Abandoned lots cluttered with pine trees, Sunday’s paper bursting with thick sales circulars, the umpteenth TV showing of Frosty the Snowman-it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. But in addition to traditional holiday fare, there are ways to celebrate the holiday from a decidedly skewed perspective. As these subversive videos prove, holiday cheer can be found in some truly strange places.
We’re No Angels (1955, Paramount) A wry comedy about three Devil’s Island escapees (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray) who become guardian angels on Christmas Eve for a family in crisis. Twist: The season of giving from a crook’s-eye view. Christmas message: Larceny, deceit, and murder can bring their own kind of yuletide hope and joy. B
Twilight Zone Christmas: Night of the Meek (1960, CBS) A skid-row department- store Santa (Art Carney) despairs that the spirit of giving is long forgotten, until he discovers a magical sack that holds everyone’s perfect gift. Twist: The liquor-soaked underbelly of the holiday season. Christmas message: Sometimes traditional yuletide values can be found only in the Twilight Zone. B+
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964, Sultan) A deliriously awful kiddie movie in which Martians plot to kidnap Santa; costars Pia Zadora as a Martian child. Twist: The miracle of Christmas as glimpsed through the schlocky sci-fi prism. Christmas message: Try another Christmas movie. D
Black Christmas (1975, Warner) For those unwilling to go so far as to watch Santa turned into a monster in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series, here’s a somewhat less creepy holiday thriller. A homicidal maniac gets busy in a sorority house before the students go away for the holidays. Twist: Christmas as horror time. Christmas message: Don’t mess with sadistic multiple murderers on Christmas Eve. B-
A Christmas Story (1983, MGM/UA) Wonderfully oddball Jean Shepherd nostalgia (from Bob Clark, the director of Black Christmas) about nasty department- store Santas, obscenity-spewing fathers, and boys’ obsession with toy guns. Twist: Christmas steeped in cockeyed Americana. Christmas message: Happiness is an official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range-model air rifle. A- Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1991, CBS/Fox) Hilarious holiday special from a popular British TV series. Ebenezer Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), scion of the thoroughly miserable Blackadder family, is the kindest, most generous man in all of England-then he gets a visit from the ghost of Christmas, who shows him his reprehensible relatives of the past and future. By morning, Ebenezer’s turned into, well, a Blackadder. Twist: Dickens’ classic turned upside down. Christmas message: Unto thine own vile self be true. A-
The Simpsons Christmas Carol (1989, FoxVideo) The Simpsons-not up to their highest standards but still amusing-face destitution and no chance of buying presents for Christmas because of Homer’s inability to earn a living or do anything else. Twist: Bart as Tiny Tim. Christmas message: Even dysfunctional cartoon families can get into the holiday spirit. B
The Ren & Stimpy Show: Have Yourself a Stinky Little Christmas (1993, Sony Wonder) In a tale that might have been called Flatulence Lost, Stimpy embarks on a heroic, heartrending quest to find his runaway trouser burp. Twist: Yuletide as a celebration of yuckiness. Christmas message: Sometimes you have to let go of those things you love, no matter what orifice they come from. A-