If you’re anything like me (dead inside), the phrase “bad Christmas movie” is redundant. Even if there are the five or so tolerable ones, they’re broadcast to death this time each and every year.
The silver lining for us queers is that holiday movies have been getting steadily more gay-friendly, with recent rom-coms Happiest Season and Single All the Way. The downside is that these queer characters are mostly incorporated into the Hallmark formula. Is it too much to ask that our Christmas movies are a little less traditional? Maybe they could even be as campy and delightfully weird those old claymation films we all know were queer.
Until then, we’ll have to settle for the forgotten campy Christmas classics of yore. If you’re looking to escape payday season for Hallmark Channel’s execs, the following low-budget disasters are great to laugh at with friends, partners, or the fine folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax.
The Magic Christmas Tree, 1964
The Magic Christmas Tree sounds like it would be your typical seasonal fare—something to do with Christmas magic averting a holiday disaster. Instead, the film’s plot is likely to have you questioning your sobriety.
A boy climbs a tree to save a black cat named Lucifer, and a witch grants him a magic ring containing a seed, teaching him a magic spell. He plants the seed and summons a talking tree that grants him wishes (while sounding suspiciously like Paul Lynde). And if all that wasn’t camp enough, this movie has a Wizard of Oz gimmick—a black-and-white real world and a technicolor dream world. If this film has a point (and that’s a big if), it’s that you should be careful what you wish for: you wanted a weird Christmas movie, and you definitely got one.
Santa Claus, 1959
With a title as basic as Santa Claus, you’d expect a straightforward retelling of the Santa Claus story. What we get instead is a badly dubbed Spanish-language film in which Santa Claus, his best friend Merlin, and his team of multicultural child servants battle Satan and his demon henchman Pitch. If Pitch pulls off his diabolical plan to…cause some mildly inconvenient vandalism, Christmas will be ruined!
This might be the only film on our list that could represent its own new religion, combining Santa and Merlin with biblical characters. Not to mention, Santa lives with Merlin, and Mrs. Claus is nowhere to be seen—make of that what you will.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, 1964
It was only a matter of time before Santa went sci-fi. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians brings jolly St. Nick face-to-face with “aliens” in tragic green makeup. Contrary to its title, there’s not as much conquering as there is kidnapping going on in this festive family film.
Nothing says Christmas like trapeze artists and elephant manure.
When a Martian family realizes that their children are obsessed with Santa Claus after seeing him on Earth TV, they decide to take him hostage. But first they have to kidnap some Earth children in order to find out where he is. After a lot of kidnapping, they succeed and force Santa to bring holiday cheer to the red planet. So in some ways, the film gives Santa a taste of his own medicine—he could probably hear his elven slaves cackling all the way from the North Pole. The film eventually earned a holiday special on queer icon Elvira’s Movie Macabre, which tells you all you need to know about it.
The Christmas Martian, 1971
We’re not done with Martians just yet—but this time, the aliens are coming to earth. The Christmas Martian follows the ET-esque antics of a Martian who, for reasons we mere earthlings cannot fathom, calls himself Poo Flower.
Upon landing in a small town in Quebec, Poo loots a convenience store, evades the cops, and makes friends with the local children. Classic Christmas pastimes. While the parents are rightly suspicious of Poo and his friendship with their kids, Poo escapes again, taking his new friends on a tour around the world on a magic flying llama. And along the way, Poo does some sledding and skiing, so the movie technically fulfills the “Christmas” part of its title.
Santa’s Christmas Circus, 1966
Nothing says Christmas like trapeze artists and elephant manure. But like most of the films on our list, Santa’s Christmas Circus is not what its title would lead you to suspect. It is less “circus” and more “clown slurs his way through a one-man show.”
After inexplicably watching Christmas department store displays through an “atomic time machine” for far too long, Whizzo the Clown takes a group of children to the North Pole on a magic carpet ride. Once there, they visit Santa, play with his collection of incredibly racist toys and leave. As one should. If there’s one thing watching a clown unravel before your very eyes is good for, it’s curing your coulrophobia.
Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny, 1972
Where do you even start with this drug trip of a movie? Of course: Florida.
Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny begins with Santa Claus getting himself stranded in Florida, a fate no one deserves. Using his mind, he summons some children and asks for their help in pulling his sleigh out of the muck. Those children in turn summon the ice cream bunny (no explanation) to give Santa a ride. Meanwhile, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn watch the entire scene from afar, for some reason. All in all, this movie is for the five of you who think Christmas doesn’t already come with enough proprietary characters.