The Depths Of Obscurity: Holiday Edition
‘Tis the season for cinephiles to be watching their holiday favorites. TV stations are airing the usual array of heartwarming holiday classics around the clock. Most of you will be watching the traditional Christmas fare. Whether it’s the touching morality fables like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or the nostalgic Rankin/Bass animations, everyone has their can’t miss holiday movie. Here in the ‘Depths of Obscurity’, I like to buck the traditional fare, dig deep into the well of long-forgotten films, and maybe start some new Christmas traditions.
In this very special holiday edition of Depths of Obscurity, I’m going to do things a little bit differently. Normally I pick one specific filter, then watch and rank every film on that list. This time around I found that method too limiting and instead opted to go with five films that span the gamut of obscurity, from overlooked classics from the 40’s to low grade B slasher flicks from the 2000’s. Each film is from a different decade, and has a distinctly different genre. My one rule was that they had to be a holiday film and be virtually invisible on Flickchart, which I defined as having a ranking of 10,000 or lower.
The first movie that immediately jumped out at me when I started to compile the list of movies got me really excited about the prospects of this slate of movies. ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ (Ranked #19818) is a title that will stop you in your tracks, slap you across the face and then leave you scratching your head. Yes, it was the mid-sixties and someone thought it’d be a great idea to mix Santa with bad Sci-Fi to spread the joy of Christmas to children. The Martians, who pretty much look like the Jolly Green Giant with a football helmet, are in a bit of trouble. Their children have become emotionless automatons, sapped of any enjoyment and motivation because they have been forced fed information since birth and as a result never learned how to be kids and have fun. Desperate to enrich their children with joy they turn to the fat man in the red suit that makes the Earth children so happy. Despite their superior intelligence, the aliens apparently have no social skills. Rather than simply ask Santa to come and help them, they kidnap him along with two helpless children who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The film has actually become somewhat of a cult classic over the years, especially after it was featured on MST3000. Usually I’m not a fan of the ‘so bad they’re good’ type of movies, but there is something so sublimely awful about this that I can’t help but be fascinated by it. You could take any one scene by itself, and you would be awed by its inanity. Moment to moment you never know exactly what they are going for, but each scene has it’s own magic and weirdness which is captivating. I’m sure without much difficulty someone could cut this into a chilling horror flick. Santa’s cold, mocking laugh still haunts my dreams.
What is special is the actor’s commitment to their roles. Despite being decked out in absurd costumes, surrounded by cardboard box robots, and a script seemingly penned by an 8 year old, they deliver it all with a straight face and with the conviction of an actor hoping to win an Oscar. There is a certain naivety about the construction of the film that is endearing. They boldly and unflinchingly invent a world where Martians are the norm and have the audacity to further this bizarre alternate reality by having Santa, of all people, be their hero. All this is done without ever winking at the audience and cheapening what they were trying to achieve. Despite how far short they might have fallen, they set out to make a fun and heartfelt children’s holiday movie and they committed to this. Sure, it is absolutely absurd and oddly creepy, but it is also stupid fun and is endlessly watchable, which is something every holiday classic should be.
After I saw Santa visiting Mars, I wanted to try something a bit more conventional. I settled on ‘Quincy’s Quest’ (Ranked #19016), a British children’s movie that’s so undistinguished that it didn’t even make it to the global rankings until I watched and ranked it, which is a first for this blog. Quincy is a doll, relegated to the rejected pile, who is going to be incinerated in a fire on Christmas morning along with his other reject toy friends. Desperate, Quincy sets off on Christmas eve to find Santa who resides in the grotto on the top floor of the toy store. Unfortunately for Quincy, there is a wicked witch who will do everything in her power to stop him from reaching Santa and ensuring he and the rest of the toys will enjoy a slow and painful death. Along the way the jaunty young toy overcomes obstacles and falls in love all while breaking into song and dance every other minute. Granted, this is geared towards kids but that doesn’t excuse it from being an irritating mess. Quincy frolicking among increasingly more disturbing toys, with his extremely tight spandex pants and ever-present gaping grin was tantamount to torture. Then again, ever since I saw ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ as a child, I’ve always been slightly terrified of humans portrayed as toys. It’s not that I can’t appreciate a good song and dance movie, but this was utterly appalling.
Needing to wash away the horror show of overly happy dancing toys, I turned to good old-fashioned gore to brighten my spirits. Apparently there are a lot of people who like to deck the halls with blood and murder since the holiday slasher film is a surprisingly vibrant sub-genre. ‘Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Snowman’ (Ranked #10,765) fit my criteria perfectly. I haven’t seen the original Jack Frost, but I assure you, this doesn’t matter in the slightest (not to mention they give a complete summary within the first five minutes). Jack Frost was a serial killer who got involved in a horrible accident while being transported to his execution. The vehicle he was being transported in was in an accident with a chemical truck. Jack survived the wreck but was exposed to the toxic chemical, instantly melting him and fusing his DNA with the snow. In the first film the sheriff that arrested him also hunted down the revenge-bent killer-snowman and eventually vanquished him using a truck full of antifreeze.
In the sequel Jack returns and follows the same sheriff on his vacation to the Bahamas over the Christmas holidays and is on a mission to finally carry out his revenge. To his horror, antifreeze no longer worked against the super-killer snowman. At a loss, the sheriff watches helplessly as the icy killer decimates the island. ‘Jack Frost’ is classic, low budget horror. It’s full of corny jokes, and hilarious death scenes. The problem is that it never approaches scary, and by the third act completely falls apart. Ultimately, it just exists to exploit the novelty of a Christmas themed horror movie, and really doesn’t do much to capitalize. It’s predictable, and altogether wholly unremarkable.
Wanting to step away from novelty holiday-gimmick movies I decided to try some little known classic cinema. Overshadowed by holiday giants of the 40’s like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, the scarcely seen ‘It Happened on 5th Avenue’ (Ranked #11,308) proved to be a nice surprise. Taking place amidst a housing shortage after WWII, a group of homeless families take refuge in the boarded up house of their arch-enemy, a wealthy real estate mogul who has gone south for the winter. By happenstance, the mogul’s daughter who has run away from home finds them in the house. Rather than turn them in she pretends to be homeless and joins their little camp. Eventually she falls in love with Jim an army vet living in the house. When her father tracks her down she manages to convince him to join them and pretend to be a poor drifter. Begrudgingly he relents which forces him to experience the indignity of living as a vagrant in his own home. Soon his ex-wife also joins the party, and the greedy old man finally begins to learn the error of his ways and turn his money-obsessed attitude around. It’s a well-worn story which has strong parallels to ‘A Christmas Carol’, but it’s well done. It is every bit as moving as a Capra directed film, just far less talked about. Only a small portion of the movie actually takes place on Christmas, but the sentiment of love, family and goodwill are central which is what is important around this time of year. I’d encourage anyone who might want a strong alternative to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to consider picking this one up. It certainly holds its own.
I was only planning on doing four films, but as I was I combing the bottom of the holiday film rankings I noticed ‘The Junky’s Christmas’( Ranked 10,664), a short film that prominently exclaimed that it was produced by Francis Ford Coppola. I figured I’d give it a shot since it was only a couple minutes of my time. The short is based on a story written by William S. Burroughs who also narrates the film. It’s a bleak tale of a heroin addict desperate to find a hit when even the drug dealers are busy celebrating Christmas. Despite its dark subject matter, it’s a beautifully animated, and with Burroughs harrowing, gritty narration the story chills you to the bone before ultimately warming your heart. It manages to boil down the essential spirit of the holidays into an unconventional story, which hits you square in the heart. If your looking for something a bit left of center, I’d encourage you to seek this out. It’s available online and is only a few minutes long so you don’t have much to lose and everything to gain.
It was nice to get away from the usual Christmas rotation and try some new holiday movies. While nothing is going to dethrone my favorites, I was pleasantly surprised with a few films buried deep in the global rankings. ‘Quinys Quest’ was not one of these and is rightfully buried deep in the bowels of obscurity where it should remain for all time. ‘Jack Frost 2’ certainly isn’t a good movie, but it does fill a niche if you are one of those that like absurd holiday slasher movies. ‘Santa Conquers the Martians’ fills a similar role. It’s one of the few movies I can honestly say I enjoyed because of how bad it is. Even beyond the ridiculousness of it all, it has a fantastic rewatchability to it and I could easily see it becoming an annual Christmas favorite. ‘A Junky’s Christmas’ I appreciated because it perfectly imbues the Christmas spirit in an entirely unconventional way. Conversely ‘It Happened on 5th Avenue’ is completely conventional, but no less effective. Both capture the essence of Christmas perfectly, warming your heart and putting you in the holiday spirit. Holiday movies are an important part of many peoples holiday tradition, and I urge everyone to broaden their selection and give some lesser known movies a chance. You just may start a new holiday tradition.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Alex as bluevoid on Flickchart, and at his blog – moviefodder.com. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.