The holidays are all about spending time with the family. Problem is, between late nights at the office, scrambling for last-minute gift shopping and the grade-schoolers wrapping up final exams, the family is tired. Here’s a simple solution: family movie night. Parents can slump back on the couch and relax for a couple of hours, while the kids jump at the chance to do anything but work on Spectrum and SAT-prep workbooks. These merry little Christmastime selections are sure to put the whole family in the holiday spirit.
1. “John Carpenter’s The Thing” (1982)
There is nothing more heartwarming than a movie with a dog (e.g. “Cujo,” “The Hound of the Baskervilles”), and the Alaskan Malamute in “The Thing” is one of the sweetest silver screen pooches you’ll ever come across. Sure it’s actually a deadly shape-shifting alien in disguise, but that only adds to its canine charm. Nothing brings a family closer together than watching a research team stranded in the middle of a wintry wilderness deteriorate under the pressure of paranoia and the threat of death by deformed space parasite.
2. “Dead Snow” (2009)
The Norwegians in this story last quite a bit longer than they do in the John Carpenter’s delightful envisioning of the extraterrestrials in the Antarctic. Friends should stick together in the face of ravenous, undead Nazis, instead of mistrusting one another (although they sometimes accidentally murder each other), which is only one of many moral lessons this movie has to offer. Break out the popcorn and gather the whole family for this merry, red-speckled romp through the snowy tundra of Øksfjord.
3. “Gremlins” (1984)
Who doesn’t enjoy a good rendition of the classic tale about a boy and his dog? Or, in this case, his high maintenance mutant Furby. This film is recommended for beleaguered parents of young children who have started the inevitable, incessant begging for a household pet. Just let the little tykes spend some quality time with Gizmo’s foul, inbred-looking copies. When it’s all over just repeat Grandfather’s wise words, “Perhaps someday, you will be ready. Until then, [whichever species has been requested] waits.”
4. “Jack Frost” (1996)
Not to be confused with the 1998 box office flop starring Michael Keaton, “Jack Frost” teaches audiences of all ages that anyone can get a second chance and follow their dreams, even serial killers on death row. And if your dream is to transform into a snowman via genetic material bath and commit sex crimes…well, then you should probably ask the loving family member sitting beside you to get you a room at the nearest sanitarium for Christmas.
5. “Let the Right One In” (2008)
This Swedish masterpiece is all about young love. You’ve got your typical “boy meets girl-next-door, girl lives alone with middle-aged man, middle-aged man murders locals to feed girl’s thirst for blood” romance, bundled up in a touching coming-of-age tale. Even the adults will be able to sit back and reminisce about the good old days when they, too, cut their hands open to perform blood rituals with their significant other.
6. “P2” (2007)
Or perhaps you’d prefer a slightly more mature love story. This modern-day office romance is every bit as lighthearted as the preceding film (there’s even a dog), and the plot unfolds into a playful game of hide-and-go-seek (involving the dog) as a young career woman makes a thrilling connection with a dashing security guard (and his dog). And as for the little ones who may find a grownup relationship to be boring, did we mention that there’s a dog?
7. “Black Christmas” (1974)
Urban legend meets cult classic in an accommodating sequence of events that allows for lectures on the safety risks of being a member of a sorority (especially around the holidays), and a fun, family activity in the vein of Clue. Unfortunately, there is no dog in this Greek-lettered epic, but there is a cat and his name is Claude. Tell me that doesn’t excite you.
8. “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (1984)
You know it’s not Christmas until jolly, old Saint Nick (or troubled, 18-year-old Billy Chapman) shows up to an office party at a toyshop and slaughters everyone in attendance. Movie night may be silent indeed, but in hushed reverence and awe, as our youth learn the story of how one brave young man fought to save us all from the punishing force that looms over the world in the form of jelly-bellied Santa Claus.
9. “The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas” (1957)
No Winter Wonderland is complete without a Yeti. The title character is ever elusive in this black-and-white beauty, but this trans-Himalayan quest for the majestic creature will make you think and fill your heart with a childlike yearning for simpler times. When the credits roll you may find yourself asking profound questions such as, “Why aren’t we all Yetis?”
10. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
Finally, I present to you Tim Burton’s magnum opus and the year after which he forgot to heed the old adage, “Quit while you’re ahead, Timmy.” Children will find themselves gazing upon their fictional reflections in the Lock, Shock and Barrel (a.k.a. the kids who make life miserable for everyone), and older viewers may come to realize an odd attraction to claymation characters. A word of caution: This movie contains some graphic and disturbing content, and parents may wish to consider the suitability of this picture for young children.