Christmas on Film

I love the look of Christmas season. The more bright, colorful lights strewn about the better, in my opinion. Mistletoe and holly and candy canes, oh my! Keep it coming. So I thoroughly enjoy when Christmas movies go all in with their yuletide vibes. In the best Christmas movies, the seasonal trappings are a key component of establishing mood and place. Part of why Bob Clark’s phenomenal proto-slasher Black Christmas (1974) works so well is that it’s saturated with garish Christmas lighting and ornamentation. In a scary film bathed in inky black shadows, these omnipresent pops of Christmas colors are both welcoming and terrifying. The shot of protagonist Jess Bradford (a luminous Olivia Hussey) standing in her sorority house’s half-open doorway, as carollers regale her with Christmas cheer, is absolutely gorgeous. As the red lights of the door wreath glow with near-demonic intensity though, a suffocating sense of menace creeps into what is an otherwise beautiful, calm shot. Right there, in one scene, Clark captures the film’s aesthetic and thematic concerns: the good tidings of the holiday season are consistently undercut by the lurking presence of a deranged killer inside the house.

Black Christmas (1974)

I like my Christmas movies a little bit darker and more twisted than most. So it’s no surprise Black Christmas shares top billing in my personal Christmas movie pantheon with another subversive classic, Batman Returns (1992). In fact, both are among my favorite movies, no qualifiers, of all time. Holiday films that masterfully juxtapose the lightness and frivolity of the season with dark humor and even darker characters and narratives are far more enjoyable to me than straight-forward, saccharine fare. Consequently, many of the shots in this post come from movies that aren’t afraid to indulge their dark sides.

Batman Returns (1992)

“The tree lights up and I push the button… no, no, wait, wait. I press the button, and then the tree lights up!” Let’s pour one out for the Ice Princess this holiday season. She was amazing and deserved her own prequel movie.

Grease 2 (1982)

This singularly awesome moment alone makes Grease 2 a Christmas movie in my mind (I know, it’s a stretch). Michelle Pfeiffer as Stephanie Zinone, yearning for her Cool Rider and wearing a godawful Christmas tree dress during the “Girl for All Seasons” number, is holiday ennui and pure bliss, all at the same time.

Rabid (1977)

A seemingly innocent mall Santa scene is about to fly off the rails in my favorite David Cronenberg film.

Christmas Evil (1980).

This moment, when young Harry sees mommy being fondled by Santa Claus, is the inciting event that changes the course of his life and sets the film’s sad and disturbing narrative into motion.

The Apartment (1960)

Another one that sits right near the top of my most beloved movies list, Christmas or otherwise, The Apartment never fails to make me laugh while tugging hard on my heartstrings. An absolutely perfect film.

P2 (2007)

Set almost entirely inside a city parking garage on Christmas Eve, this underrated horror gem— about a woman (Rachel Nichols) fighting for survival against a demented security guard—still has plenty of Christmas mood, and lights, to spare.

The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

A pivotal point in this fabulous film takes place during the week of Christmas-to-New Year’s, so of course I had to include Susie Diamond here. After all, it wouldn’t be the Starfire Lounge without her.

8 thoughts on “Christmas on Film

  1. Baker Boys and Batman Returns are two of my Christmas movies, When Harry Met Sally… is another. I always try to watch at least one of them before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st!

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  2. Great list. While I’m writing about made-for-TV holiday oddities this year, I prefer the types of films you highlighted. It doesn’t get any better than “Batman Returns” and “The Apartment,” and “Black Christmas” and “Christmas Evil” are all-time classics. This year I’m also rewatching “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” “The Silent Partner” with Elliott Gould, “The Shop Around the Corner” and Mitchell Leisen’s “Remember the Night.” Hopefully I’ll have time to check out “P2.”

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    1. Thanks my friend! I love your planned watchlist for the month. I’m curious, have you seen the 1972 telefilm Home for the Holidays? Features a young Sally Field, Jessica Walter, Julie Harris and other luminaries. It’s basically a mystery slasher movie. It’s soooo good.

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      1. Your mentioning that one is like a holiday gift, because it’s been on my watchlist for a long time and I never got around to it — and now I see that Creature Features uploaded a great print of it to YouTube within the last year! I’ll have to check it out now before Christmas.

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  3. I adore The Ice Princess. Please share any ideas for the Ice Princess prequel that never was. I have a few, but I’d like to hear from you all first.

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  4. I haven’t seen P2 or Rabid….sheesh!! THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS is definitely my holiday bag!! I’m a fan of movies we love to watch around Christmas that aren’t technically Christmas movies….LA CONFIDENTIAL and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY….

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