The Most Disturbing Christmas Specials Ever Made

By Lesley Coffin

Christmas specials are all about the ho-ho-ho and seasons greetings and messages of love, sharing and good will toward your fellow man.  In theory.  And then there’s these…eight of the most disturbing Christmas Specials ever made.  Some of them were meant to be disturbing.  Others, not so much.  But  you probably love them all, don’t you, you sick twisted sonofabitch…

1.  A Junky’s Christmas

When you think of a Merry Christmas does the Beat writer William S. Burroughs come to mind? Then perhaps you’ve seen the 1993 claymation special based on Burrough’s short story. A few days in the clink has left a heroin addict unable to score some drugs on Christmas Eve. He tries breaking into a car, steals a suitcase, and finds some human legs. But even once he gets drugs, his dealer is gone for the holidays and he has to settle for a little morphine from a doctor. He does something “charitable” with the morphine and finally gets that “immaculate fix” he’s dreamt of. Make sure the kiddies are in bed before putting this movie on, because the storyline isn’t just troubling; the animation is pretty grotesque as well. (1993, aired on VH1).  Watch the full version below.

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2.  Five Characters in Search of an Exit (Twilight Zone)

Imagine if Toy Story 3 had taken this approach with the subject of “disregarding” children’s toys.  Don’t know if there are children who play with figurines of bagpipers, hobos, and old-timey army majors, but, that’s the premise. In one of the bleakest tales anamorphizing toys since Velveteen Rabbit, Rod Serling tells of five toys (that’s the twist!) desperately attempting to escape an unknown empty cylinder which is actually a charity bin where they will wait until Christmas when they find their next home. Don’t worry about them though, for as Serling tells us in his reassuring voice ending the show “perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children, there can be nothing but love.” But that won’t make that terrified Major feel better as he yells out ‘we’re in hell” to his fellow occupants. (December 22 1961, CBS).  Watch the entire episode below.

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3.  Hardrock, Coco and Joe

One of the creepiest of the stop-motion Christmas special, Santa is just a weird looking old man with a chauffeur, administrative assistant, and some little boy to entertain him during his night ride. He brings along dwarfs (they don’t even get the name Elves) who do the hard work during the all-night sleigh ride (Hardrock drives, Coco is the navigator) but Santa gets all the glory for giving gifts. As for Joe, he has the creepiest story because according to the catchy song, Santa “has no need for Joe/ but takes him ’cause he loves him so”. Eventually that idea seemed to weird out some of the higher-ups and Joe got sick one year and became the onsite manager. Part of the weirdness was the animation, for Joe looked extremely small and boyish (although he had a very deep voice). (1951, WGN)

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4.  The Smurf’s Christmas Special

Who doesn’t want to see a hostage crisis in their holiday special? Apparently Christmas exists in the alternative universe of the Smurfs (what is the Jesus equivalent in Smurf Village?). An old man with two grandchildren must be saved when Gargamel helps a stranger kidnap the children. Turns out, the stranger is the devil and wants to sacrifice the children in a ring of fire-and only the Smurf’s Christmas singing can save them. As if the Smurfs weren’t odd enough. (December 13th 1982, NBC)  Watch a clip below.

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5.  Year Without a Santa Claus

There is something very odd in a children’s special to suggest Santa Claus has basically had enough of these damn, ungrateful children. A minor cold seems too much for Santa to work through and he is thrown into a crippling depression when he comes to believe no one cares about Christmas anymore (where this assumption comes from, no one knows). It’s up to two stupid elves (Jingle and Jangle) that run afoul of a couple of hillbilly cops in Southtown, who shoot them down (little commentary on gun control perhaps?) Southtown has very odd blue laws and somehow arrests them for “wearing funny looking clothes.” When a beloved reindeer is sent to the pound, where he is certain to be put down, it’s time to shut the TV off and actually enjoy the holidays. (December 10th 1974, ABC)

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6.  Andy Williams and the NBC Kids Search for Santa

It seemed the perfect combination of elements-Andy Williams (good), child stars (good), Christmas music (good), Finland (great). And yet, the combination of these elements made for one of the most worst Christmas specials ever made, which also happens to have pretty sinister undertones. Andy Williams-the singer all kids want to spend the holidays with-invites childstars from NBC (Cosby kids, Facts of Life, Punky Brewster) to spend Christmas with him in Finland. And only him. Like a 12:50 SNL skit, Williams comes across as one of the biggest creeps, especially when the slumber party starts. And somehow,it won an Emmy. (December 20th 1985, NBC)

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7 .  Woodland Critters Christmas (South Park)

Leave it to the guys of South Park to take a precious story about animals preparing for Christmas and making it a horrifying (but hilarious) bloody tale of satan worshipping animals, anti-semitism, and hints of The Lion King. South Park always does a fantastic idea with their Christmas specials (Mr. Hanky is a memorable character), but this unexpected special really fits the South Park mentality, considering the only thing odder than children cursing has to be cute fury animals playing out reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby. And if that weren’t enough, the word abortion comes up many, many times (we even have an original Christmas Carol about it). (December 15th 2004, Comedy Central)

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8.  A Very Brady Christmas

Who was the creative mind at the network who thought this was necessary and why does it run every year? For a reunion movie of a popular tv show, the only thing worse than the production value has to be the acting of a number of former child stars who didn’t make the transition to adult acting. Even if you loved The Brady Bunch, there is very little “fun” to be found in this boring movie, that tends to be more depressing than wacky (divorce, unemployment, Mr. Brady almost dying in a building collapse). We know how Bobby’s career ends in tragedy in the dramatic spin-off of this movie (The Bradys). And yes, Alice does wear the same blue uniform-by this time for fun. (December 18th 1988, CBS)

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Lesley Coffin is the Features/Interviews Editor for the movie site Filmoria. She has also written the books Lew Ayres: Hollywood Conscientious Objector (2012) and Hitchcock's Stars (2014), and currently writing a third book. Look for her brand new podcast, "Lake Shore Drive to Hollywood" part of the Second Wind Collective podcast network. Follow on twitter @filmbiographer for thoughts on movies and cat pictures.
Lesley Coffin
Lesley Coffin
Lesley Coffin is the Features/Interviews Editor for the movie site Filmoria. She has also written the books Lew Ayres: Hollywood Conscientious Objector (2012) and Hitchcock's Stars (2014), and currently writing a third book. Look for her brand new podcast, "Lake Shore Drive to Hollywood" part of the Second Wind Collective podcast network. Follow on twitter @filmbiographer for thoughts on movies and cat pictures.