Holiday Viewing Marathon! Anthology TV’s Dark Side of Xmas

For years now I’ve been meaning to put together a list of fun Thanksgiving-themed movies, but aside from Home for the Holidays (Foster, 1995) — which is a hoot and female-helmed — I couldn’t find much. Even I couldn’t sit through Thankskilling (lame-o-rubber-foul-mouthed-fowl puppet)!

So this year I figure, between the chopping, stuffing, basting, broiling, pureeing, boozing and the general carnage that characterizes this deeply American holiday, why not just give in to the holiday creep and skip straight to the Christmas-themed stuff?

But of course, I like my yule a little cruel with a side of ghoul. There are plenty of Christmas horror films, but those require more attention, and Krampus won’t be in theaters for another week — so how about the overlooked cornucopia of anthology television?

And if you’re a Christmas hater, these pretty ditties should be pretty fun for you too.

Aside from the brevity, the real appeal of anthology tv is the performances. These shows are often a little short on plot, but that gives the actors space to show off, and there’s quite a collection of familiar faces here.

[If you are of a questioning bent and asking the universe why feel compelled to haunt out Xmas in the first place, check out Derek Johnston’s Haunted Seasons:Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween. Palgrave 2015.]

Almost all are online and free — something to be thankful for!

BLACK MIRROR

Oona Chaplin
Oona Chaplin in “White Christmas”
  • “White Christmas” (2014): Jon Hamm is impeccable as Matt who is trapped in a snow-covered cabin on Christmas morning with Potter (Rafe Spall). Why are they there? Do they even know? Matt serves up a humble breakfast with wine and gallows humor, and the men begin to reveal their dark pasts. Scrumptious Black-Mirror-psycho-techno-suspense with stellar performances including those by Oona Chaplin (yes, Charlile’s granddaughter) and Natalia Tena.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS

Merry Hitchmas
Hitch’s bumper for “Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid”
  • “Together” (1958): Directed by Robert Altman and starring Joseph Cotten!! If you thought Wilder’s The Apartment was dark, this tale of an unruly office Xmas party and a fatally doomed affair has no Baxter to save the poor working girl and no way out for Cotten’s cheater, literally!
  • “Back for Christmas” (1956): Directed by Hitch himself, starring John Williams (Dial M for Murder), as a man who perfectly murders his wife… almost perfectly, that is. Dry as sherry, and just as satisfying.
  • “Santa Claus and the 10th Avenue Kid” (1955): This one is a bit heart-warming for me, but the biting chemistry between Barry Fitzgerald as an ex-con department store Santa and Virginia Gregg as his sniping spinster boss is worth it.
  • “The Festive Season” (1957): This tale of a feuding brother and sister was directed by Arthur Hiller. For some reason it’s not online, anywhere, even Huluplus. If I find, I will update.

THE OUTER LIMITS

conversion
Whaley in “The Conversion”
  • “The Conversion” (1995): Directed by and starring Rebecca De Mornay, with Frank Whaley and  John Savage. White-collar-criminal Whaley, having gone to prison while his corrupt co-workers remained free, returns to slaughter them at their office Christmas party. Ho ho! But sultry De Mornay, sage Savage, and quantum physics have other plans for this troubled soul.

TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE

Seasons of Belief
Marshall and Klenck in “Seasons of Belief”
  • “Seasons of Belief” (1986): Father, E.G. Marshall and mother, Margaret Klenck wryly conspire to tell their cynical youngsters a scary Christmas Eve story of the Grither… This one is too fun thanks to the dead pan performances of Marshall and Klenck!!
  • “The Yattering and Jack” (1987): Teleplay by Clive Barker, so you won’t be surprised that a demon tries to corrupt the soul of a pickle salesman on Christmas Eve. Whatever the demon tries — flying knick knacks, boiled goldfish — Jack chalks up to raccoons, faulty thermostat, etc. Heh.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE

fivecharacters
Five Characters in Search of an Exit
  • “The Night of the Meek” (1960): Always charming Art Carney plays a drunken department store Santa who gets fired on Christmas Eve… Warning: heartwarming.
  • “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (1961): This is basically Sartre’s No Exit via a twisted Xmas theme! Yikes! It spooked the heck out of me as a kid. I was a pretty existential kid… and there’s a creepy clown!
  • The Changing of the Guard (1962): Starring Donald Pleasance as a professor sadly forced to retire. It’s not very Christmas-y, but Pleasance is a true delight here. It’s a TZ version of Good-bye, Mr. Chips / Dead Poet’s Society. Warning: heartwarming.

NIGHT GALLERY

messiahcloseup

    • “The Messiah on Mott Street” (1971): This one is a treasure of a 70s Christmas-Hanukkah-racial mash-up. Edward G. Robinson is a sick Jewish grandfather who refuses to die and leave his grandson orphaned. When the boy seeks the messiah to save him, he encounters charity Santa, raging bible wacko, and Yaphet Kotto! Warning: heartwarming.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT

And-All-through-the-House
Marshall Bell and Mary Ellen Trainor in “And All Through the House” – This is my favorite scene by far.
  • “And All Through the House” (1989): Directed by Robert Zemekis, with top notch cinematography by Dean Cundey and music by Alan Silvestri. Philandering wife kills rich hubby on Christmas Eve, then escaped-lunatic-Santa shows up. Silly but fun. The Keeper is the best part.

(ROALD DAHL’S) TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED

backforchristmas
“Back for Christmas”
      • “Back for Christmas” (1980): Based on the same John Collier story as the Hitchcock episode above, with Brit-70s panache and introduction by Dahl himself.

AMAZING STORIES

santa85
Douglas Seale as Santa and Pat Hingle as the Sherif in “Santa ’85”
      • “Santa ’85” (1985): Santa, already having issues with modern conveniences, trips a burglar alarm and winds up in the hoosegow with a lot of poseurs! Includes a very-familiar Spielberg climax. “It’s the sherif, pull that sleigh over!” The super-high production value of this show was ultimately the cause of its demise, but you have to admit it looks great.

WOEFULLY UNAVAILABLE

    • Orson Welles‘ Great Mysteries, “Compliments of the Season” (1974): Starring Eli Wallach; based on O. Henry story. This was a Brit show on ITV and is nowhere that I can find. What? Seriously? It hurts to even ponder — Welles and Wallach — Gimme!
    • Suspense, “Dancing Dan’s Christmas” (1950): based on a story by Damon Runyon, starring Wally Cox and Robert Webber.
    • Damon Runyon Theater, “Dancing Dan’s Christmas” (1955): This time starring Broderick Crawford.
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