Hallmark5Hallmark Channel Christmas movies: over the past decade such films have become mainstays on the Hallmark Channel, which has succeeded where other cable networks, such as PAX-TV and the Faith and Values Channel (which later became the Odyssey Network, and eventually the very channel under discussion) failed. This is to say that it focuses exclusively on wholesome family-friendly entertainment, i.e. the type of fare people are always claiming they want to see more of. In the case of Hallmark’s holiday themed movies that claim is evidently true.

The Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies are shown from late October through early January of each year. Yes, Hallmark has excreted many non-Christmas themed movies (such as 2007’s disease-themed PANDEMIC, directed by the veteran sleazemeister Armand Mastroianni), but it’s the likes of HEARTS OF CHRISTMAS, A SNOW GLOBE CHRISTMAS, A DECEMBER BRIDE and THE MISTLETOE PROMISE that I’ll be focusing on here.

This would certainly seem a bit different from my standard choice of subject matter, although maybe not. The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, it turns out, aren’t that far removed from the exploitation fare I often write about—both, after all, are churned out in unapologetically quick and trashy fashion with an unwavering eye toward a marketplace that has no room for “art.” It’s no exaggeration to say that what the AIP and New World Pictures flicks were to grindhouse mavens of the 1970s and 80s the Hallmark Channel movies are to upwardly mobile TV viewers of the Hallmark400s and beyond.

There’s also the fact that, having been made to suffer through so many shitty Hallmark Channel Christmas movies over the years (I have a girlfriend who loves ‘em), I feel compelled to make YOU suffer too!

Obviously I’m not among Hallmark’s target audience. That audience—baby boomer and generation X-aged women—is the same one that purchases paperback romance novels and patronized those trashy romcoms Hollywood used to so enthusiastically churn out (yes, I’m familiar with those films too, having been dragged to quite a few).

The Hallmark Christmas movies, many of them adapted from romance novels of the type mentioned above, can be said to have taken the place of Hollyweird romcoms, which went out of fashion on the big screen with the release of BRIDESMAIDS in 2011, but have only seemed to increase in popularity on the Hallmark Channel. No joke: in 2017 the Hallmark Channel premiered no less than 33 original Christmas movies, up from 28 in 2016 (their grand total, I understand, is 136). So important are these movies to the Hallmark Channel’s programming that onscreen countdowns to the premieres of its latest opuses (ex: “10:20:05 until CHRISTMAS NEXT DOOR”) are shown during daytime airings of its previous ones.

Hallmark3Varied and unpredictable these films aren’t, with their collective appeal summed up by the title of the 2014 Hallmark loaf A COOKIE CUTTER CHRISTMAS. Hallmark’s releases are all extremely uniform in look, tone and style, and evidently quite addictive; my GF loves to make fun of the fake snow (due to the fact that most of them are shot in the summer), the Vancouver, BC scenery made to (unconvincingly) look like American towns and cities, the treacly music scores and the type of greeting card worthy dialogue (like “Nothing’s impossible at Christmastime!”) that pervades these sugar-coated atrocities, yet can’t seem to tear herself away from them year after year.

I’ve tried in vain to find a Hallmark Christmas movie that goes against the grain—i.e. one that a). actually makes some effort to reflect life’s complexities, and b). acknowledges that everything doesn’t always work out right in the end—but have yet to find one. Not that it matters, as point b). is adequately illustrated by the fact that so many good actors—Mira Sorvino, James Brolin, Tom Skerritt, Alicia Witt, Beau Bridges, Donovan Scott, Lin Shaye—have turned up in Hallmark movies, alongside Hallmark’s superstars Danica McKellar, Lacey Chabert and Candace Cameron Bure.

Indeed, if anything good can be said for these movies it’s that they provide employment for actors Hollywood has discarded (in case you were wondering whatever happened to Cynthia Gibb, Willie Aames or Deirdre Hall, here’s your answer), and a number of formerly happening directors, as well (such as MURDER ONE’S Graeme Campbell and BUBBLE BOY’S Blair Hayes). In that sense Hallmark Films are not unlike porno or evangelical movies, to which they’re about equivalent in overall quality.

The stories? Anyone who (like me) is familiar with Hollywood romcom narrative conventions will know what to expect, as they’re pretty much Hallmark2identical to those of the Hallmark flicks. There’s usually always a workaholic heroine (a few of these films have male protagonists but most are female) who finds love with a good-looking guy around Christmastime and, needless to add, lives happily ever after. Cute pets tend to recur, as do tried-and-true romcom staples like amnesiac love interests and the brainy woman who goes from dorky to pretty merely by removing her glasses. So wedded is the Hallmark Channel to romcom clichés that they were worked into a time travel scenario in 2016’s JOURNEY BACK TO CHRISTMAS, and a redo of A CHRISTMAS CAROL in 2012’s IT’S CHRISTMAS, CAROL! (Just in case you were wondering, Santa Claus occasionally turns up in these films—see 2010’s THE NIGHT BEFORE THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, directed by the veteran Hollywood scripter James Orr, which was made before the Hallmark formula really hit its stride).

What’s missing from these films, as in most Hollywood romcoms, is the essential ingredient in all drama: conflict. Sure, the movies’ screenwriters are careful to layer in assorted roadblocks to their heroines’ happiness in order to keep the narratives moving, but the horrendous music scores (which are played continuously, even in quiet scenes) tend to undermine the drama, being relentlessly bouncy and upbeat throughout—and anyway, the conflicts brought up in these movies are never too impactful, with perhaps the most grievous example being the line “my dating life makes the Titanic look like a pleasure cruise.”

I think you get the drift: the Hallmark Christmas movies are crapfests. It’s a fact that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, although I, tragically enough, have viewed quite a few—and will doubtless be viewing quite a few more, as it doesn’t look like these films are going to stop being made any time soon.