The Cringemas Chronicles — Part 1

I love the holidays, but if I have one talent, it’s ruining things I love. To that end, and with some additional inspiration from the binge-watch style of the newest season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, my wife and I decided to torture ourselves with a marathon of terrible Christmas movies. I crafted a schedule that starts slow — just one bad movie a week — and ends with a barrage of five nights straight of flaming piles of garbage.

Feast your eyes:

  • December 1st — The Christmas Chronicles
  • December 8th — Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
  • December 15th — Santa With Muscles
  • December 21st — A Christmas Prince
  • December 22nd — A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding
  • December 23rd — The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (MST3K version)
  • December 24th — Babes in Toyland
  • December 25th — Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (MST3K version)

I strove for balance. New, old, horror, comedy, and romance are all represented. I threw in a couple Mystery Science episodes for the sake of our sanity, and made sure to schedule the Keanu Reeves/Drew Barrymore fever dream Babes in Toyland on Christmas Eve, for sentimental reasons.

Released: 2018
Director: Clay Kaytis
IMDB Score: 7.4 (somehow)

When I heard Kurt Russel was playing Santa Claus in a straight-to-Netflix schlocky Christmas special, I knew my morbid curiosity would eventually get the better of me and I’d have to check it out. Christmas Chronicles was co-written by the guy who penned Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief and the mastermind behind Nicolas Cage’s Stolen. The director, Clay Kaytis, previously directed The Angry Birds movie. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me! But hey, that 7.4 rating isn’t too shabby. How bad could The Christmas Chronicles be?

Pretty bad, it turns out. But mostly just bizarre. This movie is weird.

Before I start shoving coal in this movie’s stocking, I’d like to start with a few positives. Compared to most of the upcoming movies on our list, the film boasts some solid production value. The acting is not any worse than your average family movie, and definitely better than most of the junk I watch when I’m subjecting myself to terrible movies. Plus, it was legitimately fun watching Kurt Russel doof around as Santa.

The plot basically goes like this: Hero-firefighter dad dies → older brother turns into a bad kid after dad’s death → mom struggles to keep the family together, wholesome younger daughter wants her older brother to stop being a bad kid and start being a good kid again → Santa shows up, kids help him save Christmas (after almost ruining it) → bad kid learns life lessons and turns his life around. Everyone is happy, dead dad shows up in a Christmas ornament and tells his son that he’s proud of him.

Nothing revolutionary here, but those are the bones of a perfectly acceptable sappy family Christmas movie.

So if the production quality is fine, and the acting is fine, and plot is fine (for what it is), what’s the problem? In a word, tone. This movie has some serious issues with tonal consistency.

Let me give you some examples.

After the dad dies, the son doesn’t just start doing poorly in school, or smoking cigarettes, or getting into fights, or participating in any other entry-level bad kid stuff. Instead, he steals a car, which makes him a literal felon. He never has to pay for his crimes in any real way, and you never even figure out what he does with the car he steals. Even weirder, after he starts hanging out with Santa, he talks Santa into committing the same crime. In a movie that’s supposed to be, at least partially, about a kid learning the errors of his ways, it muddies up the waters. How can Santa judge who is being naughty or nice while also getting into high speed chases with police in a stolen vehicle? You no longer have the moral high ground, Santa.

In another scene, the younger sister climbs into Santa’s gift sack. A nondescript gang/mafia group gets a hold of it and throws the sack into a furnace. Of course, the brother pulls it out before it burns up, but still, that’s dark. Even worse, this isn’t the first time in the movie the girl’s life is seriously, horrifically in danger.

Later on in the same scene, Santa’s little fuzzy elves come to save the brother from the gang. They toss the thugs around in cartoonish fashion — which is exactly how violence in a family movie should be handled. But then the elves mistake the brother for one of the thugs. They hold him down, take out a small but very functional chainsaw (which you know because the chainsaw wielding elf cuts the hat off another elf by mistake in what is nearly a tiny decapitation) and make moves to brutally murder him, starting between his legs. Genital mutilation! Adorable!

How it feels to watch “The Christmas Chronicles”

The sister steps in and tells the elves not to cut her brother’s dick off, but the damage to the scene, and the movie, was done. This kind of action would not be out of place in a Bruce Campbell “R” rated self-aware horror/comedy. What is it doing in The Christmas Chronicles? What the hell is happening?

Other notable moments

  • Kurt Russel Santa gets arrested and ends up singing a Christmas tune with some criminals and prostitutes. Strangely enough, I didn’t have any significant problems with this scene. I think I might have even liked it.
  • Surprise! Goldie Hawn has a cameo at the end as Mrs. Claus. I’m sure children all over the world will get a kick out of that, as children young enough to believe in Santa tend to be big Goldie Hawn fans.

TL;DR review: This movie isn’t a total disaster and almost works as a sickly sweet family Christmas thing, but its ham-fisted handling of serious issues and schizophrenic tone cause it to spiral into absurdism. There is minimal enjoyment to be had here, only confusion.

Released: 1987
Director: Lee Harry
IMDB Score: 3.6

When I think of so-bad-it’s-good movies, this is exactly the kind of train wreck that comes to mind. The film’s lack of craft combined with hammy acting and cheap special effects make for some enjoyable cheese.

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is most famous for this scene, in which Ricky, the main character and serial killer, wiggles his eyebrows, shouts the phrase “Garbage day!” and shoots a man to death in the street. I naively assumed that this moment was taken out of context and posted online for comedic effect, but I can tell you right now that the scene is even funnier in context.

SN,DNP2 is comprised largely of footage from the first film. It’s a clip show, only it’s not a show, it’s a movie. Luckily I had never seen the first one, so the constant flash backs actually made the movie feel more ambitious, as opposed to making it feel cheap, which is what it actually is.

The core of the story involves Ricky recounting the tragic series of events that led to him and his brother both becoming Santa suit wearing serial killers. It involves murdered parents, an orphanage run by en evil nun, and plenty of psycho-sexual issues. There’s enough cleverness here to entertain, but not enough to call the film competent. It all culminates in a hilarious climax, which I will avoid talking about here so you can experience it yourself.

Without a doubt, the best part of SN,DNP2 is actor Eric Freeman’s portrayal of Ricky. He’s over-the-top, ridiculous, and moves like a squid wearing a human costume. Neither my wife or I were ever bored during the viewing, which is about the best we could have hoped for.

Other notable moments

  • Why is it that hokey slasher movies, especially those made in the 70’s and 80’s, are so cavalier about rape? Nearly every time I would settle in and start to have a good time, BAM! Rape scene. Gross.
  • In one scene, an innocent man dressed in a Santa suit gets murdered by police in front of an orphanage full of children, like those kids didn’t have enough issues to deal with already.

TL;DR review: Coming in with a lean running time of 88 minutes and packed with memorable moments, wacky characters, and gimmicky kills, SN,DNP2 is the most consistently entertaining movie of the first three we watched. Sure, the fact that it’s mostly comprised of previously existing footage is pathetic, but unless you’ve seen the first film it doesn’t end up harming the viewing experience.

Released: 1996
Director: John Murlowski
IMDB Score: 2.5

Do yourself a favor and forget that this movie exists. From Executive Producer and Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort (yes, that Jordan Belfort, and no, I’m not joking) comes the most painfully boring things I’ve watched in years.

The problem with this movie is that when it’s described, it sounds amazing. You’ve got a rich guy who wants to buy up all the property in town for reasons you don’t discover until late into the movie. On no, the orphanage is in trouble! Then, you’ve got another rich guy played by Hulk Hogan, a bro-dude asshole who made his fortune selling protein powder to gym rats. In the midst of a cop chase brought on by a paintball match gone awry, Blake (Hogan) gets hit in the head. The brain trauma causes him to believe that he’s Santa, which immediately turns him into a good person obsessed with saving the orphanage.

This. Sounds. Awesome. Delusional Hulk dressed as Santa, a dumb plot about an orphanage being saved, some cartoony villains, how do you screw this up? While I don’t think anyone has ever made a good movie starring the Hulk, Suburban Commando proved you could at least make an entertaining one relatively easily. Unfortunately, this tire fire is lazily written, bizarrely edited, and straight up uncomfortable to watch. The “Cringemas Chronicles” moniker was supposed to be a joke, but we legitimately cringed our way through this. Phrases like, “No, no. This isn’t happening.” unironically fell out of our mouths as we stared at our TV, baffled.

If I had to compare it to something, I’d say it felt most similar to watching an elementary school play. Everything is amateurish, off, and awkward. Which is cute with little kids, but is just sad with adults. I don’t want to make fun of the people involved with this movie. I don’t want to laugh at them, or even with them. I just want this movie to disappear.

The absolute worst thing a movie can be isn’t stupid, or bad, or even offensive. The worst thing a movie can be is boring. And Santa With Muscles, despite all its promise, is about as boring as they come.

Other notable moments

  • There is nothing notable about this movie.

TL;DR review: The joke of Santa With Muscles is that it exists, but as soon as you watch it, the joke is on you. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

If you’re still alive, check back soon for Part 2 in this series, where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on both Christmas Prince movies.

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