Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010, dir: Jalmari Helander)
Santa Claus is real, and he’s not what Coca-Cola sold you. He’s actually a horned demon that feeds on children who’s buried inside a mountain in Finland. A Christmas take on Carpenter’s The Thing, Helander crafted an old-fashioned adventure film with great humour and fantastic performances by its two young leads.
Is it scary? I wouldn’t count it among the scariest movies ever, though there are some great horror sequences. The demon eyes on Santa’s little helpers are unsettling, and a scene with a captured Santa is straight horror, but it’s not something that will give you nightmares. You are safe to see this one with the kids – that is, if they are ok with hundreds of naked elves running in the snow.
Is it fun? I did just write naked elves running in the snow. This movie is quite absurd, and Helander never hides it, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale has some very dark humour about people being afraid to talk about Santa, which is really amusing.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, dir: Henry Selick)
Is this a Christmas or a Halloween movie? The movie mostly takes place in Halloween town, but they constantly talk about Christmas – and it’s in the title. I always end up watching it both in October and December, so I’m listing The Nightmare Before Christmas as a Christmas movie. Tim Burton’s stop-motion musical masterpiece in which a giant skeleton man decides to take over Christmas by kidnaping Santa Claus and usurping his job. Danny Elfman’s catchy and creepy music elevates this movie to a timeless classic.
Is it scary? Small kids may get scared by the dark imagery of Halloween town, and its variety of citizens ranging from zombies to werewolf and whatever Oogie Boogie is. You don’t watch this movie because it’s scary, but because of the characters, the animation and the music.
Is it fun? Hell yes. The music is incredibly catchy – Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara and the entire singing cast brings the music to life, and Ken Page’s Oogie Boogie’s Song is as menacing as it will make you want to get up and dance. The stop-motion animation is revolutionary, and one can’t help but stare and wonder how difficult it must have been to make this movie. The production design looks like a creepy children’s pop-up book, with each set having a unique look filled with rich detail. By the time the movie’s 76-minute runtime is over, you will hum the songs for the rest of the day.
Gremlins (1984, dir: Joe Dante)
Perhaps the holy grail of Christmas horror, Joe Dante’s classic film about how not following the rules can bring an army of little green monsters to rein hell upon a little town. Gremlins is famous for being one of two films – the other one being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – that inspired the introduction of the PG-13 rating in the US.
Is it scary? It’s quite gory! Those awful little green monsters get microwaved, shredded to pieces and melted like the nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s enough horror and gore to satisfy adults while also scare kids. Plus, half the town dies gruesome deaths! Gremlins also has the absolute bleakest story about Santa ever put on film.
Is it fun? How does a room full of gremlins singing along to Snow White sound? This film understands the absurdity of the concept and has a lot of fun with it. Each of the gremlins has a unique personality, and even the death scenes are funny. For every scary or disturbing scene, there’s an equal amount of comedy. Spielberg decided against Gizmo turning into a gremlin because he should stick around as the hero’s pal, and boy was he right.