Bah, Humbug! Top Ten Christmas Villains

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December 16, 2020

Written by: Jim Smith

It’s Christmastime friends – let’s see and hear that holiday cheer!  Everyone likes to feel happy during the holidays, and with plenty of cheerful music and jovial specials, the amount of Christmas spirit available is virtually limitless. The undisputed hero of the holiday season may be the big man himself, but aside from Santa, there are many heroes – and a few villains – under the Christmas Tree.

As a devilishly delightful Christmas gift this year, I would like to share with you my ten favorite and iconic Christmas villains. Enjoy!

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#10 – Professor Hinkle

“If that hat is magic, I want it back” – Image: Rankin/Bass

A failing second-rate magician – Professor Hinkle doesn’t instill a whole lot of fear in anyone. But he was determined and devious enough to trap Frosty the Snowman and his friend Karen in a toasty warm greenhouse – long enough for Frosty to melt. Thankfully, Frosty was made of “Christmas Snow” which allowed Santa to bring him back in the blink of an eye and the whoosh of the wind. Professor Hinkle will always be remembered as a bumbling stooge, but if not for his truly magical hat, Frosty would never have come to life. Plus, his pet rabbit Hocus Pocus proved to be quite a useful travelling companion for Frosty and Karen. In the end, the professor was given the chance to make amends for his evil ways – given a penance by Santa to write “I’m sorry for what I did to Frosty” a hundred zillion times – a task that keeps him “busy, busy, busy.”

#9 – Hans Gruber

The devious Hans Gruber – Image: 20th Century Studios

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Is Die Hard even considered a Christmas movie? My short answer opinion to that question is “no”, but the fact remains that Die Hard is viewed heavily  at Christmastime, and actor Alan Rickman is too good to leave off this list. For these reasons, Hans is the only questionable Christmas/non-Christmas villain on my list.

Hans Gruber maintains a cool, calm, and cold attitude throughout the film. His personality is for the most part curt and reserved – in stark contrast to the film’s hero John McClane – played by Bruce Willis. He is cold-hearted, and will stop at nothing to claim what he feels should be his – namely $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds, stored in the vault of the Nakatomi Plaza. Hans has one major weakness – his inability to survive a thirty-story fall.

#8 – Commercialism

Charlie Brown and his commercial dog’s house – Image: Lee Mendelson Films

Charlie Brown was determined not to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. He is one of only two characters in Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown – with the other being Linus – who seek beyond the commercial exterior of the holiday to find the true meaning of Christmas. 

While we never “see” commercialism in the special, we all recognize it. According to Charlie Brown’s friend Lucy “We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” With Lucy wanting real estate for Christmas, Charlie’s little sister Sally asking for “tens and twenties”, and Snoopy entering a contest for the best decorated house to win “Money! Money! Money!” – Charlie Brown feels very little inspiration this year. But after an apparently failed attempt at picking out a Christmas tree for the school play, Linus comes through to explain the true meaning of Christmas to all in attendance. Linus’ wisdom teaches the whole gang how to look beyond the commercial qualities, to find the true meaning of Christmas. This special always gets me right in the heart.

#7 – Harry and Marv – The Wet Bandits

The Wet Bandits – Image: 2oth Century Studios

Let the shenanigans begin! While poor Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) was left behind from the family’s Christmas trip, ne’er do well crooks Harry and Marv – played to perfection by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern – seek to help themselves to the valuables inside Kevin’s home. The “Wet Bandits” as Marv coined them, spend the first half of the film scouting out Kevin’s house for a heist, an activity that usually lands them in a more confused state of mind. During the back half of the film, they try, and try, and try, to break into and rob the house. They are successful only in their ability to take a licking and keep on ticking. Upon completion of a semi-professional analysis of their physical traumas, it was determined that Harry and Marv should have died over twenty times collectively!

#6 – Oogie Boogie

“I’m a Gamblin’ Boogie Man” – Image: Disney

Similar to my #8 pick Hans Gruber, one could challenge this choice on the basis of whether it is even a Christmas movie? My answer – absolutely it is! The beauty of this film is that it spans the two most popular holidays of the entire kid year, so this film is up for grabs from early October through New Years.

This Gamblin’ Boogieman has no issue minimizing the life of the single most important “non-parent” in any kid’s eyes, but Santa is rescued in the nick of time by Jack Skellington, who might be considered the anti-hero in this film. I tend to be a bit squeamish when it comes to gore or gross imagery, so when Oogie Boogie comes unstitched at the end of his battle with Jack, I have to stifle a ralph.

#5 – Scut Farkus

“What are you gonna cry now?” – Image: MGM/UA

“He had yellow eyes. So help me God, yellow eyes!”

I rank Scut here at #5 as far as being iconic, but I personally consider him my favorite Christmas villain.  Scut Farkus isn’t just a villain to Ralphie – he’s a villain to kids everywhere. I knew a kid just like him growing up (who happened to be named Scott), and he had a buddy join him in his bullying ways. He even had his own ominous entrance music – the Wolf’s theme song from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” As a kid, the fast-motion chase scenes always had me howling.

What I like most about Scut Farkus as a villain is how threatening he was, then seeing him swallow his bullyish pride after Ralphie bested him in “The Scut Farkus Affair.” That win for Ralphie was a life moment, if ever there was one. He realized he’s much stronger than he thought he was, and his confidence increased tenfold.

And how awesome was it to see Scut’s nerdy combed hair beneath that stinky raccoon hat?

#4 – Abominable Snow Monster

“Bumbles Bounce!” – Image: Rankin/Bass

This one honestly and truly frightened me as a little kid. The giant legs. The camera zoom. The ominous music. And of course, the roar. I trust Burl Ives when it comes to Christmas, and if he’s scared, then I’m scared too.  When the Abominable Snowmonster first appears in the special, he is as large as a mountain. His size and scale with respect to the rest of the characters changes over the course of the show, and by the end he is barely any taller than Yukon Cornelius. To this day, I don’t know how Yukon and those adorable tiny dogs had the courage to push him off that cliff. Thank goodness “Bumbles bounce”!

#3 – Mr. Potter

“And Happy New Year to you, in jail!” – Image: RKO Radio Pictures

Mr. Henry Potter – played by Lionel Barrymore –  is an older man confined to a wheelchair, but that is where the sympathy ends. This man terrorizes George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) throughout Bailey’s adult life, set on sinking the Bailey Building and Loan so he can have full financial control over the little town of Bedford Falls. The neatest thing about this film is that we catch a glimpse of what life in Bedford Falls would be like if not for George Bailey – and it was not a happy place.

Throughout the whole second half of the film, Mr. Potter’s shadow looms large over everything – even when he is not part of the scene. His evil spirit gets into George’s head, actually convincing him that he is “worth more dead than alive” (shudder). That overbearing presence – pushing George to the brink of suicide – puts him near the top of my list.

When playing Monopoly with my kids – if one of them gets sent to jail, I can’t help but recite “And Happy New Year to you, in jail!”

#2 – The Grinch

“I wouldn’t touch you with a…thirty-nine and a half foot pole” – Image: MGM Television

The trophy for the most love/hate Christmas character goes to none other than the mean one, Mr. Grinch! The sinister green Who, with shoes too tight and a heart two sizes too small, may be the second most marketable Christmas character, behind Santa Claus himself.

Dr. Seuss introduced the Grinch in 1957, and Rankin Bass made him a Christmas special in 1966. In both cases, the Grinch was initially nothing more than a miserable creature who simply hated Christmas – until he learned the deeper meaning of the season. Several more recent iterations have given the Grinch more of a sympathetic backstory, but in all cases, the Grinch comes out of his sour Grinchy shell to return the Christmas he stole from the Whos, and celebrate the meaning of the season with them.

The Grinch may have the most well known and singable non-Santa theme song, perfectly performed in 1966 by the late great Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger, and performer in several iconic Disney Parks attractions). Thurl’s deeply resonating baritone voice is beautifully offset by Boris Karloff’s sweet and dainty narration. The three words that best describe him are as follows and I quote “Stink! Stank! Stunk!”

#1 – Ebenezer Scrooge

Bah, Humbug – Image: Disney

No literary work, movie, or television character has had as many rewrites, remakes, recasts, and retellings as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Ebenezer Scrooge.  This miserable greedy old miser has been played prominently by over fifty different radio, television, and movie personalities. Among my favorite retellings of this Christmas classic are Mickey’s Christmas Carol (with a shoe-in performance by Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck), Muppet Christmas Carol (with Scrooge played by Michael Caine), and Scrooged (where Bill Murray plays a Scrooge-like character).

Scrooge McDuck – Image: Disney

It takes a near-death dream experience through the past, present, and future to convince Charles Dickens’ rich and greedy old miser to change his ways. Much like the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge learns to be a better person, and he is able to salvage the remainder of his heretofore selfish and lonely life.

Scrooge’s name itself has become widely used in the English language to represent stinginess and misanthropy. How many people or characters can say they’ve had a word named after them? Bah, humbug!

Honorable Mentions

I kept my Christmas Villains list to ten, but there are a few that just missed the cut.

Burgermeister Miesterburger – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

“Toys are hereby declared illegal, immoral, and unlawful” – Image: Rankin/Bass

I must admit, I was never a huge fan of this Christmas special. To me, it felt like a pale imitation of the brilliant Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. But this is a fun name to say, and he does have a distinctly comical frowl about him, so a quick nod goes to Burgermeister Meisterburger.

Stripe – Gremlins

“Never feed him after midnight!” – Image: Warner Bros.

There was a period of time as a kid when Gremlins was my favorite movie, and Gizmo was one of the cutest and cuddliest film creatures of all time. But the bully of the Mogwai batch, Stripe, was trouble from day one. While I wouldn’t call Gremlins a Christmas film per se, it is set right in the heart of the Christmas season, and culminates in an epic department store battle to the death on Christmas Eve. And if you’ve seen this battle scene, you’ll agree with me when I say “Eww!”

Gus – The Ref

“Great, I hijacked my &$*#ing parents” – Image: Buena Vista Pictures

This film gets way too little recognition. I wouldn’t call The Ref a Christmas film, but it is pretty darned funny, and just happens to be set at Christmastime. When Gus – a crabby, impatient petty thief played by the hilariously quick witted Denis Leary – is on the run and needs a quick lift, he chooses the wrong couple to hijack. A dysfunctional married couple – hilariously and irritatingly played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis – put Gus’ patience to the ultimate test. While Gus is clearly the villain at the outset of the film, over time he becomes a sympathetic character, being worn down by the ridiculous dysfunctionality of the family. As Gus laments, “Do you know what this family needs? A mute.” Warning – this is not a film for younger ears!

Whoever your top ten Christmas villains may be, I hope you get to enjoy their antics this year, and for many more. While you’re here, please check out our top ten list of Christmas heroes too!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

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