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Top 10 Behind-the-Scenes Facts about Popular Christmas Movies
The festive season is here, and there’s nothing better on a cold December night than settling down with a cup of eggnog or a hot chocolate and watching a Christmas movie. This list features some of the most interesting facts about the making of popular Christmas films, from childhood classics to gruesome horrors. Read on so that the next time you’re watching one of these films with your friends or family, you can dazzle them with your behind-the-scenes knowledge.
10 Tim Allen’s Costume in The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause (1994) begins with Scott Calvin, played by Tim Allen, accidentally causing Santa to fall off of a roof and die, after which Scott has to take his place as Saint Nick. Although a pretty dark way to start a Disney Christmas movie, it was originally a lot darker, with Scott shooting and killing Santa. Though the murder was downgraded to manslaughter, the process of becoming Santa is no less arduous for Scott, but it was also arduous for Allen.
In an interview with ABC News, Allen revealed that it took three and a half hours to get the fat suit and make-up on, and undoing it all took about an hour and a half. Not only that, but he could only shoot scenes in the suit for about six hours before the lack of ventilation forced him to stop. The costume had other problems too. The original version of the Santa suit had bells that jingled as Allen walked and ruined the sound in some shots. This meant that Allen had to re-record some of the audio in post-production. Being Santa isn’t always a barrel of laughs then.
9 The Tarantula in Home Alone
Part of the joy of the Christmas season comes from watching the Wet Bandits being tortured by Kevin McCallister in Home Alone (1990). The stunt team took the majority of hits dished out by Macaulay Culkin (and he had his own stunt double in the form of 30-year-old Larry Nicholas), but Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci performed less dangerous stunts themselves. While the props department helped lessen the blow, such as providing fake ornaments for Marv to stand on, some things are hard to fake, especially without modern special effects technology.
For example, the tarantula on Stern’s face is real, not CGI or rubber. The actor, obviously not thrilled with having a spider on his face, asked if its stinger could be removed, but he was told it would die, to which he replied, “Yeah, but if you don’t take it out, I’ll die.” He was also concerned about his scream spooking the spider into attacking, but he was told it did not have ears, so there was no need to dub the sound. Thankfully, the shooting went well, and Stern’s blood-curdling scream at the real spider on his face is an iconic moment in the movie.
8 Chevy Chase Broke A Finger in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
It is well known that Viggo Mortensen broke two toes when kicking a helmet on the set of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and the resulting shot of him yelling in pain made it into the final cut. But did you know Chevy Chase broke his finger while filming National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)?
In the scene where Clark Griswold fails once again to get the Christmas lights to work, he takes his frustration out on the plastic decorations in the yard. Poor Kris Kringle was punched in the face, but that punch caused Chase to break his pinky finger. He carried on with the scene but proceeded to kick, rather than punch, the sleigh and reindeer because his finger hurt so much. Like Mortensen with his broken toes, the take of Chevy breaking his finger was used in the final film.
7 Rubber Feet in Die Hard
Die Hard (1988) is both a classic action movie and a classic Christmas movie (okay, start the debate now!). Early in the film John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, takes off his shoes and socks, but then the action kicks off, and he has to spend the rest of the movie barefoot. The German terrorists use this to their advantage, shooting out all of the glass in an office in the hopes of trapping McClane. But our action hero sprints across the glass, leading to a bloody scene where he has to pull the shards out of his feet.
Of course, Willis did not actually sacrifice his feet for the movie; he wore a pair of specially made rubber feet as protection. (Daniel Stern was also given fake feet to wear for certain scenes in Home Alone.) Willis’s fake feet are convincing in most scenes, but they are occasionally noticeable, such as when he dives for safety as the FBI shoot at him from a helicopter.
6 A Cameraman Was the Killer in Black Christmas
Sometimes you just need some scares in your Christmas viewing, and Black Christmas (1974) serves that function perfectly. Following a group of sorority girls who are stalked by a killer over Christmas break, director Bob Clark didn’t want the audience to see the killer.
We do, however, get to see from the killer’s point of view. These shots, which sometimes feature the killer’s hands and arms, were performed by cameraman Bert Dunk. Dunk developed a custom-made rig that he could mount the camera onto his body. This gave him greater flexibility with shots and meant that both of his hands could appear in the frame, such as when the killer climbs the trellis and in the bag strangulation scene.
5 Michael Caine’s Experience in The Muppet Christmas Carol
Being the only human in the cast of The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) meant that Michael Caine, playing Ebenezer Scrooge, lived in a Muppets world for the duration of filming. The movie set was designed so that the Muppets and their performers had enough space to perform. This meant that Caine had to watch his step on set as he walked along planks set up between the performers.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, although others were considered, including comedian and actor George Carlin. Part of the reason Caine was cast was that he told director Brian Henson, son of legendary Jim Henson, that he would play the part like he was working with the Royal Shakespeare Company: “I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” He prepared for the role by watching CNN coverage of Wall Street embezzlers, saying they “represented a very good picture of meanness and greed.”
4 Method Acting in Bad Santa
If you hate the holiday season, then Bad Santa (2003) is the movie for you. The plot follows an alcoholic conman, played by Billy Bob Thornton, posing as Santa to rob department stores. Thornton took a method-acting approach to the role, which meant he was sometimes actually drunk on set.
In an interview on Entertainment Weekly’s Couch Surfing series, Thornton revealed that before one scene where his drunken character works as a mall Santa, he “drank about three glasses of red wine for breakfast.” But that wasn’t all. He then “switched over to vodka and cranberry juice” before having “a few Bud Lights.” By the time he got to set, he stated, “I barely knew I was in a movie.” The scene was supposed to start with him standing on the escalator, but he was so drunk that he fell asleep. When he reached the top, he woke up and was confused for a few moments before realizing where he was and carried on with the scene.
3 Will Ferrell’s Improvisation in Elf
It is hard to imagine anyone but Will Ferrell as Buddy the elf in Jon Favreau’s Elf (2003). This is for a good reason, as many of the funniest parts of the movie were improvised by Ferrell.
Elf was made on a limited budget, and there was only a small window of time to actually shoot in New York. So the shots of Buddy first arriving in the Big Apple were shot guerrilla style. A small crew followed Ferrell around for the day as he had fun terrorizing actual New Yorkers while dressed as an elf. So the man in the red tracksuit that Buddy thinks is Santa was not an actor.
The improv didn’t end there, though. Ferrell’s overexcited screaming about meeting Santa in Gimbel’s was filmed without much direction. The scene at the beginning where Buddy has to test the jack-in-the-boxes was designed to get an authentic reaction from Ferrell. A crew member had a remote to control when the toy would pop out so that Ferrell had no idea when the scare would come.
2 The Practical Effects in Gremlins
When you feel sick of the gingerbread sweetness of most Christmas movies, the horror-comedy Gremlins (1984) is the perfect remedy. One of the best things about the film is its reliance on practical effects. The mischievous creatures were created by Chris Walas, who is also responsible for the stomach-churning effects in The Fly (1986).
However, puppetry was not the first thing director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnell, and executive producer Steven Spielberg tried. They wanted to use monkeys in gremlin suits but realized that it would not work when a test monkey ran riot. To be fair to the monkey, that is what a gremlin would do.
This led to the team going down the puppets route, but that too was fraught with difficulty. The puppets used for Gizmo were particularly challenging because they were so small and broke down often. This frustrated the crew so much that they came up with a “Horrible Things To Do to Gizmo” list. The hard work was worth it, though, because the film was a hit.
Although it was a success, some people thought the PG rating was too lenient (a gremlin does explode in a microwave), but an R rating was too harsh. This led to Spielberg, who faced the same issue with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), calling for a rating between PG and R. So thank Gremlins and Temple of Doom for the creation of the PG-13 rating.
1 Peter Billingsley Chewing Tobacco in A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story (1983) is the second Bob Clark movie to make this list, but this one is filled with childhood joy rather than college murders. The daydreams that Ralphie, played by Peter Billingsley, has are one of the best parts of the movie. In one of these sequences, Ralphie dreams about being a tobacco-chewing cowboy who saves his family from robbers with his BB gun. But one thing was real about this dream: the tobacco chewing.
In an interview on the “That Scene with Dan Patrick” podcast, Billingsley explains that he was given Red Man tobacco to chew, and being 12 years old, he went along with it. That is until 15 minutes later when the actor explains that “I start sweating. My stomach starts hurting, and I start throwing up.” When Clark found out that the prop department had given Billingsley real tobacco, he paused filming. Once Billingsley felt better, they restarted but gave him raisins to chew instead.
The incident didn’t put Billingsley off acting in Christmas movies though, as he appears as an elf named Ming Ming in Elf and as a ticket agent in Four Christmases (2008).