Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas

| December 2, 2014

Author Alonso Duralde’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is exactly the sort of reference book I’ve been hoping to find these past couple years (though I admittedly wasn’t looking too hard as it had somehow escaped my attention since 2010). It provides an up-to-date list of Christmas movies both traditional and unexpected, but that which interested me most were those unexpected entries. I’m talking movies that you’d never think about as Christmas movies, ones that just so happen to revolve around December 25th, but don’t traditionally spring to mind when one thinks Christmas. In addition to the host of Christmas Carol adaptations, not to mention things like Rudolph and Miracle on 34th Street, many folks now consider Die Hard and Gremlins among the pantheon of traditional Christmas movies. So we see the desire for unconventional Christmas viewing is there, but where do we turn when we’re looking for something not Frosty the Snowman, to find something to pair with a Die Hard or a Gremlins, say? Duralde’s book does a fine job filling that void.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking, and believe me I’ve heard it before: why not just Google it? Sure, you could do that, and you can find any number of lists of Christmas movies online. But when you come across lists of movies set at Christmas like that on a Wikipedia and it describes Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut as “An erotic thriller set just before Christmas,” that doesn’t tell you a damned thing about the film’s relationship to Christmas except in the most superficial sense. I’m looking for something a little more thoughtful, more insightful than that—something that paints a clear picture of how the most unlikely Christmas movies are in fact perfectly in line with the Christmas movie conventions. Or better yet, I want to read about the ways in which movies that seemingly represent Christmas perfectly given their focus on Santa and reindeer and elves, are in fact nothing more than hollow, pandering garbage.

Duralde provides terrific insight into some of these less traditional Christmas features, in particular when stressing issues of familial troubles as they manifest in films like Eyes Wide Shut and Die Hard. Indeed, Christmas movies are often about troubled family units that come together through adversity during the holidays and Eyes Wide Shut and Die Hard certainly fit that bill. I would have liked to have read much more about this sort of thing, but Duralde’s entries are in fact so numerous that they tend to be a tad thin analytically. At their best, they are wonderfully insightful, and at their worst, they serve as incredibly useful recommendations for holiday viewing, which is at the very least what you’ll be turning to his book for as Christmas approaches each year.

The one thing I would have liked out of Duralde’s book, though, is a more comprehensive selection of Christmas features. There are numerous notable exclusions such as Santa’s Slay with Bill Goldberg or John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games, which I’ve watched every Christmas Eve since 2003 (because I and those who’ve joined me in this endeavor are probably really, truly disturbed). To this end, Duralde also only addresses the first entry in any given franchise. To cover only the first of the Home Alones or even the Silent Night, Deadly Nights is to ignore a lot of fascinating film industry history, as well as some singularly odd Christmas movies. The Silent Night, Deadly Night series alone is worth exploration of more than just a page or two, with its third entry directed by Monte Hellman, and the third and fourth installments being written, directed, and/or produced by Brian Yuzna along with his Bride of Re-Animator team. I mean, how does one reconcile the fact that Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 is at once a Christmas movie AND depicts a woman vomiting a two foot-long cockroach? That bears some exploration.

Still, in spite of any conspicuously absent titles one might think of, Duralde’s book goes deeper into most of these titles than any list you might Google up does. I just hope, for one, that Duralde someday expands his book in the interest of completeness.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
Filed in: Books on Film

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