other hand, the less location time spent here the better, seeing as we don’t really want to be associated with this piece of Christmas crap anyway.
20. Silent Night Bloody Night (1974) A small, scrappy horror movie about an escaped loony terrorizing citizens in a New England town who also has a connection with a couple who have just purchased an old mansion. It all takes place at Christmastime, but it could take place during the Spanish Inquisition and it wouldn’t make a difference. But, hey, a title’s a title. Even at 82 minutes, this somber slasher opus feels slower than William Burroughs singing Noel.
21. Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) In this money-making theatrical release, little Billy grows up to be an axe-wielding maniac in a Santa suit. Every Christmas Eve, he goes after those no-good sledding, sex-having teenagers while chanting “PUNISH!” Gotta say, after a week’s worth of puke-inducing North Pole kiddie flicks, a low-grade mid-‘80s horror cheapie with gratuitous breast shots and a body count feels like a warm homecoming after a tour of duty in ‘Nam. The first film in this series actually belongs in the so-bad-it’s good camp. Among other highlights, you gotta love the upbeat Bob Segar-esque montage 25 minutes in with lyrics no doubt inspired by C.S. Lewis: “It’s always Christmas / On the one side of the door.”
22. Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987) This sequel spends so much time in flashback mode, it almost feels like having a copy of the first film in audiobook format, as little Billy’s little brother Ricky (now an adult) recounts the events that led him to an institution. After the first half-hour, the movie chucks the flashbacks and focuses on new murders committed by Ricky, played with lunkheaded zeal by Eric Freeman, who coined the phrase “Garbage day!” in the film’s most celebrated moment when he shoots a man in the head who happens to be taking out his garbage.
23. Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989) What this entry lacks in extensive flashbacks it makes up for in pensive, contemplative padding. Not to worry, though. Here, a blind Ione Skye look-alike channels into the mind of Ricky (from Part 2), who’s now in a coma. She sees everything he sees, and so she sees flashbacks of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 1. Meanwhile, Ricky escapes from the hospital with an exposed brain and a taste for moron blood. Not a lot of Santa-ness in this film. Not much of a body count either. Not much of anything, really.
24. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990) Here, Ricky is played by Clint “I’M INFESTED!” Howard. This time, the story has more to do with lesbian covens and puking up over-sized cockroaches than tracking down a killer Santa, which certainly makes it the most interesting film in the series. The fact that it takes place around Christmastime seems merely coincidental, although at one point, Ricky inexplicably watches a clip from his last movie, Silent Night Deadly Night 3.
25. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1992) Starring Mickey Rooney as Joe Petto, a drunken, psychotic toy store owner whose teenage son (you read that right) spends a lot of time hiding in the cellar. This 1992 entry has less to do with killer Santas, lesbian covens and oversized cockroaches and more to do with a line of toys that murder people. This time, Ricky, (again, Clint Howard) appears only in passing as a department store Santa. Apparently, his community service stint as the errand boy for the lesbian coven in Part 4 did him some good and is now on a straight and narrow path. Almost worth watching just to see Rooney pull his face off to reveal wires and circuitry lurking within his cranium. Just as I suspected. Released by LIVE Home Video, whose own corporate headquarters make a cameo in the movie. That’s too much of an inside joke even for me.
Better watch out for these titles while you’re at it:
An All Dogs Christmas Carol (1998) Another straight-to-video sequel in the All Dogs Go To Heaven franchise. Featuring the voices of Dom DeLuise, Ernest Borgnine and Sheena Easton.
An American Christmas Carol (1979) Starring Henry Winkler as Scrooge in a Halloween mask trying to act elderly and crotchety.
Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted Christmas (1997) Anther straight-to-video sequel in the…. Never mind.
Blizzard (2003) Family comedy about an enchanted reindeer.
A Christmas Romance (1994) Olivia Newton John loses her job and maybe her house, but falls for bank employee Gregory Harrison, and then everything’s okay again. Phew!
Christmas In Connecticut (1992) Directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who brings the same wacky comedic stylings here as he does in office, complete with an “I’ll be back!” joke.
Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure (2003) Stick with the original Chevy Chase flick you’ve been watching every year.
Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas (1984) It came out the same year as Silent Night Deadly Night, but didn’t get as much exposure.
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988) Uuumm…it’s an Ernest movie?
Friday After Next (2002) I believe this is the third film in the Friday franchise. When in doubt, go Christmas, I guess.
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992) Well if he’s in New York, he’s not really “home,” right?
Home Alone 4 (2002) Apparently, nobody wants this kid.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) I originally gave this movie a good review. History (and a repeat viewing) has proved me wrong.
It Happened One Christmas (1977) I tried to find this made-for-TV remake of It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Marlo Thomas, but didn’t find it in time. The description should say it all.
Mixed Nuts (1994) An unwatchable mess from Nora Ephron and featuring an all-star cast headed by Steve Martin, who runs a crisis hotline center on Christmas Eve.
Mrs. Santa Claus (1996) Angela Lansbury in the role she was born to play.
Mr. St. Nick (2002) Starring Kelsey Grammer as the son of St. Nick, who lives in the real world. Another lame attempt at modernizing the Santa mythology.
The Munsters Scary Little Christmas (1996) As you can tell by the year it was released, it does not feature the original cast. ‘Nuf said.
Trapped In Paradise (1994) Starring Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovits and Dana Carvey as three bank robbers trapped in a small town during a snow storm. A bad comedy that runs an epic 111 minutes.
Special Thanks to Erik Childress for providing the pics.
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originally posted: 11/30/05 23:08:55
last updated: 12/31/05 11:36:21