A John Waters Christmas
I generally do not get very excited about Christmas-themed events. In fact, I try to avoid them. I like the singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, but when she brought her Christmas variety show to The Egg a while back, I wasn’t interested.
However, I had a much different reaction when I heard that the film director John Waters, a leading auteur of trash cinema, was bringing a Christmas show to The Egg. I knew immediately that I wanted to go, and not just because I’ve always regretted not seeing John Waters when he visited my college campus, although that was part of it. No, I wanted to go because a John Waters Christmas show sounded completely demented, and I like demented things.
Waters basically told stories and jokes, many of them quite tasteless (which is exactly what I expected, because he’s John Waters), for more than an hour before taking questions from the audience. He reminisced about the time vandals stole the baby Jesus out of a nearby creche when he was a kid, how the neighborhood banded together to find the perpetrators, and how even at a young age he related to the vandals rather than the upstanding citizens from the neighborhood. He also described stealing Christmas gifts from people’s cars, his friend and muse Divine’s obsession with Christmas decorations and his own obsession with Alvin the Chipmunk. He said that his favorite Christmas movie is 1980’s “Christmas Evil,” adding, “I hate the normal [films].”
I have never seen “Christmas Evil,” though it is now in my Netflix queue, but, like John Waters, I’m always interested in watching unconventional Christmas films. Here are some good ones:
“A Nightmare Before Christmas” — This 1993 film, produced by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick, features fantastic stop-motion animation and a great soundtrack by Danny Elfman. It tells the story of Jack Skellington, the “Pumpkin King of Halloween Town,” who opens a portal to Christmas Town, becomes obsessed with Christmas, and decides to get the residents of Halloween Town to celebrate the holiday.
“Gremlins” — This 1984 film tells the story of what happens when your father brings you a cute little creature called a Mogwai home for Christmas, and it multiplies into other little Mogwais, and those Mogwais eat food after midnight and turn into creepy little monsters with sharp teeth.
“The Ref” — A contemporary spin on “The Ransom of the Red Chief,” with Denis Leary as a burglar who takes a suburban couple (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) hostage on Christmas Eve. A great showcase for Denis Leary, who cannot believe that the people he’s kidnapped are even more annoying than he is.
“Die Hard” — A cop played by Bruce Willis attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife on Christmas Eve, and her office building is taken hostage! This is probably the best Christmas-themed action film ever.
“Bad Santa” — Of course.
“Black Christmas” — I don’t particularly like this 1974 slasher film, about a sorority terrorized by a killer just before Christmas break (I think I actually thought it was a little too mean-hearted and unpleasant), but it deserves mention.
“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” — This 2010 wildly creative Finnish film tells the story of a group of reindeer herders who discover an ancient evil buried in the ground: Santa Claus. Unlike the Santa of popular imagination, this Santa is an ugly, malevolent, supernatural being intent on punishing naughty children. One local child leads the effort to save the world from this horrible being.
“Saint Nick (Sint)” — This 2010 Dutch slasher film tells the story of a villainous St. Nick who has returned from the dead to slaughter the residents of Amsterdam, along with his evil band of helpers. A police officer and a high school student team up to save their fellow citizens from death and destruction. “Saint Nick” isn’t quite as creative as “Rare Exports,” but it’s a little more fun — sort of a scary/funny throwback to the slasher films of the 1980s.
“Female Trouble” — As John Waters movies go, this isn’t my favorite — I don’t even like it very much. But during his show, I suddenly remembered the one scene from the movie that I really love: the scene where the teenage delinquent Dawn (played by Divine) goes into a violent rage after failing to get the shoes she wanted for Christmas, shoves her mother into the Christmas tree, and runs away from home.
Unlike John Waters, I do like a few normal Christmas films. They are:
“Miracle on 34th Street” — The one from 1947, not the remake.
“A Christmas Carol” — The one from 1951, with Alastair Sim.
“A Christmas Story” — Of course.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” — I don’t love this as much as everyone else. But it’s a good film, and I’m not enough of a Scrooge to leave it off the list.
“Elf” — My favorite Christmas movie, hands down.
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