4 Bizarre Christmas Movies You’ll Love to Hate
No matter how wintry it is outside, folks will get heated if you bash their favorite Christmas movie. On the one hand, we’ve got the finely aged classics like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “A Christmas Story,” “Home Alone,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and, um, maybe “Die Hard.” Stack these up against newcomers like “Elf” around Christmas dinner and you might as well have brought up politics once the verbal barbs start flying. In fact, I’d be willing to bet I’ve already enraged a couple of readers by omitting their own personal favorite in the brief list above.
But hey, honestly? From Charlie Brown to Tim Allen, the Christmas film canon seems pretty well done and dusted. Far more interesting are the holiday flops, the movies that end up on the cinematic Island of Misfit Toys. This holiday season, skip the classics you’ve already watched 20 times and put on one of these four surreal, so-bad-they’re-good Christmas disasters instead.
Santa Claus (1959)
Jolly old St. Nick, Lucifer, and Merlin the wizard don’t tend to cross paths all too often. But in this feature originally directed by René Cardona (and later overdubbed into English) the three engage in a pivotal battle over the mortal souls of all the world’s children.
The film opens on Santa’s spacefaring palace Christmas night, as he and his “elves” — which look more like overworked children than whimsical helpers — scramble to get ready for his annual voyage. But the devil has other plans and enlists his chief demon Pitch to wrest control of the Earth from “that bearded old goat Santa Claus” and “make all the children of the Earth do evil.” The demon manages to turn three naughty little boys to his evil bidding, while he and the big man struggle over the minds and hearts of Lupita, a poor girl who wants nothing more than a new doll. For some inexplicable reason, Merlin is Santa’s most trusted assistant and helps him in this cosmic duel.
The movie is full of truly strange gems. One particularly memorable scene sees Pitch induce a nightmare into Lupita’s slumber, in which life-size dancing dolls try to convince her to turn to a life of petty theft. And who can forget the laughter of the unsettling, animatronic reindeer? Still, I don’t think there’s any better way, to sum up, this film’s stilted, surrealist logic than with this long-winded conversation between Santa and one of his helpers, Pedro.
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)
It might be a stretch to call this 1985 stop-motion film from Rankin/Bass Productions (of Rudolph and Frosty fame) a failure exactly, but where it lacks in horrible filmmaking it makes up in sheer bizarre Christmas worldbuilding. All you need to know is that it was based on a 1902 children’s book written by L. Frank Baum, the writer of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” to know how closely the movie toes the lines between bonkers and refreshingly imaginative.
The plot stars *deep breath* an immortal known as The Great Ak who discovers an infant Claus on the border of the enchanted forest who he gives to the lioness Shiegra to raise as her own, until the wood nymph Necile steals the human to raise him herself, making him the only mortal in the realm of Immortals and thus sympathetic to the plight of human children. He decides to make toys and bring happiness to them, which the evil King Awgwa (who is dedicated to steering kids toward ill deeds) really doesn’t like, resulting in a war between the monstrous Awgwas and the Immortals and eventually ending up with The Great Ak successfully persuading the council to grant the now “Santa” Claus eternal life. Phew! As far as Santa origin stories go, this one’s an admirably convoluted take. Still, it manages to top the holiday lists of many nostalgic moviegoers.
The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
You know Star Wars, right? The ones with the “I am your father” and the lady with the cinnamon-bun hair and everyone’s favorite character, Jar Jar Binks? Well, this ain’t it.
Well, it is … and it absolutely, utterly isn’t. You see, after “A New Hope” came out in 1977 and grossed more than $450 million to pretty much everyone’s surprise, no one really knew what exactly the Star Wars “universe” might become. So, hoping to keep the franchise on the public’s mind while production charged ahead for the second film, George Lucas approved a CBS production for a Star Wars holiday special. The production was helmed by what Vox calls “a dream team of variety show producers” and included all the original stars and a ragtag group of contemporary celebrities. But without George Lucas’s tight hold on the reigns of the Star Wars franchise, the thing spun out of control in the most fascinating way possible.
Behold the results, which Disney would surely rather have buried by now. The variety show stars Chewbacca as he heads home to visit his family for a holiday called “Life Day.” The scenes of his family, grotesque wookies which for some reason wear normal clothes, are told pretty much solely in the signature grunts of his species, making for a grueling viewing experience. But that’s far from the weirdest thing about the special. One of the most loathed/beloved scenes is Chewbacca’s father Itchy in a sexually-charged virtual reality encounter with singer Diahann Carroll. Another turns the Mos Eisley cantina into an episode of Cheers, with Golden Girls’ Bea Arthur as the bartender. The band Jefferson Starship even makes an appearance for a full song, awash in late-70s neon light.
It’s a catastrophic, clunky mess, so much so that it’s been disowned by every member of the Star Wars cast — and I can’t recommend it enough. If for no other reason than to see Chewie’s son Lumpy. Look at this guy!
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
If there’s anything I’ve learned from this list, it’s that Santa has more enemies than I thought. In this failed mashup of yuletide cheer and sci-fi space opera, a gang of Martians set out to kidnap St. Nick and bring him to their home planet, ostensibly to instill the spirit of fun into the children of Mars, where playtime is apparently banned. Of course, to separate the real Santy Claus from his imposters, they need to kidnap two Earth children first. The plan goes off without a hitch, and a hostage Santa begins pumping out toys for Martian kiddos from a new factory on the red planet. But the warmongering Martian, Voldar, and his cronies believe that Martian leadership has gone soft and hatch a plan to kill Santa and the two children. In the end, Santa doesn’t so much “conquer” the Martians as he does convince them to elect their own present-giving figure and let him and the kids go home.
The set-up is odd enough, but what really makes this movie unique are the horrible acting and some of the most hilarious low-budget set and costume designs ever put to film. For instance, this polar bear, or, well, almost any other harebrained moment in the entire production.
The film is widely considered to be among the worst ever made, and for good reason. But, like each of these incredible Christmas movies, it’s the kind of trainwreck that you just can’t tear your eyes away from, a cult favorite among lovers of insane cinematic decisions. Enjoy with a cup of hot cocoa, but keep the Irish cream handy in case you need an extra kick to make it through!