Saturday, December 7, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Mike McCrary on Bad Santa

In 2002 I was an unpaid Hollywood intern. I picked up dry cleaning, made copies, over-nighted porn, made coffee runs, made sure Prozac prescriptions were filled, and… I read screenplays.

A butt-load of them.

It was great.

It was how I learned about structure, about story beats, character, dialogue and all that high-faluting writer shit you hear so much about. I could never put a price tag on what I learned during that time.

Every week a kindly Producer who knew I was an aspiring writer, would hand me 5-10 scripts to read. Stuff he liked. Scripts he thought were good and ones that were being filmed or were close to going into production. That way, I’d get to see the movie down the road but I would have the movie in my head already because I’d already seen it.

The first script he gave me was a little slice of something called…

Bad Santa.

I was told rather casually, “Bill Murray was attached, but he bailed. Think Billy Bob is doing it now.

Now, I love Bill Murray (who doesn’t?) but the thought of living in a world where anyone other Billy Bob Thornton played Willie is a one I do not want to be a part of. When the aliens pick through the remains of us humans and they catalog the moments of our species’ historical significance, they will hold Bad Santa as the defining work of Billy Bob. They will also poo-poo the notion that Bad Santa is anything other than the perfect Xmas movie. Some will argue, sure, they always do, but fuck them.

That’s right.

Fuck those snooty-bitch-ass-intellectual aliens that think they know what’s what in this life.

Bad Santa will forever be a special movie to me for reasons I’ve discussed above but make no mistake, this is a damn fine, funny film. One that still makes me giggle as it did when I first laid eyes on the script’s pages while sprawled out, half hungover, on that beat-up couch on Yucca Street in Hollywood.

To keep my soul soothed, during the holiday season I watch Billy Bob, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac and John Ritter all brilliantly perform the asshole version of the Christmas spirit.

Go do likewise.

Mike McCrary is a screenwriter and the author of the Remo Cobb series, Relentless and Genuinely Dangerous. His latest novel is Hard Hearts. Keep up with him at his website and follow him on Twitter @mcmccrary.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Fred Venturini on L.A. Confidential

All you need to know about LA Confidential and how it relates to Christmas happens within the first five minutes.

Officer Wendell "Bud" White, played by Russell Crowe with a fierce glare that somehow lasts the entire movie, starts pulling down Christmas lights and a plastic Santa to lure an abuser into his front lawn to take his well-deserved police brutality.

During the booze-fueled Christmas party, the cops get their blood (and blood alcohol content) up to the point where they're bold enough to start a brawl with freshly-booked Mexicans suspected of attacking police, and the press is there to make it front-page news.

And you thought your company Christmas party was off the rails?

Christmas descends into the background thanks to LA's constant, mild temperatures, ample sunshine, and much of the movie taking place where the brightness of the holiday season is too scared to touch: the broken-down apartment where assaulted women are held hostage, negotiation rooms with suspects pissing their pants, musty "down in the basement" records rooms full of boxes of manila folders from twenty years ago you can almost smell through the screen, just to name a few.

The film follows three likable and morally-flawed police officers trying to navigate the politics and procedures of 1950's Los Angeles. Justice becomes a balancing act where doing the right or wrong thing doesn't matter as much as the headlines the higher-ups can spin out of the results.

Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) has sold his soul for celebrity, working on a Dragnet-style TV set as a consultant and executing public narco busts for the local tabloid magazine.

Officer White hates woman abusers, but he hates the code of ethics even more and throws hands at fellow officers, innocent suspects, guilty suspects, and it never seems to matter to him until his rage turns him into the thing he hates the most.

Edmund Exley (Guy Pierce) is the straight-arrow playing politics to fast-track his career, no matter who is impacted. What kind of movie is LA Confidential? It's the one where Exley is asked if he'd shoot a suspect he knew to be guilty to prevent a trial, and answers no, and two hours later, he shotguns a criminal in the back . . . and that's his heroic arc.

The bolstering force of the movie is Kim Basinger's Lynn Bracken, a Lana Turner lookalike hooker that ties all of the movie's main threads together, most notably the inner workings of Bud White. She won an Oscar in 1997 for the role, and she stands out as a calming, seen-it-all influence that knows all the angles long before the cops kick over the rocks to see the roaches that crawl underneath it--roaches she knows all too well.

The film is one of my go-to recommends in any genre and is a prime example of how complex characters are always the most interesting and surprising, and noir characters are the ones allowed to be bad (and we often love them for it) so they often become the most interesting of all.

The audience reactions to Ed Exley, by my count, go from like, dislike, hate, dislike, like, hate, like, love. Bud has an honor code, but he breaks it and breaks our hearts in the process. Kevin Spacey is selfish, and the one time he tries to make something right and solve a case for the sake of justice instead of celebrity, it goes so terribly wrong that it's hard not to weep for him.

I guess what I'm saying is this month, pretend as if LA Confidential were a Christmas movie, and spend some time with an entire cast that would be on Santa's naughty list and enjoy one of the decade's finest films (and James Cromwell's finest Irish accent) in the process.

Fred Venturini is the author of The Heart Does Not Grow Back and his latest book The Escape of Light is gonna be a YA favorite of the next generation of fucked up teens. If you ever get the chance to hear him read live fucking jump - it's some rock star shit. Keep up with Fred at his website and follow him on Twitter @fredventurini. There, I said it.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Kieran Shea on 1913 Massacre

“The [sic] powers are more like administrators, who manipulate other people’s history but produce none of their own. They are the stock-jobbers of history, lives are their units of exchange. Lives as they are lived, deaths as they are died, all that is made of flesh, blood, semen, bone, fire, pain, shit, madness, intoxication, visions, everything that has been passing down here forever, is real history.”

Thomas Pynchon, AGAINST THE DAY

The True False Alarm 
by Kieran Shea

It’s been my experience that during the holidays more than any other time of the year your average slob doesn’t like having their perceptions challenged. And honestly, I don’t blame the slobs for this. The season is stressful enough. Even if their perceptions are erroneous and their views deluded, having their positions intact, like that third glass of booze or that saved prescriptive tranquilizer, turns out to be critical to their survival this season.

But then again, if you’re like me, one who intermittently craves dynamiting the bridges of expectation, you don’t mind confronting the average citizen’s beliefs. Secretly you and I relish the prickly role of gadfly, chipping away at all manner of sanctimonious drivel that seems to manifests itself in Herculean form during this festive stretch. Familial or non, you’ve no issue with kneecapping your jingoistic brother-in-law swilling eggnog by the fire, you are fearless calling out that neighbor misquoting Charles Dickens, and you have zero qualms about handing your malodorous aunt a magnification loupe, imploring her to peer closer at the inherent darkness residing her poor, distasteful beliefs. Sure, it can be awkward. Inevitably disappointment and anger pools, and things can get real ugly real quick. Oh by gosh by golly, how the mistletoe and holly stupor is preferred.

Which brings at last me to my cinematic recommendation for this Hardboiled Wonderland post, a recent documentary inspired by the balladeer of injustice Woodrow “Woody” Guthrie himself—a little flick called 1913 Massacre.

For those unacquainted with the violent history of organized labor versus ruthless capital in this country of ours, on Christmas Eve 1913 a ghastly calamity befell the small mining town of Calumet, Michigan. Striking workers of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, along with their wives and children, had assembled upstairs at a downtown building known as the Italian Hall for some good will and yuletide cheer. Not long after their merrymaking began, some black-hearted asshole yelled fire and all hell broke loose. Making for the best exit, seventy-four terrified people were crushed and suffocated to death at the bottom of a steep stairway. Among the dead were (brace yourself) fifty-nine, yes, fifty-nine children. And guess what? It turns out there never was a fire.

Being America, several halfhearted investigations followed the event and as these things go, discrepancies and finger pointing propagated on all fronts. Lord, who would commit such a heinous act? Some maintain that the doors at the bottom of the Italian Hall's stairway opened inward preventing exit, some say (this includes Woody) the doors might have even been barred from the outside. Was some Pinkerton thug or anti-union strikebreaker under the winking eye of the company to blame? Perhaps. Were eyewitnesses’ testimonies coerced and twisted to suit a convenient narrative? Perhaps. Did the local and national newspapers, owned by slimy investors sympathetic to the mining company’s interests (good on ya, Wall Street) misrepresent and effectively bury the tragedy’s facts? Insidious and familiar as it may sound…possibly. Regardless, the culprit who yelled the word that claimed seventy-four lives has never been determined, and the echoes of the mass murder linger amongst the townsfolk of Calumet to this day.

Which brings me back, all the way back to those who need to be challenged on their perceptions this holiday season.

In these times of ours, this post-truth age of shadowy swine and inscrutable graft, the arguments and circumstances presented in this picture are hauntingly recognizable. Those who are uncomfortable with acknowledging possible corruption at the cores of power and the institutions that beg for our collective trust need to be exposed to bitter history like this. They might not like it. It may cause them significant cognitive dissonance. They may even decide to finally write you out of their wills, but strap them to a chair and make them watch it for their own damn good.

Kieran Shea is the author of Off Rock as well as the Koko Marsteller series; Koko Takes a Holiday, Koko the Mighty and Koko Uncaged. He used to have a blog and a Twitter handle and all that fun shit, but you can't find him online any longer because fuck you and bah humbug.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Sarah Jilek on It's a Wonderful Life

Sentimental Hogwash: Masculinity and Domesticated Noir in It’s a Wonderful Life
by Sarah Jilek

I have watched It’s a Wonderful Life every year since I can remember. Before writing this essay, I watched it again—in color, for the first time. It is not the same film in color. It does not make sense in color, because it is a film noir.

I’m not the first one to make this claim. Michael Wilmington over at Film Noir Blonde took this stance in 2015, providing an exhaustive list of the film’s actors and their past or future credits in noir at the time of filming. Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards also agreed way back in a 2005 episode of their podcast Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir.

Historically, film noir has been a difficult genre to define, but there are recognizable elements—for example, an anti-hero protagonist, a femme fatale, crime (obviously), certain stylistic elements, and a generally bleak worldview, just to name a few.

But wait, you might be saying, IAWL doesn’t have any of these things, especially not the latter—there’s a reason it’s the movie you watch on Christmas Eve with your family and get all choked up after one too many rum-and-eggnogs. (Just me??)

But consider this: George Bailey, despite being a famous fictional “family man,” never wanted a family. He never wanted to get married. George never even wanted to live in Bedford Falls at all, much less follow in his father’s footsteps at the “crummy old Building & Loan.” But, like a noir anti-hero protagonist, he is isolated—all his friends grow up and leave him; he’s 4-F so he can’t fight in the war; life seems to conspire against him. All the events of his past (for, like many films noir, most of IAWL unfolds in flashback) and many of the people in his life work to keep him trapped in his hometown, trapped in his dead-end job—even driving him to the brink of suicide. It’s a noir that is deeply domestic, deeply rooted in this particular character’s anxieties and ideas of masculinity. Real men don’t get married and raise kids and scrape by in a “shabby little office.” Real men explore! They see the Fiji Islands! They build skyscrapers and bridges and monuments! For George—throughout much of the film—domesticity is the opposite of masculinity, and is therefore a vision of horror.

If domesticity is George Bailey’s personal horror, then the person who traps him most fully is Mary. She is the femme fatale, the one who seduces and ensnares him. Other arguments for why IAWL is a film noir cite Violet as a femme fatale figure, but really, it’s Mary. As a child, she whispers her undying love for George in his bad ear while he goes on about his future harems and the Coral Sea. As an eighteen-year-old girl, she breaks a window in their fated future home, her wish casting a spell of domestic entrapment on George. We see this foreshadowed in the scenes before the two get married: instead of the Venetian blinds of classic noir, picket fences cast their long, slatted shadows over George like the black armband of mourning for his father. Something within him will die, we understand, if Mary’s spell works, if he stays in Bedford Falls.

So how do we get all the way from this “warped, frustrated” view of domesticity to the iconic tableau vivant of George Bailey surrounded by his loving wife and kids, crying tears of relief to once again find himself a part of their family? We need to take a closer look at the other noir elements in the film.

On the issue of crime, I direct your attention to the line, “It’s against the law to commit suicide around here,” a line which puzzled me greatly as a child—I imagined a dead body hauled into a jail cell to decompose. The line itself, combined with its delivery by the spooked, wary bridge operator, is one of the most memorable lines to me, because it’s so darkly funny, and Clarence’s confirmation that it’s “against the law where [he] come[s] from, too” was a chilling reminder to me, a little Catholic girl still in Sunday school, that not everyone would make it to heaven after all (camel, eye of a needle).

However, even more memorable is the moment when Potter keeps the eight thousand dollars mistakenly handed to him by Uncle Billy. In fact, my stomach still sinks every time that scene begins. Surely, this time it will be different, I think. Surely Uncle Billy will put the money in his coat pocket. Surely the string tied around his finger like the red string of fate will remind him. But it doesn’t, and the money’s gone, and Potter steals from the Baileys like we always knew he would, infirm and cantankerous in his kickass carved mahogany wheelchair. He’s everything a noir villain should be. He’s everything George Bailey is not.

When George stumbles deliriously through snowy Pottersville after Clarence and St. Joseph grant his wish, we get to see what the inhabitants of Bedford Falls would be like if they had to come “crawling to Potter” instead of George. Martini’s is no longer a family restaurant and bar where you can get a plate of spaghetti with your wine on Christmas Eve—there are (gasp!) black people there, or at least one, playing the piano, and Nick the bartender serves “hard drinks for men who wanna get drunk fast.” The town is filled with pawn shops and dance halls and strip clubs, and we even see our girl Violet dragged out of one—bags under her eyes, hair disheveled, shrieking, “That sailor’s a liar!” The implication: without George Bailey to lend her money every now and then, Violet would have become a sex worker.

George Bailey, wanted by the police in two alternate timelines, facing “bankruptcy and scandal and prison,” is confronted in Pottersville with a horror truer than the imagined horror of domesticity: his own powerlessness. He cannot save Violet from a life of degradation, just as he could not save his brother Harry from the icy pond, just as he cannot save Mary from her fate as an “old maid.” It is up to him, he realizes, to be a man, and being a man does not mean abandoning his hometown, as he once thought it did. Being a man, George realizes, means taking care of people. It means lending your friends money. It means marrying the girl who loves you. It means holding onto Zuzu’s petals. Like his father said the night he died, it’s making a difference, in your own “small way.”

This realization would truly be “sentimental hogwash” if we hadn’t gone through a warped, frustrated noir nightmare to get there. Because we have gone through it, though, we’ve earned the final scene. Instead of the dark, churning river water, we get a roaring fireplace. Instead of the looming picket-fence shadows, we get George kissing the broken banister as he runs to his children. Instead of George drinking alone on Christmas Eve and getting punched in the face, we get wine passed around in a house full of friends. The dark, frightening outside melts in the face of the bright, comforting inside—the home—and George takes his rightful place within it. I don’t have time to get into the moral/political significance of this ending for the nuclear family in 1946, or why the film was originally a flop, and truth be told, I don’t want to. I only want that ending, forever: that feeling of coming inside, out of the cold.

Sarah Jilek's stories can be found at Press 53Tough and in Switchblade magazine. Look for her novel Shitshow summer 2020 and follow her on Twitter @SarahJilek.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Eric Beetner on Secret Santa

Secret Santa - directed by Adam Marcus 
written by Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan

Full disclosure: I’ve known Adam Marcus since I was a freshman in high school and we did theater together. It was through Adam and our fellow actors that we both chose a life in the filmmaking arts, along with many of our classmates who continue to make a career from the business.

One of the things Adam and I bonded over early was a love of horror films and this being the 80s, we were surrounded by a second golden age. Gone were the movie monsters of the Universal era, and in were the slasher films, George Romero zombie films, the Italian giallo style, the freaky independent body horror of David Cronenberg. We ate it all up.

When Adam moved to L.A. right after college he stepped into directing his first feature, Jason Goes To Hell: the final Friday. Now, decades later, he’s returned to the horror genre. After he and his wife, Debra, wrote the screenplay for Texas Chainsaw 3D it was time to direct his own film again and with a small budget and a location up in the mountains they could use, they set about creating a nasty piece of throwback horror, an homage to the balls-out, laugh-while-you scream films we grew up on.

Secret Santa would have blended in perfectly during the mid 80s, and I for sure would have had the poster on my wall.

It’s the family dinner from Hell and from the epic opening shot to the haunting final image, the film bobs and weaves and keeps you guessing all while wearing its influences on its sleeve. (There’s a particularly on-the-nose reference to Carpenter’s The Thing).

It’s violent, profane, and hilarious while also working as a very effective horror film. The cast starts out with about a dozen people, but you know only a few - if any - will survive the night.

Often these days horror films seem like they are trying to leave permanent scars on your psyche. Secret Santa wants to entertain first and foremost, and it wants to entertain you, the horror movie fan. It’s why the film has been an audience favorite at horror film festivals all around the world. It’s made with the audience in mind. A raucous crowd-pleaser if seen in a group.

Adam and Debra have written a fast and furious antidote to all that family togetherness of the holidays. You’ll either see some of your own family’s worst traits on screen, or you’ll wish your family could be eviscerated and bloodied in the same way. But Secret Santa is just the gift you’ve been waiting for if you miss when horror movies were fun and scary.

Eric Beetner is the author a many books and stories. He is an Emmy-winning editor and hosts the podcast Writer Types. Keep up with him at his website and follow him on Twitter @EricBeetner.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Sandra Ruttan on In Bruges

Do You See What I See? The Santa In Bruges

There’s no room at the inn, or anywhere else in Bruges, but sufficient accommodation isn’t the only thing missing. Christmas is fast approaching. Bruges has lights, snow and a dwarf.

What’s missing? 

Santa Claus.

The contenders for the role?

Jimmy is the dwarf. He’s resourceful, which is definitely a Santa Claus characteristic. Anyone who can find prostitutes in Bruges is sure to know how to get plenty of good things to give to children for Christmas. Unfortunately, he’s using ketamine and was so out of it that he didn’t even wave to Ray, so he’s probably not the best candidate for driving a sleigh.

Harry has principles, and sticks to them. He’s a family man who’s capable of admitting he’s wrong and apologizing to his wife. The best argument for Harry being the ideal Santa is that he wanted Ray to have a good experience before he died. He liked Bruges and wanted Ray to see Bruges before ordering Ken to kill him so Ray would have one last positive memory. The problem is that he did order Ken to kill Ray. He also uses some homophobic slurs and has a temper, which are just a few more reasons he might not be an ideal Santa.

Chloe wouldn’t make an ideal Santa Claus or Mrs. Claus. She has a fluid approach to her relationships, robs people and sells drugs.

Marie is a better candidate. She works hard, and looks after her hotel and her guests. Marie wouldn’t feel bad about putting someone on the naughty list because they deserved it. She’s protective and not easily scared. The only thing working against her is her pregnancy. With her baby due imminently, Marie probably wouldn’t be cleared to fly.

Ray gets into fights at dinner. He makes a lot of noise when he enters a room at night and wakes Ken up, so probably wake up whole households dropping off presents. He wears contacts, which can be problematic when flying in the winter weather, and glasses aren’t much better because they can fog up. Ray is intrigued by dwarves, but calls them midgets. He’s rude, politically incorrect, makes racially inappropriate remarks, is needy and tends to follow instead of leading. He tells off-color jokes and can barely sit still because he’s coping with trauma. He doesn’t enjoy culture or traditions either.

Ray does give one guy a red nose, in a manner of speaking, although I’m not sure blood would light up the way Rudolph’s parasite-infected honker does. And although Ray respects the life of children and gives money to Marie’s unborn child, it’s fair to say he’s not the safest person around kids, which takes him out of the running.

Ken is the last candidate. He isn’t much of a night person and likes his sleep, which are strikes against him. In spite of those drawbacks, Ken’s a good storyteller who tries to live a good life and takes responsibility for his actions. Ken enjoys history and culture, so he’d appreciate the tradition of Santa’s role. He risks his life to save a friend. Ken also has great organizational skills. In the end he leaves instructions behind and dresses for his finale.

What seals the deal? Ken doesn’t mind heights and isn’t afraid of falling, which makes him the best candidate to take the reins on Christmas Eve. But don’t take it from me. Add this Christmas crime comedy to your viewing list this holiday season and decide for yourself.

Sandra Ruttan's novels include What Burns Within, Harvest of Ruins and her latest The Spying Moon. She is an acquiring editor at Bronzeville Books and the editor of The Bronzeville Bee. Keep up with Sandra at her website and follow her on Twitter @SandraRuttan.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Merry CrimesMas: Josh Woods on The Godfather

Act I in The Godfather (1972) was, on its own, a complete film. And it was a true Christmas movie.

By the time Act I ends with the killing of Solozzo the Turk and Police Captain McCluskey at Louis Italian-American Restaurant—and the first act-break montage concludes—the run-time is already that of a pretty standard film, around an hour and 25 minutes.

And at that point we have an entire story replete with a full character arc: The established kingdom is facing a new threat, a Turk who has an unassailable Shield, and our realm’s king, Godfather Vito Corleone (trans., Lionheart), has been stricken. So the youngest and worthiest of his three sons, Michael, must set aside his life as an errant soldier removed from the troubles to of the kingdom (That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.) to become the new prince who must take up the sword to defend lord and land. Even though it means his indefinite exile from his family and his lady, he fulfills his duty as the reluctant yet formidable knight-protector. The end.

At least it could have ended there, and if it had, it would have been excellent as a stand-alone. Fortunately, we were further blessed with a continued story in the form of two more sequel acts within the same 1972 film, as well as three more in the 1974 film, where the tale of The Godfather finally ends absolutely (notwithstanding a ludicrous 1990 film that inexplicably got away with using the same title, and character names, and actors, and writers, and director).

And the entirety of this Act I film is set during Christmastime.

Michael and Kay bustle out of Best & Co. with armloads of wrapped presents into the gently falling snow of New York City, which is decked overhead with candy canes and evergreen wreaths. They discuss gifts for the family and, most importantly, that all Michael wants for Christmas is the love of his sweet Kay.

Meanwhile, Luca Brasi dons his armor and prepares his weapon while the radio plays Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, ironically announcing that “from now on your troubles will be out of sight.”

Tom Hagen is abducted while leaving a gift-shop with a new winter sled in his arms, presumably for his child. The Turk, who captures him in front of the spinning decoration of Santa and Mrs. Claus, first wishes Tom a merry Christmas, and then says, “If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already.” This is while the store’s music sings that Santa is “gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” Tom is later held prisoner on a lot that sells Christmas trees.

The Godfather likewise wishes the fruit vendor a merry Christmas before being gunned down. And the gateway to his hospital, where Michael stands guard as protector, glows with the halo of Christmas lights.

And so on.
 But it’s not a Christmas movie only because of the seasonal setting. Like all good Christmas movies, it’s a fairy tale. Some such Christmas fairy tales have literal fairies and goblins and magic; others take the classic route of a princess in need of rescue. In this case, as I indicate above (a little heavy-handedly), Act I of The Godfather is the kind of classic fairy tale about the fall of the good old lionhearted king at the hands of the heretic villain (“Turk”), and about the crusade of the youngest of the three princes to save the kingdom for the love of his lady and the protection of his people.

But it’s not a Christmas movie only because of that either. For me and my family, the film was an unofficial Christmas tradition. I remember my grandfather—an old-school patriarch in his own right, whom we all called “Papa Jack”—as he distractedly stoked the flames in the fireplace under the twinkle of lights from the retro Christmas tree and sputnik-era ornaments, while he watched The Godfather playing on the old box TV. I can’t tell you how many years this same scene played out. We would all gather down there in the basement lounge—a low-ceilinged spread which could have been a set on the Dean Martin Show—and we nestled into the endless couches to watch Michael Corleone fire shots into McCluskey’s throat and forehead as we waited for the warm cheer of our Christmas Eve festivities to commence.

That nostalgia never left me. Even now when I hear the horn of Nino Rota’s theme that opens the film, I’m filled with the holiday spirit as much as if I were listening to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas 

But it’s not a Christmas movie only because of that either. Act I of The Godfather is a true Christmas movie at its very heart.

Think about what Christmas movies are all about, from the odd excellence of It’s a Wonderful Life, to the cheesiest installment in the Hallmark franchise, to any version of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.

They’re about changing your ways and learning what’s important in life: family, love, and finding your right place within all that. They’re about the kind of moment in which the previously cold and distant son holds his father’s hand in the hospital and whispers tenderly, “Just lie here, pop. I’ll take care of you. I’m with you now. I’m with you.” And the father looks up from his hospital bed, unable to speak, but smiling nonetheless with a tear in his eye. That’s a Christmas moment.

But for a character to reach that ideal state of “Christmas-actualization”—well, it’s tough to do. It requires self-sacrifice, and it even requires facing death, literally.

This can come in the form of bridge suicide and an alternate world in which you have been annihilated. Or it’s the frantic life-or-death search for a lost child out in the freezing weather on Christmas Eve. Or it’s the travel to your own funeral with the black-cloaked Ghost of Christmas Future.

Or it’s facing the murderous Turk and struggling to find the words you want to say in the old Italian, until you finally find them in your American English. And you speak the truth about what you wish for with great hope, “What I want, what's most important to me, is that I have a guarantee. No more attempts on my father's life.”

But then, when it becomes clear that it’s not that easy, that sacrifice is necessary, you have to take up the role of a protective angel, like your namesake, in this case a kind of Christmas angel of death. Saving your loved ones from villains might mean that you are exiled from them, but now that you’ve changed and have become a part of the family again, now that you’ve found your rightful place, you know it’s what you have to do. That’s what family and love is all about. That’s what Christmas is all about.

Josh Woods is the author of The Black Palace and O Monstrous World! and editor of the anthologies Surreal South '13, Vs. and The Book of Villains. He is also the host of The Monster Professor podcast. Keep up with him at his website.