Friday, December 11, 2009

The 12 Scares of Christmas

As I continue to dig through a seemingly unending pile of Santa slashers, I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the yuletide season is far more hostile holiday than Hallmark wants us to believe. Case in point: the following list of Christmas (and for politically inclusive reasons, Hanukah) horrors just waiting to send us running for cover into the quiet calm of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

12. Inflatable Lawn Ornaments 

I despise these things more than phoned-in covers of Christmas carols, and not just because I find them a lazy means of decorating. In my wildest fantasies, I assume these colorfully conformist balloons have been slowly building up helium fueled frustration over 1) being deflated half the month 2) stuffed in boxes 91% of the year and 3) looking dumb. How will they seek vengeance? Easy. Ever notice how no suburban lawn has just ONE? It’s not just that decorating is addictive: the inflatable lawn ornaments want it that way. Why? Power in numbers. I give it three more years before they start deflating over the heads of unsuspecting carolers, absorbing each do-gooder like The Blob and growing stronger with every verse.  

11. Unclear Gifting Policies 

Sometimes, it’s the everyday discomfort that provides us with more anxiety than any Nazi created superelf or axe-wielding St. Nick. Like a poorly translated adaptation of The Gift of the Magi, many an office drone, second cousin, or waving neighbor can spend a good deal of December wondering whether to purchase a gift for a casual acquaintance. Buy one and you risk looking too friendly; forget and you come off as a careless jerk. It may not be the stuff that Black Christmas is made of, but dealing with the awkwardness of ill-defined relationships is a horror rife for plenty of stress-induced nightmares.  

10. Ice

Depending on your location, snow is one more deadly tool on the heavily stocked belt of wrathful winter. Since mutant killer snowmen is a topic all of its own, let’s instead consider the very physical danger of H2O served a degree too cold. Drivers must master the art of steering into the slide in order to survive, an act which violates basic human instinct and never seems to work anyway. Pedestrians must constantly rotate their vigilance between dodging daggerish icicles and slippery patches of shimmering black ice. Don’t get me started on the inevitable skating rink excursion that undoubtedly ends in minor injury or worse, The Good Son/Orphan-esque cracks into hell frozen over. Avoid it like fruitcake. 

9. The Shopping Mall Santa Experience
One of the first things we learn as children is to not talk to strangers. Second is usually the heartbreaking lesson about not taking the candy they hand out so freely. So what do our parents do in between Cinnabon iced cappuccinos and Panda Express combos with fountain soda? Force our little bottoms on the germ-infested kneecaps of a complete unknown, who proceeds to grip our waists and ask us about our naughtiness over the past year. After posing for a poorly lit photo, he--or sometimes, ANOTHER stranger often wearing tights and short shorts--hands us a candy cane from the dusty netherworld that is his magical sack. While I like to imagine most shopping centers check their employees' references before handing over a month's worth of access to a community's children, cynicism and Billy Bob Thorton have taught me to be very wary of anybody wearing a synthetic beard.

8. Menorahs 

Simply because they imply open flames, which is a fire hazard any time, much less for seven whole days and eight nights (when people are sleeping and thereby even more in danger of negligence)  

7. Reindeer Bullies 

According to many a claymation special and library book, Christmas is about good will to men, joy on earth, and lots of singing. Why then does the grand master of ceremonies employ such mean-spirited, verbally abusive elitists as his high profile chauffeurs? Imagine, if you will, poor Rudolph’s fate had there never been “one foggy Christmas Eve.” Sure, he may still have gone down in history, but something tells me such a tale would involve more rifle shots atop the North Pole tower than gleeful prancing with orthodontic elves. Also, reindeer have been known to run down old ladies without leaving a note. I don’t like to fear for my grandmothers.  

6. Chimneys 

Eleven months of the year, anybody with a working fireplace probably doesn’t realize he or she has a working fireplace. Then December rolls around, you decorate your mantle, and the kids start asking questions. “How does Santa fit?” “Why are you lighting the log on December 24th?” “Why is Gremlins rated PG?” It’s Phoebe Cates’ infamous monologue in that yuletide classic that reminds us just how fatal those rectangular roasting plants truly are.  

5. Malls

See last week’s column for a more thorough analysis of the hellishness that is a major shopping center in December. Still, no discussion of the horrors of yule are complete without considering the close quarters demanded by the season. Between the spread of airborne diseases (or worse, if you’re an employed elf like in David Cronenberg’s Rabid) from hacking customers, the bacteria-ridden dollar bills handed back by disgruntled employees, and the traffic you’ll encounter heading home, killer robot security guards and eight foot tall tarantulas seem more inviting than a gingerbread house. 

4. A Christmas Carol 

I have nothing but love for Charles Dickens’ original novella and the many fine film adaptations it has spawned. Still, at the heart of this morality tale is a haunting ghost story rich in desolate poverty, cancerous self isolation, and the poisonous nature of capitalism. Even the wrong-side-of-the-tracks Rizzo the Rat couldn’t stomach the final act, wherein a Bergmanesque before Bergman Grim Reaper shows Ebenezer Scrooge just how lethal a misanthropic path can be. Sure, every version features a happy ending where leading men (and sometimes women or ducks) get to dance and shout with joy, but it takes one dark and somber ride to get there. 

3. The Must-Have Toy 

Not only did the very idea of Tickle-Me-Elmo seriously injure Arnold “Jingle All the Way” Schwarzenegger’s action star cred, it also led manufacturers to spearhead an annual ambush of saturating--actually, teasing--the market with always expensive, often baffling, and sometimes terrifying creations of evil toymakers’ fancies (Furbies, shudder). It’s a nasty ploy that does little more than turn child against parent, parent against paycheck, and ravenous consumers against all that’s good in human nature. Then again, without Cabbage Patch Kids, we’d probably never have Gremlins, so I guess we can accept the idea as a necessary evil.

2. The Big Brotherness of Santa Claus

Silent Night, Deadly Night. Santa’s Slay . Christmas Evil . Santa Claws. There’s a reason most holiday-themed horror films cast Kris Kringle as a villain with an all-too literal take on his naughty list. It’s the very idea of one man who “sees you when you’re sleeping” deciding the fate of children across the world, judging their character and invading their homes to carry out his decree. Look at 1959’s rather terrible film, Santa Claus (or better yet, just watch the MST3K coverage for a far better time) to see what I always envisioned the demigod’s lair to look like: a control station filled with security cameras that trace the movements of every child eligible for stocking stuffers.  

1. Carol of the Bells 

Beautifully melodic, harmoniously haunting, aggressively threatening. This popular Christmas carol is a staple of church choirs, middle school glee clubs, and animated specials but listen to a good cover while shivering in the dark on a cold winter’s night and watch the hairs on your blanket wrapped arm rise in fear. There’s something about the forceful accenting that feels oddly confrontational, with the minor key composing lending a vaguely menacing mood that builds with each verse. If the high notes were solidified, I firmly believe they’d take on the form of blank staring children dressed preciously for Midnight Mass while chasing anyone listening through a barren and snowy landscape with tiny ice picks. 

So am I wimpier than Tiny Tim, or is Xmas time far more terrifying than Frosty wants us to believe?


  1. I need to change my underwear. I am officially soiled from fear. Epic and compelling list.

    An anthology style film should be made based on these 12 horrors. Guaranteed to be a better time than Trick R' Treat. Make it happen

  2. Man oh man. I would looooooooove to see an inflatable lawn ornament army captured on film! And maybe if 12 stories is too many, we can combine a few, like having Alloftheotherreindeer cast as Scrooges who die off one by one by various listed methods (menorah fire, Tickle-Me-Furby-Patch-Kids feasting, shopping mall stampede). I imagine an alcoholic mall Santa would make the best narrator and naturally, we'd save the death-by-sheer-terror-of-minor-key-xmas carols for the last segment.

    This could happen. Although you should probably first change your pants in addition to underwear. It's all starting to smell the same.

  3. Great list and I love POT's idea of a 12 part anthology film! Though I would add one, the scariest one for me, the lack of money for Christmas! That's always a major fear more than once a season for me...

    By the way, Number 11 is the best photo!

  4. True, the lack of money inspires many a panic attack, but look at Ebenezer Scrooge: he's got it all and still gets haunted by 4 ghosts (5 if you're going by Muppet standards). Then again, things always seem to work out for that guy no matter how much a jerk he is in the first act, while only the Cratchits actually benefit from his revelation so perhaps you're right. But Bobcat Goldthwait turned out okay in Scrooged after getting canned, so maybe there's a little hope for all of us with thinner wallets come December.

  5. Yes! I love seeing the santa photo on the list. I once had to take the pictures of these poor kids at the grocery store I worked in at the time. It was pure hell. I'd get so angry at the parents that would scold their kids for doing what in normal instances would be ideal. Damn you stranger santa! Damn you evil parent! You'll take this picture of your screaming kids and like it! Grrr!

  6. The Santa photographer has to be one of the greatest/worst jobs one could have: awful because, as a former Chuck E Cheese employee, I know how awful dealing with kids in commercialized settings can be, not to mention the uncomfortableness you'd experience watching poor children get emotionally scarred sitting on the knee of a man with a polyester beard. But great because I assume it's a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of unintentional amusement!