Ho Ho No – Christmas Turkies

Christmas is the season of goodwill to all men (and women). However, that generosity of spirit need not – and should not – extend to the slew of bad yuletide movies that make a plate of soggy Brussels sprouts look appealing.

For every Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life or Scrooged there are countless turkies seeking to cash-in on our festive cheer that make you want to shout “bah humbug” at their sheer cynicism and ineptitude.

Below are a selection of just some of the many risible Christmas movies I’ve unfortunately come across over the years. Consider this list a warning – don’t ruin your well-earned festive goodwill by subjecting yourselves to them. That being said, I’d love to know:

What are the worst Christmas movies you’ve seen?

Santa With Muscles (1996)

Santa With Muscles

In an all-too-familiar example of commerce winning over common sense, there was a period back in the 1990s when Terry Gene Bollea, otherwise known by his ring name Hulk Hogan, was something approaching a movie star. The fact he coudn’t act seemed unimportant. Put it down to collective insanity on the part of all involved (including Mila Kunis in only her second film), but Santa With Muscles must figure as one of the most far-out excursions into Christmas movie-making ever seen. Hogan stretches himself by playing a professional wrestler who believes he’s Santa Claus following a bang to noggin and tries to save an orphanage from an evil scientist. I’ll leave it there.

Four Christmases (2008)

Four Christmases

The truly uninspired (and poorly photoshopped) poster for Four Christmases of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon standing with their backs to each other should tell you all you need to know about this car crash of a film. Christmas should be a happy time of year, but Vaughn and Withspoon turn this tale of a couple visiting their divorced parents’ homes on Christmas Day into one of the most joyless experiences you can imagine. Worse still, the film co-stars Jon Favreau, which only serves to make you want to go back and watch Swingers instead.

Jack Frost (1998)

Jack Frost

No, not the 1964 Russian film (or the 1997 cult horror comedy), but rather the frankly bizarre fantasy flick starring Michael Keaton as the titular Jack Frost, who dies in a car accident and returns to life as a snowman. I’ll repeat that: returns to life AS A SNOWMAN and gets a second chance “to be the world’s coolest dad” to his young son. The classic animated short film The Snowman showed how magically something akin to this can be done; however, Jack Frost simply tugs the heartstrings (and trips the mind) and hopes that’ll be enough for audiences to ignore just what a pile of yellow snow it is.

Surviving Christmas (2004)

Surviving Christmas

Ben Affleck is now enjoying the fruits of a successful directorial and acting career, but there was a time not so long ago when all he touched turned to poop. Alongside such box office bombs as Gigli and his other Christmas-set movie Reindeer Games, Surviving Christmas came and went from cinemas quicker than you can say “Santa”. It’s an appropriate title, as watching Affleck as an annoying millionaire who pays a family to spend the festive season with him feels like an exercise in survival itself. What’s even more tragic is that it also stars the late James Gandolfini.

Fred Claus (2007)

Fred Claus

Vince Vaughn has the dishonour of appearing twice on this list, such are his crimes against Christmas cinema. Here he plays Fred, the elder and less well known brother of Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti), who is forced to make toys at Christmas HQ after being bailed out of jail by his younger sibling – with unamusing results. In spite of a great cast (Giamatti, Miranda Richardson, Kevin Spacey, Kathy Bates, Rachel Weisz), the film will leave you as cold as its North Pole setting. Now please Mr Vaughn: stop making Christmas movies. Think of the kids.

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In Retrospect – Home Alone (1990)

I’ve been enlisted by Tom at the never-less-than-superb Digital Shortbread to take part in his weekly Throwback Thursday segment. Tom came to me to see if I would like to contribute one half of a double-feature evaluation of that festive favourite Home Alone (1990) and its 1992 sequel Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Needless to say, I was honoured to be invited to take part in what’s always a fun and informative feature and delighted to be able to share my thoughts on Home Alone. Make sure to head on over to Tom’s great site (the quality of writing is something else) and check out his thoughts on Home Alone 2. Thanks again Tom!

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Home Alone, right?

Criticising Home Alone is like taking candy from a baby; it's easy but you feel bad about doing it. For all its faults - and it has a few - it's a guilty pleasure you don't feel too bad about indulging when the festive season comes around

Criticising Home Alone is like taking candy from a baby; it’s easy but you feel bad about doing it. For all its faults – and it has a few – it’s a guilty pleasure you don’t feel too bad about indulging when the festive season comes around

As much a festive tradition as roasting chestnuts on an open fire and receiving socks from granny, Chris Columbus’ monster box office hit had a seismic impact on Hollywood and helped to usher in a gamut of family friendly flicks hoping to ride the wave.

The home invasion movie was hardly a new concept, but writer and producer John Hughes sought to lighten up this normally dark sub-genre with a pair of bungling burglars and a protagonist whose early years and cutesy smile disguise a natural aptitude for home security and a hunger for sadistic violence.

Macaulay Culkin doing what he does best - mock, shock face in Home Alone

Macaulay Culkin doing what he does best – mock, shock face in Home Alone

The kid in question is eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), who’s left to fend for himself in his palatial home after being accidentally left behind by his family when they fly to Paris for a Christmas vacation. While Kevin’s guilt-ridden mom (Catherine O’Hara) tries to get back home by any means necessary, the wee lad goes about protecting his castle from a pair of notorious burglars called the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern).

Although Culkin was a known entity to Hughes, having appeared in his 1989 comedy Uncle Buck opposite John Candy (who gets a cameo here as Gus Polinski – ‘the Polka King of the Midwest’), his casting in Home Alone was nevertheless a considerable gamble due to the demands of having to hold the audience’s attention for long periods with no support. It’s a test for any actor to pull this off, but when that performer is a kid the challenge is immense.

Grrrrrr. The Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) looking mean in Home Alone

Grrrrrr. The Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) looking mean in Home Alone

Culkin didn’t become the biggest child star since Shirley Temple for nothing, though. With a cherubic all-American face, cheeky attitude and natural on-screen confidence, Culkin is a perfect fit for the role of Kevin. He might not have the acting chops of many of today’s child actors, but when all he’s got to do is put his hands to his face and pull that over-the-top shocked expression now and again (and again) he doesn’t need to worry about it.

The film does a nice job early on of showing how an eight-year-old would probably react when left home alone.  When he isn’t tearing around the house and eating big bowls of ice cream Kevin’s making his own entertainment, like sledging down the stairs.

"Kevin!!" Kate (Catherine O'Hara) realises she's left her son Home Alone

“Kevin!!” Kate (Catherine O’Hara) realises she’s left her son Home Alone

Kevin must soon come to realise, however, just how important family is, especially at Christmas time. After wishing they would all just go away (his brother Buzz calls him a “flem-wad” and, when asked by Kevin if he can sleep in his room, is told: “I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass”), he’s soon pining for them. He also learns the importance of not judging books by their covers, especially the slightly odd guy next door who actually turns out to be a kind old man.

Life lessons aside, Home Alone is, for all intents and purposes, a cartoon, with Culkin’s mannered performance complementing the Laurel and Hardy shenanigans of Pesci and Stern (it’s hard to believe this came out just a couple of months after Goodfellas, which saw Pesci portray a rather more unhinged bad guy).

Joe Pesci was on fire back in 1990

Joe Pesci was on fire back in 1990

The film spends a long time teasing the audience before letting rip with Pesci and Stern’s Wacky Races-esque attempt to catch Kevin (instead of the pigeon) in the final act. Needless to say, it’s the most entertaining part of the film, with a gleeful Kevin parading around as the blundering burglars walk into trap after trap and mutter indiscernible obscenities in the same manner as Dick Dastardly’s dog Mutley.

One half of the Wet Bandits (Daniel Stern) about to regret messing with Kevin in Home Alone

One half of the Wet Bandits (Daniel Stern) about to regret messing with Kevin in Home Alone

The violence unleashed is quite nasty in places, in particular when an iron drops on Stern’s head, which in normal circumstances probably would have killed him.

Criticising Home Alone is like taking candy from a baby; it’s easy but you feel bad about doing it. For all its faults – and it has a few – it’s a guilty pleasure you don’t feel too bad about indulging when the festive season comes around.