It’s the Christmas season and amongst all the joy and laughter comes the utter strangeness that is the Christmas concept. Whether you’re talking about Jesus or Santa or whoever else, the whole season is a cultural mixing bowl of strange pop culture. That makes it all too fun to laugh at.
Throughout its many decades, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its many spinoffs have given us much to celebrate. So many bad movies have been pointed at and made to look even more foolish. Like all good TV shows, there would be the occasional Christmas episode. These Christmas-themed riffs are always fondly remembered by the fans and tend to be revisited every December.
But what’s the best? I’ve decided to rewatch all of them and rank them based on my own fair and just rating system pulled directly out of my ass. I’m covering all corners of the Riffverse for this: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike Nelson’s offshoot Rifftrax and Joel Hodgson’s Cinematic Titanic. I wish I could have included the Film Crew – the other offshoot created by the Rifftrax guys – but with only four episodes, nothing really fit with the season.
I’m also disqualifying any of the Rifftrax shorts releases as individual entries. Everything on the list has to be at a minimum of 20 minutes. As for the ratings, each entry will be graded on four things:
- WTF Factor: Sometimes the best fodder come from movies that are just so strange that you have just as much fun explaining them to others as you do watching them.
- Watchability: I enjoy a good bad movie, but sometimes a bad bad movie can be a bear to sit through no matter how funny the jokes are.
- Riff Quality and Extras: The movie may be a mess, but how funny are our guys giving it the business? Not to mention the stuff that isn’t part of the movie itself, like skits and such.
- Christmasness: You’re watching this because of Christmas, right? Well, how much does it really have to do with Christmas?
I wanted to go with a top 10 list here by including Space Mutiny to round it all out, but I decided against it. It didn’t feel right that it would rank so highly when the only reason it’s on the list is because one of the supporting characters looks a bit like Santa Claus. So let’s get going with the Top 9 Best Christmas Riffs!
9) NESTOR THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY (1977)
Rankin/Bass, the people behind such holiday classics as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Year Without Santa Claus, go in a more biblical direction by telling the story of Nestor, a donkey born with exceptionally long-ears. These ears end up getting him in trouble and make him the laughing stock of the animal kingdom. After the death of his mother, he’s greeted by a cherub who gives him an important mission to find Joseph and Mary, as he will be instrumental in the survival of their baby.
- WTF Factor: There’s an awkwardness to the special based on the desperation to reinvent the wheel on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The basic concept is incredibly similar, only it has none of the charm and fun that makes Rudolph such a holiday staple. There’s not much else to mention other than the truly bizarre ending. In the beginning, Nestor and his mother are taken care of by a really abusive donkey breeder named Olaf, who angrily throws them out into the cold, where Nestor’s mother dies. After Nestor’s journey to Bethlehem, the story ends with him returning home and all the animals – AND OLAF – are all happy to greet him, like they somehow heard news of Jesus being born over Twitter or something. 4
“All those of you who rubbed raw my soul with your bitter mocking laughter: THANK YOU! You truly are my friends!”
- Watchability: Despite being 25 minutes long, Nestor is rough to get through. Like I said, it’s Rudolph with none of the charm. Remember the beginning of Rudolph when the other reindeer make fun of him for his nose? Imagine that for about twenty minutes straight. Mix that with Nestor’s mother’s death and the whole thing is teeming with depression. Even worse is the soundtrack, made up of the same forgetful song played again and again with different lyrics. It isn’t even weird enough to be enjoyable. But hey, at least it’s short. 2