Collins’ Crypt: Holiday Horror Alternatives

Give those old holiday standbys the year off, and try some of these instead.

As a sucker for traditions of all kinds, it's actually a bit of a surprise even to myself that I don't have any particular movie I have to watch every Christmas. Horror or not, there are so many options and so little time that I find myself rotating them; if I watch Christmas Vacation or Silent Night Deadly Night one year, I'll probably skip it the next. Black Christmas is ALMOST an exception because the New Beverly plays it every year and I always go if I'm able to, but I've probably missed just as many as I've attended since I moved here almost a decade ago (indeed, I think I'll miss it this year due to work).

The benefit of this, when added to my increasingly poor memory (last night I had to ask Twitter a basic question about a movie I saw 3 months ago), is that I don't run the risk of wearing movies out as quickly. I mean, I've seen Home Alone so many times that I can practically recite the end credits, so it doesn't quite entertain as much as it did 20 years ago when viewings were still fresh. But Home Alone 2, which I haven't seen since probably 1995 or so? There might be some "surprises" if I were to give it a spin, as all I remember is that it's pretty much the same movie. As much as I defend Black Xmas (the remake), I've probably only watched it three times including my first viewing, and one of those others was just to refresh for one of these articles. I get accused of saying it's one of my favorite movies (it isn't) and that it's better than the original (it isn't), but there's only been one time in 8 years that I put it on just to enjoy it.

So to honor this tradition of not having traditions, I hereby present some horror "alternates" for you this holiday season. I figure many fans consider certain films (not necessarily horror) to be "must watch" material every single year, so I'm suggesting you give them a year off and watch these (all horror options) instead, with the incentive being that they share some DNA with the classics I'm asking you to skip. If you're lucky, you'll have time for both and it won't matter, but if you're like me and find your "sit and rewatch a beloved movie" time to be limited as real life engulfs your waking hours, I think these movies deserve a little love - you might even want to add them to your regular rotation.

Instead of Black Christmas, try:

The Sleeper
When I was doing Horror Movie A Day, I saw no shortage of horrible modern slasher movies that attempted to invoke the spirit of old-school (read: 1981, more or less) slashers by having the characters wink at the camera whenever they did something dumb, or have the actors purposely deliver their lines in a terrible manner. The Sleeper is the rare one that actually truly feels like an older slasher film; the bad actors are simply bad actors, not (possibly) good ones acting bad on purpose. But the plot is heavily influenced by Black Christmas, to the extent that it almost feels like a remake at times (more so than the actual one!), right down to the creepy "banging on the piano" score. If memory serves it's not specifically set on Christmas, though there is snow on the ground during the exterior scenes - but the loving tribute to Bob Clark's seminal original slasher film makes it certainly FEEL like it is.

Instead of Christmas Vacation, try:

Christmas Evil
Also known as You Better Watch Out, the film's hero is a lot like Clark Griswold in that he goes to extremes to ensure a perfect Christmas. But unlike Clark (sadly), he doesn't stop at merely yelling profanities at his parents and chopping down the neighbor's tree - eventually he dons a Santa suit and offs a few folks. I actually didn't think much of this one the first and only time I saw it, but it's got a strong enough following that I figure I must have just been in a bad mood or something when I saw it, so maybe I myself will give this another look this year instead of watching Chevy Chase unravel for probably the 400th time (not an exaggeration; between my multiple viewings as a kid and my 3 Christmases working at a Sam Goody that almost always had the movie on, that number may actually be low-balling it).

Instead of Die Hard, try:

Christmas Eve, check. An office building as the primary location, check. Our hero trapped inside said location, check! It's pretty much exactly like John McTiernan's beloved and perfect film, except instead of a lone cop played by Bruce Willis it's a lone office worker played by Rachel Nichols, and instead of twelve terrorists looking to make a fortune, it's a psychotic security guard (Wes Bentley) who is looking to, well, hook up with Rachel Nichols. But she's not much interested, so he snaps and a few people meet their gory ends as a result. Until this month's abysmal The Pyramid, the film had the distinction of being the only Alex Aja project (he co-wrote and produced) that wasn't a remake or adaptation since High Tension. In sadder news, it can also boast one of the worst opening weekends of all time, but I blame that on Summit's usual awful marketing and the fact that they released this Christmas-tinged thriller (Bentley even dons a Santa outfit for a while) in the middle of October. Sadly it was never released on Blu-ray here in the US as Summit opted for HD-DVD back in the format wars of 2008, so unless you have a Toshiba (or Xbox 360 add-on) laying around, you'll have to stick to standard def if you want to check out this minor cat-n-mouse gem on disc (though Amazon has it to rent - in HD! - for a mere 99 cents).

Instead of Gremlins, try:

Rare Exports
The spirit of Amblin is everywhere in Jalmari Helander's delightful and strange feature, expanded from his original short film. The plot concerns the disappearance of several local children, which our young hero is convinced is the work of Santa Claus. After he and his father trap who they think is St. Nick himself, the true origins of both their captive and of Claus himself are brought to light, resulting in a rare blend of horror and adventure that may be rated R but feels kid-friendly all the same. That is, if your kids are OK with the idea of a Santa Claus who is actually a towering monster.

Instead of Home Alone, try:

I recently read a fun little piece that suggested Kevin McAllister grew up to be Jigsaw from the Saw movies, but John Kramer wasn't the festive sort, so if you're looking for a more horror version of Home Alone (not counting The Collector) give this French masterpiece a look. It's also about a person defending their home from an intruder on Christmas Eve, but robbery isn't the villain's motive. It's not hard to figure out what she IS after, but it doesn't make it any less effective when revealed, and it's something I think parents in particular can appreciate (not expectant ones though - they should steer clear until baby is safely out of mama's belly). Make sure you're seeing the unrated one; there's an R cut floating around that's missing something like 7 minutes of the film's over the top grue.

Instead of Silent Night Deadly Night, try:

To All A Goodnight
If only the parents and attention seekers who were out picketing Silent Night Deadly Night in 1984 had paid more attention, the only thing folks would be protesting then was that it was a retread of this earlier film, which is also a slasher where the killer wears a Santa Claus costume (it also predates Christmas Evil, for the record). That's pretty much the only similarity, but it's not like those protesters had much else to go on anyway, since they were primarily basing their rants and raves on the poster instead of the film itself.

Of course, they probably never even heard of this 1980 effort, which I myself, slasher aficionado, only discovered a few years ago. It was only actually released on DVD (and Blu-ray! With bonus features to boot!) this year, which should hopefully void its status as a completely obscure movie. It's pretty standard slasher stuff, no better or worse than (name your average slasher from the era), but it's got two bullet points that should entice a viewing. One is that it stars Jennifer Runyon, best known as the cute blonde that is convinced she has psychic powers thanks to Peter Venkman in that classic scene from Ghostbusters. This is actually her first credited film, so to score a lead the first time out is pretty impressive - even Jamie Lee had a few TV credits under her belt prior to Halloween.

The second thing that makes me think this movie should be more well known is that it was the directorial debut of none other than David Hess, who sadly never helmed another feature (just a short documentary) before passing away a few years ago. I don't know if he would have been a "Master of Horror" candidate, but compared to many other actors turned directors I think he did a pretty good job for a next-to-no budget movie shot in ten days, and earns a few points for not casting himself as the male hero (or killer, for that matter). And with Runyon's character being named Nancy, I have to wonder if Hess showed the film to his pal Wes Craven at some point before the latter wrote Nightmare on Elm Street - was his Nancy a tip of the hat to this one? Before you chalk it up to coincidence, please note that there's a Tina, too.

The script was written by Alex Rebar, the Incredible Melting Man himself, who also produced. He pulled producer duty on the following year's Home Sweet Home, which is another holiday slasher (a Thanksgiving one, in fact) that no one seems to remember or know exists at all. He - along with Runyon and one of the other actors - appears in new interviews on the Blu-ray, which I really need to pick up as I said in my review (off a VHS tape) that the film would likely never have a special edition. I'm happy to be dead wrong! It was so delightful to see it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, of all places, next to, well, Silent Night Deadly Night.

Of course, there's a reason that Gremlins and Die Hard are slightly more beloved than Rare Exports and P2, which is that they're superior films, but like I said, there's nothing wrong with giving them a year off every now and then and giving something else a look. There are probably more Christmas-centric horror films than ones set on Halloween, so if you're only watching the same ones every year you're likely missing out on a lot of alternatives. I can even find something to like about all six Silent Night Deadly Night movies (five original entries, plus the remake), but I'm guessing 90% of you have never made it past "Garbage Day". None of the above movies discussed can unseat the traditional champions, but that doesn't make them any less valid. Make time for the little guys!