Although we’ve already had a good week’s Christmas viewing, there’s still a long, icy road to walk (or sit down and watch). So, as always, it’s good to plan ahead.
The problem with starting your festive viewing so early is that you run the risk of getting overloaded too quickly. It’s entirely possible to get ‘Christmased’ out well ahead of the big day. Four weeks of festive cheer, joy to the world, and God bless us everyone is enough to grate on even the most merry of souls. That being the case, week two of our festive viewing needs to take an alternative route. There’s plenty of material within the Christmas canon that subverts the standard yuletide traditions, and some of it even quite deliciously dark. So it’s time to turn to one of the most celebrated of gothic filmmakers in modern times, namely Tim Burton.
You have to tread carefully with Burton, much like an overexposure to all things festive can put you off your Christmas pudding, an over indulgence in the films of Tim Burton may lead to serious resentment of his gothic styling, twisted fairytales, and all round smug-gitness. And let’s face facts, he hasn’t made a decent film in about one-hundred years. But there’s a time and a place for everything, and there’s no doubt that Burton knows how to do an alternative spin on That Most Wonderful Time of The Year like nobody else.
Due to the gritty realism of the recent Batman movies, Burton’s early 90s efforts might seem rather tame in comparison, but they still hold a certain charm. And there’s no better time to relive Batman Returns (villains jumping out of a Christmas tree! Nice). Whilst we’re at it, let’s get Edward Scissorhands on the go – a sweet bit of harmless fun that tells the story behind the most elusive of Christmas traditions – snow. Burton’s Frankenstein/Cinderella/Freddy Kruger hybrid treads the line between beautiful and grotesque perfectly. In fact, it’s this sort of thing that Burton does best, taking classic fairytale conventions and cramming them into odd or unorthodox environments. The ultimate example of this is surely The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Mixing alternative holiday seasons, Burton’s stop-motion masterpiece fuses the innocence of Christmas and darkness of Halloween. And all to climax with a lovely-old Christmas message – a yuletide redemption fit for the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge himself. With memorable songs, macabre characters, and that unique visual style that very much belongs to Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas has become one the most iconic Christmas movies of the modern era. An absolute must if you’re on board for the dark side of the festive season.
Moving away from Burton (surely that’s as much as anyone can stomach), there’s plenty more horror to be had from the second week of Christmas. I refer, of course, to The League of Gentlemen.
The League of Gentlemen is undoubtedly one of finest British comedies of all time, combining pitch-black humour, sinister characters, and surreal storylines to brilliant effect. And the League went all out for their Christmas special, a bizarre but brilliant take on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Telling three stories of hilarious horror, this episode may be the last truly great TV Christmas special; this sort of thing just doesn’t exist anymore, not with the same magic anyhow (much like the Christmas song – come back Wizard, all is forgiven!). In particular, look out for The League of Gentlemen’s Nosferatuesque tale of Herr Lipp, the Queen of Duisburg.
Whilst we’re talking unusual approaches to Dickens’s classic, we can hardly overlook Richard Donner’s Scrooged. A slice of postmodern fun, Scrooged is one of those forgotten Bill Murray gems that were ten a penny in the 80s (hey, they’re all gems where Murray is concerned, apart from Spacejam, maybe). Following the story of moody TV exec Frank Cross, we’re treated to all the usual trappings of Christmases past, present, and future, all with a knowing grin and the kind of genuine heart that characterized so much 80s comedy.
So far, so good – but there’s more fun to be had from alternative Christmas viewing. Don’t forget the politically incorrect Bad Santa, any or all of the South Park festive episodes, and the ultraviolent and profane Bottom Christmas special.
Following all of this dark and dastardly merriment, you may have had your fill of doom and gloom, in which case it might be time to return to something a tad more traditional. It may seem like a bit of a contrast but this is a good time for The Snowman. Not only is it a perfect reintroduction to ‘proper’ Christmas, it’s got that awful Aled Jones song (an unfortunate yuletide must), and also features none other than the man who fell to Earth, David bloody Bowie.
It’s a little remembered fact that Bowie is the star of The Snowman. Not only is he the narrator of the film, he’s also the man that the little boy in the story grows up to be. It’s fair to say that if any of you were abducted in the middle of the night by a chap made of snow, flown to meet Santa Claus, and then traumatized for life by the premature death of said snowman, you might grow up to be as bonkers as Bowie too. And this is the main reason for The Snowman’s inclusion here – if we looking at alternative takes on Christmas, lets put forward Bowie as the alternative personification of the Christmas spirit, for this appearance and his triumphant turn alongside Bing Crosby on ‘Little Drummer Boy’. Come on kids, let’s get behind Bowie – anything’s better than Cliff Richard…