Just like Martin Short as Ed Grimley on “SCTV,” all of us at the New Beverly just can’t wait for Christmas; the anticipation makes us completely mental, we must say. Not just for all the presents and the decorations and the happy people, but all those holiday movies! It’s true that you can enjoy a great seasonal film out of season – this author has been known to watch Easter Parade on President’s Day – but sitting down to a good Yule yarn when it’s sweater weather outside is a perfect moment of comfort, just as watching Meatballs feels extra special when it’s the beginning of summer.
Over the last decade and a half, the Bev has been happily presenting many diverse cinematic celebrations of December. And we thought it would be fun to look at those facets and why they’ve resonated for so long with all of you. Santa has his list, so do we! Here’s what Christmas means for movie lovers…
It Feels Merry to Get Scary
It was December 20, 2005, when the very first Grindhouse Tuesday pairing of Bob Clark’s original Black Christmas and Charles Sellier’s original Silent Night, Deadly Night, played to a capacity turnout. There had been previous screenings of each of these at other venues in the past, but this was the night where Angelenos sent a message to the North Pole that while there may be caroling for 23 nights before the big day, they wanted one night for screaming. Black Christmas became the first New Beverly December perennial, with a few years spent pairing it with other holiday horrors as Silent Night, Bloody Night, Christmas Evil, and even the infamous “half” sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, until 2014, when it was joined in unholy matrimony to the original Deadly Night for every year thereafter. And in recent years, plenty more nights of wailing with the wassail have been on the calendar: Christmas Evil and SNDN2 have had annual midnight shows, more deep cut classics as Curtis Harrington’s Whoever Slew Auntie Roo, Don’t Open till Christmas, and To All a Goodnight have screened, and in 2019, a new 35mm print of René Manzor’s Dial Code Santa Claus, the gory thriller that may or may not have inspired Home Alone, received an L.A. premiere on our screen. Maybe not everyone in L.A. wears long pants in December, but those that do sure love to have them scared off!
And since December is only one month with so many days in it, there are more holiday hauntings we love that have not yet played on our screen which we encourage you to watch in the interim. The classic ABC Movie of the Week Home for the Holidays, from the director of The Night Stalker John Llewellyn Moxey and Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, may well be the godparent of the slasher film as we know it, with Jessica Walter, Sally Field, and Eleanor Parker isolated in their childhood home wondering who in their family is seeking to kill them. If you fancy some yocks with your yikes, Michael Cooney’s Jack Frost, where a freak accident turns a serial killer into an abominable snowman, toggles between sly humor and slayings very well; it’s available on blu-ray from our friends at Vinegar Syndrome, who have also released stellar blu-ray editions of Christmas Evil and Dial Code Santa Claus. If you need a break from marauding Santas, you can discover the evil of Elves with Dan Haggerty. And seeing as we’ve screened the 1974 and the 2006 versions, we’re looking forward to when we can present Sophia Takal & April Wolfe’s 2019 reinterpretation of Black Christmas, but you don’t have to wait on us, go have a look!
Being Naughty Has Its Benefits
After years of being told that Santa and that snitchy Elf on the Shelf were monitoring everyone’s manners, it’s understandable that a lot of grown-ups might crave the vicarious thrill of big screen bad behavior. So just as audiences await salt-of-the-earth George Bailey to triumph over Mr. Potter by being honest and true, they also like some saltier action as well. And if there’s a particular point of pride the Bev feels about impacting holiday movie watching, it’s been the ascent of the long-underseen thriller The Silent Partner, directed by Daryl Duke with a screenplay by Curtis Hanson, featuring Christopher Plummer as the most frightening yet charismatic fiend to ever hide in a Santa suit. The Silent Partner has been the permanent co-feature for our yearly sold-out Christmas Eve screening of Die Hard, and first-time viewers drawn in by Bruce Willis’ bravado come out raving about Elliott Gould’s quiet cunning as well. Meanwhile, our patrons also look forward to seeing Bill Murray’s acidic misanthropy in Scrooged and the gleeful mayhem of Joe Dante’s Gremlins as part of their cinematic advent, and we’ve made time for Christmastime conspiracies with screenings of Invasion USA, Three Days of the Condor and Reindeer Games.
Christmas crime outings that have played the Bev, albeit outside of the Christmas season, are plentiful as well. Consider what’s not only among the best action-packed Noels, but also the best James Bond caper with the best Big Bad and the best bevy of beauties, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And perhaps the best of the first wave of modern comic book adventures, Batman Returns, puts a damper on Gotham’s solstice with a screenplay full of chilling repartee by friend of the theatre Daniel Waters. Writer/director Shane Black loves to stage murder and mayhem to tarnish the season of tinsel, and perhaps his best such outing is his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, memorably presented in 2007 with an in-person boost from Edgar Wright. And in 2008, another longtime friend of the Bev, Patton Oswalt, introduced one of the grimmest Yule tales, Allen Baron’s 1961 saga of an angst-ridden assassin, Blast of Silence. Ultimately, good still gets rewarded, but for some bad guys, they don’t end up with lumps of coal; they get a flurry of bullets!
Jolly ‘tis in Season
There’s all manner of emotions people want to experience when they watch movies during the holidays. Sometimes they want a good cathartic cry at The Best Man Holiday or The Family Stone. Sometimes they want to see the pretty mismatched couple on the Hallmark channel get together. But overwhelmingly, after a day of multitasking to get presents bought, parties planned, flights booked, and some of the other things that can put stress in the stocking, on top of still having job obligations, New Beverly regulars can’t resist a jelly bowl’s worth of laughs on our screen to relax with. Will Ferrell’s joyful Elf has become an instant fave, and multiple generations can’t resist Chevy Chase losing his chestnuts during Christmas Vacation. And every year on Christmas Day, families join us for an afternoon of enduring classics from the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, and others from the dawn of movie comedy.
But it’s not just the bonafide hits that have been embraced by our crowd; overlooked gems have gotten a fresh look too. Holiday Affair, with Robert Mitchum in a rare romantic comedy setting, had only been available in an archival 16mm print when the Bev played it, but that screening (along with several noodges from the good folk at Turner Classic Movies) provided a spurt that led to a blu-ray edition this year. George Gallo’s madcap Trapped in Paradise, praised in Alonso Duralde’s Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas book as “a great job of mixing Noo Yawk brashness with holiday sentimentality,” has also gotten a second life at the Bev; his previous Christmas comedy 29th Street was a favorite of our late beloved regular Freddie Gillette, and should become one for you too. As W. E. B. Du Bois observed, “I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter: it has made the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong.”
Let’s Use All of the Twelve Days
Even after the 25th has passed, there’s still a festive mood in the air, especially since the coming of the year is only days away. And like those friends of yours on social media who post that meme saying it’s not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls from Nakatomi Tower, we believe it’s not New Year’s Eve until Belle Rosen goes swimming! Our late December shows of The Poseidon Adventure have become as much of a destination event as Die Hard is for Christmas Eve, and it’s probably safe to say that thanks to us, more people have seen Beyond the Poseidon Adventure from our revivals than when it first opened in theatres long ago! And since the march of history can be a scary thing, regular midnight shows of New Year’s Evil are a favorite for anyone who wants one last stab at the year. Plus, while we’ve never actually screened it on the 31st, Allan Arkush’s Get Crazy is one of the most chaotic, jubilant, and oddly touching salutes to New Year’s and rock ’n ’roll ever made.
And Here Are Some Cinematic Gifts to Take Home…
Again, none of us who love movies live by theatrical screenings alone; we spend plenty of hours at home poring through our various physical media just as you do. In fact, some of our favorite recent bookings were inspired by digging out an old VHS and discovering something so stirring we needed to put it back on a screen. So here are some diverse Christmas-adjacent choices for you to get cozy with in your pajamas and slanket…
Arthur Christmas: It’s frankly astounding how this lovable Aardman Animation production hasn’t become an instant classic yet; maybe it’s because it opened around Thanksgiving 2011 opposite two other genuinely great family movies, Scorsese’s Hugo and The Muppets, and got a little lost. Seeing that it’s about one underestimated member of the Claus family making sure not a single present gets lost, it’s only just that we remind you about it and give it some elevation.
The Christmas Tree: In 1969, the same year that he shocked polite audiences in The Wild Bunch, William Holden worked with Wait Until Dark director Terence Young to make what the Halliwell’s Film Guide once described as, “the most lachrymose film of the sixties.” A rich widowed industrialist takes his son on a summer vacation, but after witnessing the downing of a plane with nuclear material on board, the boy contracts terminal leukemia, and the father changes his lifestyle to make big wishes happen in the months they have left. Also known as When Wolves Cry, this French-Italian production is certain to make you tear up like a kindergartener with two skinned knees. It led to a whole subgenre of Italian-made “lacrima movies” from directors normally known for action and horror, including Luigi Cozzi’s Take All of Me and Ruggero Deodato’s Last Feelings.
Cold Steel: As of this writing, the late Mario Puzo’s name is in the news with the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s newly re-edited The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. But not many know that his daughter Dorothy Ann Puzo made a crime drama of her own, where detective Brad Davis’ Christmas is shattered by the murder of his father, and his investigation draws him into the paths of Sharon Stone, Adam Ant, Anthony LaPaglia, Sy Richardson, and Jonathan Banks. Produced by the reliable ‘80s genre studio CineTel, recently lauded by our own Phil Blankenship on his recent Pure Cinema Podcast appearance.
Kitchen Stories: In the ‘50s, a Swedish efficiency expert is sent to study the daily work habits of a withdrawn Norwegian bachelor, but not intervene. After several passive-aggressive behavior exchanges, the two loners warm to each other. Not quite a completely holiday-driven movie, this low-key droll two-hander, set where cold and snow are a constant before and after a pivotal Christmas for its protagonists, sends an reassuring message about reaching out to a lonesome soul.
Tokyo Godfathers: The 1913 novel The Three Godfathers has been officially adapted into three films, most notably a 1948 version with John Wayne, and unofficially inspiring films as Three Men and a Cradle, Ice Age, and this wonderful anime feature from Satoshi Kon, creator of Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. Three homeless drifters – a teen runaway, a drag queen, and a fallen businessman – discover a foundling on Christmas Eve, and set about trying to return the baby to its parents, taking them on an evening with peculiar encounters and coincidences that tie to their individual pasts, and just maybe, steer them into better futures.
The Wild Little Bunch: Also known in other parts of the world as Existence and The 14, David Hemmings’ affable (and mostly based in truth) childhood drama stars Jack Wild in a really good natural performance as the eldest of 14 kids living in squalor in early ’70s London and trying to keep his siblings together amidst severe hardship. Where other stories like these can get cloying, the cast of mostly non-professional children find the right balance of irritating grit and cute charm. Again, not a full-on Yuletide tale, but there’s a very sweet ragged holiday moment with a mist-inducing payoff involving Wild’s girlfriend.
And so, as we count the days to when we get to join together again and spend December under the thrall of all these movies and more that have made our memories so warm in cold weather, we thank you all for sharing these moments with us, and remember that your extended family at the New Beverly will always have a snack and a seat waiting for you. Whatever holiday you’ll be celebrating in the meantime, may it be grand.