Scrooged – Review
A selfish, cynical television executive is haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.
It’s Christmas Eve. I hope you have all of your last minute stuff sorted and don’t have to brave the crowds. If your December was anything like mine. You will have been busy getting frustrated at rude people in shops. Why not take the weight off and spend some time in front of the TV with a Christmas classic? Today we are taking a look at Richard Donner’s Scrooged.
Now, I know what you are thinking and you are right.. Scrooged isn’t really a horror movie. It’s more of a dark comedy if anything. Despite this. I have always found the story of A Christmas Carol to have some serious horror vibes. I mean, we have ghosts, a dead dude, hauntings, a spirit with his jaw hanging off, a child dying due to polio.. That is some fairly serious horror shit. Plus I needed a movie for Christmas eve so why not go with the most adult version of the story? Well, aside from that BBC drama from a few years ago but that was shite. Without further ado, let’s take a look. As always, I will give a quick breakdown of the movie. Feel free to skip it if you like.
Awful Advent is Almost Done
Our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror feature is almost done. For those of you who missed it. We have been reviewing a Christmas themed horror movie every day of December. 25 reviews leading up to, and including, Christmas day. It’s been fun to check all of these movies out. Some I have never seen, a few I have seen once, and a bunch I have seen many times.
Still, there is one more review to go as we will be taking a look at one of my favourites on Christmas Day. Feel free to go check out some of the other reviews I have done at the link above. Check back tomorrow for one more review.
Scrooged – Synopsis
Scrooged follows the story of Television Network President Frank Cross. Frank is chairing a meeting at the office of his network. The team are preparing for a live television special of A Christmas Carol. Due to broadcast on Christmas Eve. The show will feature contributions from all over the world. The network is depending on its success and Frank has been put in charge. Various promotional adverts are being pitched for the special. Unhappy with how middle of the road they feel, Cross reveals his. It turns out to be a violent and shocking advertisement. Featuring depictions of drug use and violence. It is clearly designed to cause uproar and to get eyes on the channel. The meeting ends with the attendees leaving feeling extremely sick. Some are disturbed, others are crying, all are clearly disgusted at what they witnessed.
One of the employees, Eliot Loudermilk, approaches Cross to express his views on the advertisement. He tells him it is disgusting and will upset people. Cross thanks him for his honest advice. Seconds later he calls security and tells them to remove Eliot from the building. Later, Cross briefly meets with his boss Preston Rhinelander. Preston emphasises how important the production is which Cross assures him he understands. He promises it will be a success. A look of uncertainty suggests Preston may not have full confidence in Cross, however.
A Blast from the Past
Heading out into the town with his younger brother, James. Cross is visibly frustrated by people requesting charity on the streets. James points out that Cross obviously isn’t a fan of Christmas. Cross protests claiming he loves Christmas. People stay home and watch TV so he makes more money. James invites Frank to dinner with his family for Christmas. Cross declines claiming it is all a sham but wishes him a happy new year.
That night, Cross is sitting in his office drinking. All of a sudden, he hears bangs at his door. Increasing in ferocity, Cross pulls a gun out in fear. The door blasts off its hinges. As the dust settles, it reveals Frank’s deceased former boss Lew Hayward. Shocked, Frank stares on in disbelief. Hayward introduces himself before grabbing a Bacardi and coke. Frank shoots at him, seemingly with no effect.
Hayward tells Frank to be careful of his drink. He has come to Cross to tell him that he will be visited by three ghosts. Still in shock, Frank doesn’t believe him. He attempts to bargain his way out of it. Determined to convince him, Hayward hangs him out of the window. Frank, pleading for his life, pulls at Lew’s arm. The arm snaps and he falls only to wake up suddenly, still in his office. Not knowing whether or not it was a dream. Frank suddenly coughs up a golf ball. It is clear he is in for one hell of a Christmas holiday.
A Modern Retelling of a Classic
As many of you will know, Scrooged is a modern retelling of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Well, I say modern but the film was made nearly 35 years ago. Still, you get the point. Set in the big city, this movie was A Christmas Carol for the yuppie era. Out were the tall hats and mutton chops, in were the pricey suits and mullets. Focusing far less on the charity aspect. Scrooged’s main character is a self centred bastard. He is concerned purely with his work and succeeding at any cost.
Scrooged came about due to the desire to make a comedy version of A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray, who had taken a break from acting after the success of Ghostbusters, liked the idea. The thought of playing a funny version of Scrooge appealed to him. He just didn’t happen to think the script was particularly good. He finally signed up and Richard Donner was set to direct. The two met, realised they could get along and that was that.
A Difficult Production
Little did the pair know that the development of Scrooged would prove to be a nightmare for all involved. Murray was depressed and demanding on set. Used to adlibbing and working without guidance. Murray demanded numerous changes were made and frequently went off script. Donner had never worked with an actor like Murray before. He found his loose way of performing difficult to control and didn’t know how to deal with him. The pair frequently clashed. Incidentally, this wouldn’t be Murray’s only troubled production. Groundhog day, a few years later, suffered from many of the same issues. The clashes between Bill and director Harold Ramis lead to the fracture of their longstanding friendship.
With Scrooged, Murray felt lonely on set. Rarely had he been the only prominent star in a film. He was used to having a group of performers around him at all times. He describes the production of Scrooged as one of the most miserable of his life. Murray lamented how good the film could have been. Feeling his influence was dismissed. He was disappointed to see few of his ideas made it to the final cut. The movie was long, untidy, and required editing down to almost half of its original length. Still, the result was an enduring Christmas classic loved by millions to this day.
A Miserly Network President
Following mean television network president Frank Cross. The film sees him trying to navigate the production of a live version of A Christmas Carol. All while being visited by a group of ghosts determined to have him change his ways. These aren’t your traditional Dickensian ghosts, however. We have a cigar chomping New York cab driver. A maniacal fairy with a penchant for breaking noses. And a death like hooded figure with a stomach full of gremlin type creatures. These ghosts are mean, somewhat violent, and not taking any of Cross’s bullshit.
Scrooged plays on many of the facets of the original story while bringing them right up to date. Cross is an uncaring, selfish person who makes his staff work long hours. He fires people without a good reason and takes great delight in it. Cross places convenience before kindness, suggesting to staple antlers to a mouse’s head for his TV show. And on top of all that, he cares little for his family. Lew Hayward, Frank’s old boss, was a similar person. Not wanting Cross to suffer the same fate as him. He tells Frank that he will be visited by three spirits.
Fearing losing his position at the Television network. He attempts to keep up with the production despite the bizarre things going on. Hot on his heels is Brice Cummings, an assistant that Frank’s boss brought in to help produce. Frank is tasked with juggling all of these things. While this is going on, he also has to address his rekindled feelings for his ex girlfriend Claire. It’s excellent stuff. Scrooged offers a fantastic alternative to traditional versions of A Christmas Carol.
A Dark Christmas Tale
Naturally, Scrooged is far more of a comedy than anything else. Despite this, it is packed with dark themes. Frank Cross has a depressing history with a childhood lacking in love and affection. Despite his mum seemingly trying her best. His dad was a cold man who once gave him a couple of pounds of veal as a Christmas present. Frank spent his formative years in front of the TV. His adult life was marked by failed relationships and loneliness.
Frank isn’t the only person suffering, however. For one, his brother is dejected at Frank’s reluctance to spend time with him. Elliot Loudermilk is fired days before Christmas. In his desperation, his wife leaves and he resorts to alcohol to drown his agony. Frank’s assistant Grace lives in poverty and can’t even afford a Christmas tree for her kids. And, if that wasn’t enough. We are introduced to a few tragic characters from Claire’s work at the homeless shelter. These people live on the cold streets of New York and can’t even afford to buy food. Frank is capable of making a change in all of these people’s lives but doesn’t. Themes of poverty, depression, loneliness and destitution are all present. They are portrayed in a realistic and sombre manner. It can actually be quite sad at times.
Hilarious in Parts
The fact that Scrooged manages to be so comical is quite impressive. The background of the story is so dark but there are legitimately hilarious moments. It is a mix of Bill Murray being Bill Murray, slapstick violence and just good old fashioned comedy. It frequently makes you laugh your ass off.
Carol Kane’s depiction of the Ghost of Christmas Present is particularly brilliant. I remember watching this movie as a kid and finding her absolutely hilarious. Many of the characters will elicit belly laughs. Elliot is fantastic, as is the Ghost of Christmas Past. It’s a genuinely funny movie.
A Few Horror Scenes
As I mentioned above, calling Scrooged a horror movie is quite a bit of a push. I really only included it as I love A Christmas Carol and wanted to include a version. Scrooged is the most suitable for adults and does some things a little different. It really does have horror elements, though. In fact, I think many of the movie adaptations of A Christmas Carol do. The Disney version starring Jim Carrey is particularly scary, in parts. I remember watching it in the cinema with my fiancée back in 2009. At least a couple of parents walked out with upset looking children. Scrooged is similar and manages to make at least a few of the scenes quite disturbing.
The Ghost of Christmas future features a particularly shocking design. Traditionally presented as a vision of death. Scrooged’s portrayal is very similar. The major difference is a horrifying visage of demon like creatures inside of the cloak. It’s during his trip to Christmas future that Frank sees some truly horrific visions. Honestly, these would fit right into any horror movie. I won’t go into specifics for those that haven’t watched. But some of the scenes are genuinely dark. Needless to say, one specific thing he sees stands out and has to be a fear most people share.
The general mood of Scrooged is quite a lot more depressing than most versions of the story. It is far darker and presented in a much bleaker manner. The themes are portrayed through a more modern lens that is easier to relate to. It is possibly the darkest movie adaptation of the story. It definitely lacks some of the feel good parts of more traditional iterations. Again, it is not really a horror but it is suitably dark and moody.
A Tough Reception
The reception for Scrooged was, initially, quite luke warm. Roger Ebert described the movie as. “one of the most disquieting, unsettling films to come along in quite some time”. He also pointed out that it “portrays pain and anger more than comedy”. This is somewhat true and the mixed reception is understandable. Scrooged can be a very mean spirited movie. It spends far more time indulging in its bad side than its good side. Frank Cross is a pretty awful person and he shows almost no sense of redemption until near the end. The nicest characters in the movie suffer the most. Many of them are placed there purely to be laughed at. The movie points the finger at Cross for being an awful person but also demands the viewer laugh along with him. It’s a strange mix.
Funnily enough, Scrooged is not my favourite retelling of A Christmas Carol. I am a much bigger fan of the 1984 version starring George C. Scott. Scrooged is utterly grim in points and can be one of those movies you really need to be in the mood to watch. I think this is something many picked up on at the time. It is clear, in parts, that Murray is not overly comfortable performing. It is very apparent that he isn’t having the best time. The last scene, in particular, was improvised by him and plays off as a cathartic, long exhale, of sorts.
A Christmas Classic
Still, despite the initial mixed reception, the film has been reappraised in recent years. This has happened to many movies over the years. It seems even more common with Christmas films. Black Christmas is another good example of a Christmas movie that was mixed on release. Nowadays it is considered essential viewing and an important progenitor of the Slasher genre.
Over the years Scrooged has become a Christmas classic. People who are looking for a darker version of A Christmas Carol love it. It’s a bit more adult and a bit cheekier than many iterations. It’s the only retelling where you will find swearing, violence, wicked humour, and scantily clad ladies.
Scrooged is also a good opportunity for fans of Bill Murray to get a hefty dose just in time for the Christmas season. For fans of horror, it is the obvious choice. Its darker tone is very fitting and some of the creepier scenes really stand out.
Excellent Acting and a Fantastic Cast
Scrooged features excellent acting throughout. The cast here is absolutely stellar and they all do a wonderful job. Cameos from Lee Majors, Robert Goulet, John Houseman and Robert Mitchum are welcome. It’s Bill Murray as Frank Cross that steals the show. Despite it being obvious that he maybe wasn’t feeling particularly festive while filming. Murray’s razor sharp wit and scathing line delivery are perfect for the role. He his hilarious and absolutely relishes playing the mean spirited network president. While his redemption never feels quite as genuine as other previous Scrooge characters. He is utterly enjoyable.
Carol Kane and David Johansen are excellent as the ghost of Christmas present and past. Kane is maniacal and a total scene stealer. She guarantees laughs every second she is on screen. She committed so much to the role that she actually broke Murray’s nose with a toaster. Something that actually genuinely upset her a lot. John Glover is suitably sleazy as Brice Cummings. Bobcat Goldthwait is excellent as the down on his luck Eliot Loudermilk. He has some really funny moments.
Alfre Woodard, as Cross’s assistant Grace, is great. She is very convincing as the sympathetic and kind hearted single mum. Karen Allen is very fitting as Cross’s girlfriend Claire. Murray wanted the pair’s relationship expanded on more than originally called for. I think the film benefits from having more of Allen. Her ability to portray a caring, warm hearted character is a nice change of pace. We all know Scrooged has far too many asshole so it makes for a nice contrast. There are far too many great performances to go over them all. It’s a great cast and they all do a great job.
Is it a Knockout?
Scrooged is obviously not a horror movie. It is, however, a brooding comedy with ghosts, dead people, hauntings, and dark themes. I think it just about qualifies. Featuring a modern take on Dicken's story of A Christmas Carol. Scrooged follows mean spirited televesion network presidet Frank Cross as he is visited by three ghosts. A darker take on the tale, Scrooged is mean spirited and, at times, hilarious.
Excellent performances from Bill Murray and the entire cast elevate Scrooged. Not a light hearted movie, it can be quite dark and depressing. There are some scenes that wouldn't feel out of place in a horror movie as well. Still the most fitting option for people who want a different take on the classic Christmas Carol story. Well worth a watch and perfect as a darker Christmas movie option.