Random Films of the Week: Some Unconventional Holiday Movies? Sure, Why Not?

Topkapi_steal bigSo, I was sitting around with a few friends a few weeks back talking about movies and such when the subject of Christmas and holiday-themed movies came up and yes, everyone agreed that It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and a few other classics were all going to be watched at some point during the Season of Greetings. Interestingly enough, a few very unconventional titles got mentioned during this conversation to the point that I decided to toss a few of these films at you in a post and see what you think.

For some strange (well, not so strange) reasons, there are a lot of very non-holiday films on some people’s Holiday viewing schedules with most set during the winter or with cold weather as a big part of their plots (but not always). Anyway, as I see you’re wearing those dodgy jammies and overly fuzzy slippers you got yesterday as gifts and have that cup of “eggnog “at the ready, let’s get started with three or four for now and pick up some others in a future post…

Black Christmas_MPBlack Christmas (1974) – I figured I’d get this one out of the way first, as it’s the closest to an actual Christmas-themed flick on this list. Bob Clark’s nicely disturbing and gruesome tale of a phone call killer whittling down a sorority house full of co-eds is still chillingly effective today.

Sure, the 2006 remake also mines the same ground (to lesser effectiveness, I’d say), but there’s something so purely deranged and perfect about the dead end tone the original sets, the level of tension that keeps your nails chewed down to ragged stubs and that ending? Eeek. No one is having much of a Merry Christmas in this flick and if you’re looking for a horror flick with bite (and some seriously black humor in spots), well… unwrap this one and share it with someone you love to have dig their claws into your arm and hide behind your shirt when things get rough…

ghost_story_MPGhost Story (1981) – Winter is more of the theme here and both the cold and snowy weather elements propel certain parts of this supremely oversimplified version of Peter Straub’s classic horror novel. Sure, it’s not perfect and as the final film appearance for Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., older fans of these three actors may be disappointed that this represents their final work. On the other hand, the ghostly visage of Alice Krige in a few twisted forms (all practical effects work) may haunt your dreams for a bit after seeing this, provided you can make sense of the somewhat all over the map plot.

Of course, you can just check out the book first if you haven’t and see where the movie shortcuts or changes entirely what it offers up. But if you’re one of those easily frightened types, you just may not care at all and watch this for the scares, of which it has a few nifty ones. That said, someone REALLY needs to remake this one using all of Straub’s book as a source. I think as a cable TV mini-series with all the content there, it would be a far superior work than was was done back in 1981…

The Shining_MPThe Shining (1980) – Speaking of films that vary vastly from their source material, this one’s a favorite of mine and one of those movies I actually disliked the first time I saw it. I actually missed the longer 146 minute cut by a single day thanks to the film always being sold out when I wanted to see it or me working and not being able to get to the theater during that first week. But I do know a few people who saw it on day one and saw it again later and thought they were going crazy because the ending was different. Of course, most of them liked the new edit and that became the one we all know and hug to death today.

Anyway, this is one of those flicks that’s a slow burner and more effective because of it. Granted, if you’ve never seen it before because you’ve heard it was too scary or too gory or whatever, it’s actually less gory than you think (one axe murder, a quick gut of some child corpses and the long and disgusting bathtub beauty sequence, “heh heh heh hehhhh!”) and the scares are of the psychological nature once you let the story take you away. You’ll survive this trip to writer’s block hell and be a better person for it all. Then you’ll go read the book one day and wish Stanley Kubrick had done this in two parts and had more time to shoot it all (although it probably would have killed some of the cast off for real, given the stories from the set)…

Topkapi_MPTopkapi (1964) – On a FAR less gloomy note, this classic film about people attempting to have an early Christmas by getting stuff for free may not be a holiday movie at all, but it’s a pretty amazing heist flick with and all-star cast that manages to be amusing and serious (but mostly amusing). The big steal scene is amazing and tense and you’ll want to punch your copy of Mission Impossible in the throat for ripping it off (and badly, at that). But like any great caper flick, once the hooks are in and pulling you down into the couch, you’re not leaving that spot any time soon even with the ability to pause the action.

The film also works as a procedural of sorts as the crime is discovered as something it’s not and you’ll see the authorities go through a few hoops before things wind up thanks to a bit of nature ending up where it’s unwanted. Those end credits get campy, but this one’s a pretty cool cat of a flick to catch when the weather outside is frightful. Hmmm… that’s four, correct? Okay, I’ll stop here and post this and continue this list tomorrow. What, you expected a longer article? Um… haven’t you got some movies to track down and watch? Yeah, I thought so.

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