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The worst and weirdest Christmas films

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In the wonderfully creepy ‘Hogfather,’ it’s up to Death and his daughter to save Hogswatch. In the wonderfully creepy ‘Hogfather,’ it’s up to Death and his daughter to save Hogswatch.

The Yule Blog, Dec. 6: 19 days until Christmas

Christmas has its share of dark and just plain bad films

The whole idea of what counts as weird is a little warped for those of us who grew up on Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas specials. When the singing and dancing Heat Miser and his brother Snow Miser are among your earliest childhood memories, it’s hard to evaluate “normal.”

Still, there are a few of us out there who would rather talk about the infamous Star Wars holiday special than their favorite scenes in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

George C. Scott was great in “A Christmas Carol” in 1984, but isn’t it more fun to talk about the exquisite agony of “An American Carol,” an all-but-unwatchable harangue against Hollywood, liberals, and anything left of the John Birch Society?

Better yet, just start rambling about Charles Dickens knockoffs from every TV show, direct-to-DVD atrocity and Hallmark special ever filmed. Compare and contrast “A Flintstones Christmas Carol” with the Smurfs version, while dismissing the Disney attempt as flawed and compromised.

That way, people will stop talking to you at holiday parties, and maybe they’ll stop inviting you altogether, leaving much more time for what’s important: watching crazy stuff and surfing Internet movie lists.

So here it is, our list of conversation-stopping films for the holidays, just in time to clear some space around you at the buffet line:

“Santa With Muscles” was filmed in 1996 and stars Hulk Hogan. Is there any more that needs to be said? OK, if you insist: He gets amnesia and believes he is Santa, and has to stop a mad scientist played by Ed Begley Jr. who wants to close an orphanage to steal the magic crystals below. It made $120,000 on its opening weekend and closed two weeks later.

‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’ is well-paced, well-acted and super creepy. Onni Tommila stars. ‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’ is well-paced, well-acted and super creepy. Onni Tommila stars.

“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” is by no means a bad movie. It’s well-paced, well-acted, and full of endearing, realistic characters in far northern Finland near the Russian border. It’s also super creepy.

Think of it as a horror movie with a punchline.

Unlike so many Christmas-themed horror flicks – “Silent Night, Deadly Night” wasn’t the first, but it seemed to open the floodgates – “Rare Exports” is more than just a slasher flick set at the end of the year.

A team blasting in the Korvatunturi Mountains finds an ancient grave that turns out to be the last resting place of Santa Claus. But this is not the guy from the Coca-Cola commercials; this is the Santa of earlier times who kidnaps bad little children, which seems to cover just about everybody. And he’s not quite dead.

Only one small boy in a community of reindeer hunters realizes what’s happening, and he comes up with a plan.

Released in 2010, the film is directed by Jalmari Helender, and is in English and Finnish with subtitles. It stars Onni and Jorma Tommila.

A perennial favorite on worst lists, 1964’s “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” has a lot to forgive, not least of which is introducing an 8-year-old Pia Zadora to the world.

As could probably be deduced from the title, Martians kidnap Santa. But first they need a couple of Earth children to help them find the real one.

Throw in a cardboard robots, some green makeup and a jaunty surf rock soundtrack, and you have yourself a timeless cult classic. Mystery Science Theater had a crack at it, as did the “Canned Film Festival.” This one is primo viewing for bad-movie buffs.

Starring John Cusack, ‘The Ice Harvest’ is full of bloodshed, mayhem, ill-gotten cash and despair. Starring John Cusack, ‘The Ice Harvest’ is full of bloodshed, mayhem, ill-gotten cash and despair.

Not so much a Christmas movie as a movie set at Christmas, not quite a comedy and not quite a thriller, not particularly beloved by critics or audiences, “The Ice Harvest” is still worth watching. But wait for the kids to go to bed.

Directed by Harold Ramis and starring John Cusack as the best mob lawyer in Wichita, Kan., the film is full of bloodshed, mayhem, ill-gotten cash and a permeating cloud of existential despair that would do Raymond Chandler proud.

Cusack’s character and a partner in crime played by Billy Bob Thornton steal $2 million from their boss. They believe the boss, played by Randy Quaid, is a killer, so they aim to get out of town quickly. But the roads are too icy to drive, so the protagonists pass an anxious Christmas Eve at strip clubs, crime scenes and an uncomfortable family dinner.

The movie succeeds on a number of levels, not least of which is managing to preserve some shred of audience sympathy for Cusack’s nice-guy-gone-bad.

Released in 2005, the film wasn’t a box office sensation. And there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground; reviewers seem to either love it or loathe it.

But the late Roger Ebert talked it up, and it may be the bracing antidote needed to counteract all the peppermint-infused niceness on screens this time of year. After watching, say, “The Santa Clause” 1, 2 and 3, a little lighthearted bloodshed may be just the thing.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a smart man. At some point he realized he could not be a top-grossing action star forever, and he’d better find a way into other kinds of roles while he could still bring in the crowds. Of course, that was before he realized it would be easier to just run California.

Sometimes the strategy worked, like in “Twins” with Danny DeVito; sometimes it was just awful, as in “Jingle All the Way.”

It’s hard to hate any movie that has a part for Phil Hartman, but when Schwarzenegger’s Howard Langston starts his late-season quest for Turboman, the year’s hot toy, it’s just possible to see where the laughs would fit in. Opposing him is Sinbad’s Myron Larabee, and things get more and more ridiculous as they struggle to find the one thing that will make his family’s Christmas happy: love. No, just kidding. Some plastic thing.

‘Happy Naked Christmas’ is a South Korean romantic comedy about a village cop with big dreams. ‘Happy Naked Christmas’ is a South Korean romantic comedy about a village cop with big dreams.

Not long ago, it took a lot of work to find a gem like “Happy Naked Christmas,” a 2003 South Korean romantic comedy about a village cop with big dreams. Now anyone with a Netflix account can tune in and experience an extraordinary cross-cultural exchange, although if you watch it from your work computer you may want to clear your history afterward.

Comedian Cha Tae-hyun plays Byung-Ki, Kim Sun-A is Min-kyong, who he falls in love with at first sight. Unfortunately for him, the boss of the local gang has also fallen for her.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” may be a controversial inclusion, but this Christmas train wreck from 2000 presented by Ron Howard not only messes with a nearly perfect 26-minute holiday classic, it also manages to be shrill, frantic and boring all at once. 

Under pounds of makeup and foam, Jim Carrey is just plain bizarre-looking as the green villain with heart, so this flick fits nicely under the “weird” column as well.

 

The British adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s “Hogfather” originally aired on Sky One at Christmas in 2006, but with two episodes clocking in at an hour and a half each, it’s easily feature length.

Part of Pratchett’s sprawling Discworld continuum, Hogfather is Santa, more or less, who comes every Hogswatch with gifts for good girls and boys throughout that flat world.

But something so patently unlikely does not sit well with The Auditors of Reality, who decide to hire an assassin to have him killed.

It’s up to Death and his daughter Susan (don’t ask) to save the Hogfather before Hogswatch morning. Look for a wonderfully creepy performance by Marc Warren as the assassin Jonathan Teatime. He insists it is pronounced “te-ah-tim-eh,” and seems singularly well-suited to his job.

Highlights include a red-suited, bearded Death handing out toys and a chance to meet the god of hangovers.

Another contender for the weird category, “Bad Santa” has an appeal all its own. Billy Bob Thornton stars in this dark 2003 comedy as a con man who gets a job as a mall Santa for reasons of his own. Spoiler alert: They have nothing to do with spreading holiday cheer.

Reviewer Rob Nelson called it “the most belligerently crass and profane comedy to slither out of the studio system in at least a year.” Oddly enough, most of the positive reviews said much the same thing.

For those who dislike humor, “Ernest Saves Christmas” was a chance to revisit Ernest P. Worrell in 1988. Those with an hour and a half to kill and no need for a root canal can find the whole thing here:

But we need a winner.

With so many pointless and tedious “family” films to choose from, there isn’t room on this list for all of them. All those third-act reconciliations, all those times it snowed on Christmas Eve, all those wacky Christmas song montages and unearned emotional endings and frankly awful acting, not to mention sweaters that are flat-out disturbing – it would take a lifetime to watch them, let alone write about them.

For those independent movies pulled together on a shoestring, making fun of them is so easy as to just seem cruel, all the more so because their stars likely have Google alerts to let them know when something posts about them. Ernest incompetence is far more entertaining than cynical manipulation posing as heartwarming holiday fare.

It’s the big-budget professional films we want to skewer. The ones that cost millions of dollars and serve no purpose at all, the ones that are entirely heartless while pretending to be an emotional breakthrough. Those are the very worst.

So we need a fall guy: one big-budget, high profile, terrible film to stand for them all. After long and careful consideration, we’ve settled on “Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe,” which premiered on ABC Family in 2009.

Jenny McCarthy stars as Mary Claus, Santa’s daughter. In the first film, she’s a high-powered New York businesswoman who has to take over when her dad gets sick. The second time around, there isn’t even that much plot to spread across the 84-minute run time.

Everything’s in focus, everybody remembers their lines, there are even a couple of pretty funny jokes (not very many), and the whole thing makes you want to go watch “The Ice Harvest” again.

On the lighter side, next week we’ll be bringing you our staff picks for the best Christmas films.

The Yule Blog is a day-to-day countdown to Christmas featuring a new story each day. Click the links below to read other stories in the series.

Nov. 29: Best shopping apps put you where the buys are

Nov. 30: Small Business Saturday gives independent shops their turn to shine.

Dec. 1: Before there was 'Elf,' there was 'The Santaland Diaries.'

Dec. 2: Historic Smithville has plenty of old-fashioned Christmas spirit to go around

Dec. 3: Earth-friendly gifts help preserve the world's green assets

Dec. 4: Great gift ideas for the cook

Dec. 5: Let Cape May kindle your Christmas spirit

Dec. 6: The worst and the weirdest Christmas films

Dec. 7: How to take the perfect holiday portrait

Dec. 8: Will South Jersey have a white Christmas in 2013?


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