Christmas is seemingly inexhaustible source of inspiration for film makers. While the Biblical story of Christ has been adapted numerous times, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year itself has been depicted even more often in all kinds of Hollywood movies: from poignant dramas like Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life to scathing satires like Bad Santa.
However, not all of the holiday-themed movies can be works of art. In fact, Christmas seems to encourage production on more so-bad-they’re-good films than any other holiday. Over the decades, many of them failed miserably. With Christmas just around the corner and commercials already cloying the air with cheer and merriment, let us take a peek at Santa’s naughty list of cinematic holiday failures.
We already published a list of the 25 Worst Movies in Film History, but now we’ve compiled a list of the 11 Worst Christmas Movies of All Time, a few of which could easily belong in the former article.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Planet Mars is faced with a crisis: Martian children spend too much time watching Martian TV instead of doing their Martian chores. So the King of Mars hopes to change this by kidnapping real Santa Claus, but because he can’t tell the real from the fake, he also abducts a pair of Earthling children to help him distinguish real Santa from among all the fake ones. Kids manage to escape only to be menaced by a man in a bear costume, a cardboard robot and lots of bad acting.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians became popular after it got featured in the cult TV series Mystery Science Theatre 3000. The fact that the movie is in the public domain for everyone to use as they wish didn’t hurt either. Despite its lack of budget, director Nicholas Webster manages to make movie somewhat charming. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians also represents first ever screen appearance of a very young actress-singer Pia Zadora, who plays one of Martian children.
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
After Santa Claus crash-lands in Florida, his sleigh gets stuck in sand and his reindeer run away. Santa sends out a telepathic call for help to local children. When they arrive, he decides to tell them a story of Thumbelina – a film within a film that takes up most of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Eventually, one of the children brings her dog who summons a giant bunny in a fire truck which somehow saves Santa.
Shot with a minuscule budget on a sunny Florida beach, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny barely manages a token effort at creating a Christmas-y atmosphere. Most of the film’s running time is spent recycling an already existing and completely unrelated movie. By far the most interesting thing about Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is its director and producer Barry Mahon, a fighter pilot-turned-movie producer who escaped from a German POW camp in WWII, whose real life would have probably made for a far more entertaining movie than this dreck.
Santa Claus (1959)
In this Mexican fantasy film, sometimes known as Santa Claus Vs. The Devil, the children of the world help Santa Claus make toys and presents in his magical cloud castle high above the world – a business arrangement involving child labor that modern viewers might find somewhat problematic. It’s December the 24th and Lucifer, prince of Hell, decides to ruin Christmas once and for all by sending out one of his devils to sabotage Santa’s plans. Luckily, Santa Claus is helped by his old friends Merlin the Magician and Vulcan, Roman god of metal-working… as well as by all those hard-working children.
Directed by René Cardona, Santa Claus almost makes up for in its creativity what it lacks in production values. This colorful movie was considered a (very, very minor) classic in its time, but today’s kids will probably find it dull and disappointing. Nevertheless, fans of bad cinema just might find some entertainment value in this bizarre movie’s earnest attempt to tell a magical fairy tale on a shoestring budget.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)
The first Silent Night, Deadly Night tells the story of a murderous maniac Billy (Robert Brian Wilson), who kills his victims with a variety of sharp instruments while dressed as Santa Claus. Since Billy dies at the end of the first film, this sequel tells the exact same story using Billy’s brother Ricky (Eric Freeman) as the main villain.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 was made so cheaply that about third of its running time consists out of reused footage from the first movie. Apparently, the filmmakers were told to simply re-edit the footage into a new story, but they insisted on shooting at least some new scenes. Deliberately or not, inept work by everyone involved – from actors to director Lee Harry – turns Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 into an awkward comedy. There’s a good reason why one of the movie’s scenes became an internet meme, as Eric Freeman’s performance as psychopathic Ricky is as stilted as his eyebrows are unhinged.
In a small but thriving subgenre of holiday-themed horrors, Elves just might be the strangest one of them all. In it, a coven of anti-Christian witches perform a pagan occult ritual that inadvertently wakes up a long-buried Nazi genetic experiment – the titular elves. As people get ritually stabbed and case of family incest is revealed, the only person who can sort out the secret connection between Nazis and elves is an ex-cop/ex-mall cop/ex-drunk/ex-Grizzly Adams Dan Haggerty.
With its preposterous plot and obvious lack of resources and talent, Elves is a perfect example of a “so bad it’s good” movie. It’s not just that Jeffrey Mandel wrote and directed a bad film, it’s that Elves, like a really good joke, manages to surprise its viewers at every turn and yet remain honest to its bizarre internal logic. It’s the kind of entertaining unpredictability that is only achieved by really good and really bad movies.
Santa With Muscles (1996)
Hulk Hogan as Santa Claus – what more could you ask for? Hogan plays an evil self-made millionaire who starts to believe he’s a real Santa Claus after he suffers a head injury during his escape from the police. Meanwhile, another evil millionaire (this one played by Ed. Begley Jr.) tries to buy an orphanage in order to find some magical crystals hidden underneath it. Only Santa with Muscles can save the orphans, one of which is played by a very young Mila Kunis.
Even when badly made, many movies can make for an entertaining watch. Unfortunately, bad comedies usually just go down like a lead balloon. Santa With Muscles is no exception. Despite Hulk Hogan’s presence, this film is a boring slog. Interestingly, its theme of evil self-made millionaires extends to real life, as one of the movie’s executive producers was Jordan Belfort, whose life was depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Jack Frost (1997)
In this holiday horror film, Scott MacDonald plays a mass murderer Jack Frost. On his way to an execution, Frost is accidentally exposed to a toxic genetic material that recombines his DNA with snow, turned him into a snowman with a whole bunch of frost-related powers at his disposal. Jack begins to exact his psychopathic revenge over a small town whose sheriff (Christopher Alport) stopped his first killing spree.
Written and directed by Michael Cooney, Jack Frost is a horror comedy that’s neither scary nor funny. Even the weather looks suspiciously un-Christmasy with occasional piles of artificial snow strategically placed in individual scenes. Jack Frost probably caused some confusion when, a year later, another film with same title and similar theme appeared – this one a family comedy starring Michael Keaton. In 2000 Cooney made a sequel to his horror comedy entitled Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, which was, if anything, even worse than its predecessor.
The Nutcracker in 3-D (2010)
Nothing says “Christmas” like rat-faced fascists burning toys in crematoriums. Impossible as it sounds, this is exactly what happens in this strange, morbid movie, which cost financiers $90 million to make, but barely made a dent in the box office. As evil King of Rats (John Turturro) tries to establish a totalitarian regime in the Kingdom of Toys, only the Nutcracker Prince (voiced by Shirley Henderson) and heroic girl Mary (Elle Fanning) can stop him. Also, for some reason, the story includes Albert Einstein (Nathan Lane).
The Nutcracker in 3-D is bloated, nightmarish mess of a children’s movie made even uglier by its post-production conversion to 3D. It’s quite an accomplishment to bungle a movie based on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet (which was, in turn, based upon a classical fairy tale by E. T. A. Hoffman). Yet the movie’s director Andrey Konchalovskiy claims he dreamt about this project for two decades. This makes The Nutcracker in 3-D almost as sad as it is ugly.
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
At first, it seems like sheer bad luck when Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) takes a ride in a taxi driven by the inept Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney). Ernest gives him a free ride out of Christmas cheer, which gets him fired, and Santa forgets his bag in Ernest’s car. But then Ernest joins forces with aging Santa to help him convince TV host Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark) to become the next true Santa Claus. Maudlin fairy tale develops in which everyone involved learn about the true meaning of Christmas and the magic of holidays.
The character of Ernest was originally created by an advertisement agency for a series of commercials. Yet somehow he became popular enough to get a short-lived TV sketch show and appear in staggering ten feature films, all directed by John R. Cherry III. The appeal of Ernest is somewhat mysterious. His grimacing visage, often filmed through fish-eyed lenses in extreme close-ups, is at best unfunny and at worst unsettling.
The Christmas Candle (2013)
Late in the 19th century, the English hamlet of Gladbury hides a curious legend: every 25 years an angel blesses a single candle in the shop of the village candlemaker. Whoever receives this candle will have their prayer answered. But as the new century looms ahead, the arrival of electricity threatens the candlemaker’s job. While the new minister David Richmond (Hans Matheson) tries to dissuade the villagers from their tradition and teach them a values of everyday good deeds, this Christmas candle mysteriously disappears.
The Christmas Candle was based upon a novel by Texas preacher and best-selling writer Max Lucado. Unfortunately, this movie’s good intentions can take it only so far. Despite some solid performances, flat direction and muddled story-telling make The Christmas Candle come off as both uninspiring and uninspired. The most curious part of the film is a small role played by Susan Boyle, who became an international sensation after her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009.
Saving Christmas (2014)
During his family’s traditional Christmas gathering, Kirk (former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron, playing himself) is shocked to learn that his brother-in-law Christian – played by movie’s director and writer Darren Doane – suffers from a crisis of fate. As Kirk has a long chat with him in his parked car, both the Christian and the viewer re-learn the true meaning of Christmas in this tepidly humorous tale.
Saving Christmas mistakes being earnest with being convincing. There’s a world of difference between making the audience think, and then shoveling them with one’s own convictions. That in itself would make Saving Christmas an unappealing watch, but the movie’s production values make it seem like a glorified home video. After critics panned the movie, Cameron asked his fans for on-line support. As is the way of the internet, his appeal backfired. At the present moment, Saving Christmas remains among the five worst movies ever on the IMDB’s Bottom 100 list.
Honorable Mention: Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
This isn’t a “movie,” per se, but nevertheless it’s a holiday disaster, Star Wars Holiday Special was created in 1978 as a special event show for CBS. It follows Chewbacca’s family – Itchy, Malla and Lumpy – on planet Kashyyyk. As they prepare to celebrate Life Day, they get repeatedly interrupted by evil Imperial patrols, bad comedy routines and old-fashioned musical numbers.
Star Wars Holiday Special is a dark secret of the Star Wars franchise, surviving today only in bad VHS copies. It gained notoriety among Star Wars fans because, despite its low production values, it features Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill as well as the first ever appearance of the character Boba Fett. Although George Lucas green-lit the project, years later he allegedly admitted that if he could, he would track down every bootlegged copy of Star Wars Holiday Special and smash it. For that alone, this curiosity warrants a mention on this list.
Can you think of any other disastrously bad Christmas movies? Let us know in the comments!