10. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, 1964
Fondly remembered for its classic MST3k episode, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians at least has charmingly dumb early ’60s sincerity going for it, which makes it one of the more genuinely enjoyable films on the list. A children’s movie revolving around a band of inept green Martians who kidnap Santa to bring Christmas to the listless children of the red planet, it features some of the more hilariously bad costumes of the last century, from the man crawling around on all fours as a polar bear to the archetypal cardboard box robot. I love how the little girl’s legs helplessly flail as the “intimidating” cardboard robot threatens to crush her tiny spine.
Most festive offense: There’s a moment that has always disturbed me deeply, when Santa first meets the Martian children. He’s brought into the room and stands in front of two children he’s never met. No introductions are made. He begins to awkwardly chuckle, which gathers strength into a self-sustaining maniacal howl of insanity. The Martians are locked in place, frozen with horror, until their minds begin to unravel and they too join the cacophony of unhinged laughter. Their minds are broken. Santa Claus has conquered again. End of scene.
9. Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, 2000
The only reason that 1996’s original killer snowman movie, Jack Frost, isn’t on this list is that the sequel is even more insane. Previously dissolved by antifreeze in the first movie, Jack Frost is reborn thanks to a spilled cup of coffee with new powers, including the ability to split into a pack of carnivorous snowball children, ‘ala Critters. Shockingly low-budget, the film is anything but sincere, but it still attempts to be both funny and scary at times while visually looking like a high school film project. It has that uniquely tawdry-looking visual quality that you can only find in films that have been shot on video with absolutely nothing in the budget for video editing. If The Days of Our Lives ever did a killer snowman episode, this is what it would look like.
Most festive offense: Because the snowman was recreated in part with the hero’s DNA, he shares various traits with him … including a banana allergy. Which means that the killer mutant snowman’s only weakness is bananas.
8. A Christmas Story 2, 2012
If you can watch the trailer for A Christmas Story 2 without running to the bathroom to vomit, then you should be commended. In the long history of crass Christmas commercialism, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more offensive appropriation of beloved source material than this recent, straight-to-DVD sequel to the 1983 black comedy classic. This is desecration, plain and simple. The only redeeming quality is that Darren McGavin had been dead for six years when it came out and didn’t have to witness Daniel Stern take on his role as The Old Man. Although it is sort of amusing how they didn’t care about age continuity: Despite Ralphie now being 16 (and wanting a car for Christmas), his parents are both younger than they were in the first film, while Randy is roughly the same age.
Most festive offense: The movie is obsessed with replaying every joke from the first film, but doesn’t bother to give an impetus for any of the events. So when the writer remembers the mandate that Flick’s tongue is supposed to get stuck to something, they just say “Eh, have him jam it in a suction tube for no reason, our target audience is too stupid to notice or care.”
7. Santa Claws, 1996
I remember once showing this film during a Christmas party, thinking it would be a kitschy Christmas slasher—perfect for the irreverent, geeky audience. What we didn’t bank on was the fact that it’s essentially softcore porn masquerading as a horror movie, which made things just a tad awkward. It’s one of those exploitation films that attempts to do two different things at the same time and is equally miserable at both—too dirty and depressing to titillate and far too inept to entertain or frighten anyone. Revolving around the obsessed fan of a B-movie scream queen/sex symbol, it waffles between poorly dubbed action sequences and cringe-inducing “sexy photo shoots” with actresses destined to meet a claw-related end. The villain has all the menace (and thespian delivery) of your office’s IT specialist.
Most festive offense: Even for someone acclimated to the callous sleaze of most exploitation movies, the softcore stripping sequences of Santa Claws are like a perfect distillation of depression and pity. They go on for longer than you could ever think possible.
6. Santa With Muscles, 1996
If one were to glance at the cover of Santa With Muscles, they’d walk away with a pretty clear idea of what to expect: Hulk Hogan as a kindly Santa who’s going to protect Christmas with his 24-inch pythons. But you would be so wrong, because that’s really only scratching the surface of the weapons-grade weirdness in this movie. Hogan plays an evil millionaire who becomes Santa after falling down a garbage chute and receiving what is clearly severe brain damage. There’s also Ed Begley Jr. as a second evil millionaire and hypochondriac inventor, wielding a quirky miniboss squad with superpowers that range from “electric hands” to “proficient in the use of stink gas” to “has a stethoscope.” His objective: The glowing purple crystals found in the Parisian-like catacombs under an orphanage where a young Mila Kunis resides. So in other words: This movie is batshit crazy.
Most festive offense: The character of Lenny, Hogan’s scheming, oily elf sidekick, is a disgrace to every actor who has proudly played an Italian-American stereotype for the last 80 years.
5. Jingle All the Way 2, 2014
The most frustrating thing about Jingle All the Way 2, released only a month ago, isn’t that it stars Larry the Cable Guy. It’s not that the film is a WWE production. It’s not even that it’s a sequel. The infuriating thing about it is that, unlike say A Christmas Story 2, it’s a sequel to a film that no one in the world desired to have sequelized. You can understand a producer saying A Christmas Story is still a fondly remembered holiday classic, let’s churn out an insipid sequel! But Jingle All the Way? The 1996 original is undeniably fun-bad thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad, along with the majesty of a 7-year-old Jake Lloyd, but how could someone possibly have looked at it today, 18 years later, and thought “This is a hot brand! We make a sequel and we’re printing money, goddamnit!” I’d rather watch something titled Larry’s Git-R-Done Christmas Kerfuffle.
Most festive offense: The absolute worst thing about this film is the realization that there are actually some people out there willing to choke it down and go on their merry way. From the YouTube comments: “The first one was way better. But still its OK movie its worth a rental. :) happy holidays every one.” This is the voice of a person who has never disliked a film in his life—anything with moving pictures that drowns out the horror of sentience for another 90 minutes is A-OK by him.
4. Last Ounce of Courage, 2012
Every bad Christmas movie list needs at least one Christian “war on Christmas” movie, and Last Ounce of Courage may well be the worst one ever made, unless Saving Christmas truly is everything it’s cracked up to be. Regardless, this film is truly an amazing viewing experience, packed with conservative dogma that is so clumsily ham-fisted that one can’t help but wonder who the writer thought would possibly be simple-minded enough to not realize the attempted manipulation at work. The plot centers around an archetypal American hero/veteran/grandfather/town mayor who decides it’s up to him to “bring Christmas back” to a city that has banned all displays of festive merriment for reasons that are unclear—but Satan would surely approve. Will he be able to affix a big cross with the word “Jesus” on it to a building downtown in time to save the planet from what is surely imminent destruction?
Most festive offense: In the film’s climactic emotional moment, the veteran’s Bieber-coifed grandson who has learned The True Meaning of Christmas hijacks the junior high school pageant to show a recently discovered video recorded by his dead soldier father from Afghanistan. In front of a crowd of strangers, he plays the video, which ends with his father wishing them “Merry Christmas” before being blown to pieces by an incoming mortar. Yes. The kid screens a snuff film during a junior high Christmas pageant. And then everyone stands and applauds.
3. Santa Claus, 1959
The word “inexplicable” gets thrown a lot when I write about bad movies, but there’s truly no explaining how 1959’s Mexican Santa Claus came into being. Simply trying to describe the premise makes you sound like you should be institutionalized: “Alright, so Santa lives in a castle in space with Merlin the wizard, robotic reindeer and a bunch of ethnically stereotyped children who perform for his amusement. Meanwhile in hell, Satan sends one of his demon henchmen to wreak havoc on Earth and induce petty vandalism.” That’s about the point when whoever you’re talking to smiles, nods and slowly backs out of the room. I’ve always liked Red Letter Media’s conception of how the film might have happened: That a bunch of Mexico City residents just got really loaded one night, blacked out, and woke up to find a completed film canister clutched in their hands and a bunch of frightened children asking for their parents.
Most festive offense: Nothing could ever top the parade of Santa’s multi-ethnic slave children from Africa, Spain, China, England, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, Italy and “The Orient,” which is definitely not just a blanket term for “everything in that Middle Eastern sort of area over there.” Did I mention that these bits comprise the first 10 minutes of the film?
2. Elves, 1989
Elves is a perfect storm of everything that could conceivably go wrong while shooting a movie all going wrong at the same time. It’s got everything: Anti-Christmas witches, neo-Nazi scientists, inarticulate elf puppets and a plot to bring about a “pint-sized master race” by breeding Nazi elves with a virgin. The characters are awesomely ludicrous, none more so than Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty who plays an alcoholic bum/mall Santa/former mall-cop/former private eye who also happens to recognize symbols scrawled on the ground in blood thanks to “a book in college I remember on mystical symbols and runes.” Stumbling onto filmmaking this sincere but inept is like winning the bad movie lottery.
Most festive offense: There’s a dozen great moments you could choose, but I love when Haggerty barges into a professor’s home during Christmas dinner and makes the guy (dressed like the conductor from Shining Time Station) explain “the connection between the elves and the Nazis.” There’s an amazing cutaway shot to the professor’s two little girls staring intently up at him right at the moment he starts talking about the genetic properties of elf sperm.
1. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, 1987
Even if you’ve never heard the title Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, you may well be familiar with the classic “garbage day!; scene, the infamy of which has far surpassed the film itself. And rightly so, because Eric Freeman’s stilted, alien performance in that iconic scene is a perfectly accurate representation of how the woefully out-of-his-depth tough guy inhabits the character of “Ricky” throughout the whole film. Everything about it is a beautiful catastrophe, from a first half composed almost entirely of flashbacks to the previous movie, to the meta-bizzarity involved in the theater scene, where Ricky somehow watches clips of his own brother from Part 1, bending space and time in the process. Further entries in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series (there were five, believe it or not) actually improve in terms of filmmaking quality—it’s hard to believe that in terms of pure, unadulterated crap, anything could ever surpass it.
Most festive offense: “Garbage day” is obviously too easy. How about the scene where Ricky bumps into a stranger and then impales him with an umbrella for no reason? I particularly enjoy the director’s decision to hold on the image of the umbrella for a full 45 seconds afterward.
Special Bonus Film: Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, 1972
I forgot that Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is actually feature-length, which is just as well. This movie is the closest thing you’ll find to an American version of the Mexican Santa Claus in terms of its inscrutability. It is not recommended for human consumption, but should you feel compelled…