The Cringemas Chronicles — Part 2
This is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here.
When I started this little binge and write project, the plan was to watch a bad Christmas movie and poke through writing about it before we watched the next one. That plan worked well enough for the first three movies, but once we hit the five movie back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back stretch, things got tough.
Now, don’t get me wrong — we watched the movies. All of them. But the event traumatized me, and it has proved difficult to, by choice, revisit the many terrors of the Cringemas Chronicles.
But even though the deluge of movies scrambled my brain, and even though I kept putting off finishing this monster, it felt wrong to go through all that pain and not finish writing about the experience. Sure, it means that I’m publishing a piece about bad Christmas movies near the end of January, but hey, I don’t want Al Gore to feel like he invented the internet for no reason.
Before we get into the next movie, let’s see where we are:
- D̵e̵c̵e̵m̵b̵e̵r̵ ̵1̵s̵t̵ ̵-̵ ̵T̵h̵e̵ ̵C̵h̵r̵i̵s̵t̵m̵a̵s̵ ̵C̵h̵r̵o̵n̵i̵c̵l̵e̵s̵
- ̵D̵e̵c̵e̵m̵b̵e̵r̵ ̵8̵t̵h̵ ̵-̵ ̵S̵i̵l̵e̵n̵t̵ ̵N̵i̵g̵h̵t̵,̵ ̵D̵e̵a̵d̵l̵y̵ ̵N̵i̵g̵h̵t̵ ̵P̵a̵r̵t̵ ̵2̵
- D̵e̵c̵e̵m̵b̵e̵r̵ ̵1̵5̵t̵h̵ ̵-̵ ̵S̵a̵n̵t̵a̵ ̵W̵i̵t̵h̵ ̵M̵u̵s̵c̵l̵e̵s̵
- 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)
Five movies to go. Why did I think this would be fun? Do I hate myself?
A Christmas Prince
Director: Alex Zamm
IMDB Score: 5.7
This was, unfortunately, not our first encounter with A Christmas Prince. Like the rest of the known universe, we hate watched it shortly after release last year. It was predictably bad in a whitewashed, watered down, Hallmark values kind of way, but probably enjoyable enough for those who fall into its target audience. When we decided we should watch the sequel for our torture-fest, we knew we were going to have to revisit the O.G.
What strikes me most about ACP, based on both the initial viewing and after our recent revisit, is how much it feels like it’s written by a bot — like you opened up your phone, typed “Ambitious single woman in New York City…” and just mashed the predictive text option until the script was done. All the cliches are here — the misunderstood prince charming character, the nonthreatening gay friend, the cold, cruel boss, the air-headed, generically attractive main character who is clearly supposed to be a masturbatory stand in for the viewer, etc. etc. etc. A Christmas Prince is less a real film than it is a calculated, targeted product. It’s the movie equivalent of a Facebook advertisement for mattresses you keep seeing after Google searching “best mattress” one time three weeks ago.
Other notable moments
- There is a shocking twist in which a royal decree is found inside of a giant decorative acorn. This is the highlight of the film.
- Daniel Fathers plays the protagonist’s father and, by far, puts up the best performance in the movie. Everyone else looks like they’re either reading off cue cards or like they memorized their lines the moment before the cameras started rolling. Fathers, on the other hand, does his best with the crummy meager role he was given and serves as a nice reminder that not every actor in this movie is a secret robot.
- If I had to compare the experience of watching A Christmas Prince to something, it would be walking around in a gallery of Thomas Kinkade paintings while your sheltered religious grandmother tells you about favorite romance novels.
TL;DR review: Mildly watchable wholesome trash romance. I’ve seen worse, and I enjoyed a few chuckles along the way. If nothing else, at least it knows what it is.
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding
Director: John Scultz
IMDB Score: 5.1
I avoided this write up for long enough to forget the bulk of this movie. This could either be 1) a testament to how forgettable this movie is, or 2) a mental defense mechanism meant to stave off insanity.
What I do remember amounts to the following: There is some kind of financial crisis going on in the made up bullshit country this movie takes place in, brought on, somehow, by a single individual. Of course, our hero solves the devastatingly obvious mystery and saves the day.
Also, the main character’s (I can’t remember her name and refuse to look it up on principle) friends and family come to Dumbasslandia for the looming wedding and act generally annoying. The father character, who was, if you recall, the only decent character from the first movie, is recast and now acts like a totally different person. Good choice on the part of actor Daniel Fathers, but bad news for anyone watching.
Other notable moments
- The villain from the first movie returns to serve as a red herring and do not much else. Like the father character, he acts 100% different from his performance in the first movie, almost like the sequel takes place in a parallel universe to the first one, a la Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.(Which was surprisingly great, by the way.)
- So. Much. Filler. Very little actually happens in this movie, just a lot of meandering, dull performances, and unearned fan service.
TL;DR review: It’s well into January, and here I am still thinking about these stupid Christmas movies. This was supposed to be fun. Make it stop. Please.
The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (MST3K Version)
Released: 1966 (original release), 2017 (MST3K Version)
Director: Rossano Brazzi
IMDB Score: 3.7
Some might argue that using a Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of a movie for this is cheating, and hey, I don’t entirely disagree. MST3K makes just about any movie enjoyable on some level, which is good, because The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t would have been pretty brutal without robots in space poking fun at it the whole time.
To the movie’s credit, and unlike A Christmas Prince 2, I do at least remember the story of The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. You’ve got a grumpy Scrooge type character who hates Christmas and is somehow Santa’s landlord. He jacks up the rental price on Santa’s North Pole plot of land, and if Santa doesn’t pay up soon, Angry Old Man is going to evict him. With the help of a lawyer with a silly name (Whipple, I remember correctly), some creepy looking elves, and kids glowing with Christmas spirit, Santa must raise the money to save his workshop… and Christmas!
Still with me? Why would you be? The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t mashes cliches together in a way that’s almost so bizarre it’s interesting, but ends up mostly just uncomfortable. Watching it with the Mystery Science commentary helped immensely. Getting to watch something genuinely funny and entertaining after suffering through both Christmas Prince movies felt like climbing into a life boat after your ship sunk in the middle of the ocean and the cold, icy fingers of death had wrapped around your ankles and started to pull you under. So that was nice.
Other notable moments
- Santa’s workshop looks like an efficiency apartment with a small attached room where no more than twelve elves slave away to make toys for every child on the planet. That, combined with the fact that Santa can’t pay the bills, gives the movie a slummy, kind of pathetic vibe. It’s almost sad.
- There is a painfully long scene in which the balding lawyer character helps Santa practice his laughing. Afterwards, the lawyer rolls around on the floor and play with toys.
TL;DR review: Mystery Science Theater 3000 makes just about any okay, and this one is no exception. But dang, I’m glad I didn’t have to watch it without those snarky robots.
Babes in Toyland
Director: Clive Donner
IMDB Score: 5.4
When I was pretty young, some time in the early 90’s, one of the big pizza chains ran a promotion that offered steeply discounted Christmas movies on VHS with the purchase of a pizza. I don’t remember if it was Pizza Hut or Domino’s, but one of those heartless corporations is responsible for my early and repeated exposure to what is, to this day, one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen.
Babes in Toyland has Keanu Reeves. It has Drew Barrymore. It has a song about Cincinnati. It has unnerving depictions of nursery rhyme characters. It has a lot of people running round in bear suits. It has an off-brand Alan Rickman who hangs out with muppets and lives in a bowling ball.
Out of all of the movies on our list, this was the one I was most eager to see. I wanted to know how the movie, which now feels like a fever dream from my childhood, would play to the adult version of me.
No surprise: it’s still weird.
The basic plot is, more or less, a rip off of The Wizard of Oz. Our heroes get into an accident brought on by bad weather, and Drew Barrymore, our Dorothy analogue, gets knocked out and flung into a fantastical alternate universe. Instead of Oz, though, it’s Toyland, a nursery rhyme themed world with bizarre forced weddings and some generic Christmas overtones. Oh, and an economy that seems entirely cookie based.
The version from my childhood, and the one that we watched for this, is a merciful 95 minutes. There exists, somewhere in the world, a more musical 2 hour and 20 minute cut — the exact same run-time as Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins. Lord have mercy.
I had wanted to experience this movie again for years, but never had any luck finding a decent, clean copy of it. In what I can only assume was God stepping in and doing me a solid, an HD version showed up streaming on Amazon Prime just in time for Cringemas. So now you, too, can share my bewilderment.
Other notable moments
- Humpty Dumpty is frequently seen in the background, sitting on walls. However, he never, not once, has a great fall. Consider my expectations subverted.
- The Toymaster, a Santa's helper type character and the sage of film, is played by Pat Morita, AKA Mr. Miyagi. Star. Studded.
- The climax of the film features an army of life-size toy soldiers firing rifles and canons and gooey tree monsters. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
TL;DR review: Someone drank too much, wrote a Christmas musical Wizard of Oz ripoff in one sitting, and managed to talk real actresses and actors into starring in it. You should check it out.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (MST3K Version)
Released: 1964 (original release), 1991 (MST3K Version)
Director: Nicholas Webster
IMDB Score: 2.6
We capped off our torture-fest with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The plan was to complete the marathon on Christmas evening, so I knew we’d want something fun, breezy, and not too horrible after a long day of gift exchanges, multiple family get-togethers, and exorbitant amounts of food. And like I pointed out previously, MST3K makes even the worst movies entertaining.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is adorable. The Martians, who sport names like “Bomar” and “Momar,” look like something lifted straight out of Plan 9 From Outer Space. The story revolves around abducting human children and, eventually, Santa himself. Some of the Martians want Santa to bring joy to the little Martian kids, others try to kill him, and one pretends to be him.
Santa himself seems completely unaffected by the insanity that surrounds him — he happily bumbles about until he eventually wins the hearts and minds of the Martians. Which, I suppose, is a kind of cultural conquering.
Other notable moments
- There’s something charming about Sci-Fi movies from this era. The slapdash, cardboard-looking, retro-futuristic style is just… cute. It’s like an elementary school play.
- The MST3K host segments on this episode are hilarious.
TL;DR review: This movie is frequently ribbed and makes regular appearances on “worst movies of all time” type lists. This is not without reason.
Well, we made it. Eight horrible Christmas movies, and one very late write up chronicling it all.
Did I enjoy it? Do I regret it? Would I do it all again? It’s hard to say. On some level, we had fun, and, weirdly enough, it helped my wife and I to get into the Christmas spirit.
On the other hand, we hit stretches where slogging through the garbage felt more like an obligation than a cheeky bit of fun. And my self-inflicted commitment to writing about each one hung heavily over my head for longer than I anticipated.
But at least we got to watch Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2.
So yeah, worth it.