My Christmas gifts are a suitable self-portrait: a crystal skull of vodka, an obscure horror novel, imported moustache combs and a drinking vessel from University of Toronto – Slitherin College where my beloved daughter attends. All of us at the DailyNightmare hope your holidays passed with minimal bloodshed and maximal blessing.
Mars might need women but it also needs Santa, at least according to the 1964 special Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. To be fair, the martians in this classic tale aren’t really all that monstrous, though a case could be made for the mean spirited Volmar. Second string bad-guys include a polar bear that looks like a reanimated rug, and maybe Torg, the martians’ robot that appears to be made of paint cans and cardboard boxes spray-painted silver. The real reason why they collectively appear on this list of the Ten Best Christmas Monsters is because “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is quite likely the most horrifyingly weird Xmas special there is– simply a must see.
Too many snobs misread SCCTM as being simply “bad.” It is rated obscenely low on the IMDB and frequently makes lists of the worst films of all time. Mystery Science Theatre mocked it – an honor of it own, sort of. Yet, and I say this as a snob myself, many of these same critics ooo and ahhh over the style of Mad Men and camp of the Pee Wee Herman’s Christmas Special. “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” should be seen squarely in the context of those two works.
But make no mistake, there’s something seriously weird about SCCTM. Certain elements of society are extrapolated as in normal speculative fiction but here, they’re just strange. For instance there is a critique of automation that now some fifty years later appears quaint if not bizarre. The low budget production for the most part enhances this effect from the curious face paint of the martians to the set dressing of the martian spaceship. What the HECK is a “radar box???” Sure, you could go insane while contemplating the words of Lovecraft’s forbidden tomes — or you could pop in a video of SCCTM for a similar brain scramble.
But for the record we should go through the checklist. Are they monsters? Well, they’re definitely not human. And since they kidnap Santa Claus, the martians can be considered antagonists of Christmas, even though I suppose they’re more concerned with importing than eradicating the practice. But it’s mostly the work as a whole that earned the martians from “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” slot 9 on the DailyNightmare’s Ten Best Christmas Monsters.
What would the holidays be without familial discord? The patron monsters for dysfunctional families are perhaps best represented by Heat Miser and Snow Miser from the 1974 Rankin and Bass animated special The Year Without a Santa Claus. The bone of contention between these brothers, as I recall is the classic assertion that Momma loved you best — in this case Mother Nature. The pair get points just for raising the suspicion that family get-togethers might not be the best prototype of peace on earth.
Be they monsters? They’re not human at least. Heat Miser and Snow Miser are elemental forces, lightly personified and given quaint powers representative of those elements.
But granted, they’re among the lowest sorts of monster for a couple reasons, hence their low standing on this list. First, the havoc they wreck for the most part is mostly directed at each other. They aren’t primarily concerned with general mayhem – they’re maybe more “gothic” than “horrific.” Furthermore, they seem all too eager to set aside the differences that made them monstrous in the first place. For that matter, it’s a bit difficult for me to believe that such a primal disagreement could be resolved so handily within the context of a 48 minute TV show. I’m to believe that Christmas is the time of miracles, I guess.
Still for presenting a plausible depiction of sibling rivalry writ larger than (human) life, we at the DailyNightmare.com salute Heat Miser and Snow Miser as the #10 Best Xmas Monsters–if they can share the spot without fighting.
Step aside sasquatch; yield pride of place all ye yeti. Who’s the most beloved Christmas monster? Based on the messages I’ve received since I started these posts, it’s the Abominable Snowman from the classic stop motion special Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.
And what’s not to love? The Abominable is massive, furry — almost cuddly — and has teeth larger than many of the other major characters’ whole bodies. Its appearance onscreen inspires a blast of ominous horn in the soundtrack and it even makes the Burl Ives shiver in fear. Ponder that for an instant: a shivering snowman.
Abominable is an ideal antagonist, perfectly knitted into the narrative too. Not only does it kidnap Rudolf’s parents and love interest Clarice, this monster also allows Herbie to show off his amateur dentistry and Yukon Cornelius to add bravery to his bravado. If the Abominable Snowman didn’t exist, it would have been necessary to invent it, just to resolve so many story elements.
But if “Bumble” is so popular, why does isn’t it in the number one slot. Two words: character arc. By the end of the story, the Abominable Snowman is hardly abominable. No longer destructive, fully domesticated.
I am still soft at heart however for the Abominable. We’re led to believe its rage was caused by a bad toothache and with that existential pain relieved, its heart is fully repentant. But I remain hopeful that its misanthropy (mis-elf-opy?) was merely thwarted by dental surgery and that secretly the Abominable Snowman dreams of squashing elves flat under his hairy feet, like cockroaches perhaps while humming a yuletide arrangement of La Curcoracha. We can dream, can’t we?
For inspiring nightmares in so many children, we at the DailyNighmare award the Abominable Snowman place #6 in the Top Ten Best Christmas Monsters.
“The Angels” – Forget for a moment, those chubby cheeked cherbubim from the dime-store Xmas cards. Also erase the Renaissance puti, those cute winged baby heads… though frankly the thought of winged baby heads gives me the shivers. And even depictions of seraphim that we’ve grown accustomed to are too anthropomorphic and beautiful. Angels were bad-ass. These other worldly messengers are far closer to Christopher Walken’s character in The Prophecy than those feel-good bundles of fluff and hence they fit perfectly on this list of the Ten Best Christmas Monsters.
How dare I assert this?
Monsters for the purpose of this list are scary or threatening, non-humans beings.
Non-human? Check. Don’t get me started on the idea that dead people turn into angels when they die…
Threatening? Well, one of the original Christmas stories describes angels appearing to a group of shepherds and those shepherd were scared out of their wits. The first “message” that the angels had to deliver is a bit of crowd soothing. “Fear not.” This injunction suggests that the shepherds’ first reaction was to be afraid.
Shepherds have also been nerfed a bit through a couple millennia of metaphoric over-usage. Most of us have little association with real sheep, let alone career shepherds while we are inundated with sweet as spun sugar depictions of “the loving shepherd” made infamous by kitsch meisters like Holman Hunt. As I figure it, shepherds in first C Palestine were pretty rough and tumble. If chewing tobacco existed, they’d chew it. They had to be prepared to protect their flock against marauding beasts at midnight using little more than a crooked stick and a sling.
And when these angel things come along and these tough guys collapse. Imagine John Wayne weeping, and I mean the tough John Wayne like in a cowboy role not the bogus “Roman Solider at the Cross” gig he did — or am I the only one who saw that movie?
So for being non-human and scary… even if that terror is based on a misunderstanding, we at the DailyNightmare award #8 Best Christmas Monster to the Angels. Disagree? Add a comment.
If you believe that Christmas, like youth, is wasted on the young then “Rare Exports” is a film you must see. Elsa and I caught it last night at the historic Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor and though there are a couple more showings today, I suspect “Rare Exports” is destined to become a holiday classic especially among fans of snobbish, dark fantasy.
The setup? An excavation team discovers the resting place of Santa Claus deep within an icy Finnish mountain but Santa ain’t the jolly old soul you might expect. “Rare Exports” is told through the perspective of Pietaari, a young Finn who is just old enough to start questioning the existence of the red suited holiday gift man. At its root, “Rare Exports” is Pietaari’s coming of age tale, where he sets aside his stuffed animal companion to perform an act of heroism that he is still child enough to accomplish. It’s also a father-son story that doesn’t get mushy. The world depicted, in fact, is harsh with no women and little possibility for forgiveness, grace or redemption — but for crying out loud don’t we get enough of that stuff this time of year?
I can’t see how the film warrants an “R” rating — apart from the terrifying elves (complete with full frontal male nudity,) the slaughter and butchery of reindeer and the mid-twisting revelation of Santa’s true being. And a bit of naughty language. “Rare Exports” is not a horror movie by any stretch, more dark contemporary fantasy told with enough wit to keep it amusing. And since much of the dialogue is in Finnish, the mere presence of subtitles earn it high marks on the snob-o-meter. The scenery is gorgeous, well worth seeing on a big screen, even if the big screen also makes the CG look a bit rough. Honestly though, if you’re going to fault a film as inventive as “Rare Exports” for not-so-special effects then you’re simply NOT in the holiday spirit.
Treat yourself this Yuletide season and remember the REAL Santa with “Rare Exports” — and ditch the kids at home with the X-box and the internet.
If our salute to Krampus the other day (Best Christmas Monster #2) whetted your appetite for the creepy Germanic holiday figure, let me highly recommend Krampus: The Devil of Christmas by Monte Beauchamp (Last Gasp, San Francisco: 2010)
This handsome hardbound artbook reproduces a couple hundred Krampus post cards largely from the late 1890′s to WWI in lovingly lurid color. A few pages of text set the stage for these artifacts but the real treasure is to be found in these illustrations. I use the word “treasure” specifically because opening the covers of this volume is like swinging open a lockbox that reveals wonders that had been secreted away from a different time, a different place.
Krampus is shown in all his cloven-hoof, tongue-wagging glory depicted through a wide variety of styles. For those of us who have grown a bit tired of the smooth vector graphics of contemporary design, these portraits are a revelation. In the least, they provide a potent antidote for Currier and Ives. Some are playful and some are quite horrific. My buddy Igor exclaimed “I’m going to have nightmares to night!’ after perusing the volume. It didn’t keep him from examining every page, however.
The perspective on the Yuletide season shown in these pictures is also alluringly alien to the sanitized Protestant Christmas I was raised to know. Beauchamp accounts for the North American “jollification” of St. Nick in his introductory notes. The volume is complete with a small bibliography of more Krampus-related works.
As a work definitely not intended for children of any age, we recommend again, Krampus: The Devil of Christmas.
I suppose we file this one under art imitating life too closely. Or perhaps not bothering to “imitate” at all, just “cut and paste.” A tourist dungeon in London, UK discovered recently that some of the bones displayed proudly in their “Satan’s Grotto” — I gather it’s an annual, Mid-December feature, y’know, for the holidays — were actual human remains. I believe I’ve seen that situation in at least three separate TV shows. The most interesting part of the article to me is that the dungeon could have continued to display the remains if they paid an annual £ 2,000 “license fee” to the “Tissue Authority.” Now THAT’S a work-related sit-com I’d like to see on TV. Part tax-collectors / part CSI, they’re The Bone Guard.
One of my belongings was a this doll, like a ventriloquist’s dummy, and
come on– those are always creepy under the best circumstances. It made
sense that I had it because I had a lot of dolls when I was a child,
although never one like this. I don’t think it was a full-size dummy, more
like a half size or smaller. It stood about 15 inches tall– baby-doll
size– but it was proportioned more like an adult body.
And I say stood because the darned thing suddenly came to life.
And it’s main reason for being was to kill me.
I knew I had to watch it all the time. I couldn’t take my eyes off it,
even as it was frantically running around the room and looking for
something sharp with which to stab me.
It found a pocket knife and came at me with it. I knocked the knife out of
its hand, and then I easily pulled its arms behind its back. It kept
thrashing and snarling. It was a tough little bugger, but so much smaller
than me that I could restrain it fairly easily– I just couldn’t let it go.
I knew I had to tie it up securely. I found some zip ties and was using
those to wrap around its legs, when it leaned forward and grabbed a
corkscrew. It brandished the corkscrew over its head at me, thrusting
about wildly. It wasn’t made out of doll material after all, but it had
skin and muscles, just small.
So I picked it up and started smashing it on the ground, trying to knock it
out. It was a doll, but it also was bleeding. I kept beating at it, but
it wouldn’t stop trying to hurt me.
Around that time, my husband and some friends came in the room. They
watched me rather scornfully. They seemed to think I was overreacting. It
was just a little doll after all.
I knew it would kill me if I didn’t kill it first– I just didn’t know
December 5th is the feast of St. Nickolaus and according to tradition in some parts of the world, on this day, the good saint is allowed to come back to earth with presents to reward “the good.” And he doesn’t come back alone. In different parts of Europe, St Nick is accompanied by various other figures, usually folks charged with punishing the not-so good. Fitting with our theme of Christmas monsters, may I direct our attention to everyone’s favorite Swiss mountain troll, Krampus.
Krampus is a folk traditon that stretches back a least a couple centuries. Krampus is an immense, horned beast, often wearing chains that St Nick unleashes, and a wicker basket to steal away wicked little children. Americans would have little problem describing Krampus as a demon but our European neighbors have a more nuanced and subtle taxonomy of such creatures. A more standard prop is a scourge of branches that Krampus uses to swat young maidens on their behinds, though I gather in recent years that practice is on the decline.
During the “Krampuslauf” — literally “the running of the Krampus” — a lovely demented Christmas parade — a horde of Krampus runs through small German towns terrifying children and thus inspiring obedience. St. Nick strolls along behind wearing the mitre of a pope and dispenses presents to the kids that Krampus hasn’t whisked away. No, I’m not kidding:
Krampus is just about the best Christmas monster there is, in our humble opinion. Krampus is definitely non-human as evidenced by its long horns, often dangling red tongue and cloven hooves. Krampus is scary, but also a bit playfully disruptive in that sense of carnival. Krampus’ job is to be terrifying and nothing dissuades it from this task, no act-three conversion or mushy sentimentality. And as a monster that stays monstrous, we at the DailyNightmare.com salute Krampus as one of the Ten Best Christmas Monsters.