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Merry Christmas from Anti-Film School!

From all of us here at Anti-Film School, we want to wish you a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached video.

Bad Santa (2003)

by Steve Habrat

From the snowless southwest setting to it’s alcoholic, self-destructive tomfoolery, Bad Santa seems like an unlikely holiday hit. Just get a load of its sloshed opening where Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie, dressed as the skinniest Santa Claus you will ever lay eyes on, vomits in a snowy alley on Christmas Eve. It’s certainly not one you could put on for the kiddies to distract them while you wrap your Christmas gifts or gather as a family to have a few guffaws at. Bad Santa is bad, naughty, anti-social, raucous, dirty, ugly, and downright side-splitting if you are not one with virgin ears. The best part is that Willie clings to his bad attitude the entire journey, making him one of the most loveable anti-heroes in a Santa hat. It is important, though, that you gauge if this film is appropriate for you, as I could see some getting their panties in a bunch over Willie’s womanizing, violent temper, and treatment of the kiddies. I howled with laughter over his short fuse, especially when one tyke sneezes chocolate ice cream all over his white beard. The funniest part is that we really don’t hold his mood against him.

Willie (Played by Thornton) and his dwarf friend Marcus (Played by Tony Cox) pose as a mall Santa and one of his elves. Willie has issues holding his temper together and Marcus has to constantly keep him in check. Every Christmas Eve, they rob a mall and disappear until the holidays return, only to show up at a new mall in a new city. A year later, Marcus contacts Willie in Miami and recruits him for a new job in the southwest. After checking in to the mall and meeting the prim and proper mall manager Bob Chipeska (Played by the late John Ritter), they begin their duties. Bob begins to suspect something strange about the duo and he seeks the help of the mall security chief Gin Slagel (Played by the late Bernie Mac), who agrees to keep an eye on Willie and Marcus.  Willie also begins shacking up at the home of a pudgy kid who he nicknames “the Kid” (Played by Brett Kelly) and his senile grandmother. He also begins seeing a seductive bartender named Sue (Played by Lauren Graham), who he develops genuine affection for. As Willie and Marcus begin to plot their heist, they find themselves at the hands of Gin, who figures out their history and demands half of what they steal. Willie also begins mentoring the Kid and he begins to show glimmers of kindness.

Going against the usual messages of hope, love, cheer, joy, and peace on earth, Bad Santa embraces degenerate behavior and a foul mouth that, if an open flame were lit near its boozy breath, it would burst into hellfire flames. It has the balls to go against “the norm”, which I absolutely love. Willie is pathetic, one who we want so desperately to loathe but can’t help but like. He is perpetually nursing a hangover, an acting style that Thornton excels at. I have to admit I love his as the grump. The other shining star in Bad Santa is John Ritter as Bob Chipeska, who steals some of the funniest lines of dialogue in the entire film. He plays an uptight family man role who is always squeaky clean. Bernie Mac hits a homerun as a smart-ass swindler who is just looking out for himelf. His negotiating skills will have you slapping your knees. It is these three performances that make the film a must see.

While Cox, Graham, and Kelly are memorable, they sometimes don’t hold a candle to the work done by Thornton, Ritter, and Mac. The story has enough outrageous and taboo situations (Chipeska stumbling upon Willie and another woman becoming intimate in a dressing room is a classic, especially a certain line of dialogue delivered with such seriousness by Thornton, I almost think he meant it.) to keep its one-dimensional message buoyant. It is basically the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, someone who rejects the season at first, only to finally come around and see the error of his ways. At least Thornton has the good sense to retain the disgust that flashes in his droopy eyes every so often–sometimes I think it is at himself. The love does come creeping in, even if it is in a rather left of center way. The film also rests heavily on irony, mostly by placing the un-jolly Thornton in the britches of Santa and having him display zero enthusiasm and a strong dislike for kids. It’s a joke that many may fear will get stretched a too thin but it continues to get us chuckling.

Bad Santa doesn’t do much to change the Christmas comedy through technicalities, as the film is rather flatly shot. Director Terry Zwigoff lets the script do most of the work, which usually means having one of the contemptible characters deliver a hugely over-the-top line of dialogue. It also relies on its shock-and-awe premise, leaving us asking ‘Will it go there?’ and it usually does. It’s a staple that raunchy comedies heavily rely on but we have become largely forgiving for it. It has boiled down to how far can the envelope be pushed and how much will audiences take. Bad Santa basically wants nothing more than to give the adults a break from the childish touches of the season. With everything revolving around the kiddies and family orientated activities, it’s the perfect middle finger to the season.

Grade: B+

Bad Santa is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Black Christmas (1974)

by Steve Habrat

If you feel like taking a break from all the holiday cheer of the Christmas season, pop in director Bob Clark’s subtle and ominous Black Christmas. You won’t regret it. Well, maybe you will if you are watching it alone at night with nothing but a Christmas tree lit and no one else at home to keep you company. One of the more muted horror films of the 1970’s, Black Christmas is all about sounds, creaky halls, dimly lit bedrooms, faint holiday tunes emitting from radios, soft cinematography, heavy breathing, and some of the most abhorrent and creepy phone calls ever made. You will also find it hard to believe that the guy who made this also went on to make that other holiday classic A Christmas Story and the teen sex romp Porky’s. Miraculously never conforming to a typical slasher flick, mostly from the addition of the hard-boiled detective striving to solve the baffling disappearances, phone calls, and deaths taking place around a mostly deserted sorority. It’s a left of center choice to watch around the holidays because, lets face it, who really wants to get lost in a horror film during the most wonderful time of the year? Isn’t that what Halloween is for?

During a boozy Christmas party one evening, a strange man wanders around a sorority home, ascends a trellis, and climbs into the attic. Soon, a strange phone call interrupts the party and Barb (Played by Margot Kidder) grabs the phone to provoke the vulgar call. Turns out, this is not the first time this sorority has received an enigmatic call like this. The call is all heavy breaths, strange moans, and graphic threats aimed at the girls. This must all explain why the caller has earned himself the nickname “the moaner” amongst the girls. At first, we are lead to believe that this is one of the girl’s boyfriends pranking the skittish chicks but Clark plays this straight and it’s a little too effective when we learn that it’s for real. Soon, one of the girls, Clare (Played by Lynne Griffin), meets a truly grisly demise while she packs her bags to leave for a trip home. The next day, Clare’s uptight father Mr. Harrison (Played by James Edmond Jr.) arrives to take her home but her absence begins to frighten him. He goes to the sorority housemother Mrs. MacHenry (Played by Marian Waldman), Clare’s boyfriend Chris (Played by Art Hindle), and the pregnant and conflicted Jess (Played by Olivia Hussey) to help him locate his daughter. As they team up with the police and a dead body is discovered in a park near the sorority house, the eerie phone calls grow more disturbing and the body count begins to rise.

It’s really quite a shame that Bob Clark didn’t stay in the horror genre because this man is really on top of what makes a film scary. While Black Christmas has plenty of gore to spare (Not the type you’d find in Saw, mind you), mostly everything is oblique. A hook goes through one person’s head but it’s heard before we get a shadowy glimpse of it; another is stabbed do death with a phallic-looking crystal unicorn head. It’s a symbolic rape sequence that I’m sure impressed Hitchcock. Even the killer, Billy, is rarely shown, only once do we get to briefly see his face, but it is concealed with crafty shadows and one beam of light revealing a lone wild eye. We are consistently put in the killers POV, which is actually even more chilling than just seeing him lurk around the sorority house. I found myself filling in his thoughts, what he looked like, and constructing my own monster in my head. I also painted in the gore with my own imagination, with very little help from Clark. He doesn’t underestimate his audience and kudos for that!

Clark also makes glorious use of sound in this film, having the killer call the girls and make gargled sexual threats, perverted groans, and lisping whispers, efficiently making your skin crawl. The effective is enhanced by the juxtaposition of faint Christmas tunes calling in the background. The first time we actually see the girls get a call, the camera never cuts away from the girls. Instead, Clark slowly pans through the group of girls as they huddle around the phone and listen, repulsed by the sounds, their eyes conveying the hope that this is truly just a group of boys playing a prank. In all frankness, I hoped the first call was a prank too, just due the vulgarities uttered to the girls. The big reveal about the phone calls is carefully handled, a demented reveal that would give anyone home alone the willies.

Black Christmas offers up an abundance of rather complex characters for a slasher film.  The heroine here, Jess, is pregnant and has decided on an abortion. She seems like a driven gal, one who refuses to be controlled by any dominating and controlling male force, especially her seemingly sophisticated but volatile boyfriend. She is with out a doubt a product of the Feminist Movement. She rejects pleas of marriage and shows more interest in furthering her education and career than dropping out and raising a child. The housemother Mrs. MacHenry is a sneaky alcoholic who apparently never married and the lush Barb seems to be following in her footsteps. She would rather have an independent love affair with a bottle than a man. Barb is also extremely off putting and direct, two traits that make her hard to root for. She has a shocking disinterest for figuring out what happened to her sorority sister and would rather crack open a can of beer than be bothered to really help anyone. The inclusion of Mr. Harrison as the old-fashioned conservative father was also a nice touch to all these empowered women. He is portrayed as a nerdy, timid, and stern man who needs these stronger women to lead him along.

Black Christmas was remade in 2006, but it made the inevitable mistake that all recent horror films do and tried to give everything a longwinded explanation, sucking all the fear out of the premise. In 1974, there is no explanation for why this is all occurring. Perhaps this is the film that inspired John Carpenter to unleash Michael Myers on the horror genre. It applies the same stationary camera shots of empty hallways, darkened bedrooms, and quite snowny neighborhoods where ordinary people live out their lives. Evil can be anywhere and strike at any moment. Even the police can meet grisly ends without a seconds notice. It has the same faceless killer who could very well be the boogieman. I also found myself drawn to the patient storytelling and the way Clark lets the terror unfold almost naturally. Maybe more prominent that we are willing to admit and an overlooked gift to horror, don’t be afraid to unwrap the gift of Black Christmas come the holiday season. It’s a gift that will keep on giving. Fear, that is.

Grade: A-

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

by Corinne Rizzo

As the holiday grows nearer, so does the madness. People tearing retailers apart to get the perfect gift for their loved ones, bumper to bumper traffic anywhere near a shopping center, and lost baggage. The madness can lead to a lack luster attitude and sometimes even depression if you’re caught off your mental guard too quickly. Unfortunately for kids of Mars, depression and motivational issues are rampant even without the impending holiday season.  They won’t eat their meal pills and the young Martians are glued to their television sets watching Earth channels that show them nothing but the cheer and excitement of Christmas and the arrival of Santa Clause.

Well, Kimar, the Martian king, or some sort of master authority figure on the red planet, is tired of the lackadaisical behaviors and consults his cohorts as well as an acient oracle on the planet, deciding that Santa Clause will save the children of Mars.

So, Kimar and his troop of poorly outfitted Martians head to hearth to kidnap Santa.

When Santa is captured, he is quickly turned into a slave for the planet, mass producing toys and working late hours, while sleeping on a compound where he is monitored.

When watching Santa Clause Conquers the Martians, especially after seeing Christmas on Mars, you cannot help but draw similarities. While Santa Clause Conquers is directed toward kids, who might be more forgiving of the terrible costumes and green face paint, Christmas on Mars is directed toward an older audience, where the green paint and kitschy outfits are appreciated for their effort.

Santa Clause Conquers the Martians is a film that was produced solely for entertainment purposes and geared toward kids, though as adult watching it, it offered nothing except a temporary cure for insomnia. Finally finishing the film after three attempts, the best thing that comes out of the film is that it might have just inspired the fantastical freak out film that is Christmas on Mars.

The viewer, watching these films in comparison will see the where Coyne  could have watched the film and stripped down the ideas he liked and disregarded the ones he didn’t.  Both films share the idea that Santa Clause is a symbol of generosity and joy, though in Santa Clause Conquers the Martians, Santa is used purely to produce material items as gifts to promote happiness on the planet where as Christmas on Mars’ Santa brings hope and understanding to the crew through other ways.

Other similarities exist between the two films, though through some research there is no true and previously existing connection to be made between Wayne Coyne and Nicholas Webster (the director of Santa Conquers the Martians).

If nothing else, the film is important because it shows that hope and generosity are ideas that originate within the human condition, regardless of whether the humans have been relocated or kidnapped. Santa Clause doesn’t necessarily conquer the Martians in this film, though he does find a replacement and through that, shows that the hope and pure intentions innate within the human condition are contagious, if we choose for them to be.

Check out both movies and compare them. The viewer will feel as though they are getting into the head of Wayne Coyne, regardless of whether the film was an inspiration to him.

Santa Clause Conquers The Martians is available on Instant Watch, but can also be downloaded for free on IMDb. Christmas on Mars can be downloaded via The Flaming Lips’ website or it can be ordered for a small fee and delivered to your home.

For anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas in traditional ways, these two films are a great way to start a new tradition.

Grade: D

Top Five Reasons To Watch Santa Clause Conquers The Martians

1)      It cures sleeplessness.

2)      It is unintentionally hilarious.

3)      They never asked any of the actors to shave…they just put green paint in their beards too.

4)      Because you’ve probably never seen anything as hokey.

5)      Santa Clause laughs a lot for no good reason, which to the kids in the movie is good, but for the viewer might insight some sort of  “What the hell?” response.

Favorite Christmas Film…GO!

A Christmas Story (1983)

by Steve Habrat

It is damn near impossible to find someone who loathes the idea of watching Bob Clark’s now classic A Christmas Story around Christmas. Unless you’re my mother, everyone else can’t get enough of young cherub-faced Ralphie’s epic quest to make sure there is a Red Ryder BB gun nestled underneath his family’s Christmas tree come the big day. For some odd reason my mother hates this film and I have never been able to figure out why. For me, I love watching it on Christmas Eve, but then again I am someone who falls head over heels for schmaltz. I remember watching this film as a kid and relating to it because who didn’t have that one gift that they were dying to find Christmas morning? The one where you anxiously tear off the paper, hands a bit shaky with anticipation, and then your eyes growing as big as saucers as you see the glorious treasure that was hidden behind Santa Clause stamped wrapping paper! It’s about the gift that makes you forget about every other gift that has your name written on it. But A Christmas Story ends up being about a little more than just getting that special gift. It’s about the trials and tribulations as a kid–swearing in front of your parents (Fudge!), getting beat up by older bullies, not paying attention in class, receiving average grades in school, dealing with siblings, etc. It touches on your father’s passive attitude about Christmas, your mother’s efforts to make sure it’s a cozy holiday with hearty food, the journey to meet Santa, and more! Even if you don’t watch it as a Christmas film, there is still something that can be cherished and reminiscent about your own childhood.

Set in 1940, in Hohman, Indiana (It was actually filmed in Cleveland, Ohio. My stomping grounds!), A Christmas Story follows young Ralphie Parker (Played by Peter Billingsley) and his adventures during the Christmas season. The film picks up with Ralphie seeing the Red Ryder BB gun in a storefront window and falling in love with rifle. He then launches a massive campaign to convince his parents, his stern mother (Played by Melinda Dillion) and his grumpy Old Man (Played by Darren McGavin) to get the gun for him for Christmas. Each attempt is met with “You’ll shoot your eye out” and disappointment for little old Ralph. But every door closed is another door opened and Ralphie takes advantage of every opportunity. Along with his little brother Randy (Played by Ian Petrella), the two Parker boys also face a terrifying visit with Santa, neighborhood bullies, a tongue getting frozen to a light post, embarrassing winter gear, flat tires, and their father’s prized lamp, all with hysterical results.

Director Clark approaches A Christmas Story with a dreamy haze that lingers through the entire movie, appearing as the flashback it is. The film is enthusiastically narrated and guided along by a much older Ralphie (Voiced by Jean Shepherd) and boy if that voice isn’t iconic now. This film is loaded with unforgettable moments, from the soap shoved into Raphie’s mouth after he drops the F-bomb to the tongue stuck to the light post that is both uproarious and pitiable. Who can forget that notorious lamp being delivered and the jubilant Old Man outside the house basking in the sensual glory? But there is also some beautiful shots in this film, from Ralphie peering out his bedroom window on to a snow covered lawn on Christmas morning, to one of the final shots of the Old Man and the mother sitting together on the couch, tree lit and watching the snow fall on to the front yard. These images look like they are ripped from 40’s Christmas cards. They are both vintage and modern, all in the same breath.

A Christmas Story wouldn’t be as popular if it wasn’t for those performances from all involved. Billingsley’s Ralphie is all starry-eyed innocence. A true product of the time he is growing up in. You can’t help but adore him. His brother Randy is a whiny little runt, one who is always pleading for the sympathy of Ralphie. Their mother is an incandescent woman, bursting with love and affection but stern when the chips are down. The Old Man is a gruff chap, one who comes down hard if the boys step out of line, but he has a heart of gold buried beneath all of his toughness. They all add up to be the face of a true old-fashioned family. There is also the rabid Scut Farcus (Played by Zack Ward) and Grover Dill (Played by Yano Anaya), the two nasties of the neighborhood. There is also the hilarious and creepy Santa Claus who bears down on children with intimidating and booming “HOOO! HOOO! HOOO!”s. He has the red nose and rosy cheeks, appearing almost too real at times.

There is a whimsical side to all the chaos in A Christmas Story, with knee-slapping fantasies that only a kid could come up with. Ralphie fantasizes that he returns to his parent’s home and has been stricken blind. Another fantasy finds him as a gun-toting cowboy picking off stereotypical black and white stripe clad burglars. As they “die” they wear black Xs over their eyes. The Wizard of Oz characters consistently pop up too, adding a much desired and achieved eeriness. Yet A Christmas Story finds the quirks in real life too. Ralphie is forced to wear an atrocious pink rabbit suit. A trio of Chinese waiters sing Christmas carols and mispronounce the “fa-la-la-la-la” parts. A bowling ball is dropped on the Old Man’s groin, sending his voice through the roof. According to Clark, the world itself and everything that happens around us is outlandish with a touch of cartoonish.

If you find yourself as one of the only people on the face of the earth who has never seen A Christmas Story, do yourself a favor and see it immediately. It has become a Holiday tradition for it to play continuously on television networks on Christmas day. My ritual, if I am able to, is to watch it on Christmas Eve, as it always really helps you get into the spirit of Christmas. In my eyes, it stands next to classics like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life (One of my all-time favorite films), The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Christmas Vacation. Perhaps my adoration of this film stems from the fact that it was filmed in the area which I hail from. Either way, the film remains a tradition every year, allowing those who see it to take a break from relentless shopping, wrapping, cooking, and decorating to reminisce about what Christmas looked like as a kid. Reminisce about a time when life was so much simpler. I think that many new viewers are not as hip to the film as many older viewers are, but the film still lives on. It lives on and replays just like our fondest Christmas memories.

Grade: A

 A Christmas Story is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

by Steve Habrat

Before Jack Skellington and Sally were mall goth heroes, they were a magical pair of claymation figures who just wanted to experience the joy and wonder of Christmas.  Before all the heavy metal covers and the 3D conversions, their world was even more tempting, never needing an update and forever remaining timeless. The best of the claymation bunch, The Nightmare Before Christmas was a childhood favorite of mine, favored more around the time when Jolly Old Saint Nicholas plops down the chimney than my other favorite holiday. I always thought this film does capture the hypnotizing quality of Christmas, the one that makes us feel like children again. It really gels when Jack finds himself is Christmas Town, gaping at snowmen, elves, Christmas lights, and children snuggled in their beds. It painstakingly tries to re-establish that Christmas is about awe, not about the material fixation that now comes with the most wonderful time of the year. The film, which is the brainchild of producer Tim Burton (No, he did NOT direct this!) and director Henry Selick, is teeming with some of the most creative and bizarre animated characters ever captured on camera, and they do not feel like they are stretched or insipid.

The Nightmare Before Christmas ushers us to Halloween Town, a place where all the typical Halloween ghouls reside and emerge every year to give us the willies. Halloween Town finds a leader in the bony Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King who is growing weary of the same old traditions every year. With his ghost dog Zero, Jack wanders off into the woods and stumbles upon a portal to another holiday dimension: Christmas Town.  Bursting with excitement and inspiration, Jack hurries back to Halloween Town and fills in the locals about what he has seen. Jack and the monsters vow that they will give “Sandy Claws” a break for the year and they will put on Christmas. As Jack’s plans slowly fall apart and his idea grows more and more dangerous, it’s up to the lonely Sally, a ragdoll zapped to life by a mad scientist, to try to convince Jack to leave Christmas to the residents of Christmas Town. Across Halloween Town, the sinister Oogie Boogie has plans of his own for Santa Claus.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a true work of art, one that works simply because it carries off the viewers imagination. It did mine when I was young and I still smile today when I see the film. The 3D conversion the film underwent was rewarding because we get to see the fine details to Halloween Town. The film was the brainchild of Burton and watching the film is like stepping into the mind of Burton himself. The inspired characters also make the visit to Halloween Town beyond memorable. There are mummies, a trio of glammed up vampires, a two-face politician, witches, the boogieman, and a band of devious and merry trick-or-treaters. There are nods to the classic Universal Movie Monsters while also opening the door to a brand new world. Seriously, the film commences with a door being opened and ghosts coaxing us into the darkness. It’s really quite exciting.

As far as musicals go, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stand out as far as I’m concerned. This film gives us some of the most ingenious, cleverly written musical numbers you will see in an animated film. Just get a load of that opening introduction as the monsters all introduce themselves. It’s a horror fans dream come true and anyone who appreciates the value of lyrics will be head over heels with delight. You will be tapping your toes along with it. The song, “This Is Halloween”, is now a goth anthem, even getting a makeover from heavy metal artist Marilyn Manson a few years back. Other standouts include the dreary “Sally’s Song”, Jack’s inquisitive “What’s This”, and the trick-or-treater’s bickering “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”.

There are some minor flaws to be found in this film. The love story between Sally and Jack is a bit wobbly. It never really gets off the ground and we mostly see the love from Sally’s side. Jack seems relatively unconcerned with her and barely notices her presence at times. The film is a bit short, abruptly wrapping up just when things are really starting to grip us. Oogie Boogie only really shows up at the end, a character that is the very definition if cool. What aids us in overlooking the minor bumps is that the characters are just so nifty. Jack has become an iconic animated hero and you’ll be overloaded on cute when you meet his playful pup Zero. The Mayor of Halloween Town will keep the kiddies chuckling, especially when his mood alters and his face changes. Santa Claws is also quite creative, a huge red blob of a man, a version of him that only Burton could think up. Sally is a hopeless romantic and we feel her sorrow. The most astonishing aspect is the complexities in Jack. He’s a control freak and at times a bit domineering, yet we root for him to see the error of his ways. Perhaps that is meant to force us to reflect on our own approach to Christmas. Have we missed the point of this Holiday? Are we any different than Jack? According to Burton and Selick, not really.

The Nightmare Before Christmas may prove to be a bit too eerie for some young viewers, but with films like Corpse Bride and Coraline (Also directed by Selick) on the market, that’s up for you to decide. It’s a shame that goth kids have marked it as their own, as there really is something for everyone to enjoy within the film. I think that Jack stands for much more than as the leader of the gothic nation. He represents our ignorance, our fascination with all things magical, and is the face of a truly poignant redemption story. He even symbolically rises from ashes near the end of this film. I think he represents more than the kids who shop at Hot Topic think. This film also cast its spell over me as a kid and I’m glad I had the chance to see it before the recent surge of popularity. Eye opening and intricate, with treasures abound, The Nightmare Before Christmas sweeps us off our feet, much like the season it is a testament to. An undeniable family classic.

Grade: A-

The Nightmare Before Christmas is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.