ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The first slasher movie happened at Christmas. Humbug!
If you tire of sugar-plum-fairies and Hallmark holiday fare, there’s always the Contrarian Christmas, an irreverent staple of film and theater for decades. These stories throw ice water all over your figgy pudding.
It all started with Charles Dickens.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser and misanthrope who despises Christmas. It takes the appearance of three decaying ghosts to scare him into changing his ways.
“I love Dickens for that,” said the English-born James Stone, chairman of the department of cinematic arts at the University of New Mexico, “because Dickens did bring darkness to Christmas. It’s typical Dickens: poverty and depravity.”
Between the TV ads, the high expectations and family dysfunction, the holidays arrive with the pressure to be happy, even if you’re not.
“The potential horror of Christmas is you’re supposed to evaluate the state of your life. We’re not that at ease because we’re supposed to be cheery,” Stone says. “We’re supposed to host our family in this nucleus of perfection. And of course, that doesn’t happen.”
These irreverent movies and plays offer a safety valve.
Dickens’ classic has produced at least 20 film versions, starring everyone from Albert Finney (1970) to Mickey Mouse (1983), Bill Murray (1988) and Jim Carrey (2009).
Chuck Jones’ animated 1966 TV classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” follows a 20th century Scrooge as he attempts to steal all the gifts in Dr. Seuss’ Whoville. Horror’s own Boris Karloff voiced the title character.
In 1974, Canada produced the blood-soaked “Black Christmas” starring Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin. The audience follows a serial killer as he stalks and murders a group of sorority sisters during the holidays. It was the scaffolding for slasher films.
Although it’s set at Thanksgiving, the Jodie Foster-directed “Home for the Holidays” (1995) provides an astringent antidote to the Norman Rockwell-family-smiling-around-the-holiday-table stereotype. Single mom Holly Hunter’s family is dysfunction on steroids. She’s lost her job, her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) says she’s about to have sex and her gay brother (played by Robert Downey Jr.) has left his new husband.
In 2003, a sleazy Billy Bob Thornton played “Bad Santa.”
“It’s a masterpiece,” Stone said. “Billy Bob Thornton is a shopping mall Santa. He’s drunk and he’s offensive and he’s misogynistic. He’s planning a robbery.”
A sequel, “Bad Santa II,” opened on Nov. 23.
Satiric holiday tales have long been a theater staple.
In Albuquerque, we have The Dolls, whose annual productions have celebrated trailer trash, “The Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe Christmas,” “A Martian Christmas” and last year’s “Cinderella: The E! True Hollywood Story.” This year, the drag queens will present a pantomime or “panto” of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” opening Dec. 2 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. It’s billed as “A Fairy Tale Stocking-Stuffer” or “The Dolls Invite You Up Their Beanstalk.”
“In England, (pantos) are their biggest Christmas tradition,” Dolls founder Kenneth Ansloan said. “For some reason, it never crossed over the ocean. Ninety percent of them are farcical, he added. Stars such as Judi Dench pop up on local stages.
Albuquerque audiences can expect a reworking of “The Twelve Daze of Christmas” into a drinking song. The villain practically spits sparks, demanding audience hissing and booing.
It’s raucous, it’s rowdy, it’s irreverent.
It’s so Dolls.
Duke City Rep is getting into the spirit with its “Ugly Sweater Review,” opening Dec. 2 at the Sol Acting Academy Performance Space.
This fractured holiday feast features bawdy cabaret (complete with striptease) and some drag kings (as opposed to drag queens.)
“It’s cheeky and fun,” artistic director Amelia Ampuero said.”This is not family-friendly, so if you want to ditch the family for a while, you can come hang out with us.”