Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weird Christmas Holiday Traditions: Part Deux

‘Tis the season, yet again and this year I decided to revisit my list from Christmas 2009 - Weird Christmas Holiday Traditions.  

When I wrote that list I’d thought I’d hit some of the weirdest Christmas traditions that I’d ever heard of, but as it turns out there’s all sorts of kooky stuff going on out there in the world!

5. KFC Christmas Dinner (Japan)

You read that right.  Nothing completes a Christmas dinner in Japan like a big ol’ bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The mid-70s in Japan were a great jumping on point for many American businesses in the land of the rising sun.  Japan was soaking in American culture at a breakneck pace, and that meant one of its greatest exports: fast food.

KFC was trying itself in Japan’s markets and would craft an unusual and incredibly beneficial foothold with Japanese fast food patrons.  Rumour has it that a Christian missionary ordered a bucket one Christmas because they couldn’t find a proper turkey to have for dinner.  Seeing an opportunity, KFC jumped on this and marketed their buckets as the perfect Christmas dinner.

Japan is not known for their Christian demographic - which is around 0.5 to 1% of the population.  They do, however, love just about any American and commercial event they can be part of, so Christmas is actually incredibly popular there.  It’s a day when the whole family can have a meal, and has been marketed as a night when the woman of the house (this is Japan, remember) doesn’t have to prepare a meal.  They can simply order KFC!

It’s so popular as Christmas dinner that you have to order your buckets a month in advance.  Yes, a month minimum.  It is completely commonplace to call in early November to order your chicken, and line-ups leaving KFCs on December 23rd, 24th and 25th snake throughout shopping districts in Japan.

In one night more than a half a months worth of chicken will be sold in KFC’s nationwide in Japan, and as much as 7000 pieces of the Colonel’s original recipe will be sold in specific locations around major cities, like Tokyo.

Colonel Sanders would be so proud.

4. Sticky Loksa (Slovakia)

This has to be one of the messiest traditions I’ve ever heard of.

In areas of Eastern Europe there is a tradition meant to bring good fortune and richer harvests in the following year.  Said tradition is to throw their dinner all over the house.

Loksa is a traditional Christmas dish served in areas of Slovakia and the Ukraine.  Made of sweetened poppy seeds, bread and water the loksa are prepared and served with the Holy Supper of Christmas, known as Stedry Vercer.  Before the meal begins, however, the man of the house (you never hear this stuff in North America anymore!) will throw loksa at the ceiling and hope for it to stick.  The more loksa that stick, the better the harvest will be in the new year, or so the story goes.  Other bread/potato-like dishes that are often thrown at the ceiling include bobalki and kutia.

Why?  Poppyseeds are considered lucky in these European countries, which goes back to Pagan beliefs that spreading poppyseeds in front of one’s door would keep evil spirits at bay, as they are so pre-occupied with picking up and counting each seed they won’t be able to enter your home at night.

That’s not all the food throwing that goes on, though.  Walnuts are commonly thrown into each corner of the room before dinner, as a blessing on the house.  Another practice is to break open the walnuts and use them to divine the next year’s fortunes.  Each quarter of the walnut represents the four seasons of the year, so if one portion is particularly big that means good fortune, but conversely if one section is blackened or shriveled it could mean bad luck in the following year.

I’m not sure why they throw the walnuts into the corners of the home as a blessing, nor why poppyseed-infused foods sticking to the ceiling are a good thing, but I do know one thing: the five-second rule better be in full effect!

3. Goat Burning (Sweden)

To begin explaining this one, we need some back story on the Yule Goat.  In Scandinavia, a goat is often connected to their Christmas traditions and is one of their major symbols for the holiday.  There are stories in Finland of an ugly goat creature that would scare children at Christmas (or Yule) demanding gifts, or of an invisible goat that would make sure that the preparations for Yule were carried out correctly.

This all stems from old Norse traditions where goats, meant to represent Odin’s goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr, were sacrificed to Odin for fortune in the new year.  The story went that Odin would slaughter his two goats, which pulled his chariot, to feed guests during the winter feasts, and would resurrect them the next day.

At the turn of the century a Father Christmas character was introduced into the Scandinavian culture, but the Yule Goat still plays a prominent role in their Christmas traditions.  In fact, Father Christmas rides a goat in most Swedish stories and a common prank carried out around Christmas is for a small goat figure to be hidden in a friend or family’s home.  When or if they find the Yule Goat, they have to attempt the same thing in another friend or family member’s home and so on and so forth.

Now comes the story of the Gävle Goat.  In 1966, a consultant, Stig Gavlen, decided to erect a massive Yule Goat made entirely from straw and wood in the Swedish city of Gävle.  The first of these massive tributes to the Yule Goat would reach as high as 43 ft and were created by Gavlen from 1966 to 1970 and then from 1986 to 2002.

Why the 16 year break?  It was due to the frustration caused by a brand new tradition of destroying the Yule Goat.

At the stroke of midnight, New Year’s 1967, the 3-tonne Yule Goat was set ablaze and burned to the ground.  As a result, those involved with the building of the goat stepped up security the next year, and the goat was kept out of harm’s way.  The very next year, however, mischievous Swedes found a way to burn that goat to the ground as well.

After another year of successfully protecting the goat, Gavlen gave up trying and for several years the Nature Science Club of Gävle created a Yule Goat, that was even bigger than the earlier iterations.  These did not fair any better, however, as almost every year after 1969 the Gävle Goat has been destroyed by any means necessary.

The goat has not only been burned to the ground on many occasions, but because of increased security there have been different methods employed.  These include: being kicked to pieces, as the goat was fireproofed, shot with flaming arrows from afar, destroyed by natural events like blizzards and on one occasion a daring Swede even rammed into the goat with their car.

There was even one famous attack that involved hackers.  Several live webcams were aimed at the goat to keep it under constant surveillance.  A group of hackers took over the webcams placing text across them that read “burn the damn goat”.  A security force was then placed on the goat, but because of incredibly cold temperatures, the security guards ducked into a nearby restaurant to warm up, which is when a hidden vandal force attacked burning the goat to the ground.

Countless volunteers have attempted to protect the goat, and on several occasions they’ve succeeded, but conversely there have been times when multiple goats were erected only to be destroyed several times in one year.

On November 27th, 2011 a new Yule Goat was placed in the city square of Gävle.  It was sprayed down with water, which created a thick layer of ice around the goat, in hopes it would be more difficult to burn.  On December 2nd, however, the goat was once again burned to the ground.  

If you want some more information about the Gävle Goat, it has a blog and a Twitter account.  Have fun.

2. Krampus (Austria)

The Krampus is a mythical creature that appears in the Christmas stories of many Alpine countries, like Austria, Bavaria and Tyrol.

The Krampus is a cloven, horned beast that plays foil to St. Nicholas.  The story goes that when St. Nick would be out bringing good little children toys and goodies, that the Krampus would be trolling about for bad children.  When he came across one, he’d stuff them into his sack and then take them back to his lair to eat for Christmas dinner.

Krampus goes by many names, including Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, and Klaubauf.  He is almost always depicted as a Hellbound, devil-like creature, but some times is depicted as a man in a black suit or a creature attempting to hide as a man.  

One can easily see where the Krampus comes from, as St. Nicholas is often depicted as an old man with a long, white beard, much like many depictions of God, and the Krampus itself very much depicts the Devil.  The history of Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) itself, however, holds ties in mummering, which I explained in my last Weird Christmas Holiday Traditions list.  

On Krampusnacht, celebrated on the eve of St. Nicholas Day (December 5th), revellers will dress as the Krampus or witches and parade through the city, scaring children with chains and their grisly attire.  This practice is not only popular in Austria, but is slowly being adopted into areas like Northern Italy and even the United States.

There was a time when Santa Claus was not only a giver of gifts to the good, but a punisher of wrong-doers.  In this day and age when children are allowed to have gifts at Christmas, even when they’ve been naughty, there are many adopting Krampus traditions in a way to bring the fear back to Christmas.

No.  I’m dead serious.

1. Rotten Auk Feast (Greenland)

Think of Christmas dinner in your home.  The turkey with all the fixings, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy; the works.

Now go to Greenland for Christmas.  You’ll get to experience a whole new Christmas bird: the auk.  The auk is a small, penguin-like bird that lives on the open sea surrounding Greenland. There a very popular Christmas dish is made from the auk known as kiviak.  It’s not baked to a delicious brown in your oven, though.  No.  The entire dead bird is wrapped in seal skin and left under a rock for a few months.  It’s then removed at Christmas time, the rotten organs and innerds removed and then the skin is eaten as a delicious Christmas treat.

I kid you not.

Around 500 of the birds are placed in a single seal skin.  The process was developed by the Inuit culture in the Greenlandic area, and it caries forward as a tradition to this day.  Much like turkey dinner, it isn’t only enjoyed at Christmas, but also as a feast during weddings and birthdays, but is the common Christmas treat in the area.

Many fish dishes are fermented in similar fashions throughout Asia, and several liquors are created from the process.  The guts removed from the auk in making the kiviak is, however, incredibly toxic and is often simply pushed out through the removed head of the bird, once the seal skin is dug up.

It is described as smelling and tasting like a strong cheese called Stilton and is considered a delicacy in the area.

I can’t imagine when I would think it was a good idea to bury a dead bird under a stone for several months and then risk toxic poison to enjoy the fermented skin, however, to each their own.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cole's Desert Island Graphic Novels

Like most people who read them, and most who create them, I've never been very comfortable with the term "graphic novel". It's certainly flawed and fails to properly define plenty of the works that carry its label. Really, it's a marketing term more than anything else. Without going into all the details (you could find them easily enough at a place like wikipedia) I'll just come to the main problem it presented to me when trying to come up with this list: should I choose only works that fit the flawed term at least a little better, that is, works such as V For Vendetta and The Dark Knight Returns which tell a single stand-alone story or could I include any comic book story that made up an arc or even part of an arc of an ongoing series?

If you ask my pal Aristotle, he'd tell you only the former type is worth a damn. As he so succinctly (ha!) puts it in Poetics:

A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.

So...yeah. There's that.

Just the other day I bought a trade paperback of Black Panther called Black Panther The Man Without Fear. It's just a six issue story arc but technically, it does meet the requirements of the term "graphic novel". It and other trades like it are probably the loosest example of the term and again, I don't want to get into a dissertation on the problems said term presents. But another problem I had with including books of this second type is the other spectrum - that certain collections are absolutely huge. They usually exist in what is called "omnibus" format and can contain up to forty issues of content. And often these omnibuses are so long that they don't just include one story arc but several. So am I cheating if I pick one of these?

After all, The Crow may be a great graphic novel and truly is one of my favourites, but in a desert island situation, can it really compete with a huge omnibus that contains thirty-five issues and four story arcs of my favourite run on Daredevil? And the manga Akira is easily one of my favourite works of graphic fiction (that works better, doesn't it? But of course, not all comics are works of fiction) but it's huge - well over two thousand pages. It's broken into six volumes. Each volume on its own, is technically a graphic novel but the entire work could never be collected into a single volume. So would I really want to pick for my stay on a deserted island one volume that's really just part of a larger story? It's different than picking a graphic novel that features say, a super hero because most of those are part of an ongoing continuity. But Akira has a beginning, middle and end.

You can see just how hard it was to figure all this out. In the end, I decided anything that fits the flawed, blanket term of graphic novel was eligible. This actually made things more difficult but I'd like to avoid making lists that have strange exceptions unless they're absolutely unavoidable for maintaining the spirit of the list.

So I apologize for this overly long intro but I really wanted to explain just what my process was for making the selections I came up with. Enjoy.

5. The Sandman: Endless Nights (Neil Gaiman and various artists)
This one actually isn't either type of graphic novel I explained above. It's a collection of stories - each one focusing on one of Dream's siblings, those being: Death, Desire, Despair, Destruction, Delirium and Destiny, and one featuring Dream himself. Each story is illustrated by a different artist or pair of artists and there are some pretty big names. Two of my own personal favourites, Bill Sienkiewicz and Frank Quitely, are among the contributors.

So naturally each story has a very different art style, including painting and collage. They're all beautiful to look at and make Endless Nights the most visually beautiful title in my graphic novel collection.

Given their subject matter, the stories are very unique and metaphysical in nature. Of course it's in this arena that Gaiman is most comfortable as a writer. This really adds to the re-readability of this collection (important because it isn't very long) and, combined with the quality and diversity of art, makes it absolutely essential for my desert island exile.

4. Batman: The Long Halloween (Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale)
I'm still not entirely sure which Batman graphic novel is my favourite, and I may never be, but I've decided that The Long Halloween is the one that makes the most sense to be shipwrecked (or plane crashed?) with. Obviously I need something with Batman. And I figured I should have a Batman that tells one definitive story that can stand completely on its own. That still didn't really narrow things down all that much. Great works by Frank Miller, Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns both fall into this category and they also fall into the category of greatest Batman stories ever told. Both were given serious consideration for this list. But I eventually reasoned that if I was going to have just one Batman story (having more than one would seriously hinder my desire for variety in my five chosen graphic novels) then it should feature Batman in his element. That is to say, it should be something you could refer to as "classic Batman". So Dark Knight Returns was out. This was difficult as I reread that one very frequently.

In the case of Year One, while one could argue that the definitive telling of Batman's origin and first efforts at fighting crime in costume does have him in his element, it's just too early. He's only just learning and trying out his techniques. Also, the story doesn't have any of his iconic enemies - it's too early for them too. Finally, I decided that David Mazuchelli's art, while perfectly suited to the story being told, was just too ordinary for me to choose it over so many other works.

Arkham Asylum A Serious House on Serious Earth remains a masterpiece of Batman lore and it's another that I reread all the time. The painted art by Dave McKean is surreal and haunting. It's probably the most successful attempt to date in delving into Batman's complex psyche as well as the twisted psyches of his greatest foes. Plus a detailed history of the asylum itself is given, which is great. But at the end of the day, this is a fairly short story that's limited to just one location. That's just as it should be, of course but it causes the book to lose points in desert island appeal. I need a story that has Batman doing more.

The Long Halloween is also quite early in Batman's career. Gordon still isn't commissioner, Dick Grayson has not yet been recruited and the Falcone and Maroni crime families are still the primary criminals of Gotham. But some of Batman's colourful rogues gallery (as well as Catwoman, who to be fair, did show up in Year One) have started to appear and several are included in this story even though they don't play major roles. The Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, the Riddler and Scarecrow can all be seen here and they all play their part in keeping the story moving. Loeb even includes Solomon Grundy for some reason and tries to inject lamewad criminal the Calendar Man with some credibility.

But one of the major elements of The Long Halloween is the origin story of Two-Face. While Batman tries to keep the mobs in check and simultaneously hunts the serial killer known only as Holiday, the tragic fall of Harvey Dent is unwoven and it makes for compelling reading. One of Loeb's greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to juggle several balls in the air without becoming overwhelmed. He manages to tie all the elements together very effectively - probably more effectively than in his later effort, Hush, where I think the story suffers a bit from having too much going on - and the ending is satisfying but still leaves you wondering a bit. The story's main concern is the hunt for Holiday so it's very much a mystery. Even though reading it once reveals the solution (or does it?), I still feel it has great re-read value.

As far as giving us Batman "in his element" I think The Long Halloween succeeds tremendously. He's playing detective, fighting gangsters, visiting Arkham, tangling with some of his "theme" villains and doing his little tango with Catwoman. And since it's still early in his career we aren't distracted by any Robins, Batgirls, Oracles or intrusions by the Justice League. He's operating on his own. Along with the long slide of Dent we're also treated to the evolution of Batman's relationship with Gordon. This is where they're really starting to understand and trust one another.

I love Sale's art for this story. It has this sharp, positively retro look that perfectly depicts an episode that takes place fairly early on in Batman's career. I especially love the way he draws gangsters with their guns and pin-striped suits. His style has a very noir feel and most Batman stories, particularly those during his early years, are noir at their core.

As later works would prove, Loeb and Sale have a wonderful, enduring chemistry but I don't think it's ever better displayed than in The Long Halloween.

3. From Hell (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell)
You knew Alan Moore would get at least one spot here. At least, I hope you did. The man's a genius. And like many super-talented people...eccentric. But still a genius. Don't believe me? Then maybe you should read From Hell.

On the simplest of levels, From Hell is a good desert island choice because it is long. Clocking in at 572 pages, there's also an extensive (sixty-six pages) appendix wherein Moore explains the research and thinking that went into many of the scenes. So once you're finished reading an epic tale of historical fiction (and my very favourite in the genre), there's still lots more.

Chronicling the Whitechapel Murders of the late 1880's attributed to the killer known most (in)famously as Jack the Ripper, From Hell is not a whodunnit or mystery of any kind. Instead it immediately shows us the identity of the killer and much of the story is from his own point of view. What is revealed is that the murders were part of conspiracy involving the British royal family and freemasonry. This theory was originally presented in the 1976 novel Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight. Moore has said that he doesn't personally believe this Ripper theory is at all likely (it's been discredited across the board) but that it makes for great fiction.

And great fiction it is indeed, with lots of non fiction woven in. We're given a wonderfully accurate view of Victorian London as a society. The architecture, which is central to the plot, is painstakingly reconstructed by artist Eddie Campbell. In black and white, the story is extremely gritty and visceral. No punches are pulled, nothing has been prettied up or glamourized. In a story filled with sex and violence, neither element is in any way stylized; it's just there, presented as banal to uncomfortable to downright disturbing.

All the major characters were real people and the historical backdrop is completely accurate. Moore proves that even in such a setting, he is in no way encumbered. If anything, he absolutely thrives in this environment, throwing in some cameos by other historical figures of the time. He also uses the narrative as a forum to explore his own ideas on the nature of time - something he also did to an extent in Watchmen.

Finally, Moore ably points out that many elements of 1880's London and the Ripper murders themselves, would foreshadow the direction the twentieth century would take. After completing the final kill, Gull wipes his hands and says "...the twentieth century. I have delivered it." Parts of the plot are very metaphysical in nature so even beyond the simple ingredient of a great story, there's compelling reading. I'd have to be as crazy as Gull himself to not take this comic masterpiece with me to read on the beach.

2. Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Omnibus Volume One (Brian Bendis, Alex Maleev, David Mack)
There was simply no getting around including a large omnibus volume and the first half of Bendis's seminal run on the Man Without Fear gets the nod.

After Kevin Smith's eight issue Guardian Devil arc kicked off the new Marvel Knights Daredevil series (which years later would be reconfigured back into the original series's numbering), the next few issues were handled by Mack, who did both the art and writing for the Parts of A Hole arc (issues 9 through 15) before Bendis arrived to write (with Mack still on art) the arc, Wake Up. This is where this omnibus begins but then it jumps over the next six issues which were done by Bob Gale (writer of the Back To The Future screenplay, you may recall) and artists Phil Winslade and David Ross. It picks back up at issue #26 with Bendis being joined by Maleev. The two would embark on an acclaimed four-year run on the book together. Omnibus Volume One concludes at issue #60.

Maleev's art style is perfect for a character like Daredevil. As much as I enjoy Guardian Devil, its art (by Joe Quesada) is just a little too cartoony and clean. But Maleev presents a jagged, grainy look further enhanced by stark, muted colours (lots of black and red) that meshes wonderfully with the stories Bendis tells.

As for the stories Bendis presents, they're as good or better than anything Frank Miller ever did with the character. Wake Up is cool because it's not so much about Daredevil but rather about how he affects others around him. Reporter Ben Urich (perhaps Daredevil's strongest supporting character; he's certainly more interesting than Foggy) visits a young boy in the hospital to try to piece together exactly what happened in an encounter between Daredevil and particularly pathetic costumed criminal, Leap Frog. The boy is actually Leap Frog's son and he's been in a near catatonic state since the event, communicating mostly through drawings. Mack's unique style really brings the story to life.

Subsequent arcs trace more familiar territory: Daredevil vs the Kingpin. But Bendis isn't just recycling old material here. The arc Underboss, which traces the roots and eventual result of an attempted coup within the Kingpin's organization, is extremely well-crafted and satisfying, giving us a tight story from lots of different angles. Bendis really excels at telling stories out of sequence. The fallout from the arc has Daredevil's secret identity - known to the Kingpin and many of his men for quite some time (read Born Again by Miller) - is finally leaked to the outside world and Matt's life comes crashing down around him. This leads to the next arc, Out.

The following arc, a shorter, three-issue story, Trial of the Century, wherein Matt defends Hector Ayala, the White Tiger, in court, features art not done by Maleev. While the story isn't as good as other arcs, it does serve an important purpose in kickstarting the evolution of Hector's niece, FBI Agent Angela del Toro, who would eventually become the new White Tiger.

I could take you through the next few arcs but realize this is getting tiresome. Just know that these are some of the greatest Daredevil stories ever told.  We get more from the Kingpin, Echo and Black Widow, as well as an appearance by Typhoid Mary and the introduction of Matt's next great love interest, the also blind Milla Donovan. Tons of great stuff. Hell, it's tempting for me to pick Ominibus Volume Two as well.

1. Watchmen (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons)
I first heard of Alan Moore and Watchmen sometime in 1999. At the time I was still trying to find my way into the world of comics. All I really knew about was Marvel and Batman. But I craved comics that weren't just about superheroes. I knew there were lots out there, I just didn't know where to begin. Some four years later, when I did begin, I began with....superheroes.

But anyway in the spring of 2005, with just more than a year of serious collecting under my belt, I went to audition for a musical downtown. I just happened to be wearing my Superman t-shirt and struck up a conversation with a teenage kid who was also into comics. He asked if I'd read Watchmen, and I, embarrassed, said I had. For the next few minutes I faked my way through a conversation about it. I quickly realized that while this story seemed to be yet another one about superheroes, there was something very different about it. Luckily we only discussed it in broad strokes so none of the plot was given away.

When I got home later that day, I didn't have the part but I wasn't too broken up over it. I hadn't been expecting to make the cut and had only gone for the experience. No, what was really on my mind was Watchmen. The next day I went back downtown and bought it. It was only the third or fourth graphic novel I'd ever bought and the first that wasn't Batman or X-Men. As much as I wanted to devour it right away (as is my usual custom), I decided to pace myself, reading only two chapters a day.

One week later my life was changed. I'm not kidding. Reading Watchmen changed my life. I decided then and there that someday, somehow, I would be part of the comic book industry. No, I can't draw but neither can Alan Moore (as far as I know). I'm still working on it to this day. The other thing that happened was I really stepped up my comic intake.

I know I haven't gone into any sort of analysis of Watchmen but I guess there's very little I could add that hasn't already been said. It's a brilliant work of fiction that hasn't aged at all to my mind. It's intelligent, powerful, introspective, philosophical and dynamic. Every panel crackles with energy and drips with story. While the ending is a little weak compared to the rest, I can't even call this a flaw. It's still a damn good ending. All I know is that I haven't gotten tired of it yet and I couldn't imagine not taking it with me if I had the choice.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Evil Santas

December is upon us, and it just wouldn't feel like the holidays without writing a Christmas list. This year I'm focusing on the bearded obese man that so many of us worshiped growing up in the hopes of acquiring merchandise. While most Santas that we see at the mall or in Coca-Cola commercials are joyous and giving, this list will be about some malevolent incarnations of Kris Kringle.

It seems weird to take an iconic figure of peace and goodwill and turn him into a deadly villain, but it's happened more times than you'd think. I guess there's just something naturally entertaining about turning a character into the polar (*snicker*) opposite of what you'd expect.  If you're wondering why Jack Skellington's turn as Sandy Claws from Nightmare Before Christmas didn't make the list, it's because even though he was a terrible Santa Claus and nearly ruined Christmas entirely, he had good intentions from the beginning and wasn't out to hurt anybody. Without further ado, here are five depictions of Santa Claus as a totally evil bastard.

5. Bad Santa (2003)
To kick off the list we have Billy Bob Thornton playing a con man who works at different malls as their Santa Claus to eventually rob them. It took me awhile to get around to watching this movie despite the almost cult following it has as being one of the funniest holiday movies. I enjoyed it and had some good laughs, but mostly I found Billy Bob's character frustratingly terrible. Maybe that's the point, but let's get to what matters here:

HOW EVIL IS HE? Well, he's more of an asshole than evil, but I feel he has so many despicable qualities that they result in a truly horrible Santa Claus. Let's see ... he's an alcoholic, he's a criminal, he's profane, he's sleazy, he's disgusting, he hurts people, takes advantage of people, and does all of these things in front of children. He even beats up some kids at one point.

Plus, just appearance wise, how shitty is he as Santa? With his baggy, stained Santa suit hanging off his sickly frame, disheveled fake beard over his scraggly real beard, and piss-soaked pants. How he ever pulled off any crime with this ruse is beyond me. He is the definition of failure and just an awful human being.

4. Futurama's Robot Santa
Originally I wanted this list to only cover evil Santas from movies, but this recurring character from "Futurama" was deserving enough to make the cut. Robot Santa was built by The Friendly Robot Company to evaluate how nice or naughty people were to sort presents accordingly. Sadly, a programming error resulted in his standards being set too high, and now everyone is deemed naughty in his eyes. So on Christmas Eve, Robot Santa flies to earth and punishes the naughty with Christmas-themed murder.

HOW EVIL IS HE? Pretty damn evil. Robot Santa lives at the North Pole on Neptune in his Death Fortress. He's known for chopping off people's heads and stuffing their neck holes with toys. Don't know about you, but that sounds messed up to me.

3. Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)
For the price of one movie you get two evil Santa's. The film starts with a young boy, Billy, witnessing his parents being murdered by a crazed criminal in a Santa suit. Billy then grows up in an orphanage under the strict watch of nuns. Then as a teenager he gets a job as a stock boy in a toy shop, is forced to play the part of Santa for the Christmas season and ... well ... snaps.

HOW EVIL IS HE? As evil as an axe murderer who goes on a killing spree on Christmas Eve. Well, he also kills people with bow and arrows, x-mas lights, antlers, and other stuff, but mostly he wanders around with an axe. Billy is a psychologically scarred individual who has a mental breakdown over his traumatic memories of Santa Claus and ends up taking on the role of a vengeful Santa out to punish those who are "naughty".

Something I find interesting about Silent Night is how upset it made people: TV ads for the movie were pulled off the air for the depiction of Santa as a killer, Siskel and Ebert had a particular hatred for the film, and angry parents picketed outside theatres until it was pulled after only two weeks. The film remained stored away for another year before it got released on video. It could have been a bigger success since it opened the same week as Nightmare on Elm Street and was out-grossing Freddy until protests ruined all the fun. This film was a pioneer of the Evil Santa genre, and I suppose the concept of a killer St. Nick was just too evil for the public to handle at the time.

2. Santa's Slay (2005)
This movie tells the tale of the devil's son who lost a bet to an angel and was forced to become Santa Claus for 1000 years. And now, having fulfilled his commitment to the wager, Santa goes back to his evil ways and goes on a killing rampage through a small town.

When I first approached this movie, I was bracing myself for a very painful viewing experience. I mean, we're talking about Goldberg, the wrestler, playing Santa Claus in a horror film. But I'll be damned if I wasn't completely entertained. Yes, the acting is bad. Yes, the sets and props are visibly cheap. Yes, the premise is stupid as hell. However, you show me Santa Claus kicking a dog into a ceiling fan or running an old woman off the road with his bison-pulled sleigh, and I'll show you a guy who's having some holiday fun.

HOW EVIL IS HE? Well, besides doing the stuff I just mentioned, Santa racks up a considerable body count with some creative kills while spouting corny one-liners. He obliterates a family of six in about two minutes and later wreaks havoc at a strip bar.

As ridiculous as it is, I can't recommend this movie enough. It embraces the stupidity of it all, and manages to be funny and entertaining. With a running time of about an hour and fifteen minutes, you can't afford NOT to watch this with friends and laugh your balls off.

1. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Okay, so we've seen Santa so far as an alcoholic douchebag, a deadly robot from space, a schizophrenic serial killer, and the son of the devil. Where do we go from here?


Deep under the mountain of Korvatunturi an archaeological dig unearths the hidden tomb of Santa Claus - a supernatural being that would kidnap and punish bad children. The movie, set in a remote community near the mountain, follows the story of one family and their neighbours as they discover the truth behind the myth of Santa Claus.

HOW EVIL IS HE?  Like many of the other entries in the list, Santa's goal is punishing the naughty instead of rewarding good children. We don't really know how he's "punishing" children, and we don't really understand what he is, but that just adds to the unsettling quality of a silent, frail old man with an ominous look about him. Something between a mythological creature and demon, this Santa is easily the most sinister and frightening I've come across.

The film itself is a mix of comedy, horror, and fantasy, but it captures some moments of intense suspense and dread. Sometimes it's laughably ridiculous, sometimes it's deadly serious, and I really enjoyed the careful film-making employed to balance the two extremes. I can't go into much detail here without spoiling some of the surprises the film has to offer, but I'll say that it creates an exceptional evil Santa using a "less is more" approach and it's worth your time to check out.

Merry Christmas! I hope you've been good this year. Or else!