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.
Better Watch Out (2016)
Better Watch Out remains a largely unseen film, its limited cinema release in 2016, and lack of publicity directly affecting public awareness. However, this is a film destined to become a cult Christmas hit, despite some of the overly harsh reviews it received on release.
Better Watch Out takes the classic comedies Adventures in Babysitting and Home Alone. While 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 equally covered in the tinsel and lights of Christmas in the suburbs.
With a superbly sinister performance from Levi Miller. Better Watch Out will ensure you will never look at the innocent young teen you are babysitting in the same way again. 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. While bringing together the Bat, the Cat and the Penguin for a nightmare Christmas in DC Comics darkest city. Providing not only a visually stunning landscape but also a range of deliciously dark performances. 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. Consequently creating a film of pure comic book fantasy, as the Christmas lights of Gotham sparkle against the darkness of Burton’s vision.
This 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 Batman universe expands and develops. However, unfortunately, Batman Returns ended up too dark for some at Warner Brothers. Thus ending Keaton, Pfeiffer and Burton’s involvement in the franchise. But if you’ve got a go. Go in style. And it fair to say that Batman Returns oozes style.
Director: Tim Burton
Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard was released in the summer of 1988, a world away from the Christmas season it has become synonymous with. The films high octane action only dovetailing with Christmas later, due to VHS, DVD and TV outings in subsequent years. However, Die Hard is now Christmas, offering the opportunity to slump on the sofa with a drink and some leftover turkey. And indulge in the pure escapism and bombastic action of a film that embodies 1980s mainstream cinema.
Die Hard is pure muscles, vests and Shakespearian terrorists in all of their overblown glory. Thus providing the world with a sweat-soaked Bruce Willis who takes boy scout humour into the realms of counter-terror insurgency. With Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ ringing in the ears of the audience 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 pure testosterone.
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Yes of course it is! This 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 with 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 anarchy. The Christmas holiday’s turning from ‘Joy to 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 serious 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 escape. The 90s ‘Trump’ owned Plaza Hotel the epitome of a city where money buys power at any age. While the social divides of 90s New York are far more scary than the return of Harry and Marv.
Meanwhile, the slapstick humour of the first film is ratcheted up too maximum. As the traps and pain become sadistic in the hands of our 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