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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day. We all know the sugary Christmas movie classics, "Miracle on 34th Street," "It's a Wonderful Life," "White Christmas." There are Christmas movies that won't give you diabetes. Writer Mark Jordan Legan takes a look at the darker side of this genre.

MARK JORDAN LEGAN: For every classic film that can fill you with the warmth and good cheer of a homemade cup of cocoa, there are also Christmas movies that could be as sour and smelly as a mug of curdled eggnog. And that's where we come in. We want to share with you some of the strangest, weirdest Christmas-themed movies ever made. So, what do you say we throw a yuletide log on the fire? And while we're at it, we may want to throw a copy of our first film, "Santa Claus: The Movie," a big-budgeted, bloated, spackled-together mess from 1985.

(Soundbite of movie "Santa Claus: The Movie")

(Soundbite of wind blowing)

Mr. DAVID HUDDLESTON: (As Santa Claus) Over there, there's food and warmth and a bed and straw and hay and everything a smart team of reindeer would like! Here, before you freeze to death. Now, come on, my good boys. Come on.

LEGAN: Yes, what family film isn't complete without showing animals and an old couple freezing to death in a snowstorm? Ah, hypothermia.

(Soundbite of music)

LEGAN: And like a bad acid trip, a magic star appears, and out of it comes an army of elves who drag the frozen couple to the North Pole to become Mr. and Mrs. Claus. So, they're basically kidnapped and held against their will. Wow, Santa has the same backstory as Patty Hearst.

(Soundbite of movie "Santa Claus: The Movie")

Mr. DUDLEY MOORE: (As Patch) If you give extra kisses, you get bigger hugs.

Mr. JOHN LITHGOW: (As B.Z.) Sorry?

Mr. MOORE: (As Patch) That's what Santa's wife is always saying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LITHGOW: (As B.Z.) What would it cost?

Mr. MOORE: (As Patch) Cost? Cost who?

Mr. LITHGOW: (As B.Z.) The people who buy the toy.

Mr. MOORE: (As Patch) Well, nothing. We're going to give them away free.

(Soundbite of vomiting)

Mr. MOORE: (As Patch) Oh, oh, that's fantastic! How do you turn your face so red so fast?

Mr. LITHGOW: (As B.Z.) (Screaming) For free?

LEGAN: And there you heard Dudley Moore as Patch the elf. How embarrassed, drunk, or both did he sound? And that was John Lithgow as the evil toy tycoon. Is there any other kind in these movies? Why can't there ever be a nice toy tycoon?

Well, to change the pace a bit, this next flick isn't a bad movie. In fact, it's quite a scary, little, horror film, but the fact that it's set around the holidays makes it especially creepy. From 1974 comes "Black Christmas," directed by the eclectic Bob Clark, who also made the wholesome and hilarious "A Christmas Story."

(Soundbite of movie trailer "Black Christmas")

Unidentified Narrator: Remember those idyllic scenes out of your childhood? Crisp winter nights, sleigh bells...

(Soundbite of yell)

Unidentified Narrator: Crackling Yule logs, remember those? Remember them well.

(Soundbite of screaming)

Unidentified Narrator: After "Black Christmas," they'll never be the same again.

(Soundbite of screaming)

Unidentified Narrator: "Black Christmas," starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder and starring John Saxon as Lieutenant Fuller.

(Soundbite of telephone ringing)

(Soundbite of choking)

Unidentified Narrator: If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl...

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Unidentified Narrator: It's on too tight.

LEGAN: To continue in the subgenre of scary Christmas movies...

(Soundbite of music)

LEGAN: We go to the classic 1972 British horror trilogy, "Tales from the Crypt." One of the vignettes, "All Through the House," is very effective and chilling with a still young and sexy Joan Collins planning on murdering her rich, older husband.

(Soundbite of TV show "Tales from the Crypt," Segment: "All Through the House")

(Soundbite of record scratch)

(Soundbite of song "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful")

Ms. JOAN COLLINS: (As Joanne Clayton) (Whispering) Merry Christmas.

LEGAN: Don't you hate it when you kill your husband on Christmas Eve and then the radio announcer says something like this?

(Soundbite of TV show "Tales from the Crypt," Segment: "All Through the House")

(Soundbite of heavy breathing)

Unidentified Radio Announcer: A man described as a homicidal maniac has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane. He is 6-foot, three inches tall, 210 pounds, dark eyes, bald and maybe wearing a Santa Claus costume taken from a shop in Burnley.

LEGAN: Man, and I have presents to wrap and a dead husband to throw down the cellar stairs to make it look like an accident! Well, Santa knows if you've been bad or good, so be good, or at least, get a good lawyer for goodness' sake. And we end our Christmas journey with an undiscovered - well, I can't really say gem. It's more like a truffle, a truffle of deeply rich, bad cinema. Here is the very low-budget "Magic Christmas Tree" from 1964. Shot in lovely Laverne, California, here's a bunch of kids overacting and sort of kind of remembering their lines of brilliant dialogue.

(Soundbite of movie "The Magic Christmas Tree")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHRIS KROESEN: (As Mark) Well, I wonder what kind of sandwich I have today. Probably meatloaf.

Unidentified Boy #1: (As Tommy) How do you know?

Mr. KROESEN: (As Mark) Because that's what we had for dinner last night.

Unidentified Boy #2: (As Dave) Guess what mine is, fellows?

Unidentified Boys: (Together) Bologna.

LEGAN: This movie looks like it was made for about 12 bucks, and every aspect they could get wrong, they do.

(Soundbite of movie "The Magic Christmas Tree")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. VALERIE HOBBS: (As Miss Finch) Within that ring is a secret compartment, and within that compartment is a magic seed. If you plant the seed beneath the wishbone of a Thanksgiving turkey in the dark of the moon, a magic tree will grow!

LEGAN: Oh, and we need virgins' blood and the top of a wedding cake, too. So, the boy gets his wish and a magic Christmas tree appears, and of course, since its magic, it can talk.

(Soundbite of movie "The Magic Christmas Tree")

Mr. KROESEN: (As Mark) You are a magic Christmas tree!

Mr. ROBERT "BIG BUCK" MAFFEI: (As Magic Christmas Tree) Of course, I am. That's what you planted, wasn't it?

Mr. KROESEN: (As Mark) But you look kind of scrawny.

Mr. MAFFEI: (As Magic Christmas Tree) Well, I've been through a lot lately, and - well, enough of this. Now, let's get down to business.

LEGAN: And who would have thought a talking magic Christmas tree would have the voice of an irritated antiques dealer? Now, like all great bad movies, it takes a strange right turn where the greedy boy walks in the woods and is accosted by a burly giant.

(Soundbite of movie "The Magic Christmas Tree")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KROESEN: (As Mark) I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be greedy.

Unidentified Man: (As Giant) Changed your mind, hey?

Mr. KROESEN: (As Mark) Let me go home; please let me go home. I promise never to be greedy again.

Unidentified Man: (As Giant) Not so fast. I must be sure that you mean what you say. I have something to show you.

LEGAN: And suddenly, the magic Christmas tree turns into deliverance.

(Soundbite of movie "The Magic Christmas Tree")

Unidentified Man: (As Giant) Well, I lost him, but I'll find another greedy child to be my slave, maybe you!

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of evil laughter)

LEGAN: So, you see? Not all Christmas movies have to be filled with angels and reindeer. Some can have homicidal maniacs just like Santa or large, hairy giants threatening children. In fact, if you have a Christmas party this month and people just won't take the hint it's time to leave, I guarantee, if you put on "The Magic Christmas Tree," not only will your guests run for the door, but maybe even some members of your own family. Please, just think of this as our Christmas gift to you.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Thanks, I guess. Mark Jordan Legan is a writer living in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen.

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