After years and years of gut-wrenching denial, I must finally concede that I have become completely and bitterly disenchanted with Christmas. Mistletoe still has its benefits, of course, but I have officially surrendered myself to Scrooge’s cynicism. 

Cinema and television’s traditional festive fodder has done a considerable amount to exacerbate this lack of enthusiasm, with its unrelenting depictions of luminous nosed rein-venison, anthropomorphic snowmen and worst of all, TIM ALLEN! 

However, I rejoiced at the news that a cure was available which would reignite my Christmas cheer by awakening my mischievous inner-child’s thirst for iniquitous humour. Complete with excessive alcohol abuse, promiscuity and an angry dwarf punching a child in the carrot and mice pies, Bad Santa has all the ingredients to serve up the perfect Christmas black-comedy. 

Billy Bob Thornton is impeccably cast as Willy, the film’s eponymous fraud, who works annually as a shopping mall Santa with his elf helper, Marcus (Tony Cox), with the solitary intension of looting the place bare to sustain their financial stability before repeating their systematic criminality in another city the following year.

 The premise is simple, I know, but any Christmas film that begins with Santa soliloquising about children “pissing” on his lap, contemplative suicide and indulging in his favourite past-time of perpetuating complete and utter inebriation, you know you’re witnessing the start of something unconventionally genius. He then sways into an alleyway to vomit, and at that moment, only a minute or so into the film, this excremental precursor gives us a clear insight into what is going to transpire for the next 90 minutes: a degenerate’s delight. 

I have had so many conversations around this time of year when I mention Bad Santa as one of my favourite Christmas films, only to be met with scathingly naive remarks such as: “Bad Santa?! Isn’t that, like, a kid’s film?!” 

First of all, I am pretty sure The Muppets Christmas Carol is considered to be a “kid’s film”, and you don’t see anyone complaining about how unashamedly brilliant that is. And secondly, you could try and pigeonhole Bad Santa as a kid’s film, but instead of Santa coming down your chimney, you’re more likely to be greeted by social services at your door.

 Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff does everything in his power to establish then subvert any initial illusions of festive cheer or infantile excitement by exploiting his protagonist’s fruitful repertoire of profanity in the most inopportune contexts. Even the sultry and dulcet vocal tones of Dean Martin’s ‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow’ are rendered contrapuntal as Willy shatters a random car’s windscreen after nonchalantly launching an empty bottle of vodka across a car park.  

Willy is a deeply misanthropic, uncouth and transgressive character, but he manages to relinquish the self-involvement and slobbery that previously defined him to actively care for a quirky waitress with a taboo fetish for Santa Claus named Sue (Lauren Graham) and a bullied overweight child (Brett Kelly), who, like Willy, is a lonely social outcast from an unstable family unit. 

The purpose and responsibility instilled by these characters appears to be something that Willy was presupposed to reject violently, but his marginal rite of passage adds a sympathetic, yet not too sickeningly gleeful, component to the film. This might be a bit generic for some, but the dynamic within their triangular relationship is convincing enough. 

There are some exemplary supporting performances by the late greats John Ritter and Bernie Mac, whose office-based exchanges are almost the comedic equivalents of De Niro and Pacino’s face-off in Heat or Hopper and Walken’s in True Romance. 

The production values are pretty much exactly what you would expect from an offbeat comedy like this: nothing awe-inspiring yet solid and structured throughout. If mainstream comedy has taught us anything it is that the script and the performances are the engine room for these films and directorial prowess can afford to be subordinate. To be honest, with producers and executive producers on board with the exalted stature of the Weinstein and Coen brothers respectively, who is entitled to argue? 

If you think of yourself as a bit of a modern day Scrooge, then this is for you. If you fancy a distraction from the sugar-coated conformity of commenting on what a sweet old Santa Claus Richard Attenborough makes, then this is for you. If, for some reason, you want to replace the aromas of slow roasting turkey with stale alcohol or the heart-warming sounds of carol singers with blasphemous profanity, then you’d be absolutely crackers not to check out Bad Santa. 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

About The Author

Ross is a Screen Studies graduate from Manchester who can be found beaming with joy rather than wincing with discomfort at cinema's oddest, most experimental and depraved offerings.