It Will Scare The Dickens Out Of You!
Ok, I know that Charles Dickens is responsible for A Christmas Carol, but as a child of the eighties, I recall one and only one version of his tale. That version is the 1988 classic Scrooged, starring Bill Murray and directed by Richard Donner. Instead of a dark and gloomy 1800's time period, we are placed in a dark and gloomy 1980's time period. A time where television rules and creates greedy misers such as Frances Xavier Cross, or Frank to his....well, employees. He has no friends.
This film is and will always be gold in my eyes. It takes a tired, worn story and gives it the dark, comedic twist it needed to make it new again. Murray of course, is hilarious. He is also able to be cruel and heartless, which is a change of pace for him.
It has the same premise of the classic, but also brings a bit of an update to it.Frank is the modern day Scrooge; cold, heartless and greedy.Not an accountant this time around though, he is a ruthless TV President, who only cares about himself. The Bob Cratchet of the film is Cross' assistant Grace, who is played by Alfre Woodard. It also has the "Marley", who is Frank's old boss and mentor, Lew Hayward, played by John Forsythe. In this version however, Marly isn't a ghost, he is a rotting, golf clothes-wearing ghoul with a rat in his skull. They also throw in a disgruntled former employee,the shotgun-toting Elliot Loudermilk, who is played perfectly by Bobcat Goldthwait. This definitely adds to making this very different from the classic story. No shotguns for Dickens.
The three ghost rule applies here still, but also with a much needed change-up. The Ghost of Christmas Past is a dirty, undead New York City cabbie played by David Johansen. He does the usual, " I'm going to show you your upbringing" and brings Frank to tears, which Frank blames on a waste of a perfectly good five pounds of veal. He then shows Frank the love he lost, Claire, played by Karen Allen. On his way from mailboy to President, he pushes her away for power and money, living up to his Scrooge-ness.
Next up we have the Ghost of Christmas Present, but instead of a jolly, obese redhead, we get a full grown pixie, played by Carol Kane, who has a thing for beating the crap out of Frank......especially with a toaster. and headbutts. and nut shots. She shows him Grace's family, and how even though he screws her over and over again pout of raises and time off for her voiceless son, they still make due and are still happy, much like the Cratchet family. She then shows him his own family, his brother James, who is played by Murray's real life brother John. They are enjoying some holiday games and laughs as James opens the present from Frank, which was supposed to be a bath towel (He's your brother!) but thanks to Grace, is a VCR instead. And we all know how much VCR's were back then. Big difference in presents. Despite his coldness, his family and associates remain in good spirits and aren't letting the man bring them down.
After some beatings and heart warming moments, we are now in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Future. It is a seven foot tall Grim Reaper-like monster, with a tv screen as a face, and skeletal body. He shows Frank the coldness of Claire, if she had listened to Frank's advice about only caring for herself, as well as one of the most memorable parts of the film for me; cremation scene of Frank himself. He sees his brother James and his wife in a very luxurious crematoriam, sobbing. Frank then proceeds to inspect the casket, which he soon finds out is his own. Next thing we know, Frank himself is in the casket, slowly moving into the fire. As this happens, he begins screaming for James to not let them do this to him, his legs ablaze. As a child watching this, I was horrified. Which is probably one of the many reasons I love this film.
In the end, Frank sees the errors of his ways and makes good by walking right onto the set of his show and telling the world to be better to each other, all while confessing his love for Claire and winning her back. Classic Dickens.
Despite the comedic aspects and Christmas Carol outline it follows, it throws in some gems. Whether it be cremation scenes, or frozen homeless men that Frank refuses to help. The real winner of this film for me though, are the special effects. Albert Delgado and Steven Foster provide this film with corpses, eyeballs, and other various body parts to really make this film stand out from other family holiday favorites. The creature designs for the ghosts are spectacular. The Reaper's little chest friends are very eighties, and very loved by me. Combine all this with a stellar score by the great Danny Elfman, and it really sets the mood and the stage for a stand alone classic.
A very nice modern retelling of a tired story done to death, it is a breath of fresh air in the Christmas story department. If you've seen it and love it as I do, you know how high the rewatch factor is. If you have lived in a cave for the past 25 years and have never seen this wonderful movie, I suggest doing it this holiday season. Grab the kiddies, or Grandma, or both. Sit down with some fruit cake or some Nog, and enjoy this great film. Yule love it!
- Dick Greco