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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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From Wookies to croquet: So-bad-they’re-good holiday movies to watch

Daniel Heuer | Staff Photographer
A viewer sits entranced by holiday sci-fi film “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Let’s face it: Every Christmas movie is bad.

Even the classics you watch year after year like “Home Alone” or “Elf” still end in the cheesy, totally predictable manner where everything works out for everyone and they learn the true meaning of Christmas. They’re heartwarming but might lack Oscar-worthy depth.

While the limitations of the genre mean that even the best Christmas movies are predictable and most filmed stories about Santa are mediocre, it also means that truly terrible Christmas movies are wildly entertaining for their over-the-top cheesiness and oft-ridiculous plotlines. Rather than discovering that, in fact, “A Christmas Story” isn’t all that entertaining, fire up one of these so-bad-they’re-good Christmas movies this winter while you sip your hot chocolate.

“Star Wars Holiday Special”

I was 10, it was Christmas Eve, and I couldn’t sleep. So I did what any kid would do and wandered downstairs, only to be traumatized by finding my parents doing the most horrible thing my young mind could imagine: watching the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”

We watched for about 20 minutes that fateful night, and not once did a human character utter a word. Instead, the 1978 TV special follows the family of “Star Wars” hero Chewbacca’s family during their celebrations of Life Day, the Wookie version of Christmas. The only problem was that Chewbacca’s Wookie family spoke only in incomprehensible guttural growls, meaning well over a third of the movie flies by without viewers being able to understand anything that is said.

I didn’t make it past the growling-Wookie extravaganza my first year, but 365 days later, my parents and I still had a sense of morbid curiosity about what other Life Day adventures could be awaiting Chewbacca’s unfortunately named son Lumpy and the rest of the characters. So we sat down and fired up the Holiday Special for a second time — after all, how bizarre could it be?

The answer: about as weird as you can imagine. The special plays out like a 1970s variety show, with segments ranging from things you might expect to see in a normal Star Wars film, like a call to Luke Skywalker, to quintessentially 1970s decisions, like having a villain be distracted by watching a holographic MTV music video of psychedelic rock band Jefferson Starship. The most eccentric scene — high praise when talking about the “Star Wars Holiday Special” — comes when Chewbacca’s father Itchy watches what is essentially a sexual fantasy about Golden Age star Diahann Carroll, a scene so weird you can’t help but laugh.

The movie is weird, incoherent, terribly written — and hilarious. I’ve watched it every year since my initial childhood trauma.

“Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”

If a dreadful Star Wars variety show isn’t enough to satiate your holiday sci-fi craving, well, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” might not be much better. But what the 1964 uber-low-budget film lacks in quality, it more than makes up for with a plot so ridiculous it’s hard to not crack a smile.

The movie follows a group of Martians who, worried about their children on Mars being sad, decide they need to kidnap Santa Claus and bring him to Mars to cheer everyone up. You’d think for such an intergalactic space-hopping venture, the production studio would have poured millions of dollars into realistic sets on Mars and the North Pole. Instead, the movie was probably made for no more than what’s in my bank account at the moment — in other words, not much — as Martians with face paint that doesn’t match the rest of their costumes and robots made of cardboard dominate the screen.

The real laughs of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” comes from the sheer seriousness with which all the characters treat a movie about, well, Santa being kidnapped by Martians. Santa and his loyal helpers approach getting Santa back to Earth for Christmas with a tone so grave you’d think you’re watching “Saving Private Ryan.” The genuine, earnest tone with which characters deliver lines, like “No one on Earth will ever know that Santa Claus was kidnapped by Martians,” completely contrasts the otherwise ridiculous plot and makes the movie a hoot to watch.

“Welcome to Christmas”  

There’s always comfort in the familiar — that’s the entire business of Hallmark movies. The classic formula has a big-city executive too busy with work to care about going to a small town where they fall in love with a hot stranger and rediscover the meaning of the holiday season.

The charm of the 2018 Hallmark flick “Welcome to Christmas” comes from the fact that it hits every single one of those tropes — even going so far as to name the small town in question “Christmas.” Though the film may not deepen your cinematic knowledge, there’s a joy to be wrought from eagerly anticipating each predicted plot point and getting to laugh to yourself as, perhaps, the main character learns to love Christmas more than their career — surely, no one could’ve seen it coming.

It also does the terrible tropes of Hallmark movies about as poorly as you can, adding to the hilarity. Neither of the leads are competent performers, not helped by the fact they share the chemistry of a pair of brick walls, making the movie an excruciating-if-hysterical watch.

“Santa’s Summer House”

Any college student knows how hard it can be to hit a word count on an essay — “Santa’s Summer House” shows that it can also be hard to hit a 90-minute runtime on a movie. The flick follows a group of overly hardworking vacationers who have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, almost all played by 1980s B-movie action stars plus one former “Survivor” contestant. This band of misfits mysteriously get lost on their summer vacation only to wind up at the doorstep of an oddly jolly plump man who insists he isn’t Santa Claus.

“Santa’s Summer House” could be described as an exercise in patience as the movie does all it can to fill up a feature-length runtime. Particularly amusing are the images of iconic Christmas items like candy canes and Santa hats used as transitions away to stock footage of beaches, in case you forgot that you’re at Santa’s summer residence, not the North Pole.

Easily the most amusing effort to pad out the film equivalent of a word count minimum is an 11-minute croquet montage in the middle of the movie. Nothing happens plot-wise. Characters just play croquet for more than 10 minutes, often with out-of-sequence shots spliced together that make the game impossible to follow — but hilarious and effective at taking up time.

“Santa’s Summer House” didn’t win any awards, but no Christmas movie really should. Even if it isn’t the next “Citizen Kane,” the film will be sure to give you some laughs and teach you about croquet along the way.

Graphics by An Ngo.

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