One of the Yuletide perks of being an insomniac is that you get to experience a tasteless side of the holidays that has, I would argue, a weird, redeeming value (unlike most of the other tasteless sides: the gift-grabbing, the manipulative marketing, and the perpetually ringing shouts of “more, more, more”). Of course, when you find yourself up at three in the morning, watching grade-Z films where Santa gets up to no good in outer space and elves are used for dubious sexual experiments, the entire concept of Christmas—at least until the sun comes up again—can become disarmingly distorted. But these movies are never less than memorable. So let’s raise a glass of nog (maybe add a little extra booze) to five of the worst—and yet somehow strangely enjoyable—Christmas films you’ll ever see.
All Mine to Give (1957)
Were It’s a Wonderful Life pitted against this lachrymose extravaganza in a steel-cage death-match for the ultimate Christmas tearjerker, George Bailey’s guts would run onto the floor. A loving couple with six children make a nice life for themselves in the Middle West in the mid-19th century. Then one of the boys comes down with diphtheria. Fear not—he recovers. Unfortunately, he gave his father a kiss—a death kiss—and dad expires. Then mom gets typhoid and knows her number is up. Time to disseminate the kids. Mom falls short in her efforts before she, too, expires. The oldest child asks the townspeople if they might spend one more day together—Christmas, of course—as a family, given that they’ll never be together again. Very merry. It is difficult not to laugh at times, which may make you wonder if you’re evil. (Try for yourself: You can watch the whole thing on YouTube.)
Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)
The Rankin-Bass films and holiday specials are generally quite solid, but this one—which you may also encounter around Independence Day—is a bloated, trippy affair, with a helping of holiday skeez. Rudolph gets himself into a situation where he has to be a con man, so everyone turns against him, save Frosty, who is being used to create an army of sadistic snowmen. Actually, the film is a bit like those old Universal horror monster rallies where Drac, Frank, and the Wolf Man run around with someone like, say, John Carradine. My favorite character in this movie? Scratcher the Reindeer. If ever there was a reindeer you’d expect to find in a porn theater stall with a yellow slicker, it’s this guy.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Perhaps the most irritating film on this list, but one that has gained some traction in recent years as people have made a tradition of trying to sit through it. In terms of production quality, we’re deep in Ed Wood territory. The children of Mars waste their time watching U.S. television, apparently, so this hippie Martian who lives in a cave—I think it’s an allusion to Plato—gives the Martian politicos the idea of kidnapping Santa. That’ll get the kiddies away from those blasted programs. Santa is duly abducted, along with some Earth kids for good measure. Repeated assassination attempts are made on Santa’s life. Word of warning: you will start singing the soundtrack in the presence of others. And you can watch the whole, dreadful thing on YouTube.
This one’s, shall we say, a little less innocent. But, if anti-Christmas pagan rituals, big-time kink, and advanced sexual theories hold any appeal to you, 1989’s Elves is a veritable Citizen Kane of the holiday genre. The last image of the movie is a fetus, but that’s almost anti-climactic after you get through a plot that involves a neo-Nazi who has finally figured out what Hitler was up to. It wasn’t that the Führer wanted to take over the world with a master human race. Rather, the goal was to breed elves with humans. And that’s what the bad guys try to bring off here, with the help of a teenage girl and a randy elf. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is, in its entirety, on YouTube.
Santa Claus (1959)
And so we come to the dreckiest, looniest, and possibly scariest Christmas film of them all, a spicy holiday treat from Mexico called, simply, Santa Claus. Santa Claus, for reasons we can only guess at, has forsaken his digs at the North Pole and taken up residence at a castle in space. He spends a lot of time imitating Liszt at his organ while Earth children bray. This pisses off Lucifer big time. (Perhaps he is an audiophile.) Old Scratch has a lesser demon in his employ named Pitch. He’s a bit like Iago, and yet I find it almost impossible not to cheer for him. It gets old seeing the do-gooders pull it out every time. Of course, in the end, Santa bests Satan’s minion. Merry Christmas.