Christmas Season is with us yet again, and with it comes the onslaught of holiday specials, songs, and what not to get you to, dammit, BE HAPPY. And Buy Things. 'Cause Santa, and his pal, Jesus, they LOVE Happy Shoppers!
OK, a bit overstated, but as much as one can appreciate the good things about the season, it's very hard to ignore the cynicism that's not quite as hidden as it is for most of the rest of the year. Which is why, as much as I do appreciate the true spirit of the season, I tend to gravitate towards alternative Christmas ephemera - BUMMED OUT XMAS and Mojo Nixon's HORNY HOLIDAYS get as much play as the soundtracks from HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, and A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. And as far as seasonal viewing goes, the only traditional Christmas movie I tend to like is the Alestair Sims headed A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Everything else seems to try a little too hard; and attempts to bring more modern programs into play are too hardsell (I like A CHRISTMAS STORY, but a full 24 hrs every year causes me to like it less and less; I don't even want to get started with ELF or FRED CLAUS, which I just loathe for various reasons).
So, who can I turn to, to satisfy the Cynical Monkey on my back, to justify my bad attitude and suspicion of the season?
The Europeans. As I stated last year, Santa Claus is a far, far more complicated figure in Europe than he is in America. The American Santa is pretty much sanitized and homogenized "for your protection" and to be able to push product quickly & with no questions asked. Overseas, in the 'old country', the Santa figure is a bit tougher - hell, even the English 'Father Christmas' supplies weaponry in the family classic THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE.
Which makes it a great moment when there are TWO movies currently out and about where the whole concept of Santa is turned 180 from what we expect, and both have great fun in the twisting.
RARE EXPORTS, which had a theatrical run last year, is now on disc, just in time for the holiday - and it's one that the older kids can actually watch. Inspired by two short films made about the concept, the feature film is actually the prequel and fleshes out some of the background and material featured in the short films (which are included with the disc, and of course, should be watched AFTER the main feature).
It's lots of fun, with its twisting (or rather, untwisting) of the Santa legend, and adults can probably see a smidgen of commentary on commercialism and how even the most horrible things can be adapted to make an entire cottage industry. Older kids can like it because the hero of the film IS a kid, who proves to be much more on the ball than his adult counterparts. And even though things can get a bit... intense, the tone and level of scariness/violence is comparable to the original GREMLINS.
For much older kids and cynical bastards, there's SINT - it hadn't yet made it to the States after doing massive business in its native Netherlands when I mentioned it last year. IFC Films picked it up for the U.S. and has been making the rounds in limited release and VOD for the past month (it premieres in Kansas City as I write this). SAINT (English spelling) is another twist on the Santa story - one where the original Saint Nicholas wasn't that great a guy to begin with.
This 'St. Niklas' roams from village to village during the Middle Ages with his crew of brigands, pillaging and laying waste to whatever's in their way, until a group of peasants decide they've had enough and they put an end to the gang - or so they think. In revenge, St. Niklas and his crew return from beyond the grave to destroy the village (now called Amsterdam and having grown considerably) every full moon on Dec. 5th, which comes about every 32 years... which happens to be NOW.
If, while watching SAINT, you happen to be reminded of certain films of John Carpenter - say, like HALLOWEEN and THE FOG, it's not accidental. In fact, I wish Carpenter had directed something like this instead of THE WARD or that 'Masturbators of Horror' crap. It's deliberate homage that director Dick Maas treads, while also adding his black humor to the horror. Anyone who can handle the subject matter of a murderous zombie St. Nick and his minions, making it both scary AND funny but not stupid is a man to be reckoned with.
Maas isn't a well known name in the U.S., but his work is -- his previous films AMSTERDAMNED, THE LIFT (which he remade for the U.S. in 2001 with Naomi Watts, titled THE SHAFT) are a mix of horror/thriller leavened with black comedy. And he directed videos for Golden Earring - "Twilight Zone" and "When The Lady Smiles", which continue that mix. SINT is definitely NOT for the kids - and the tone will be off putting to some, but it'll be catnip for quite a few. There's a strong possibility that SAINT 2 will be coming down the road soon - and Maas already has a new thriller/comedy, QUIZ, that will premiere next year.
Pretty much the only alternative Christmas icon left untouched is Krampus (though THE VENTURE BROTHERS was the first American program to mention it, followed by SUPERNATURAL)...
... though I'm not sure that it'll ever be big in the U.S. The spirit of it, many could get behind; but it may be a bit too gruesome for Americans, who like their Christmas icons (and their politicians), to be squeaky clean and good-looking. Although, there was an attempt at an American Krampus, of sorts.
The name NACKLES will probably not mean anything to a lot of you, but for a select few, some will know that it's a short story by Donald E. Westlake (writing under the pen name 'Curt Clark') published in the early 1960's. Go ahead and read it - it's a pretty nifty piece of Christmas Chill.
When THE TWILIGHT ZONE was revived in the mid-80's, the story was planned for adaptation for its Christmas episode, to be written and directed by Harlan Ellison... but of course, things didn't go as planned, the episode did not get made, which led to Ellison walking off the show - an entertaining and complex story which is merely nutshelled here; Ellison did do an essay for TWILIGHT ZONE magazine about the entire affair, which also printed the original story and Ellison's teleplay -- all of which (The NACKLES Affair) can be found in the paperback edition of SLIPPAGE, a collection of Ellison short stories. Although we'll never see that teleplay performed (*sob*), you can, though the magic of The Internet and YouTube, get an idea how it could have looked, albeit 'Old School TZ'
A group of high school students adapted the story for a class; unfortunately, YouTube has blocked the concluding segment (due to copyright - song use, I'd guess).
And to all, a good night...