Seeing it’s tradition to gather family members and cook a banquet together, ‘classic’ is the only kind of film to watch on Christmas. Joe Dante’s film about a pet, three rules, a boy who accidentally breaks them and a legion of monsters unleashed from said accident represents the perfect blend of fear and funny, featuring panic-inducing scenarios bathing in festive colors and campiness. That said, Gremlins also introduced the most depressing Santa Claus story ever heard in a moment that, while completely veers to serious territory, will never leave you. Same goes for the rest of its 106 minutes.
The Poseidon Adventure
Nothing can beat greeting New Year’s over high seas, but don’t let joy erase the swimming lessons of yesteryear. Ronald Neame’s adaptation of Paul Gallico’s novel thrives and is always watchable due to its simplicity and practicality in portraying passengers bicker and claw their way to the surface after their cruise ship capsizes. While the remake has John Seale’s cinematography and excruciatingly detailed effects courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic, technical limitations of the era imposed on The Poseidon Adventure pushes its performers physically and the crew creatively. To the deep the ship goes, but to cinema Poseidon presses on.
Alright, so somewhere away from the deep blue then, say a beach during the Fourth of July. While adequate paddling skills are optional (but recommended), do hone your ears for the lifeguard’s first whistle and your eyes for a great white’s fin. Not a strange furball or a natural phenomenon distant from civilization, Steven Spielberg’s translation of Peter Benchley’s novel taps into a too common fear with maximum intensity and little directorial fluff. Also, thanks to the theme from John Williams, a swim in any kind of pool gets to quickly become a fight for survival.
The Maid (2005)
Maybe life is safer overseas? Wrong. At 18 years of age, it’s already tough for Rosa Dimaano to move to Singapore to help her brother in the Philippines, but that is still a pebble compared to the ghastly things she witnesses in her employers’ house during the Chinese Ghost Month. Though the proceedings follow the vengeful ghost formula to a ‘T,’ Kelvin Tong’s film is enjoyable because it has a relatable perspective — Rosa is unfamiliar with the holiday — and who doesn’t like their tale about the macabre having an exotic setting? Now the trailer is a bit strange, and so is the Singlish in the film, but get over them because the film is a neat watch during witching hour.
Let’s return to the more well-known kind of Halloween in the only holiday slasher you need in your life. While he wears a mask and has an imposing presence like his brother Leatherface, Michael Myers courts practicality with a kitchen knife as his weapon of choice. John Carpenter’s classic also introduces Jamie Lee Curtis as a noticeable talent with an equally noticeable scream. The biggest effect, however? Doing laundry is no longer as tedious (or relaxing) as before.
Trick ‘r Treat
Finest film for every Halloween? No contest here. Michael Dougherty’s theatrical debut is, unfortunately, screwed upon release — one delay after another only to be dumped to the straight-to-DVD shelf despite an all-star cast and large-scale production. It is four stories about the rules of the day, at times intertwined, all rendered in lush visuals, solid writing and great humor. Whether it’s children dying or anthology being a tough sell, it’ll remain unknown as to why the film didn’t get to theaters, but the film has garnered enough appreciation that a sequel is on the way.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Henry Selick’s animated film about Halloween meeting Christmas is a prime example of creativity firing on all cylinders — plot, characters, art and music. For the little ones, Jack Skellington and the residents of Halloween Town can be scary, but the catchy songs written and performed by Danny Elfman prove to be one strong magnet. The film is a great transition from one major Western holiday to the next, as well as the kind of entertainment that caters to everyone.
Michael Dougherty’s second film on this list trades falling leaves for a bizarre Christmas snowstorm, one that traps twelve members of a family to their house and be at the mercy of Santa’s darker counterpart. All the positives in Trick ‘r Treat are transferred over here, and on top of that are the commendable use of practical effects, gorgeous art direction and spot-on casting. The design of the film’s titular creature was combined from different versions on postcards and drawings, and maybe from the different performers on Krampusnacht as well.
An expansion of his 2003 short, director Jalmari Helander gives viewers a tense, bonkers-in-all-sense-of-the-word, sporadically funny and outright entertaining film about the chaos that ensues to a hunting community when the jolly bearded one is dug up from his grave. Like Jaws and The Thing, Rare Exports uses its strange backdrop to deliver a self-contained and unnerving tale, though it does go overboard with CGI (and believability, though ridiculous, is part of the appeal) in its home run. Yet, if you’re onboard for a dark and compact Christmas gem, look no further.
Parasaito Ivu (Parasite Eve)
Though to gamers Parasaito Ivu is an action RPG from the people behind Final Fantasy, the 1997 film is adapted from pharmacologist Hideaki Sena’s novel about what will happen when our mitochondria reclaim their former form — a separate, living entity — with a mission to dominate mankind. Fittingly, the mitochondria called itself Eve, and it is reborn in the body of a girl whose birthday is on Christmas Eve. Granted, the plot’s far out, but under elegant direction and a stirring soundtrack from Joe Hisaishi, known for his superb body of work at Studio Ghibli, Parasaito Ivu is the low-key sci-fi, romance and horror hit that should be seen at least once. It will be hard to find a copy, and make sure that once you do, preserve it as you would like a drop from the Fountain of Youth.