Let me just start off by saying I love John Hughes, his wonderful nostalgic and heartfelt writing has been missed by many of us since his retirement from the film industry well over 15 years ago. Sadly he passed away earlier this year, but he has left us with an incredible legacy of films and stories. One of those great gifts he left us is the Holiday Classic National Lampon's Christmas Vacation, which first unspooled in theaters across the world 20 years ago today. The film was the third installment in the highly profitable "National Lampoon's Vacation" series. The story for this particular installment first appeared in National Lampoon Magazine in December 1980 with the title "Christmas '59". John Hughes wrote the screenplay based on his original magazine story.
The movie debuted at #1 at the North American box office grossing $11,750,203 during its opening weekend. It went on to gross a total of $71,319,546 in the U.S. during its theatrical run. The movie also went on to make more than $35,000,000 in video rental profits and tons more money from countless TV broadcasts every year during the holiday season. The title song of the same name was written for the movie by the husband-wife song writing team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and performed by Mavis Staples. The film also featured many more great Christmas songs including Ray Charles' classic "That Spirit of Christmas", which is featured in the film's most heartwarming moment as Clark sits down to enjoy some films of past Christmases with his loved ones. Unfortunately there was never a soundtrack album widely released, but 10 years ago 20,000 soundtrack CDs were issued to commemorate the film's 10th anniversary. These were sold exclusively at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which doubled for Wally World in the original National Lampoon's Vacation.
Chevy Chase is at his best in this film as patriarch Clark Griswald, who after one disastrous trip after another decides its best to stay home this time and host the family for the holidays. It wouldn't be a good Chevy Chase movie without Chevy experiencing some hardcore pain, and in this one he gets a lot of hurting both physically and emotionally.
As is the norm in any Griswald family event Clark takes things to the extreme -- he daisy chains over a gazillion Christmas lights, brings in a Christmas tree bigger than the room causing plenty of property damage in the process to both himself and his obnoxious neighbors, leaves a fiery trail behind during a sleigh ride, and wraps things up nicely by having a meltdown after realizing the perfect Christmas Vacation he longed for and worked so hard to prepare has turned into a nightmare of apocalyptic proportions.
Chevy gets a lot of help in the comedy department during this installment from actors William Hickey and Mae Questel who play the roles of Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany. They basically steal the film from right under Chevy's nose. To make things even worse for Clark -- and better for us -- Randy Quaid reprises his role of Cousin Eddie, who in this installment gifts us with such classic scenes as the emptying out of his RV's septic tank right in front of Clark's home and the Christmas Eve kidnapping of Clark's boss -- played by the always funny Brian Doyle Murray. The film is full of stupidity and non stop laughter from beginning to end. It also features some of the funnies tlines from any comedy film in the past 20 years.
To celebrate the film's 20th anniversary Warner Home Video has released a new Ultimate Edition of the film on both Blu-Ray and DVD. Both versions come in a collectible tin filled with movie inspired collectibles. Unfortunately the 20th Anniversary discs of the film are the same as the previously released Special Edition including the same old special features.
Inside the collectible tin with the disc you'll find a few stocking-stuffer sized gifts including a collection of four holiday coasters with photos and quotes from the film, one of which features Aunt Bethany. For any hard core fan of the film an Aunt Bethany coaster is truly a dream come true. The Blu-Ray edition includes a small replica of the moose glass used in the film. Unfortunately the mug is so small that it barely even qualifies as a shot glass. You also get a Christmas Vacation pin, a box of powdered snow and a Santa hat. If you still don't own this classic interpretation of Holiday Mayhem then I recommend getting this new ultimate edition. If you have any of the previous versions the lack of new special features doesn't justify the double dipping. Unless you really must have that Aunt Bethany coaster.
As far as Christmas movies go this one takes the prize for most demented and most fun.
The film manages to successfully switch gears from crazy physical comedy bits to heartfelt moments between these now beloved characters. And that is a testament to what made John Hughes' comedy writing so great and memorable. It wouldn't be Christmas eve at our house without a screening of this great film. What more could you ask for on Christmas than sharing laughter and smiles with all your loved ones?
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION GIFT GUIDE:
If you have a fan of the film on your Christmas list you might want to consider getting him one of these cool gifts:
- 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation T-Shirts
(Various styles to choose from, available at Kohls.com)
Cousin Eddie's RV Collectible Tree Ornament
(Featuring lines from the film, available at Hallmark stores nationwide)