The festive season is well and truly upon us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get all gooey and romantic.
Christmas is about many, many things. Religion, togetherness, buying a whole bunch of stuff, eating/drinking yourself into a borderline coma. Everyone has their own spin on the yuletide classic; the fact is, it’s a holiday, and we’ll do whatever the hell we want with it. But traditionally, celebrations of said holiday have always been rather, well, traditional. Between the Nativity, A Christmas Carol, and the endless pantheon of other fairly angelic festive treats, Christmas stories and movies have a reputation for being really kind of corny. They’re usually about something vague and moralistic like “the true meaning of Christmas”, or the power of love. But they really don’t have to be.
Surely the most important part of a Christmas movie is that it’s set at Christmas? The only real reason we watch anything grouped under this odd little genre, is because we like Christmas, it’s nearly Christmas, and we want to feel, for lack of a better word, “Christmas-y”. And for a rather large amount of people, “Christmas-y” doesn’t always mean a kid-friendly fable about togetherness. It’s a bit more superficial. It means decorated trees, garish woolen jumpers, and probably a hefty dosing of snow too. It’s the little parts that make it a whole, and they don’t always have to be forced into a family friendly mould. The point of these movies is to get you into the festive spirit. It doesn’t matter what the movie’s necessarily about, if it’s set at Christmas and has a strong enough Christmas vibe, well that’s jolly enough in my books.
Case in point: John McTiernan’s 1988 action movie classic Die Hard is (in my eyes at least) the greatest Christmas movie ever made, and it’s not even remotely family friendly. For the uninitiated, Die Hard stars Bruce Willis (back in the days when he had hair) as John McClane, a fairly ordinary New York cop, who flies to LA to visit his estranged wife on Christmas Eve. During her office Christmas party, terrorists (lead by an impeccably dressed Alan Rickman) seize control of the building and it’s all on McClane to save his wife and the other hostages. Fairly boilerplate action movie stuff, no mention of the “spirit of Christmas” or any over-the-top melodrama. But, in the space of 132 thunderously entertaining minutes (seriously, not a second is wasted), Santa gets a hearty tribute, there’s a crater-load of snow and everything is neatly tied together with a good old fashioned soundtrack of classic Christmas hits. It just so happens that a bunch of bad guys get shot in the face a lot too.
The result: that unmistakable festive feeling, without even so much as an ounce of gooeyness in sight. And there’s countless other movies that work in the very same way too. Between Bad Santa, The Night Before and Shane Black’s ridiculously ace Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, adult-orientated Christmas movies are almost an entire sub-genre in themselves. And in just a few short weeks, studio-backed home-invasion thriller Better Watch Out gives the whole holiday a new horror vibe too. All of which are “Christmas-y” enough, but with a significantly harder (and much less predictable) edge.
There’s no point putting Christmas, or any holiday for that matter, in a box: everyone celebrates it differently and everyone has their own tastes when it comes to films. So this December, get into the festive mood your way. If you like action movies, find one about gun-fights on Christmas Eve. If you like horror movies, find a slasher full of bloody snow and broken tree decorations. These movies do exist, and they might not be the traditional way of celebrating Christmas, but if they’re entertaining, and full of seasonal cheer, then why the hell not?
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