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The presents are wrapped, the tree is up, and you’re already sick of the Christmas songs playing in every shop you visit. What you need is something deliciously different to watch. A film that offers a more adult take on the festive season, or takes you on a weird but fantastical journey. So join us as we explore the Christmas films that step beyond the average festive movie. Films that play with genre boundaries introduce comic book mayhem or simply reflect a darker picture of Christmas. So get yourself a large drink and feast on our pick of the best deliciously dark Christmas movies.
What happens if you let the director of the outstanding Trick R’ Treat loose on Christmas? The answer is the delightfully dark Krampus of 2015. A film that revels in the European folklore of St Nicholas and the Krampus, while layering it with Gremlins and Poltergeist inspired horror. The family home invaded by fantastical creatures ranging from spooky and sinister elves to killer gingerbread men, as Christmas becomes a matter of life and death. But, aside from its devilishly brilliant visuals and engaging narrative, Krampus is also a delightful celebration of Christmas. The film’s central themes of faith, family conflict and commercialism astutely weaved into the comic book horror that ensues. While at the same time, providing us with a journey embedded in the folklore of Christmas as a festival of light in the cold depths of darkness.
Director: Michael Dougherty
Better Watch Out (2016)
Better Watch Out pays homage to the classic comedy structure of both Adventures in Babysitting and Home Alone. While at the same time, subverting the lighthearted attributes of both into a darkly comic and often creepy exploration of teenage psychosis. With the slapstick humour of Home Alone becoming a matter of life and death in the hands of an angelic-looking, yet damaged young teen. The mayhem and horror that ensues draped in the tinsel and lights of Christmas in the suburbs.
With a superbly sinister performance from Levi Miller, Better Watch Out ensures you will never look at the innocent young teen you are babysitting in the same way again. In a brilliantly dark and different Christmas movie that twinkles with horror and comedy.
Director: Chris Peckover
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Returns remains one of the most underrated comic book films of the past 25 years. One that saw Tim Burton delve even deeper into the gothic fairytale horror of his Gotham. At the same time, bringing together the Bat, the Cat and the Penguin for a nightmare Christmas in DC Comics darkest city. With Keaton building on his debut outing as the Batman. While also relishing the opportunity to play alongside Pfeiffer’s psychotic yet sensual Catwomen and DeVito’s damaged and dangerous Penguin. The resulting movie pure comic book fantasy joy, as the Christmas lights of Gotham sparkle against the darkness of Burton’s vision.
Batmans 1992 return is Tim Burton with the gloves off, dovetailing his trademark for gothic fairytales with the action of the first Batman outing. In effect, creating a comic book Christmas adventure full of bite, as Burton’s universe expands and develops. However, unfortunately, Batman Returns proved too dark for some at Warner Brothers. With the 1992 movie marking the end of Keaton, Pfeiffer and Burton’s involvement in the franchise. But if you’ve got a go. Go in style.
Director: Tim Burton
Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard was released in the summer of 1988, a world away from the Christmas season it represented. However, Die Hard is a Christmas movie through and through. Its testosterone-fuelled action giving us all the opportunity to slump on the sofa with a drink, some leftover turkey and a perfect slice of 1980s bombastic action.
Die Hard is pure muscles, vests and Shakespearian terrorists in all of their overblown glory. The sweat-soaked figure of Bruce Willis nothing more than an overgrown boy scout thrown into a world of counter-terror. At the same time as Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ rings in his ears, through a haze of blood, gunfire and explosions. Meanwhile, the late, great Alan Rickman brings his trademark Shakespearean villainy to the role of Hans Gruber. As the bright lights and capitalism of the ‘Nakatomi Plaza building’ is engulfed in a wave of terror. The result of which is a movie full of dark holiday cheer; the ultimate Christmas party disaster zone. The 80’s obsession with the Filofax wielding and cocaine sniffing yuppy, replaced by guns, one-liners and explosives.
Director: John McTiernan
Like so many other films on our list, Gremlins actually had its worldwide premiere in the height of summer. But make no mistake, this is pure Christmas comic book horror. With the dangers of buying cuddly creatures for your children during the festive season laid bare, as Billy’s new pet ‘Gizmo’ gives birth to bloody anarchy. The Christmas holiday’s turning from ‘Joy to the World‘ too ‘Danse Macabre‘ as Gremlins overrun the town of Kingston Falls.
It would be easy to label Gremlins as a simple creature horror movie. But there are also more profound social messages within the comic book carnage. From the dangers of rampant consumerism to American fears of foreign powers and technology. All surrounded by a narrative that reflects the fact that Christmas is not always the happiest time of the year. A theme vividly brought to life when Billy’s girlfriend (Phoebe Cates) recounts the story of her father’s unfortunate death. A story that takes Gremlins from comic book to mainstream horror, before the anarchy starts again.
Director: Joe Dante
Home Alone 2 – Lost in New York (1992)
Leaving your child home alone once could be forgiven. But leaving them at an airport and allowing them to go it alone in a major capital city is unforgivable. We tend to view both Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2 – Lost in New York (1992) as the perfect family Christmas movies. However, there is a dark side to both of these slapstick comic book adventures. One that finds itself further elaborated in the second Kevin McCallister outing.
Home Alone 2 places a pre-pubescent child into a decidedly adult cityscape. Our young hero avoiding danger by learning the power of money in buying position, authority and control. With the 90s ‘Trump’ owned Plaza Hotel, the epitome of a city where money buys power at any age. Meanwhile, the slapstick humour of the first film is turned up to maximum. With the traps becoming sadistic in the hands of little capitalist Kevin; a boy who seems intent on killing the hapless burglars. Yes, it’s still funny, and yes it’s full of Christmas cheer. But at its heart ‘Home Alone 2 – Lost in New York‘ is incredibly dark and sinister, as a city of extremes eats away at a young mind.
Director: Chris Columbus