This feature was originally published in November 2015. We’re reposting it because … ‘Tis the season.
Christmastime is here … happiness and cheer… except not.
There are those who put the “frightful” in the lyrics for “Let It Snow”, and I’m not talking about the weather. What about the evil beings who fight against what’s good about this particular holiday season? The ones who cause mayhem out there in small towns and LA high-rises, sorority houses and friendships.
Sometimes they combat Kris Kringle himself, sometimes it is Kris Kringle himself!
Grab your nearest cup of eggnog, make sure it hasn’t been poisoned, and enjoy our wintry take on just who the most evil movie monsters of Christmas are before you go to bed with thoughts of sugar plums dancing in your heads. Some you’ll most certainly suspect, but others not so much. Just be careful out there, kiddies. The snow is falling…
12. The Adults
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Do you remember Miracle on 34th Street as a lovely, heartwarming story about a little girl’s dreams coming true thanks to the appearance of the real-life Kris Kringle in New York, as he spreads holiday cheer? Well, you’re remembering it wrong. Miracle on 34th Street is actually the story of a vicious city that attempts to gaslight Santa Claus into an insane asylum for insisting that he is indeed Santa and the years of regret that the prosecuting attorney in the resulting legal case will have to endure for almost succeeding.
From the film’s opening, which concerns the sitting Macy’s Santa being too drunk to perform his duties, Miracle turns Kris Kringle’s quest to renew the public’s faith in Santa and the true meaning of Christmas into a Sisyphean struggle. He’s hired to replace the drunk Santa, but is fired for being too good at his job. When a psychologist is brought in to evaluate him, said psychologist carries out a personal vendetta against Santa for humiliating him. And the only reason he ends up getting off is because of a last-minute emotional appeal between two of the people most directly responsible for all the trouble.
Basically, Santa is the Biblical Job, and every adult in this movie is evil.
11. Mr. Potter
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
In some ways, the character of Old Man Potter is an example of people with disabilities persevering. That is the only positive attribute I can lay at the feet of Mr. Potter. He is evil incarnate — a predecessor of Needful Things’s Leland Gaunt, although Potter never comes clean about whether or not he’s the devil. But who are we kidding? He is! Potter is Scrooge without the redemption story. He’s just a mean, old miser who also happens to be rich as hell. Like many rich people, it’s not enough. He won’t rest (or at least stop scowling) until he can take over George Bailey’s Building and Loan company. What will this really do for Potter? He’s extremely wealthy in a small town. You’ve won at life, Potter!
After tempting George to sell early on (The Last Temptation of Christ) but thankfully failing, he later turns a desperate George away during the final act of the film and threatens to call the police on him for mishandling funds … funds that were mishandled because Potter took money that simple Uncle Bill left at the bank. I’m getting worked up, and this always leads to run-on sentences.
Affront after affront after affront condemns Potter to what surely must be an eternity in Hell, which would be bad if he wasn’t the sonofabitch running the joint.
Black Christmas (1974)
Bob Clark’s Black Christmas inspired a legion of filmmakers, thanks to his main antagonist’s mysterious background and the decision to employ POV shots as he stalks the sorority house he dwells in. The result was the slasher film, even if the subgenre didn’t receive mainstream attention until John Carpenter’s Halloween. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It stars Jamie Lee Curtis … anyway. Back to Billy.
The genius of Black Christmas is that we don’t know who Billy is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s constantly talking to himself in frantic whispers, unless he’s calling the sorority girls with threats alternating with disturbing moans. Who is the “Agnes” he keeps speaking to, and what secret does he want her to keep hidden? The mind wanders into dark places with that one.
And that ending…
Billy’s backstory is laid out in the misguided 2006 remake of the film, but the less said about that the better. Less is definitely more in the case of the original. The rare glimpses we get of Billy (a reflection here, an eye peeping through a door crack there) are more than enough to do the trick of scaring us. Like its movie poster declared: “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl … then it’s on too tight!”
Gremlins, Joe Dante’s 1984 treatise on improper pet care, sees Zach Galligan’s irresponsible caretaking lead to the transformation of his litter of Mogwais into anarchic green lizard-men, with the mohawked Stripe as their leader. Stripe is a little asshole even in Mogwai mode: one of the first things he does is nearly bite little Corey Feldman’s finger clean off!
Without Stripe, the Gremlins would just be a pack of slimy, chaos-raising hellions set to make Kingston Falls their playground on Christmas Eve. However, Stripe’s plan is more malicious, with a specific bloodlust for poor widdle Gizmo and a modus operandi to spawn more Gremlins. To … take over the world, I guess? I never truly got what Stripe’s “big picture” plan was. I guess they wanted the group discount tickets for the Snow White screening they crash. Either way, Stripe’s white shock of hair and his malicious snarl made him an effective little baddie, making Gizmo’s triumphant victory over him all the sweeter.
08. Santa Claus
Santa’s Slay (2005)
To call famed, taser-weak professional wrestler Bill Goldberg’s rendition of Santa by that name almost feels like a misnomer. In Santa’s Slay, Santa might have the coat and the sleigh (or the slay, amirite), but he’s actually a demon. Possibly the Antichrist; the film is noncommittal on this point although it’s acknowledged that Santa was created as the result of a Satanic virgin birth.
The film concerns a prophecy about how Santa was actually forced into 1,000 years of slave labor by an angel who defeated him in a divine curling match (yep), a prophecy that foretold Santa spreading good cheer until the year of our Lord 2005 when he would be able to kill again. And kill he does. Though good ultimately triumphs over evil, after another attempt at a curling-based solution and the threat of Zamboni-based violence, Santa isn’t even defeated. No, Bill Goldberg’s Santa continues on to other adventures, suggested by an ominous “Who’s next?” just before the credits roll. Considering that his powers are evidently diminished until the next Christmas, one can only assume a lot of Jerry Flynns in the months and years to come.
07. Myron Larabee
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Sure, we still giggle at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “PUT THE COOKIE DOWN NAOW” speech, and his constant cries for the much-sought-after “Tyuhhbo Man” in 1994’s execrable Jingle All the Way, but Sinbad’s Myron Larabee is a literal disgruntled postal worker who successfully bombs police, kidnaps children, and psychologically torments an overworked, desperate dad on the verge of divorce.
Sinbad’s off-kilter, unhinged performance is manic and full of shtick (“I got the ears of a snake!”), but maybe that’s the point. Sinbad’s tragic journey, in particular, represents the true casualties of American holiday consumerism: the insane pressure on working fathers to fight among each other to get their child that one special toy, lest their hundreds of hours of work to provide for their family are for naught. (“How about these stupid letters from kids to Santa at the North Pole: ‘Dear Santa, Can you send me a bike and a slinky?’ ‘No! Your father’s been laid off!’”) In a world of creepily mean-spirited holiday movies, it’s Sinbad’s utter psychological collapse that’s perhaps most troubling.
06. Oogie Boogie
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Imagine Cab Calloway, but made of a burlap sack filled with worms, and you’d have Oogie Boogie, the charmingly incongruous antagonist of Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. At first glance, Oogie Boogie seems out of place – is he part of Halloweentown? If so, what popular monster or Halloween staple is he inspired by? Did I miss the part where bags of worms (or, I don’t know, gambling) are common tropes trotted out every October 31st?
Regardless of the incongruity of Oogie’s presence in Halloweentown, his anarchic glee makes for some tantalizing scenes, especially his musical introduction to Santa. (“What are you going to do?” “I’m gonna do the best I can!”) In many ways, he represents the deepest, darkest side of Halloweentown: Jack and his friends are essentially well-meaning doofuses saddled with the responsibilities of being “scary,” whereas Oogie is the genuine article.
05. Professor Hinkle
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
First off, Hinkle wasn’t even a professor. He was a lame magician who couldn’t even impress children around Christmastime and happened to discover he had a magic hat. A real-deal magic hat that did more than hide bunnies. (Is that how those work? Was never one for magicians.) Anyway, he seems like a harmless loser, until he begins his hell-bent quest to get his hat back. You see, this magic hat brought to life a snowman by the name of Frosty — only one of the most beloved characters of Christmas. What happens next … is a nightmare.
As the action ramps up in Rankin & Bass’ Frosty the Snowman, Hinkle locks the young and innocent Karen in a greenhouse with Frosty. The next time we check in with the pair, Frosty is dead — a puddle with a hat and pipe is all that remains. Yes, yes, Santa inevitably shows up and Frosty comes back to life and Hinkle is doomed to live a present-less world on Christmas, but imagine the little girl watching her hero slowly die before her eyes.
Was speech the first to go? Did he lose sight? Did the puddle smell of snow or dirty rain? Did he cry? Did he scream as the bottom half gave way? The psychological damage inflicted upon young Karen can never be forgiven, even if Hinkle writes he’s sorry “a hundred-zillion times.”
04. Hans Gruber
Die Hard (1988)
Hans Gruber is not a terrorist, you understand. Hans Gruber is just a thief. A talented one, at that. Alan Rickman’s consummate professional may ultimately be vanquished by John McClane’s relentless pursuit, culminating in one of the all-time great main villain deaths, but Gruber’s plan is genius up to a point.
After all, outside of McClane as the violent, too-capable wrench in the plans, Die Hard may as well be a Christmas movie about a brilliant, ruthless thief’s master con. From the moment Gruber and his team takes hostages inside Nakatomi Plaza, everything goes to plan that isn’t Bruce Willis-related. He establishes himself as a threat, takes Takagi away to instill fear in the hostages, and even escalates the situation to the point where the LAPD cuts the building’s power, allowing Hans to breach the vault. It’s only when Gruber’s fake-death exit strategy ultimately becomes a prophecy that things go wrong. Gruber may not win the day, but he would’ve made away with all those bearer bonds if it wasn’t for that meddling charmer from Moonlighting.
03. Willie Stokes
Bad Santa (2003)
For as much as Willie Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is posed in Bad Santa as the “you gotta love him” type of bastard, he’s really a vicious guy. Sure, eventually he leans into his duties as the kind of role model that could be some lonely kid’s Santa … sort of … but for quite a while Willie drinks hard, swears harder, and engages in the kind of coitus that sounds less pleasant than it does intimidating. He functions thanks to the kindness, or at least begrudging tolerance, of strangers, but spends his time with a socially maladjusted kid and a Santa fetishist.
He may run the Christmas line with a hard hand (“This is not the goddamn DMV!”), and he may find emotional catharsis in beating up children (“It was like I did something constructive with my life or something”), but Willie is the exact kind of guy who needs the spirit of Christmas the most. And thanks to a little bit of luck and the admiration of a kid unfortunate enough to be named Thurman Merman, Willie finds it. Sort of. I mean, he still gets shot a bunch of times, but you know. The lesson is basically the same. Yeah. It’s totally the same.
02. Scut Farkus
A Christmas Story (1983)
The worst monsters are those that bring out the monster within us, and A Christmas Story’s resident bully, Scut Farkus, was no exception. With his yellow eyes (“So help me God, YELLOW EYES!”), thin ginger face, and terrifying adolescent roar, Farkus was the Platonic ideal of the elementary school tormentor burned into every child’s long-term memories – that child who finally figured out the feeling of power that came from lording your age and strength over those smaller than you.
Part of the magic of Scut Farkus’ comeuppance in A Christmas Story, in which an enraged Ralphie lashes back at him with a flurry of desperate punches, was the deeply troubling catharsis of it all. Was it wrong that we cheered for this little kid to beat another kid senseless? I mean, Scut didn’t know any better. I mean, his name’s Scut Farkus – as Shakespeare would say, he was to the manner born.
Admittedly, in a modern context, Ralphie’s impotent man-child rage and fetishizing of firearms could be considered troubling. You just know that little sucker wants to take more than someone’s eye out. Perhaps Ralphie’s triumphant defeat of his childhood tormentor came at a hefty price: his soul.
Love Actually (2003)
Who else could claim the top spot but the greatest monster of them all? We meet Mark (Andrew Lincoln), whose last name is neither given nor necessary, early on in 2003’s Love Actually at the wedding of his best friend, Peter (future Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor). Mark is Peter’s Best Man, going so far as to surprise him with a group recital of “All You Need Is Love”. Everyone loves The Beatles, so this guy’s okay in my book. Oh, and he also volunteered to videotape the wedding for his best mate? Even nicer. A prince among princes, Mark is!
And then the rest of the movie happens. Writer/director Richard Curtis only gives us a few more scenes with Mark and his prey, but Christ does he make them count. The first is when Peter’s wife, Juliet (Keira Knightley), discovers the footage Mark shot of their wedding. I believe the technical term is “sexually-frustrated-extreme-close-ups” of Juliet’s face. She isn’t so much mortified as she is uncomfortable and leaves without calling the police.
The next time we catch a scene with Mark and Juliet is much later on in the film. Peter (again, Mark’s best friend in the world) is enjoying a quiet evening at home with the love of his life, Juliet (remember that she’s the one Mark’s obsessed with), when there’s a knock at the door. It’s Mark and his creepy cue cards. The cards tell Juliet to tell her husband it’s just carolers outside as she continues to fall under his disturbing spell. “To me you are perfect,” he proudly declares through Sharpie: words that would no doubt haunt the normal recipient of such a message in such a way. Juliet doesn’t scream. She doesn’t slam the door. She gives him an “awe-shucks” kiss on the cheek. No arrests are made! Friendships continue!
Mark is terrifying because he feels real — the quiet, seemingly innocent man who has a deep, dark desire for his friend’s loved one. A man who will take the time to slavishly write in big letters just how he feels on cue cards, even if his friend answered the door instead of the woman he lusts for. What would have happened if Peter had answered the door? Did Mark have a knife in his right hand???
He’s still out there.