Of Dreck & Drink: A Christmas Story 2 and Karbach Yule Shoot Your Eye Out

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A Christmas Story 2 is sort of like watching home movies, except instead of the fuzzy vision of the past you remember, it’s been replaced with a similar-looking snuff film shot by a serial killer who’s murdered your entire family and is forcing you to watch. It’s still ostensibly a video of you unwrapping presents on Christmas morning, only now you can’t help but notice that your father has been gutted and stuffed with cotton, and his corpse is suspended by strings like a hideous marionette as the killer jerks his limbs about and cackles madly.

So yeah, that’s A Christmas Story 2, or it’s a more imaginative way of saying that A Christmas Story 2 is a soulless, offensively terrible movie. It’s the kind of film that so actively desecrates its source material that it may actually hurt your appreciation of the original film in the years that follow. For that reason, I’m being entirely sincere when I say this: If you love Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story, don’t inflict A Christmas Story 2 on yourself.

However, if you happen to be the sort of person who writes a bad movies/good beer pairing column, it’s hard to overlook just how perfect a candidate this is—especially when you also have access to the Christmas beers evaluated in Paste’s recent blind-tasting of 71 Christmas ales. Among that field, there was one perfect beer that made this month’s column an inevitability—Karbach Brewing Co.’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out, which goes so far as to actually feature the Old Man’s infamous leg lamp right on its label. Not subtle, but very appropriate.

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The Beer
Karbach’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out is a “winter warmer,” the rather nebulously defined style in American craft brewing that usually implies amber-colored beers with moderate-to-high ABV and a variety of “Christmas spices.” That description fits Karbach’s holiday offering, although this one is above average in execution—good enough to land at #20 out of 71 in our blind tasting, which is more impressive when one considers how many variants on winter warmer were in the field.

Yule Shoot also has a few characteristics that make it a little bit more unique. In addition to common spices such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, it features some more novel ingredients, including cocoa nibs, cardamom, orange peel and allspice. None of them are primary flavors, but they all add to an engaging degree of complexity.

On the palate, it’s punchy and spice-heavy, with cinnamon and ginger authoritatively leading the way. The garnet/brown hue is significantly darker than many winter warmers, and fitting of the brown sugar and gingerbread cookie flavors it evokes, with just a touch of the cocoa nib detectable if you’re looking for it. Sweetness is moderate but not cloying, and it masks its 8% ABV pretty darn well. These are rarely beers that one thinks of as sophisticated—and thus at home with a leg lamp on the label—but Yule Shoot Your Eye Out succeeds as both a decadent holiday treat and a more subtle sipper. It’s far, far more dignified an experience than A Christmas Story 2.

The Film
I’ve only ever experienced a sequel that simply regurgitates the original entry this guilelessly once before, and it was when I was made to watch The Sandlot 2. In that film, a new group of kids inhabit The Sandlot 10 years later, and literally everything from the first is repeated. There’s a new uncoordinated dweeb as viewpoint character. There’s another threatening dog in Mr. Mertle’s junkyard that the kids must outwit. There’s a new fat catcher. There’s a new team of snotty rich kids who need to be defeated. It’s the same exact plot, minus any of the charm, which has been forcibly extracted like the brain of an embalmed pharaoh.

Thus it is with A Christmas Story 2, which is so obsessed with the first entry that the entire film becomes a huge checklist of scenes and characters that need to be replicated with all the tact and fidelity of a Walmart house brand. See it from far enough away, or through a vision obstructed by enough cataracts, and you might initially not see the difference. And yet the closer you look, the more insidious things become, in a way not even seen in the first, largely forgotten 1994 sequel to A Christmas Story, which was titled My Summer Story. That film, at least, attempted to tell a new story. A Christmas Story 2, on the other hand, is content with the cinematic equivalent of grave-robbing. The only thing of any value it has to offer is the legal right to use the phrase “A Christmas Story” in its title.

Ralphie Parker is now 16 years old, dreaming of a 1939 Mercury convertible for Christmas rather than the opportunity to murder bandits with a BB gun. The rest of his family has apparently filed through some sort of age-randomizing portal—Randy is roughly two years older, while his mother and father are significantly younger.

The only important one, of course, is The Old Man, here played by Home Alone’s Daniel Stern doing a shameful, half-committed impersonation of Darren McGavin. If the film had absolutely any chance of being palatable, it would rest with Daniel Stern in this role, but the results are simply sad. It’s very difficult to tell whether he wants to be in the film or not—is his pained, seemingly purposeful overacting in delivering Old Man lines such as “It’s a clinker!” a genuine attempt at somehow interpreting the character in a more cartoonish way, or is Stern willfully displaying his own disgust at accepting the paycheck to be in A Christmas Story 2? It doesn’t seem possible that viewers could have been meant to accept the portrayal as sincere—it has the tone and professionalism of your drunk uncle at a Christmas party reenacting his favorite scenes from The Honeymooners, three pints of eggnog into the night.

Let me just give a quick run-down of every bit simply recycled from the first film:

  • Countless jokes about the Old Man’s ramshackle furnace
  • Narration that badly attempts to mimic Jean Shepherd
  • Ralphie swearing in slow motion by saying “fudge.”
  • The Old Man’s leg lamp, which returns
  • Randy getting wrapped up in heavy snow-clothing by Mom.
  • The Old Man’s obsession with turkey
  • The Santa of Higbee’s department store
  • The gauzy daydream fantasy sequences
  • The Old Man ranting about White Sox utility infielders
  • Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant
  • A humiliating Christmas outfit from Aunt Clara
  • Flick’s idiocy leading to tongue-related catastrophe

Those are simply the examples that swarmed to mind in the last 30 seconds, but let’s consider the final one in particular. This is a film with so little ambition to create anything resembling a new story that it engineers an entire setting simply for the purpose of giving Flick something to jam his tongue into. His chosen hazard? A pneumatic tube for sending mail canisters … as in, he walks up to a face-level tube with powerful suction and is overcome by a burning need to find out what would happen if he stuck his tongue into that orifice. Understandable compulsion, right? Who among us can resist licking the foreign objects that enter our lives?

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There are no words for how hard this is to watch. Although really, the thing I find even stranger than the set-up is the aftermath of that scene, as Flick and co. calmly collect themselves and move on to their next task. The entire film has this same air of casual impermanence and triviality: “Okay, we got that shit over with, what’s next?” You can feel the director checking “tongue scene” off a clipboarded list, just off camera. Perhaps the movie was simply shot over the course of a long weekend and assembled from as many of the requisite pieces as they were able to complete in that time?

As in the original film, the plot is hardly what one would consider linear, with deviations for subplots involving The Old Man’s cheapskate nature in particular. Ralphie, meanwhile, is working at the department store, which leads to one of the movie’s most inexplicable sequences to sum up: Ralphie, while wearing a jingling reindeer costume as a store mascot, takes a charity bell-ringer doing his job as some sort of affront to his manhood and decides to wordlessly initiate a feverish jingling contest. No really, that’s what happens:

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I don’t know either, guys. I’m just as lost as you.

The Verdict
It’s hard for Christmas-related products of any description—be they beer or film—to avoid coming off as simply exploitative or profiteering at this time of year. It’s certainly not just limited to the movies, as we’ve tasted some really terrible attempts at bottling the Christmas spirit over the last five years of Christmas beer tasting at Paste.

Here, though, there’s no question that Karbach’s Yule Shoot Your Eye Out is the more sincere, enjoyable, well-crafted and certainly least nauseating of these experiences. A Christmas Story 2 is more like the results of some failed experimentation with W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” a ghoul summoned through the black magic of nostalgia and only recognized for what it is before it’s too late. As Jud Crandall observed…


Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. He is positively brimming with Christmas spirit. You can follow him on Twitter.