The holiday season is here, which means we as a culture get to repeat itself again without a hint of irony.
I don’t mean to sound like a scrooge. I have found memories of Christmas, and some of the music and Christmas episodes still resonate with me. Chuck Jones’ version of The Grinch is a classic piece of animation that will likely be broadcast even after civilization collapses. The Nightmare Before Christmas looks as good as the day it was released and still works as a clever parody of Rankin/Bass stop motion productions.
But it’s been a while since a new special has taken hold of the public imagination (that’s not to say there haven’t been any, but Bob’s Burgers Christmas episodes haven’t replaced repeated airings of Frosty the Snowman) and the old ones, well…they were fair for their day but they have none of the irony culture has taken advantage of for the past thirty years. Not to mention that some of them have values so outdated it’s hard to watch them now. Do you think a modern TV show or movie could get away with a narrator dismissing a female character by insisting what was happening was “man’s work?” Yet that happens in Rudolph and only recently have people batted an eye.
Yet it’s lead to a new phenomenon – Christmas horror and drama that addresses the deep, disturbing ideas traditional Christmas media doesn’t. It’s not entirely new. The original Black Christmas came out in the 1970s and even Steven Spielberg waded into the idea with Gremlins. Even A Christmas Story had this as a theme. Christmas may seem cool when you’re a kid but as you age you realized how stressful and strange it can be. Sure, you get to see Santa, but he’s more likely a semi-drunken weirdo who’s dealt with screaming children all day and won’t fulfill your Christmas wish.
But there’s a growing trend of direct parodies of what were formally untouchable Christmas classics. The Mean One reimagines The Grinch as a slasher villain and focuses on Cindy Lou “You Know Who” (the Suess estate wouldn’t grant permission to the filmmakers to use the actual character names) ensuring he can’t return to destroy Christmas. Violent Night literally has Santa Claus take the place of John McClane in a Die Hard scenario. Even A Christmas Story got a sequel this year in which an older Ralphie must deal with car trouble and the death of his father and uses Christmas as a way to ignore the crushing realities of adulthood.
Where will this lead? I have a few pitches for dark takes on Christmas classics. I’m sure major studios will give me a call for a full pitch any day now.
Home Alone – The Horror Heist Version – In retrospect, Home Alone is a very weird movie. Half of it is a weird kiddie fantasy about outwitting adults, and the other half is about a scared family desperate trying to reunite with their child.
I don’t think the film is ever able to reconcile the two tones. We get scenes of cartoon violence combined with a very real drama about holiday travel and how it can all go wrong.
What’s even more unusual is that lead character Kevin McCalister is apparently OK at the end and suffers no long-lasting trauma, despite the fact grown-ups tried to kill him. He’s even back for a sequel, when he’s trapped in New York City with the same people trying to kill and he must survive an encounter with that sadist Donald Trump.
Yet people still love the material. And I think there’s a way to update it for a modern audience.
So, we know Kevin McCalister is from a rich family and who knows what he’d be like after his trauma? I say he’d become a new Howard Hughes – someone who is obsessed with being “alone” and, despite making a fortune in the toy industry, seals himself off in his mansion. But a group of thieves at Christmas decides to break in and steal the rumored massive wealth he keeps on his estate.
Of course, he’s prepared for such an event and completely booby traps his house out of habit at Christmas. The thieves encounter his traps and what was a simple heist turns into a nightmare as they try to escape the giant house filled with death traps. And like in the original, Kevin taunts his victims the entire time.
It could still have the two different tones of the first film – a comedy with the heist team that slowly becomes horrifying when they realize the implications of the situation. What was supposed to be a fun Christmas heist with a big payday turns into a horror show – just like the original.
Rudolph – Squid Game version – “They wouldn’t let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.”
The original Rudolph special has aged very oddly. It’s a great idea – we should celebrate our differences and those who seem unusual have talents that others don’t have. But the entire premise is that Rudolph is a misfit who is only celebrated when what made him an outcast proves useful to all the normies.
Try pitching that today and see if any network would broadcast such a special.
But people still love the story of Rudolph and how he managed to “defeat” the reindeer who rejected him and becomes the most famous of Santa’s reindeer.
But that doesn’t address how Rudolph feels about the whole situation. He has the power he always wanted – now what? Does he take revenge? Does he find his role is hollow and he’s just as unhappy as ever because he’s still different?
I think there’s something more modern that already addresses the conflict in Rudolph – Squid Game.
It’s also about a societal misfit who dreams of something more and gets his chance – but is only useful so long as people far more powerful than him are making money off him. The main character has unique skills, but his family completely rejects him and all he dreams of is to be successful to show everyone how wrong they were about him.
So, in this scenario, Rudolph takes the place of Seong Gi-hun and is forced to play “games” at the behest of Santa. Now, the original Squid Game wasn’t based on any unique capabilities but on blind luck and being clever enough to figure out the loopholes in the games.
Yet I think it would be unique to have Rudolph somehow win the “reindeer games” based on his unique abilities. And along the way, he realizes that his victory means nothing. Which fits the original special. Rudolph was condemned to an eternity to working for Santa. And at the end of Squid Game, Seong is richer than he ever could have imagined but can’t deal with the cost. Rudolph should end the same way.
Elf on the Shelf – I don’t understand how this hasn’t been turned into a horror film.
I am fortunate enough to have grown up at a time when the Elf on the Shelf was not a thing. It seems like such a creepy idea – a little humanoid watches your children and tells a godlike figure if they’re being “naughty.” The parents are supposed to move the elf doll around while the kids are asleep to make it seem like the doll is alive. It’s supposed to be fun, but what does it mean? That kids are supposed to accept an inanimate horror in their house and give up their privacy rights to potentially get a Christmas gift?
And what about the elves? If you accept the “lore” behind them, who’s to say they’re always obedient and will wait for Santa to punish the naughty children?
You can see where this is going. A rogue “elf” decides to punish the naughty children on his own? And the unsuspecting parents wouldn’t understand what is happening. This is supposed to be a silly toy – why are their children so scared of it?
I’ve seen some clever takes on the fad – the elf sharing a hot tub with two topless Barbie dolls, an elf who painted a kid’s toenails while they were asleep, and an elf pooping on cookies – but that doesn’t have to be the end. The idea behind the Elf on the Shelf is already so disturbing it’s easy to imagine it as the new Chucky.