Merry Scary Christmas: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Jim Carey
G, 104 mins
Somehow we, as a society, have agreed to forgive all Christmas movies their sins. Who cares if The Polar Express’s tinny sentiments and uncanny valley visages send us into our brain’s dank, lonely basement rocking for relief? It’s candy cane holly jolly Rudolph time! Who cares if the computer graphics work in Fred Claus looks like it was created by unruly monkeys and Paul Giamatti is clearly wearing sausages on his hands? It’s Santa jingle bells snow presents time! If it has even the barest whiff of Christmas magic, we’re shoving it in our eyes as deeply and dearly as the ornament shards that jam into Marv’s barefeet in Home Alone.
It is only this collective, willful fugue state that can explain how all the copies of the live action How the Grinch Stole Christmas have not been rounded up and thrown off the top of a snowy mountain. This horror, directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey, takes every ounce of charm and fun from the original story and the 1966 cartoon and twists it into a nightmare. Now, I love feeling like I’ve melted crayons onto my brain and have a unbelievable threshold for the absurd. But none of the stylistic choices in this movie work on any level. The attempt to replicate Seuss’s whimisical Who-ville ends up looking like a merry red and green dungeon. There is nothing fun about any of the props, makeup, costumes, or sets. They are either too loud, too mishapen, too garish, or too upsetting. This includes the makeup designs for the Who people themselves which gives everyone a naked mole rat face. The Grinch himself has the traditional matted, green mossy hair and odd stature. But they’ve include overly aggressive demonic, feline eyes and very canine nose and jowl area to his face.
The viewer is also treated to a profoundly convoluted and previously unknown Grinch back story. Jim Carrey’s Grinch’s beef with the Whos is not purely based on a noise complaint. He has a personal vendetta against all the Whos because he was neglected by them as an odd green infant. Also, in elementary school, the Grinch was ridiculed because of his beard and a grotesque metal angel he made for his Who love interest. This last episode sends pint-sized, sailor-suited Grinch scrambling up the snowy cliffs, screaming “I hate Christmas,” and establishing himself in a cave overlooking Who-ville. In this cave, he begins a life of eating glass, sleeping in a gross bed, torturing his poor dog, and spending time having his head smashed between a gigantic clapping monkey’s two cymbals. He also sneaks down the hill and spends time skulking around Who-ville in a hooded burlap cloak and weird mask tripping, punching, and terrorizing its citizens. We are given a sense that the Grinch is always watching, always hating, with a deep, bloody hate. He doesn’t just want to steal Christmas from the Whos (this traditional plot doesn’t kick in until around forty five minutes into the movie), you come to understand that he loathes them. He hates the Whos in a way that wouldn’t make a mass stabbing or gassing that surprising. Thankfully, the movie never plummets to such bloody depths. And we are left with a confusingly happy ending and the promise that the Grinch will finally get laid.
So, yes, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is not a slasher film. It’s not a psychological thriller. And no one is killing anyone. But, for me, it falls in the category of Christmas Horror. Just like a slow creep of gingerbread and peppermint flavored vomit climbing up the back of your throat after a vigorous shimmy to Jingle Bell Rock.