Not Quite Horror: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)


Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There’s more than one way to watch a movie.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

The Monster: Clark Griswold. It would be difficult to find a more loveable and well-meaning monster in the history of film, but his monstrosity stands for itself. Clark (Chevy Chase) refuses to compromise on his fantasies of idyllic family holiday time. Spoiled by doting parents and encouraged by an overly forgiving wife (Beverly D’angelo), he will stop at nothing to recreate his own childhood, even if he ruins Christmas for his own children in the process.

The Horror: By the time the Griswold family Christmas is ruined, Clark has nearly killed his family in a car accident, killed himself decorating, and killed his neighbors with reckless behavior. Clark is unable to recreate his childhood fantasy of a perfect Christmas, in large part due to Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) also refusing to give up on his childhood. Ignoring the children in the house, Clark puts on his Santa outfit and grabs a chainsaw . . .

The Shared Fate: Adults are all survivors of childhood, but some adults never really get past it. Clark is so committed to recreating his childhood joys he orders Cousin Eddie to kidnap his boss. He thinks he does so in jest.

Who will be holding you hostage this holiday season?

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen