I am starting with the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim. The DVD menu says it is called a Christmas Carol, but the title cards of the film (and host Patrick Macnee) call it Scrooge. It starts out with the familiar voice-over telling the viewer that Marley has been dead for seven years. Sim’s Scrooge is accosted by a debtor outside the exchange. This is a departure from any film version I have seen. It moves quickly to introduce our important characters, such as Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s nephew Fred. We also see Tiny Tim (who is not so tiny) and his mother walking past store fronts.

As Scrooge sits to eat his meal, he starts to hear bells ringing (the filmmakers take the time to show us the various bells, but they are not moving as they ring. I am unsure if this was intentional, to make it creepy or just lazy). But the door slams open and in walks Marley (Michael Hordern). Or rather, he fades in. I didn’t find this to haunting, although, the sequence ends nicely as Marley Opens a window to show Scrooge multitudes of torments spirits trying to help a poor homeless woman, yet unable to intervene. For the limited effects of the time, it is a powerful moment.

In a rather interesting choice, the Ghost of Christmas (Michael Dolan) is an older man. I note this because most portrayals are of a younger woman, or a young androgynous male. In the longest segment of the film, Scrooge visits his school briefly, only seeing himself on the day his family takes him home. The older Scrooge sees his sister Fan (Carol Marsh) and instantly is overwhelmed with joy-only to face disappointment as she passes through him. The Ghost then leaps to the Fezziwig Christmas Party. Unlike most versions of a Christmas Carol, the Ghost leads Scrooge through much of his past, including his first meeting with Marley. Young Scrooge (George Cole) is more generous and a romantic, especially under the leadership of Fezziwig. However, he is swayed by his desire to not be poor, soon accepting work with Fezziwig’s competition. This is where he meets Marley (Portrayed as a younger man by Patrick MacNee of the Avengers). The film follows Scrooge to the death of his sister Fan. There, the younger Scrooge is so bitter at her dying, he leaves the room, never hearing he dying request that he raise her newborn son, Fred. This causes Ebenezer to break down, weeping and begging Fan’s forgiveness. We also see Marley and Scrooge taking over Fezziwig’s business. Then we see Scrooge’s beloved, Alice (Rona Anderson) setting Scrooge free to pursue money.

The Ghost leads Scrooge to a point in his later years when he and Marley take advantage of the dishonesty of their boss (who has been embezzling the company into bankruptcy) to get control of the company. Finally, the Ghost brings him to Marley’s death bed. There, Marley tries to warn him, as he does again seven years after his death. It’s an interesting mirror as Marley tries to tell Scrooge to change his ways before he dies.

Scrooge is next called upon by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Francis De Wolfe). Unlike the previous Ghost, he is not transparent, and he seems younger. He is fairly jovial at the start, but once he starts to lead Scrooge around, he becomes more somber, lest bombastic. He leads Scrooge to Cratchit homestead, where he witnesses the joy within this family he has given little thought to. As Scrooge’s heart warms to the family, he asks about Tiny Tim. The Ghost confesses, rather somberly, that he sees an empty chair and an unused crutch next Christmas. As Scrooge laments this news, the Ghost quietly ridicules him, using word from Scrooge’s own mouth about allowing some to die-to decrease the surplus population. Scrooge is visibly stung by this. He is then taken to see his nephew Fred. Ebenezer is clearly seeing his nephew anew. Finally, the Ghost brings him to a shelter, apparently run by Alice, you see Scrooge light up as he sees her. Yet, Scrooge is uncertain…he is old…what good can he do now? The Ghost takes his leave. Ebenezer starts to run down the snowy streets, only to be stopped by a cloaked figure.

We see little of the Ghost of Christmas Future, besides a black cloak, that covers the spirit from head to toe. We see a human hand, but little else. The Ghost brings Ebenezer to a pawn shop, where he sees his housekeeper pawning off his valuables, along with the undertaker and another woman. All laugh and cheer the death of Ebenezer. When he is finally brought to his grave, he breaks down, unable to take anymore. He begs for mercy, asking how he can change, he is but an old man, it’s too late. And suddenly, he finds himself in his bed. Scrooge steps out of bed, as his house keeper enters the room. Scrooge asks the day, and is elated to discover its Christmas. In this sequence, Sim plays Scrooge as if a giddy drunk. He cannot contain his joy, and instantly gives his house keeper a raise. She, of course, is terrified he has lost his mind. But he assures her he is simply a new man. And he’s thrilled by it. He secretly sends a prize turkey to the Cratchit family. Young Tiny Tim, in this version deduces that it was Scrooge, which feels a little overly silly, because his reasoning is, “I don’t know how I know, I just feel it.” However, making up for that is the heartfelt moment when Scrooge apologizes to Fred’s wife (Olga Edwardes) for being so foolish towards her and Fred. It’s a very touching scene. Alistair Sim’s best performance in the film is at the end. He can’t contain himself, and it’s enormously contagious as the film closes.

It is interesting how much back story you get on Scrooge in this version, the majority of the film is spent with the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Ghosts are also quite gentle and non-threatening, even Marley is not fear or awe inducing. But the film still works on the strengths of it’s actors. Also worth noting is the music. It makes heavy use of traditional Christmas songs, especially “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night”. Hark the Herald Angels Sing is even incorporated into the haunting score during the opening credits so that it flits from a choir singing the carol to a thundering symphony playing an original score.

Prologue to What a Scrooge

I have always had a soft spot for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.Oh, that is underselling it.  It is my favorite Christmas tale.  I like it more than the Christmas Story from the Bible.  I can watch endless attempts to tell the tale.

I like the whole idea behind it. The ghosts, the memories, the redemptive nature of the story, the hope it tells of in our choices. It fills me with a certain joy and hope for what can be. I also think it is a “pure” horror story. Strong horror often can have a moral center, as opposed to the diluted in the modern world which often means “gory”. But A Christmas Carol is a true horror story.

Marley returns from the grave, given an opportunity to help one of his only friends from suffering his miserable fate.  The ghosts are going to torment Scrooge with what could have been, what is and what might be.  And Ebeneezer Scrooge?  He is timeless.  We see him today, unwilling to share, hoarding wealth, justifying his miserly ways.

“Are there no prisons?”

“And the Union workhouses. Are they still in operation?”

“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

“I haven’t SQUANDERED it, if that’s what you mean by “making myself comfortable!”

We justify greed and miserly ways.  We call it good business sense.  It is a powerful tale, one to be reminded of every year…

So I thought I would look at nine different versions of the film. It’s fascinating to see the variety of ways the filmmakers have sought to portray Marley and the Ghosts.  I hope to keep adding to this list each year…focusing on the good, the bad…but we will coubntdown to Christmas day starting tomorrow.

(The featured image is actor Tom Atkins as Scrooge.  I would love to see his stage performance of this wonderful story.  But that would involve a road trip to Pittsburgh)

A_Christmas_Story_PosterIn 1983, filmmaker Bob Clark adapted the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd.  The book was actually a compilation of columns Shepherd had written for Playboy.  Clark and Shepherd used the various stories to build the tale of Ralphie, a boy who dreams of getting the ultimate gift.  A Red Ryder BB Gun.

The film has a truly timeless feel.  I think many of us have had dads who cursed up a storm when frustrated, mothers who tried to smooth it all over, bullies who made our lives miserable.  If you grew up in a place where winter meant cold and snow?  That tongue stuck to a flag pole is a little to close for comfort.

The cast is enjoyable, all mining laughs no matter the size of the role.  The kids are fun and likable, the parents have there own quirks and lovable qualities.

I suspect most anyone reading this is familiar with the film, as much like It’s a Wonderful Life it has gotten regular airplay every Christmas for decades.

The film is warm, hilarious and deserving of it’s status.  If you have not seen it? Find an opportunity to sit down and watch.

its_a_wonderful_life_posterFrank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life was not a hit when released, yet it managed to become a classic.  Due to copyright errors the film became a Christmas mainstay, cementing it as a Christmas Classic.  And that is alright by me.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a wonderful dark fairy-tale.  It focuses on George Bailey, a guy full of big hopes and dreams, for whom none get realized.  There is always something that stands in the way.  And now, married with children, George finds himself in a bind.  It looks like he might lose everything.  Despondent and prepared to commit suicide, even then he is interrupted by goofy angel in training Clarence.

What follows is Clarence walking George through his town, except, it is a town that never had a George Bailey.  And what he finds is that as miserable as he thinks his situation is?  His friends and family were worse off without him.

George is kind and constantly self sacrificing.  Probably the closest he comes to selfishness in his pursuit of Mary (Donna Reed).  He knows his friend Sam has been pursuing Mary, but he is drawn to her, and she has always wanted George.  George fights his feelings for Mary, seeing her as someone who will tie him to the town of Bedford Falls, which he desires to leave ever so badly.

In a way, he is correct.  His marriage to Mary is another nail in the coffin of his dream to travel the world.  Yet, when he sees a world without him, George realizes how much is lost.  There are people who never have homes, because he was not there to run his Father’s Saving and Loan.  The cruel Mr. Potter (in the Scrooge model) is never obstructed by George Bailey.  His mother is bitter, his brother is dead and his Uncle is the local town lunatic.

This is a classic because it strikes at the heart.  We have all felt that lack of connection to our lives, when things get dark, it is easy to wonder why we might matter.  And the film challenges that in it’s special and whimsical way.

This is a superb work from Capra and company, worthy of it’s status of “Holiday Classic”.

 

blackchristmas_2006This movie is why people hate horror remakes.

Seriously, they tossed out the things that work and add in…uh, a backstory.  One of the most unnecessary back stories ever.  See, now the sorority house is Billy’s old house, and that is why Billy came back.

Except, now Billy is not alone.  Apparently his daughter/sister (don’t ask) is in the house and has been for awhile.  Cause somebody is killing the sorority girls while Billy is still locked in the asylum.  See, the film does not reveal the sister/daughter until after the killings begin, so it is totally confusing.

The film is just a mess, and truthfully, the cast is not all that memorable in their roles.  The characters are far more generic feeling. Bitchy Girl, Drunk Girl, Nice Girl, Weird Girl…the cast feels like it was culled from the WB.  Probably cause it was.

There is an added “eyeball torture” aspect and a happier ending.  Nothing added to the remake improves upon the original, and everything skipped is that much more noticeable.

black_christmasHalloween is often cited as the father of the slasher genre.  But three years prior was Bob Clark’s Black Christmas.  If you are wondering why the name Bob Clark might sound familiar, there is a reason.  For about a decade, for 24 hours every Christmas, TNT aired back to back showings of Clark’s “A Christmas Story”.  Yeah, that guy who brought us a beloved holiday classic also gave us another, lesser known (but no less classic) holiday film.

Black Christmas is a little bit different in tone, of course.  It is set on Christmas Eve at a sorority house.  As the women engage in festivities, their house is plagued by an obscene caller who speaks in guttural cries.

The film is mainly focused on Jess (Olivia Hussey) who is pregnant, and set on having an abortion.  Her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), is dead set against it.  There is also a hunt for a young missing girl, and the first girl to die.  But nobody is sure if the sorority girls are running off or truly missing.

We the audience, of course, no better.  The killer is in the house, but what is his motive?  Why this house?  It is a mystery that the film never chooses to answer.  “Billy” has no origin story.  He just shows up and terrorizes the girls.  And it is an effective and unnerving choice.

Black Christmas is well acted, with great visuals.  Rather than focus on gore, it is focused on mood.  And it is powerful.  The film’s final shot as the credits begin to roll are chilling.  There is no music as the camera pulls away from the house.  Just a lone ringing telephone…

electric-boogalooThe 80s were the heyday for Cannon Films.  Electric Boogaloo is the story of Israeli  cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.  Their goal?  To make Hollywood Blockbusters.  Things did not quite pan out, in spite of their tries.

What we got were schlocky gimmick films and attempts to create trends with their films.  This documentary chronicles the rise and fall of their studio Cannon Films.

The film talks to a thorough list of their directors, actors and employees that offer a entertaining and fascinating look at the studio’s rise from sexploitation films to goofy dance films to Chuck Norris actioners.

The film offers some interesting tidbits I was unaware of.  One example?  The Chuck Norris Vietnam POW action flick Missing In Action was actually the second film.  The director of the film told Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus the first film (which was not yet released) was terrible.  So they released the sequel as Missing In Action, and the first film was released as Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

I found the documentary was interesting and enjoyable.  The Cannon world was a crazy one.  Interestingly, the cousins refused to be interviewed for the documentary, instead funding their own (the Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films) and beating Electric Boogaloo in release by three months.

Family Road Trip (Vacation, 2015)

vacation_posterThe National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise is an uneven one.  The original is a quotable classic, as is Christmas Vacation.  European Vacation has it’s moments and Vegas Vacation?  Well, it is Vegas Vacation.

National Lampoon has been dropped from the title for this updated tale of a Griswold Family Vacation.  This time around it focuses on Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) and his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate).  Pilot Rusty is inspired to take his wife and two sons on the very same road trip to Wally World as his father took him on.  In one of the more clever sequences of the film Rusty and Debbie argue whether a new Vacation is a good idea.  The whole discussion is a veiled defense of this fourth sequel.  Who remembers the Vacation from thirty years ago?  Why take the same trip? How is it any different?

Alas, most of the film is not quite as clever.  Don’t get me wrong, I did laugh.  But the film just never quite reaches the heights of either the original or Christmas Vacation.  It tries, mostly through rude and gross-out humor, but really, the truth is? Chase just brought a level of heart to the character of Clark Griswold that Helms never seems to have here.

Clark’s failures were a byproduct of major devotion to what he believed family should be.  His awkwardness was his belief in how he should be as a father and husband.  And while Helms’ Rusty pays words to this…it just feels less…real.

The film has a good cast, but the film itself never gels as well as the best of the Vacation films.  The writing never gives the cast any real heart to work with.

No Santa (Krampus, 2015)

krampus-winter-posterThe Krampus is a part of Christmas folklore largely unknown to the U.S., he is not part of our tales of Santa.  It is a popular bit of European folklore though.  But, as the film states, he is the dark shadow of Santa.  Santa rewards goodness, but the Krampus condemns the naughty.

It only makes sense that there would be a Christmas film for the Krampus.  Christmas horror stories have been around for quite some time.  A Christmas Carol is a Christmas horror story.

Mike Dougherty, most well known as a screenwriter of numerous super-hero films, this is his second feature as Director.  His first was the very entertaining Halloween themed Trick R’ Treat.  And now he returns to the holiday theme with a Christmas Monster movie.

Young Max is frustrated that his family Christmas is not like it onvce was.  There is fighting, cruel put downs and tension.  After being humiliated with his letter to Santa, Max is angry and heart broken, tearing up his letter to Santa.  He does not realize he has called forth a terrible wish.

The family wakes to discover there was a terrible snowstorm and they are out of power.  And that is not the really bad news.  what follows is the family discovering they are in for a terrible night.

The Krampus and his minions work to take the family to hell.  The thing about Dougherty is he has a skill with letting a horror film have the right amount of dark humor.  The monsters are wonderfully whimsical and creepy, which results in some enjoyable laughs.  I mean, the giggling evil gingerbread men cookies were crazy enough.  The designs are terrific.  The Krampus is almost like a melted Santa…his skin hanging loose, like ill fitting cloth.

The use of a frigid winter and snow are well used.  It is harsh and unforgiving.  The cast (including Toni Collette, Adam Scott and David Koechner) are great.  I genuinely found myself wanting this family to succeed, stop the Krampus and get out alive.

Krampus is a fun and enjoyable ride.  It won’t be winning any awards, but it was great fun for a horror fan.

The Next Generation (Creed, 2015)

creed-movie-posterAwhile back, when I first heard about Creed, I thought I was hearing a desperate idea of continuing a franchise that had run it’s course and closed out nicely with 2006’s Rocky Balboa.

And yet, it turns out that it was the smartest move they could have made.  Creed opts to focus on the son of the late Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan).  Born of an affair, Adonis is taken in by Creed’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad).  He desires to be a boxer, but is blocked from every direction.  His only outlet is underground Mexican boxing matches.

Ultimately, he moves to Philadelphia and seeks help from a reluctant Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).

The film is a reflection of the original Rocky, and driven heavily by the characters.  The chemistry between Adonis and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is genuine.  Jordan and Stallone forge a bond that is at times heartbreaking and others exhilarating.

This is a strong and terrific film.  It draws you in and keeps your attention.  Creed is an excellent film, worth the watch.