The festive season has seen its fair share of movies that love to screw with holiday tradition — from Gremlins to Bad Santa to Rare Exports, to name just a few — and early reviews are suggesting that this year’s White Reindeer is a more than worthy addition to the canon. Written and directed by emerging filmmaker Zach Clark, Reindeer has been called “a pitch-black ‘holiday movie’ unlike any other,” while The Dissolve remarks that “as outrageous as it gets, it almost never loses its exquisitely wrought tone of bittersweet melancholy.”
To mark White Reindeer‘s opening in New York this week (with other locations to follow), we invited Clark to run down his five favorite Christmas movies…
All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955; 92% Tomatometer)
It’s Christmas and Jane Wyman is sad and lonely. She and Rock Hudson are on the outs, and she hasn’t come to her senses and realized that she should love him no matter what anyone else says. Her kids give her a television, to keep her company. As it’s presented to her, the delivery man says it contains “life’s parade at your fingertips.” Sirk’s camera dollies in and holds on Jane’s distraught reflection in the golden television screen. It’s the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened in a movie.
As a children’s movie, this might be a failure, but as a surrealist nightmare set in a world of Yuletide kitsch, it’s a masterpiece. Santa lives in a castle in outer space, with a wizard and a giant room full of singing children of every ethnic stereotype imaginable. The reindeer are robots. He watches the earth with a giant all-seeing electronic eyeball. Satan sends a demon to corrupt the children of earth, and only you-know-who can stop him. And that’s only the beginning…
There are lots of amazing Muppet Christmas movies, but none come to close to touching the heart of this scrappy little story of a young otter who just wants his mom to have what she wants for the holidays. Henson presents poverty without pandering, no small feat for a made-for-TV puppet show. In its own way, it’s a beautiful retelling of O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi. The talent show at the end has some of Henson’s funniest gags ever. And what exactly are those squirrels doing?
This thing has everything: an evil killer elf, a pervy department store Santa, a heroic homeless department store Santa played by Dan Haggerty, neo-Nazi occultists, an exploding car, The Virgin of Anti-Christmas, perms on every female character, nudity aplenty, castration, electrocution, a kitten drowned in a toilet — I could keep going. Just watch the trailer on YouTube and then find this movie immediately by any means necessary. If Troll 2 had a holiday special, this would be it.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989; 63% Tomatometer)
Clark Griswald is the George Bailey of the ’80s.
White Reindeer opens at New York’s IFC center this week and expands to other cities next week.