Joe Shivers on holiday movies

photo / hi-tekznologik Creative Commons licensed: Attribution-No Derivatives 2.0 

The holidays typically entail spending an uncomfortable amount of time with your family, and it only takes about two hours to remember why you moved away in the first place. Arguments ensue, and a neutral activity must be found in order to maintain peace. For many, going to the cinema or renting a movie is the solution. I don’t think the genre of Christmas movies exists because of a fascination with the Christmas spirit – it exists because it’s a perfectly plausible excuse to not spend time with family members but appear to be doing so. Everyone wins.

The Christmas movies I usually watch have started to bore me, so I sat down with Joe Shivers, manager of Vulcan Video South, to get some recommendations on what to watch. Joe shared his picks, plugged his store, and talked about grits. Here’s his list, with commentary…

Pee Wee’s Christmas Special

Enough said.

Strange Days

One of the better science fiction movies from the ’90s. Set on New Year’s Eve.

Die Hard

The Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made. John McClane is a modern-day Father Christmas, but instead of presents he brings rescue and detonators. Time has since been divided into the “Pre-Hans Gruber” and the “Post-Hans Gruber.”

The Ref

A forgotten, extremely funny kidnap/comedy starring a still amusing Dennis Leary. Supporting cast includes Kevin Spacey (before the Oscar got shoved up his ass) and Judy Davis.

Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas

Jim Henson’s made-for-TV holiday classic.


Four words: Sam Elliot and reindeer.

Batman ’89

Poor, poor Michael Keaton. I am afraid that Christian Bale’s towering work as Nu-Batman will have everyone forget the awesomeness of the original. Plus it is set at Christmas, which makes it required viewing.

Smokey Mountain Christmas

Dolly Parton takes in a bunch of kids whose parents were killed and spreads general holiday merriment. Lost and forgotten, but still great.


A bizarre, down-right scary Russian/Finnish fairy tale. Someone once told me it was a classic in its native countries and plays throughout December. Regardless, if you can find it (which is not easy), mainline some eggnog and wait for your mind to be blown. Also lampooned in one of the better episodes of MST3K.

200 Cigarettes

Somehow this movie escapes the annoying, hyper-aware MTV set to actually be a fun movie made about people’s adventures on New Year’s Eve (which is a genre that has been somewhat ignored for some reason). Even Courtney Love doesn’t ruin it.

Black Christmas

One of the first and best slasher movies and it happens to be holiday themed.

Campy Christmas Curiosities

A collection of bizarre Christmas films. How can you say no to movies titled Santa In Animal Land and Monkeyland Christmas?

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

In the public domain, so you can download it for free here.

Clip from Santa Claus Conquers The Martians


Finally available in the UK on DVD, this parody of Jesus Christ Superstar somehow transcends obviousness and becomes a hysterical, even moving, piece. Matt Berry (the greatest British person ever) will one day be remembered for this. Come by Vulcan any given day of the week and it will probably be on the TV.

The classics that speak for themselves but may have been forgotten:

  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • Ernest Saves Christmas
  • How The Grinch Stole Christmas (’66) (Never watch the remake. EVER.)
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • A Christmas Story
  • White Christmas
  • Edward Scissorhands (If you live in Texas and miss snow, watch this. It’s one of the wintriest movies ever.)
  • Miracle On 34th St (Both ’47 and ’94)
  • Olive, The Other Reindeer
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer/Frosty The Snowman
  • Jesus Christ Superstar (Really makes me wish I was alive for that week in the early ’70s when Jesus was really cool.)
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Home Alone
  • Scrooged
  • Scrooge

“That’s about it for the family-friendly material,” says Joe. “As far as after-hours films are concerned, Vulcan Video is the porn store for non-porn-store people. You can come in, rent Jumanji for the kids, and grab 1 In the Pink, 1 in the Stink (7) for yourself, all without dildo impulse-buys or the never-ending temptation of a Real Doll. We do actually rent a fair amount of porn, but it seems that most of our customers still do not even know we have a porn section. (It’s located on the top shelf of cult.) I personally feel that Caligula – recently re-released in a three-disc set – is one of the forgotten Christmas classics. Nothing says eggnog and mistletoe like Malcolm McDowell, lubed up with what appears to be grits, fisting some poor man, only to then saunter into the palace for his wedding. The only other title I can think of that has a Christmas feel is Edward Penishands.”

Hopefully this list will help you avoid any meaningful contact with your loved ones. In the case of Die Hard, it might even bring you closer together. Look for any of these movies at your favorite video store, and if you have any recommendations for films that weren’t listed by Joe, leave ’em in the comments section.