There are many heartwarming Christmas tales, but not every Santa has a Miracle On 34th Street up his voluminous crimson sleeve. A smaller but still significant tradition is the Bad Santa story, both in comedy and in horror (and sometimes both). Here are 15 who would struggle to keep their seasonal job at Marks & Spencer.
Bad Santa (2003)
Bad Santa: Billy Bob Thornton
Starting with the obvious, here’s Billy Bob Thornton as Willie T. Stokes, spreading Christmas cheer in the form of alcoholism, robbery, misanthropy and a penchant for non-mainstream sexual activity. Somehow, for a while, it looks like things might go right for him. He even survives multiple gunshots. But he still ends up in jail.
Least Christmassy quote: "Why don’t you wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up first?"
Rare Exports (2010)
Bad Santa: He’s never fully revealed
Taking us deep into Finnish mythological territory, the genius of Rare Exports is that what appear to be evil Santas are in fact merely elves. Santa himself is the monstrous, never-fully-seen horned entity encased in a block of ice under a hill. Far from rewarding good children, this one’s modus operandi is simply to punish the naughty. Thankfully he never gets free, and his elves are farmed and sent off to international shopping mall grottos. Take that, elves.
Least Christmassy quote: N/A – he stays frozen.
Bad Santa: Peter Schrum
In the year 2247 evil mastermind Michael Stefani is using his dastardly psychic mind-power to turn people into zombies. Sent back in time to 1985 because of reasons, cop Jack Deth encounters Larry, a department store Santa who suddenly shoves a child from his knee and begins laying about him with the candy canes and reindeer antlers. Thankfully a bullet puts paid to him… in front of all the kiddies. “Mom, he shot Santa Claus!” wails one.
Least Christmassy quote: "Welcome to the 20th Century, Jack Deth!"
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Bad Santa: Robert Brian Wilson
This involves the troubled young Billy, who as a child sees his father murdered by a man dressed as Father Christmas. As an adolescent, Billy then has a tough time with some nuns, before going on his own Santa-inspired killing spree as an 18 year-old. He is, unlike his contemporary Jason Voorhees, quite clear about targeting people who are "naughty". There were four sequels. 1987's Part 2 saw Billy's brother Ricky taking up the Santa mantle. Better Watch Out was directed by Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop must have seemed a long time ago) in 1989. Brian Yuzna's Initiation ditched the Santa theme for some festive witches in 1990. And 1991's The Toy Maker took Pinocchio as its thesis and starred Mickey Rooney as Joe Petto. We swear we're not making that up. There was also a remake with Malcolm McDowell in 2012.
Least Christmassy quote: "PUNISH!"
The League Of Gentlemen's Christmas Special (2000)
Bad Santa: Reece Shearsmith
The wraparound story in The League Of Gentlemen’s poisonous Christmas portmanteau sees the miserable Reverend Bernice Woodall (also Shearsmith) trying to lock up her church on Christmas Eve. Several storytelling irritants stop by to waylay her, as we’re given gradually more information, in the form of childhood flashbacks, as to why the Rev hates Christmas so much. It seems her mother was violently attacked by a home invading Santa on a long-past December 24. The final awful reveal is that beneath the jolly red hood is the wife stealing, minstrel-faced nightmare circus ringmaster Papa Lazarou. Returning for the now grown-up Bernice, he takes her away in a sack as the credits roll.
Least Christmassy quote: "Hello, Dave!"
The City Of Lost Children (1995)
Bad Santa: Daniel Emilfork
Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s loopy second feature included the indescribable Daniel Emilfork as one Krank, who can’t dream, and is therefore hatching complex schemes to harvest dreams from stolen children. He’s sort of the anti-BFG. One sequence, played out in front of clearly quite genuinely distressed babies and toddlers, sees the skeletal Krank dressed as Santa, attempting to send his kidnapped charges off into happy dreamland with a lovely song. What actually happens is Krank getting increasingly furious and upset as the children react disappointingly and the record to which he’s singing along gets stuck...
Least Christmassy quote: "PETIT! PAPA NOEL!"
Futurama – Episode "A Tale Of Two Santas" (2001)
Bad Santa: John DiMaggio
In 2801 the Friendly Robot Company created a Robot Santa to distribute presents and punishments based on a programmed naughty-or-nice algorithm. Sadly, a malfunction meant that his standards became impossibly high (though he likes Dr. Zoidberg), turning Christmas into an annual Robot Santa attack with festively-themed weapons. Eventually defeated, Bender takes his place – arguably worse – and is immediately put on trial for crimes against humanity. And then both Bad Santas go on a rampage together.
Least Christmassy quote: "I’m the good Santa! I’ve got toys at very reasonable prices!"
The French Connection (1971)
Bad Santa: Gene Hackman
One minute a jovial Santa is singing Jingle Bells with a bunch of kids on the street. The next he’s chasing down and administering a beating to a knife-wielding street thug. He even loses his hat during the chase. Our Santa on this occasion is none other than Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle, displaying his only instance of being a Fletch-like master of disguise. It doesn’t last long. And if the beating was disturbing, the bizarre line of interrogation involving non-sequiturs about Poughkeepsie is even worse.
Least Christmassy quote: "When was the last time you picked your feet, Willie?"
Tales From The Crypt – Episode "And All Through The House" (1989)
Bad Santa: Larry Drake
Robert Zemeckis’ episode of the anthology HBO series stars Larry Drake as an escaped serial killer targeting older women. This is particularly bad news for Mary Ellen Trainor, who has herself just murdered her husband when Drake turns up outside her house in a freshly procured Santa outfit. Except it’s not looking all that fresh. Dismemberment with an axe ensues.
Least Christmassy quote: “Naughty or nice…” is all he says.
Seinfeld – Episode "The Race" (1994)
Bad Santa: Michael Richards
Taken with Elaine’s new communist boyfriend, Kramer uses the opportunity of his seasonal job as the Coleman’s department store Santa to disseminate left-wing propaganda to the kiddies. The hapless Mickey, trying hard to keep order as Kramer’s elf sidekick, is, as ever, unamused.
Least Christmassy quote: "Ho ho ho! A racing car set! Listen kid, you don’t want that. Those are assembled in Taiwan by kids like you. Then these Coleman pigs sell them for triple the cost. These capitalist fatcats are increasing their profit margin and reducing your total number of toys!"
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Bad Santa: Danny Elfman
The tragic tale of “pumpkin king” Jack Skellington, who tires of Halloween Town and becomes seduced by the magic when he stumbles upon Christmas. His attempts at a career change do not go well, particularly when his own townsfolk misunderstand the point and turn the festive season into an orgy of unpleasant prankery. They also kidnap Santa (after an abortive attempt with the Easter Bunny), who they’re under the impression is a fearsome character called Sandy Claws. Even poor Jack doesn’t quite get it, squealing “Hee hee hee!” at a child before delivering a carefully wrapped shrunken head.
Least Christmassy quote: "There’s children throwing snowballs / Instead of throwing heads / They’re busy building toys / And absolutely no-one’s dead!"
American Horror Story – Episode "Unholy Night" (2012)
Bad Santa: Ian McShane
The Christmas episode of American Horror Story’s asylum-based second season casts Ian McShane as Leigh Emerson, who ends up in the Briarcliff institution for a spree of Santa-dressed killings. It all starts when he gets into a scuffle with an argumentative Santa on the street, and kills him before donning the dead man’s costume for a bit of a rampage. Two years later, his incarceration takes an unexpected turn when he’s presented with a new Santa outfit and unshackled by Joseph Fiennes and Lily Rabe. It’s supposed to be a chance at redemption, but it doesn’t end well.
Least Christmassy quote: "There is no God, but there is Santa Claus!"
Trading Places (1983)
Bad Santa: Dan Aykroyd
Destitute and desperate as the result of a mean-spirited wager by his employers, Dan Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III infiltrates his firm’s Christmas party in a filthy Santa outfit (we never do learn where he got it from). After filling his pockets with bread rolls, roast beef and salmon, and taking a drink or two, he proceeds to plant a chemist’s worth of drugs in his rival Eddie Murphy’s desk, only to be caught in the act. He then pulls a gun and makes his escape with a bottle of Jack Daniel's. Later, in the pouring rain, having just been peed on by a dog, he tries to shoot himself, but the gun misfires. He can’t even get that right.
Least Christmassy quote: "Christmas, eh? I’ll give him a Christmas he’ll never forget!"
Run All Night (2015)
Bad Santa: Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson's alcoholic ex-hitman here agrees to a Santa gig in exchange for $800 to fix the heating in his hovel-like apartment. You can't really call it a good deal for the guy that paid him. He actually doesn't get off to a bad start: the kids at least seem to like him, and even when starts getting distracted and cuts one off mid-list, he rallies admirably by promising to read the rest on his way home to the North Pole. But he also makes a pass at the party-host's wife, offering her a place on his knee and promising that, as is apparently traditional for the Irish, he's "thin but long". And then he falls into the fireplace, which, sadly for Neeson, has a roaring fire in it at the time.
Least Christmassy quote: "Fuckin' kids! Shit!"
Doctor Who – Episodes "The Christmas Invasion" and "The Runaway Bride" (2005, 2006)
Bad Santa: Various Roboforms
Tapping into that fear of the ordinary that you get with Auton shop window dummies and their ilk, the 2005 and 2006 Doctor Who Christmas Specials gave us killer robot Santas to terrorise the kids. Turns out they’re space mercenaries called Roboforms, working first for the bony Sycorax and then for the spidery Racnoss. Given that they only ever seem to be needed during the festive season, their disguises as Salvation Army Band or taxi-driving St. Nicks seem reasonable. Their whirly-spinny bomb Christmas trees are perhaps a bit more of an indulgence. It’s nice that even homicidal androids have a whimsical streak.
Least Christmassy quote: They’re mute, but they play a mean brass.