Christmas cinema is a tradition in our household, each year's repetitive cinematic celebration consisting of the usual genre classics (and you probably know exactly which films these are). Once every few years, however, I become compelled to delve into the decidedly non-classic Christmas cinema (who decided this I can't rightly recall, but nevertheless I feel safe in saying the film I'm about to talk about rarely make people's traditional must-watch list), some are set specifically over Christmas while some of these films merely allude to the fact that they take place around the yuletide time of year. One of my absolute favourite of the former camp is one of the top masters of cinema's last film, Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Clearly set in the days right before Christmas, the movie opens up with married couple (Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, who were married in real life during the filming of this movie) getting ready to go to a lavish Christmas party. As insecurities insidiously winds their way through the couple's sexual consciousness, Tom Cruise seemingly falls into a gritty, and at times very intense, sexual odyssey, without every actually engaging in any sexual acts for the entire film – after initially sleeping with his own wife (Kidman) after the first scene of the movie; the night of the Christmas party. As Cruise's odyssey ramps up in intensity, things go from intriguing to anxious to vaguely violent and very possibly dangerous, as a secret sex society that cruise accidentally stumbled upon appears that they may do anything to keep their raging orgies firmly in the realm of the clandestine. Kubrick's catalyst for making this film, conceived with a friend years before it was actually made, was to create a “mainstream porno”, as he stated in his own words at one point, decades ago. In doing this, however, Kubrick intentionally utilized the cinematic construct of a classic thriller – with all the requisite scene of a noir-style thriller falling in exactly all of the right places, which gives Eyes Wide Shut that edge of imminent danger, when really nothing of the sort is actually happening on-screen during Cruise's odyssey. So it then comes back around that the anxiety of the entire film must hearken back to the sexual anxiety of our leading couple, and their marriage.
What's really interesting is that Eyes Wide Shut plays out like an entirely different genre film than the genre it's supposed to be representing – in other words, it's an erotic movie (or a “mainstream porno”), and an epic one at that, masquerading as a thriller. (Incidentally, film critic Roger Ebert wrote an amazing piece on this in 1999 when the film was first released). The next two non-Christmas Christmas films have exactly this stylish masquerade in place, covering their own inherent genres under the guise of other genres. Following Eyes Wide Shut is another genre epic, Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. This film alludes to Christmas only when one of the characters, one of the eight trapped in an out-of-the-way haberdashery, quietly plays an out-of-tune Silent Night on the haberdashery's long-forgotten piano. Tarantino's movie, which is really just a blown-up version of the film that put him on the map 25 years ago (Reservoir Dogs), is turned into a romp disguised as John Carpenter's The Thing complete with the same star of that film – Kurt Russell – and music from the great Ennio Morricone; and it even features a few blatant touches of the Italian giallo genre (which Morricone was extremely active in for decades). The Hateful Eight successfully utilizes Tarantino's obsessions with Italian genre films (giallo, spaghetti western), to muddy the fact that his epic is ultimately a remake of one of his own films, and through this patchwork of genre celebration he manages to create a very engaging and impressive film in and of itself, if you can make it through the three-hour running time. As Eyes Wide Shut is also nearly three hours long, I wouldn't recommend programming these films back-to-back for your crazy Christmas double-feature, unless you feel like sitting yourself in for a long winter's night.
And if you find yourself up for more following these epics, then there's one more in store. Jess Franco's Eugenie De Sade. Firstly, this is an important film in the Jess Franco cannon, as it stars his once-muse, Soledad Miranda, along with other beauties from his early-seventies repertoire. Taking place in Berlin in the middle of winter, Eugenie De Sade at no time states that it takes place during the Christmas season, but the lush photography creates a dreamy and alluring winter wonderland for the story to take place in. And much like Stanley Kubrick's mainstream-porno-opus (yes, I'm just about to make this comparison between filmmakers), Jess Franco hides his softcore and alluring thriller behind the masque of the more perverse Marquis De Sade, lending the Marquis' name to his offering. And while this might be one of his less-famous films, there should be no contention that Eugenie De Sade is not as interesting, or as amazing, as Jess Franco's more famous offerings – quite the contrary, in fact. Soledad Miranda provides her uncanny beauty in her dependent (and defiant) stoic-muse persona to the best affect in this films, the absolute best out of her six with Franco (in my opinion, despite the beauty of Vampiros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy)... This in itself could be considered a fantastical Christmas gift to Soledad Miranda fans. Eugenie De Sade is in actuality more of an Italian-style surrealist-thriller, and with everything Franco thrown into the sink here, including go-go-dancers, fashion photography, jazz, stand-up comedians, and of course all sorts of sex, one would be fair in dubbing this Jess Franco's masterpiece. Franco's sex & death in Berlin quite possibly could have been more the film Stanley Kubrick had in mind for Eyes Wide Shut. Nevertheless, both films end up presenting themselves to cinematic audiences – along with The Hateful Eight, as well – as films other than they actually are. Mind-blowingly, this all works to the advantage of all three of these utterly fascinating snowbound and Christmas-set films. So following this, all I can say is go down the Christmas rabbit hole and discover (or re-discover) these films and engage yourself in a very merry, off-kilter, bizarre, cinematic Christmas!!