Black Friday is upon us! Which means it’s officially the start of the holiday season, and we’re guessing the first thing some of you will want to do after getting home from that all-night stakeout at Best Buy is flop on the couch and watch a movie…
Granted, there’s still a month out until the holiday season begins for realsies. So we totally get it if you aren’t quite ready to dive into the traditional White Christmas, Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story corner of your movie arsenal just yet. Which is why easing into it with some of the great flicks which happen to be set at during the holiday season is just the ticket for getting the ball rolling. Here are five of our very faves!
Black Christmas (1974)
Fun fact!: A decade before he became best known as the director of A Christmas Story, Bob Clark made a very different yuletide yarn, one which still stands up not only for this sub-category of movies but as one of the best (and earliest!) slasher film entries. Much of the film takes place in the sorority house where a killer is on the loose menacing the sisters (who include pre-Superman Margot Kidder and pre-SCTV Andrea Martin), lending it a feeling of claustrophobia; all of the POV shots are heavy with dread. Oh, and the ending is pretty startling as well.
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Shane Black is kind of a little bit obsessed with Christmas. I mean, we don’t know this for a fact but it would be a pretty educated guess given how many scripts the writer/director has written (Lethal Weapon; The Last Boy Scout; Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang; Iron Man 3) that happen to be set during the holidays. Most of which are worth a look in this category, but an underrated favorite is this rollicking caper starring the great Geena Davis as a schoolteacher and sububran mom whose mysterious (and deadly) past comes back to haunt her. It’s got tons of action, it’s got holiday family feels, and it’s got Samuel L. Jackson. What more do you need?!
Batman Returns (1992)
If you take his later opuses Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas into account, Tim Burton definitely has a thing for the visual splendor of the holidays, too. The one Burton-Xmas fest we keep coming back to time and again, however, is his second and last entry in the Dark Knight film canon; Gotham City has rarely looked as dazzling as it does blanketed in snow. The cheery holiday prodution design elements are a nifty contrast to the darker edge Burton tiptoes along, putting Michael Keaton’s Bats up against the deliciously psychotic Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman, and the just plain revolting Danny DeVito’s Penguin.
Pound for pound, Gremlins might be my favorite coincidentally-Christmas movie. The snow-capped small town beauty of Joe Dante’s holiday production design is so beautifully mismatched with the grotesque Gremlins once they start terrorizing the locals. (Fluffy little Gizmo, of course, is practically engineered for real-life toys ready made for Santa’s wishlist.) The scaly buggers might be frightening at times, however, nothing is as upsetting as the tale that Kate (Phoebe Cates) relates about her late father and the real reason she hates Christmas. Man, there’s a lot of twisted stuff in 80’s “family” films but this one might just be one of the most morbid. Happy holidays!
Die Hard (1986)
Ah, 1986. Most of us probably received great presents that year, but Bruce Willis received one of the greatest of all: A career boost from that beloved 80’s show about bantering detectives to one of the top action stars of his era. There’s very little that can be said about Die Hard that hasn’t been said a billion times, except that for a whole generation of film geeks, “yippee-ki-yay ****** ******” is about as ubiquitous as “ho-ho-ho”. Its Christmas party gone horribly wrong gave most audiences our first real introduction to Alan Rickman; made 20th Century Fox studio’s tallest building forever known as “Nakatomi Plaza”; and lead most of us to attempt at least once to calm down by taking our socks off on the carpet and making fists with our toes. Sure beats running barefoot on broken glass, eh McClane?