‘Tis the season to be jolly, and nothing makes readers of The Grail jollier than watching movies based on some of the topics we cover on our website. Below is a list of movies which combine the Christmas theme with the paranormal, in order to have a true Festivus for the Forteans of us:
The all-time favorite classic directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, this movie is a must-watch for us Grailers, because of its masterful employment of some pretty ‘far out’ concepts which American mainstream media would not revisit until the arrival of TV shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits –namely the idea of alternative timelines. Frustrated husband and honest businessman George Bailey is besieged by a set of unfortunate circumstances, and right when he is on the brink of committing suicide an angel appears, and grants him the gift of witnessing what would have happened to all the souls his life has touched, if he had never been born. The clever gimmick of showing heavenly emissaries as stars is also worth noting…
Kids of all ages have fallen in love with the Narnia books since the 1950’s, but only a true Fortean keeps obsessing about them well into your adulthood; it’s not just because of the talking animals and mythological creatures C.S. Lewis used to inhabit his fantastical landscape, but also because of the concepts of parallel dimensions and portals one could find in order to travel between different worlds. And although the first of the Narnia books might not strike you particularly as a Xmas-themed story, the festivity is mentioned several times as a sign of the terrible curse that has fallen unto the land of Narnia –“always winter, but never Christmas”– and during a key scene within the book (and the movie) Saint Nicholas himself makes a dramatic appearance in order to give the Pevensie children some much needed gifts…
During the Cold War era the United States got obsessed with UFOs and the prospect of alien invasion, a fertile ground for Hollywood exploitation which resulted in a few memorable examples –like The Day the Earth Stood Still— mixed up with lots of not-so-memorable low-budget flicks, which were all too eager nonetheless to cash in on the saucermania zeitgeist. In this B-movie the Martians decide to invade Earth in order to rob our most valuable resource –not our gold, our water or our women, but the old toy-giver from the North Pole itself! The movie is available in its entirety on Youtube, so you can have your own private MST3K session with your friends and family after Xmas dinner.
You wouldn’t immediately consider Stanley Kubrick’s last masterpiece as a ‘Christmas movie’, but if there’s something we “crypto-kubrickians” have learned after painstakingly analyzing. Every. Single. Frame! In all of the late eccentric genius’s films, is that he *never* left anything to chance; in the case of Dr. William Harford (played by Tom Cruise) the seemingly jolly backdrop of New York City during the Christmas season, becomes something of a twisted mockery as he slowly descends into a vortex of repressed desires and existential despair, once he finds out his wife Alice –played by Cruise’s wife at the time, Nicole Kidman– has been cheating on him. Which is why Eyes Wide Shut is considered by many to be the darkest Christmas film of all time, and the fact that it was released posthumously after Kubrick’s unexpected death, has unleashed an endless stream of complex conspiracy theories surrounding secret societies, elite rituals and Kubrick’s alleged involvement with the faking of the Apollo Moon landings, which will surely make your Christmas party all the more interesting and less dull than in previous years –just consider playing the DVD after Granny and your inlaws leave…
Nowadays when it comes to ways to pass the time during the Xmas holidays, we think of watching sappy movies on the Hallmark channel —the less lesbians the better, of course— Peanuts’ Xmas special or Chevy Chase’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But centuries ago the preferred pastime of the British during this time of the year was, believe it or not, telling scary ghost stories; something that might even predate Christianity itself, according to some historians. From that ancient tradition comes Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which shows the incredible journey of the loathsome Ebenezer Scrooge –through the past, the present and even the future– in his quest for redemption, after he gets a preternatural warning from his deceased partner. Through the years there have been many wonderful renditions of this classic tale –I myself am very partial to George C. Scott’s portrayal of Scrooge– but for this list we thought that Bill Murray’s more modern and irreverent treatment would be far better –besides, the man is coming back as Venkman next year! One of the few things that keep me excited about 2020.
For a lover of odd things and obscure trivia, there used to be no greater delight during the holidays than annoying the crap out of our mild-mannered relatives, by way of sending them Xmas greeting cards featuring Krampus, the fearsome devil from Germanic traditions which is considered to be Saint Nicholas’s evil counterpart, and is in charge of whipping the $#!t outta naughty kids’ hintern with a wooden branch, and even steal them away by stuffing them into a sack. Eventually, some Hollywood producers heard about it, and decided it would make for a good horror flick; with just 67% of approval on Rotten Tomatoes those execs were probably wrong, but you can still play the part of ‘Krampus hipster’ and annoy your friends,by telling them of how you knew about the horned, hove-footed demon even before it became popular –this is still our plan with UFOs and Magic, right?
Folkloric demons is one thing, but an actual Satanic Christmas film?? Believe it or not, it already exists –and it’s a comedy!– thanks to the deviant humor of filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia, one of the enfant terribles of Spanish cinema in the 90’s. Alex Angulo portrays a Catholic priest who is obsessed with stopping the Apocalypse and the rise of the Antichrist, which he’s convinced by his studies of ancient sacred texts that it will be born exactly on Christmas eve –because the Devil’s preferred way of mocking God, of course, is to imitate and twist Christian traditions. On this quest the priest is joined by a well-intentioned (yet not too bright) metalhead, and a cocky Italian host of an esoteric TV show who doesn’t even believe in the things he brings up to his own audience every week –until he slowly realizes the priest might actually not be completely crazy, after all. The Day of the Beast is without a doubt one of the most irreverent Xmas-themed films ever made, which is why it’s not too easy to obtain (even less so with English subtitles); but if you do manage to acquire it and if your family is overtly religious, then I’d suggest *not* viewing it with them (unless what you seek is to sever all relations with them in the most spectacular way possible).
Here’s another little-known (at least in the English-speaking market) film which manages to combine the themes of Xmas traditions and demonic possession in a rather humorous way. In Mexico there exists the old custom of representing the story of the Nativity with a stage play called a ‘pastorela’ –an ancient Catholic tradition that actually harkens back to medieval times— in which actors portray Joseph, Mary, the archangel Gabriel (who brings the news of the newborn Messiah to the shepherds) and even the devils who play the part of antagonists in these comedic theatrical performances. In the case of the dark comedy film written and directed by Emilio Portes, we see corrupt police agent Jesús Suarez (Joaquín Cosío) incensed because he’s being denied the chance to play the role of Satan in his neighborhood’s local pastorela by the new priest (Carlos Cobos) who used to be an Exorcist for the Catholic church. If you wish too hard to be the devil, do you risk turning into one? And would anybody be able to tell the difference, when you’re already living in a city like Mexico?? Religious horror and hilarity ensues.
This masterpiece has got to be the pinnacle of Fortean Christmas-themed movies –and if you disagree, well… tough! My list, my choice. I was only 11 years old when Joe Dante introduced me to Gizmo, the cute Chinese mogwai that failed inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) gets for his son Billy (Zach Galligan) as a Xmas present; but Billy’s failure to follow the strict rules for keeping a magical creature in the household results in the spawning of a horde mischievous goblin-like creatures, a blunder which unleashes all sorts of mayhem and comedic chaos to a quiet suburban town during the holidays, the way only Spielberg knows how to deliver (thank God the Duffer brothers were taking notes while I was cowering under my bed sheets with the lights on). Chris Columbus’s script managed to combine two real-life paranormal mysteries: the belief by allied WWII pilots that the malfunctions experienced by their aircraft during missions, were caused by tricksterish sprites nicknamed ‘gremlins’; and the famous Kelly-Hopkinsville close encounters case, in which a family reported being terrorized by diminutive creatures with long arms, large ears and big non-blinking eyes –as a quick sidenote, the fact that goblins are ‘trendy’ once again is no doubt a credit to the docu-series Hellier. Even though the sequel released in 1990 is rather underwhelming and forgettable, the original Gremlins still remains one of the most iconic pieces of 1980’s cinema.
Hope you enjoy this little collection of Christmas-themed movies that only us ‘weirdos’ can truly appreciate. And although I’m sure I left out many others which also deserved mentioning, feel free to write about them in the comments section.
And on behalf of the entire TDG staff, Happy Holidays!
(Thanks to Greg, Wade Ridsdale, Justin Lucas and Przemek Starkiewicz for their suggestions to this list)