Twisted Christmas: Nine Christmas films and TV shows on the dark and weird side

Every year, that old seasonal argument rears its head: Is Die Hard a Christmas film?

Wednesday, 23rd December 2020, 3:52 pm
Updated Friday, 17th December 2021, 10:00 am

Our answer: who cares! If you want some off-the-beaten-path Yuletide viewing, there are far stranger things to stick on your TV.

Spend an alternative Christmas with an army of rocket-loaded penguins, Michael Caine but without the muppets, or riding the skies atop a flying shark.

Here are nine sinister – and silly – suggestions for a twisted Christmas, and where you can see them:

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Some alternatives to the usual festive film fare.

Krampus (2015) – Netflix

A horror movie about the Krampus was a long time coming – the horned, beastly figure of Alpine folklore is a kind of anti-Santa Claus, who goes around scaring – or worse! – all the children who’ve been naughty.

In this take on the story, starring Toni Collette and Adam Scott, an American family are terrorised by the demonic figure. Despite the potential for for something very creepy indeed, the film has an often comic tone, reminiscent of some of the wackier horror flicks of the 1980s.

Speaking of which …

Gremlins (1984) – £3.49 to rent on Amazon Prime Video

You shouldn’t buy a pet for Christmas unless you’ve really thought it through – and if like Gizmo the Mogwai it comes with a list of rules like ‘keep away from water and light, and don’t feed after midnight’, alarm bells should be ringing. On the other hand, Gizmo is an awfully cute little critter …

Batman Returns (1992) – £3.49 to rent on Amazon Prime Video

If you’ve never spent Christmas in a snow-blitzed Gotham, you’ve missed a treat. Just watch out for all those murderous circus gangs and flappy swarms of bats every time anyone tries to light a Christmas tree in the city square. With Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Danny DeVito’s Penguin aiming low blows and running for high office, the Dark Knight has his work cut out during the festive season. It’s lucky he has a butler to put up the decorations and serve him his cold soup.

A Warning to the Curious (1974) – available for £1.89 as part of Ghost Stories for Christmas on Amazon Prime Video

Throughout the 1970s, the BBC had a tradition of dramatising classic ghost stories for late-night, Christmas Eve viewing. There have been attempts to revive the tradition in recent years, but nothing in 21st-century HD can match the stone-cold creepiness of these scratchy old originals. Here, a hapless clerk heads out to forbidding coastland with the hope of tracking down an ancient buried crown. He manages to dig up both the crown and – as swiftly becomes clear – a deeply unforgiving curse, plus the all-too-physical ghost of a madman. ‘There’s no diggin’ ‘ere!’ – a lesson he learns too late.

One Foot in the Grave: The Wisdom of the Witch (1995) – free on iPlayer

Another BBC tradition - but one which, unlike the ghost story above, you can dare to watch alone – special Christmas episodes of the often darkly-toned comedy became as much a seasonal staple as Only Fools and Horse during the 90s’. Here Victor and Margaret Meldrew contend with a witch’s curse, a massive spider called Edwin, and a murderous thug on the trail of their neighbour. All that, and a part-time job as a scarecrow ...

Jaws: The Revenge (1987) – £3.49 to rent on Amazon Prime Video

A shoddy sequel where a vengeance-seeking great white shark (er … what?) tracks its prey to the sunny Bahamas might not sound like the most seasonally appropriate of films. But the fourth Jaws movie takes place over the festive period, with the monster’s first victim chomped to an accompaniment of Christmas carols in the opening minutes. And if you’re looking for escapism after what has been another very difficult year, this fanciful tale of grudge-bearing sharks, psychic grandmas, and Michael Caine absolutely slumming it, is in its own way as outlandish as The Wizard of Oz.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009) – £3.49 to rent on Amazon Prime Video

Maurice Sendak’s book of the same name – with its iconic illustrations – is a hipster favourite, and it’s no surprise that the film version ended up looking more like it was for the adults in the audience than the kids. With a soundtrack by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and lines like “Happiness isn't always the best way to be happy”, kids will most likely demand you switch it off and put a Pixar film on, but adults may enjoy its eccentricity.

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2010) – free on iPlayer

A Time Lord take on the classic tale by Dickens, this festive episode sees Matt Smith’s Doctor altering the past of tyrannous businessman Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon) in order to stop a spaceship from crashing. As you do. And if Jaws: The Revenge just wasn’t enough shark for you, this one features an airborne variety, mooching about the rooftops of a very Victorian space age settlement. There’s also some operatic singing from guest star Katherine Jenkins.

Black Christmas (1974) – £2.49 to rent on Amazon Prime Video

A Canadian sorority house is terrorised by a maniac who’s low-key living in their attic in the classic slasher horror. The film has been remade twice, almost unrecognisably in the case of 2019’s version, but the original takes some beating for shocks and uneasy atmosphere – and for some coarse comedy moments too. Be warned, it’s certainly not family viewing!

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