Just ask any grinch, grouch, or garden-variety depressive. They’ll tell you that Christmas isn’t only about togetherness, great gifts, and happy endings. For many, this holiday can be pretty bleak — or, at the least, blackly comic. That also applies to Christmas movies. For every film featuring Bing singing, there’s one with Kevin Bacon punching out the plastic Wise Men. Want to watch some films on the 25th, but hate all of that force-fed happiness and feel-good bullshit? Here are some other choices, all of which should sate your inner Scrooge.
The Ref (Directed by Ted Demme, Touchstone Pictures, 1994)
This hilariously hateful film is one of the most mordant little Christmas movies ever made. Miserable marrieds the Chasseurs (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) might just murder each other by Eve’s end. Their visitors include their son, freshly booted from military school; smarmy relatives; and Glynis Johns as Rose, a mother even Santa would strangle. Add Gus (Denis Leary), their sarcastic kidnapper, and you’ve got one sensational celluloid F-U to the Big Day.
Bad Santa (Directed by Terry Zwigoff, Miramax Films, 2003)
When Billy Bob Thornton is your department store Santa, you’re already screwed. Now, add his angry elf-sized partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), who helps him rob said store, and you’ve got a holiday movie Evangelicals wouldn’t piss on if it was on fire. For everyone else, this film is wonderfully sacrilegious. Nobody learns anything. Nobody’s redeemed. And Cox even says to Thornton’s Santa: “You’re an emotional fucking cripple. Your soul is dog shit. Every fucking thing about you is ugly.” Any questions?
Gremlins (Directed by Joe Dante, Amblin Entertainment, 1984)
The Christmas gift Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) gets is so adorable — a warbling gremlin — you almost look forward to the inevitable mayhem. The gremlin spawns kids so violent, they transform the town from a paradise into a hellscape. Even Mom (Frances Lee McCain) forgets there’s a holiday. She’s too busy sticking a gremlin in the microwave and watching it pop. This movie is every believer’s worst nightmare. And a dream for the rest of us.
It’s a Wonderful Life (Directed by Frank Capra, RKO Radio Pictures, 1946)
Don’t be fooled by its lovable reputation. A sizable chunk of this Christmas standard is downright bleak. And the transformation of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), from happy hayseed to an unhinged madman, borders on terrifying. Plus, the utter degradation of Bailey’s beloved Bedford Falls makes it clear this is a Godless universe. As for the “happy” ending? Just tearing up that summons doesn’t make it invalid. Ask your lawyer. Bailey is probably going to jail right after his final eggnog. Sorry, Zuzu.
Black Christmas (Directed by Bob Clark, Warner Bros., 1974)
You think you’re having a creepy Christmas? At least you’re not wondering if you’re the next to get whacked, which is more than the sorority girls in this cult classic can say. With tension hot enough to roast chestnuts, this is a wonderful movie for anyone who doesn’t feel sanguine this season. However, if you relate to the creepy guy who keeps calling? Seek treatment — immediately!
Six Weeks (Directed by Tony Bill, Universal Pictures, 1982)
You like morbid more than murderous? Then this maudlin little movie is just your cup of cider. Charlotte Dreyfus (Mary Tyler Moore), whose daughter has six weeks to live, takes the girl to New York City for wondrous fun. Now, as us residents know, that’s a questionable idea. Manhattan usually shortens your life by about two weeks — not great when your time is running out. Moore underplays nicely, but daughter Nicole (Katherine Healy) is so pasty, she looks like she’s gonna kick off at any moment. In other words, this makes Black Christmas look like a screwball comedy. Offbeat and tasteless, this film has earned itself a cult following. Why not join them?
Roger and Me (Directed by Michael Moore, Warner Bros., 1989)
Flint, Michigan, has more to atone for than just giving us Grand Funk Railroad. The GM plant has just closed, and 30,000 workers are jobless at holiday time. Then things get really bad. Like the family that’s evicted from their house on Christmas Eve. This is a film to make even the most hardened cynic grateful. At least you have a home where you can watch it.
Ordinary People (Directed by Robert Redford, Paramount 1980)
It’s beloved. It’s set in a beautiful suburb. It’s one blue movie. Feeling bad? Try being Conrad Jarrett (Tim Hutton), whose mother (Mary Tyler Moore) is so cold, she should be served up at Baskin-Robbins. No actor has ever conveyed clinical depression better than Hutton. Who, during Christmas week, deals with survivor’s guilt and a friend’s suicide and, worse, has to sing Pachelbel’s Canon! Redford’s depiction of a dysfunctional family is so stylish, it’s easy to forget its sentiments are as black as Sabbath.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (Directed by Charles Sellier, Tri-Star Pictures, 1984)
When you’ve pissed off the PTA and Leonard Maltin, you’ve clearly done something right. Sellier’s cult film about a kid who sees a street corner Santa whack his parents, then grows up to imitate him, is a jaw-dropper. Featuring a crazy named Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) who gores one character and beheads another, this flick is so tasteless that in 1984 it got yanked from theaters. But its cult (which must comprise the last remnants of the Manson Family) thinks it’s a masterwork. Plus, you can order it from Amazon!
The Ice Harvest (Directed by Harold Ramis, Focus Features, 2005)
What’s Christmas without some criminal behavior? In this noir sleeper, crooks Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) and Charlie (John Cusack) steal $2 million from their mob boss right before the holiday. The two double-crossers then find it’s too icy to leave town. So they spend most of the film drinking and visiting strip clubs. Hanging with drunks? Dallying with strippers? You could do worse on Christmas. Right?