1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
The holidays are all about family and togetherness, but they're also about bottling up the long-held, deep-seated resentment that simmers beneath all that plastered-on good cheer. As the saying goes, "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family." Take Clark Griswald, the hapless, clumsy everydad played by Chevy Chase in the Vacation movies: He's a Homer Simpson figure, a half-assed father and husband who tries to make up for his neglect through grand gestures that often backfire spectacularly. His failures could be the stuff of Bergmanesque psychodrama, but since holiday movies are supposed to be uplifting and fun, he just gets hit in the head a lot, which is the more socially acceptable way for family audiences to sublimate their rage. Just putting up the 25,000 imported Italian Christmas lights turns out to be a slapstick ordeal, with Chase stapling himself to the house, falling off the roof, getting hit in the face with ladders on two separate occasions, electrocuting himself, and causing a citywide blackout and two sewer gas explosions. However, his groin remains unthwacked and unscorched throughout the film, which is an oversight on writer John Hughes' part—a mistake he would never make again.
2. Home Alone (1990)
Just one year after Christmas Vacation, writer-director John Hughes asserted himself as the undisputed master of exorcising familial discord through slapstick juvenilia (and a soupçon of unearned, cynically applied sentimentality). But unlike the earlier film, Hughes' orgy of pain humor doesn't neglect the nether regions: When bungling burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern try to break into a suburban home, 'lil Macaulay Culkin commences an evening of booby-trapped surprises by popping Pesci's crotch with a BB gun. (Any higher caliber and it's not funny. That's how groin comedy works—it's only funny if it can heal.) From there, Culkin beats back the would-be intruders with iced-up stairways, shards of glass and exposed nails to the feet (Stern), a blowtorch to the scalp (Pesci), an iron dropped from the laundry chute (Stern), a burning-hot doorknob (Pesci), and a couple of swinging paint cans for the knockout.
3. The Family Stone (2005)
Heading into the third act, this noxious holiday comedy-drama has painted itself into a corner: As their cancer-stricken mother (Diane Keaton) presides over her last Christmas, one of her sons (Dermot Mulroney) is flirting with his uptight girlfriend Sarah Jessica Parker's sister (Claire Danes) while the other (Luke Wilson) may or may not have had a drunken rendezvous with Parker. How to keep all these revelations from dragging this ostensibly uplifting fare into a swamp of a high-drama malaise? Slapstick! Already emotionally distraught, Parker gets hits with a swinging door while holding a hideous-looking grey casserole, most of which winds up on her blouse. Meanwhile, the two brothers get into a slap-fight that spills into the kitchen, where the table collapses and the bitchiest sibling (Rachel McAdams) slips on the greased-up linoleum. Everyone has a good laugh about it—in fact, it's so funny that they forget the soul-shattering betrayals from two minutes earlier.
4. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
As the Orlando-based driver of Cab #69 (we're already laughing), Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) gets into a lot of mischief, like when his jettisons a passenger out onto the highway with his crazy driving and then still drops his corpse off at the airport, Weekend At Bernie's-style. But when a hobo who looks like Santa—or is it the other way around—becomes his next fare, it's up to Ernest to save Christmas by, say, posing as an old woman with a neck brace and pancake make-up or as a hillbilly snake wrangler who holds up his pants with a rope belt. But while Ernest absorbs his share of punishment (kids, don't use bolt-cutters to cut electrical wire and be sure to stabilize your Christmas tree before drinking out of the punchbowl), it's Santa who gets to dish it out. When a film director tries to force an actor (and the aging Santa's hoped-for replacement) to say the phrase "son of a bitch" with children present, the big guy cold-cocks him in the mouth.
5. Scrooged (1988)
This update of Dickens' A Christmas Carol—the 3,549,488th on record—re-imagined Ebenezer Scrooge as cutthroat TV executive Frank Cross, played with gleefully sardonic flair by Bill Murray. The film pulls off a funny bit of stunt casting with David Johansen (of New York Dolls fame) as the cab-driving Ghost Of Christmas Past, but the real punishment comes with Carol Kane as the Ghost Of Christmas Present. With her squeaky voice perfectly matched by a frilly fairy-princess outfit, Kane twitters around, speaking sweetly to Murray while beating the shit out of him. It's all here: crotch kicks, slaps, eye pokes, ear grabs, right hooks. That'll learn Frank Cross to be such a dick.
[pagebreak] 6. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
Some holiday movie hard-knocks are justifiable, like when chipper Kris Kringle (played by the inimitable Edmund Gwenn) raises his cane in the original Miracle On 34th Street and bops a fussy psychologist square on the noggin. It becomes a major story point: the psychologist (played by Porter Hall) is already irritated that the man Macy's has hired to play Santa Claus actually thinks that he is Santa Claus, and when Santa attacks, it's just the ammunition he needs to get him committed to an insane asylum. But there's still something so satisfying about Kringle's swift crack on this buffoon's head. It's a blow against every tin tyrant and annoying naysayer we suffer in our daily lives. So conk him again, Father Christmas!
7. Home For The Holidays (1995)
It's bad enough that director Jodie Foster and screenwriter W.D. Richter turn Chris Radant's comic story of familial distress over Thanksgiving into a sucked-dry psychodrama in which the cynical artsy types are the heroes and the perfectly nice Middle American homebodies are the villains. But then, in an attempt to inject a little chaos—and, theoretically, comedy—into the proceedings, Foster stages a scene in which put-upon housewife Cynthia Stevenson winds up with the whole Thanksgiving turkey in her lap after her hipster brother Robert Downey Jr. botches the carving. In the movie, this is supposed to be Stevenson's just desserts, for having the audacity to be a prissy perfectionist who tries to host a nice meal for her parents and siblings. When she rises and storms out of the house, that should be the audience's cue to exit, too.
8. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)
It's always "tool time" whenever Tim Allen appears on screen, and many of the ill-timed pratfalls from his Home Improvement days have carried over to his role as Saint Nick in The Santa Clause trilogy. (Can three Santa Clause prequels be far behind? There are fan sites that need updating!) Those who remember the original film will recall that Allen gets the job after accidentally knocking the real Santa Claus off his roof, killing him and Christmas. So it's only fitting that The Santa Clause 3 finds Allen's status threatened by another would-be Kris Kringle in silver-coiffed power broker Jack Frost (Martin Short), who wants to be the man associated with this prestigious holiday. How best to steal Santa's magic coat? Step 1: Travel back in time using a magical snow globe. Step 2: Pull oversized wooden candy cane out of suburban lawn. Step 3: Hit him where it hurts—square in his jolly gut.
9. A Christmas Story (1983)
The onscreen pain in A Christmas Story—a family-friendly scream that most thirtysomethings probably know by heart—isn't of the slapstick variety, but it hurts nonetheless. The whole movie, of course, is about a kid trying to obtain a gun, and who eventually does shoot himself in the eye (sort of). But before Ralphie gets the prize, he beats the crap out of the school bully and gets his mouth washed out with soap. (Dad gets a bowling ball to the nuts, too!) But the real pain of A Christmas Story hurts more than any comical roof-falling: When Scott Schwartz—who would later, sigh, go on to do porn—puts his tongue on a frozen flagpole (on a "triple dog dare"), things get very uncomfortable. It's not an urban legend, kids—don't put your tongue on frozen metal.
10. Christmas With The Kranks (2004)
When a Chicago couple (Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen, again) sensibly—some might even say heroically—decides to opt out of celebrating Christmas they're punished by their neighbors. And it's not just the usual passive aggressive shunning. First Dan Aykroyd and a gang of suburban thugs verbally bully Curtis when she refuses to decorate her house. Then Aykroyd stops short of assaulting her as she drives away. Allen responds by freezing his sidewalk to discourage carolers, a plan that predictably backfires. But the pain doesn't really begin until he and Curtis have to frantically make their home Christmas-ready thanks to the unexpected return of their grown daughter. In the subsequent scramble, Curtis scraps it up at the supermarket in pursuit of a canned ham and Allen falls off a roof installing an ornamental snowman. The choice is clear: Public disgrace or pain. Excruciating, humiliating, heartwarming pain.