Having spent some time Googling for alternative holiday viewing picks this year, it fast became apparent that there is a real lack of lists that aren’t the same-old same-old; listen, I love Die Hard and Gremlins too! It’s just a pretty major stretch to call these movies underrated or overlooked in any way, so I figured I should take matters into my own hands and list off some off-the-beaten path flicks that either deal with the holidays/Christmas specifically, or at least capture some snowy vibes for your viewing pleasure.
Let’s do it:
3615 code Père Noël aka Deadly Games (1989, René Manzor)
I’m going to start with this one because it may actually be the first to date the list in the future, as 3615 code Père Noël is in the midst of a bit of a resurgence. It was programmed a year or two ago by the Laser Blast Film Society here in Toronto, and it has started to pop up here and there online as a solid alternative Christmas pick, so I really feel like this one is about to have its moment in the spotlight. This morbid holiday cocktail is about a French child who has to defend his house against the psycho Department Store Santa that he got fired – sounds a little familiar right? Child uses traps to defend his house from attackers? Well, the filmmakers thought so too and it’s said they were considering legal action. Regardless, now is your time to get in on this soon-to-be cult-favourite.
The Christmas Martian aka Le martien de Noël (1971, Bernard Gosselin)
Here’s some pure, unfiltered Canadian WTF-worthy spiked maple syrup for you; two kids run afoul of the titular “martian” (just a Canadian comedian bundled up in a big coat with fishnets over his face) and end up on his spaceship, eating space candy. They also fly around for a while, and eventually have a big party with the locals. It’s absolutely bizarre, but equally as fascinating. A true piece of Canadian history that you should probably experience for yourself.
Comfort and Joy (1984, Bill Forsyth)
Bill Forsyth’s Housekeeping was one of my favourite personal discoveries of the year, so of course I was going to check in with his kind-of Christmas movie; this one takes a while to get going, and features the patented entering-the-finale-lull, but it definitely gets there and ends on a really great note.
It’s the story of a Radio DJ who’s girlfriend of four years takes off unexpectedly (like, doesn’t tell him until the moving trucks are there); he soldiers on, and ultimately becomes embroiled between rival ice cream truck companies who make him their go-between. Meanwhile, his bosses think he’s going nuts with all his conspiracy-type talk at the end of his radio show.
This all sounds more eventful than it actually is, in true Forsyth fashion it’s very low-key and subtly hilarious.
The poster tries to skew further towards the Christmas tone than the actual movie (he never drives around with a tree on his car that I recall) but it’s a very charming picture with great performances and cast that ends on a nice note.
D.O.A. (1988, Annabel Jankel & Rocky Morton)
This remake of the neo-noir classic (from the filmmaking duo who went on to direct Super Mario Bros.) is exactly the kind of overbaked, ambitious mess that I absolutely love. It’s a shame how they were basically blacklisted after the Mario fiasco, because they direct the hell out of this movie and I wish we could have more films from them. Here, Dennis Quaid is poisoned by someone (there’a about a million red herrings) and he has about 24-48 hours to figure out what’s going on before he dies. It’s an expectedly twisted affair, and it takes place during the sweatiest, most sweltering and alcohol/cigarette-soaked Christmas you’ll ever see on film. The most unfortunate thing about the picture is the forced romance between Quaid’s professor character and Meg Ryan’s student – gross power dynamics abound – but otherwise it’s a lot of fun.
Iced (1988, Jeff Kwitny)
Not technically a Christmas film, but a snowbound low-budget slasher picture about murders at a ski resort. There’s a real weird “spent the budget on cocaine” charm to this lame slasher; the late-80s fashion, drab cinematography and awkward skiing scenes oddly make up for some of the slack pacing. The kills aren’t anything to write home about, and it seems more interested in getting random scenes of nudity in, but there’s a je ne sais quoi here that I can’t put my finger on which made this all very entertaining to me. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculously funny final shot. :chef kiss emoji:
Beat Street (1984, Stan Lathan)
With Beat Street, you not only get a Santa Rap, but you are also served up a perfect vision of snowy New York, extended 10+ minute breakdance scenes, and phenomenal music. This is another one on the list where the holiday vibes maybe aren’t laid on as thick as you might expect, but the aforementioned rap really pushes it over the top. It’s also just a fantastic snapshot of a specific era in music history and for that, it’s a must-see.
Blood Beat (1983, Fabrice A. Zaphiratos)
I don’t think you can deny a movie as out-there as this one; you could call it boring, confusing, weird, and more – and you’d be right – but it’s so bonkers, so (seemingly) intentionally impenetrable that it ultimately just becomes a complete and total original. The “plot” follows a group who come together at a cabin in rural Wisconsin for some holiday deer-hunting, but are rudely interrupted by the spirit of a Japanese samurai. A hazy, psychedelic VHS vision beamed down from who-knows-where; Merry Christmas!
Stone Cold Dead (1979, George Mendeluk)
Canadian maple sleaze that takes the police procedural/giallo to the great white north; the kind of thriller that meanders about – the black-gloved killer with a sniper rifle strikes so infrequently that for stretches you almost forget about it – but the vibe is sleazy, the 70s funk and melodramatic orchestration is laid on thick, Paul Williams is overacting, and the grimy Toronto atmosphere and locations seal the deal.
A low-key, hang out in the gutter, winter-bound Peeping Tom meets detective thriller for the Labatt 50 set.
Santabear’s High Flying Adventure (1987, Michael Sporn & Robert Marianetti)
Bizarrely mounted animated short with John Malkovich as Santa and Bobby McFerrin in dual roles as the titular Santabear and his arch nemesis; the dialogue is stilted and made even more weird by the plainfaced vocal performances (or in some cases, non-performances.) Still, there’s some kind of oddball charm to it that kept me interested – which makes it a good alternative to your tried-and-true classics.
Trapped in Paradise (1994, George Gallo)
Oddly forgotten 90s comedy starring Nicholas Cage, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey as a trio of bank robbing brothers who have pulled their latest heist but just cannot seem to leave the titular town of Paradise. Not a knock-down hilarious affair, but with a cast this solid it almost doesn’t matter.
Prancer (1989, John D. Hancock)
Probably the most popular/well-known film to grace this list, but having seen Prancer for the first time this year and falling in love with it, I just couldn’t make this post without including it. John D. Hancock’s film is as magical as it is unrelentingly depressing; this tale of a young girl, her struggling apple-farmer father, and the reindeer who might just be Prancer absolutely won me over. I couldn’t believe that this movie isn’t kept in high regard, because it’s a masterpiece in my eyes. Oh, and bring some tissues because: Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel.