Its no secret that Chevy Chase is one of our national treasures. Any guy who can still get roles after being in the longest string of bad movies imaginable deserves our respect. But if you think Chevy himself is a bad, worthless actor...you're wrong. See, Chevy has a mission. He wants to see how many bad scripts he can turn into something watchable. In his view, the more horrible the movie looks on paper, the better. Its the only way to explain the bonanza of movies he's been a part of. Chevy is nearly superhuman in his determination to not only star in the roles the rest of Hollywood is too scared to even consider - but to make them something worth watching.
Either that, or the guy fucking blindfolds himself, points to a monkey inside a cage at the zoo, and hires him to write a script. Whichever theory you prefer, there's evidence to back it up.
The movie we're gonna look at today is one of those rare cases where Chevy succeeded. The spirit of Christmas took over his soul, and he worked his ass off to make one of the goofiest, asinine scripts ever written into a movie worth watching. A lot of people say that a movie's only as good as the cameo appearances by a squirrel it boasts, and rightfully so. On that note, today's movie isn't just seasonal...its a legacy.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation! As far as I'm concerned, this movie is a dynasty. The first time I watched it...and I'm sure many of you felt the same way...I had a hard time keeping myself from the normal ritual of pouring gasoline over the television. But it grew on me, like some alien viral fungus, drawing me in more and more with each excessive rewatch, until finally I had officially started a fan club in its honor and would choose off-weeks where I wasn't allowed to speak unless I managed to quote the film in my sentences. Yes, its that good.
The Griswolds' legendary affinity for vacations didn't start with Christmas. If you'll recall, they've been everywhere from Europe, to Las Vegas, even Wally World. But as far as I'm concerned, none of them held a candle to this one. How could they? Christmas Vacation had more amazing scenes than any movie ever created! To prove it, I've selected the ten best. But first, let's review what the movie is supposed to be about.
Clark Griswold is about to host his first family Christmas at home. Formerly, the yearly tradition took place at his father's house, but as you'll see when we meet pops, he's simply too old and senile to make marinated havarati with any success. So its up to Clark to continue the tradition, invite the whole family, and pray that all goes well. Of course, it doesn't, and we're subject to scene after scene of some of the most suspicious plot developments in a Christmas show since Frosty got a girlfriend in that awful sequel of his. With that, let's run through the Top Ten Reasons To See Christmas Vacation...
#10: Crazy Children Cameos: The only real constant in the National Lampoon's series is that, from movie to movie, nobody is supposed to notice that Clark's kids absolute defy aging, going as far as to have severe plastic surgery to keep themselves looking young. Each movie has a different set of people playing the kids. They're usually nobodies that Chevy picks randomly, like the monkey we've already discussed. But this time, they pulled at all the stops and gave us Hollywood's very best!
On the left, playing Audrey Griswold. You might know her as Woody Harrelson's crazy wife with the armpit hair. Maybe you've seen her refuse to admit that she was a part of Steve Martin's Mixed Nuts. But however you remember her, its Juliette Lewis! A younger Juliette with a less attractive hairdo, but its her nonetheless. Her role in this movie is to say each word of her lines in 15-second intervals, and to complain about the sleeping arrangements of the house in its holiday splendor, which forces her to sleep with her younger, masturbating brother. Played by...
Johnny Galecki! Nothing? No proverbial Christmas bells ringing? Okay, he was the guy who played Darlene's boyfriend on Roseanne. Still nothing? Okay...remember I Know What You Did Last Summer? Remember that kid who was dead inside the trunk of the car, covered in evil crabs! That's him! Johnny looks no more than twelve years old here in his role as Rusty, which is pretty disturbing when you think about it. If he's twelve now, he had to be like 8 years old when he was going up that European girl's shirt in the last movie. Anyway, with all this star power, how can Chevy be stopped?
Much later in the movie, the family decides to do some traditional holiday sledding. Clark in his eternal charm thinks it'd be best to use a hubcap greased up with experimental lubricant from work. There was a scene showing how Clark infiltrated the office late at night in a ninja costume to smuggle this rare lubricant out, but they had to cut it to make time for the standard Clark-sex-daydream sequence, one of the series' staples. It was probably for the best, since it gives the movie time for the ninth greatest scene...
#9 - Slapstick action previously unheard of! What Chevy's movies lack in every other conceivable department, they certainly make up for in sheer comedy! Clark immediately takes off, leaving a fire trail behind his mega-sled, gliding past a highway and into a dumpster at Wal-Mart. This scene works on so many levels. Number one, Chevy gets hurt. Number two, the stuntman's face is notoriously unhidden. Number three, special apperarance by Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, because this list isn't ordered by appearance in the movie, we're gonna make a big swing from comedy to total seriousness between #9 and #8...
#8 - GUS BORDEN. Clark's evil boss is the only real obstacle in his big Christmas plan. See, Clark intends to install a swimming pool with the money gained from his Christmas bonus. It surely would've been the greatest, most off-season gift his family could ever hope for. Little does he know that his boss has cancelled all the Christmas bonuses! And, being stuck in Lampoon's continuity, Clark also doesn't realize his boss' true identity.
Its Gus Borden, from famous failed Fox sitcom, Get A Life! Shown on the right dressed in drag after Chris Elliot drank his patented Time Juice, altering the future and leaving Gus a sufferer from an abrupt sex change. Juliette and Johnny are one thing, but once you nail Brian Murray onto the cast, you've really put together an all-star team.
#7 - Tree On Fire. This probably should've been further down the list. The movie doesn't really get any momentum until Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany, the two oldest, loopiest Griswolds, make their appearance. Once they do, they steal the show. Uncle Louis gets over with the audience by insulting Clark wherever he can, while Aunt Bethany chooses a more unique route by wrapping up her cat as a Christmas gift, and putting cat food as a garnish to her Jell-O mold.
To understand this scene, we've got to take a step back to the beginning of the movie...
The Griswolds go out into the forest to chop down their own Christmas tree. Of course, the tree is 50' tall, but by movie law, nobody should notice that 40' have miraculously disappeared by the time it reaches the house. In any event, Clark is mighty proud of his tree. Its the biggest in the neighborhood, and the perfect centerpiece for this old-fashioned holiday experience. Clark loves this tree, making #7 all the more painful...
Uncle Louis manages to burn down the entire thing while lighting his cigar, setting himself on fire in the process. His response to Clark's obvious despair? 'So what's the matter wit you?' Louis then goes on to agree that the tree was ugly, adding that its good that its finally out of its misery. Its at this point that Clark starts losing his mind, but he's forgetting: the tree is only the second most prominent of his Christmas decorations...
#6 - Christmas Lights! Most of us could sympathize with Clark's need to cover his entire house in Christmas lights. Everyone wants to prove that they've got the most holiday spirit on their block. Personally, I could never get into it. We use to have this guy four houses down who made his house look at least 3x worse than Clark's, so what's the point? Its not like someone's gonna point to the other houses on the street and point out how wonderfully symmetrical their lights on. People just want the bulk. I'm not gonna compete for most lights, especially when I don't look at my own for more than around 50 seconds during the entire month of December. If you're looking to impress the neighbors, just buy a nice car. It won't take half as much work, and you won't have to throw it in your attic from January to November.
Clark feels differently. After much chicanery, they get the lights lit, draining the entire city of its glorious nuclear energy. At first, he can't get them lit and thinks that one of the bulbs must be out. We've all been there. Several years back someone finally invented a string of lights that wouldn't go out if one bulb went bad, but before that, this Christmas light thing was Hell.
#5 - Amazing Moose Cups. I always thought I was alone in this one. That's why I started the Christmas Vacation Fan Club. I needed to make sure that I wasn't the only one who got their rocks off by the special appearance by the Wally World Moose eggnog cups. Luckily, I wasn't by myself. Everybody wants these cups.
Just think of the subtle feeling of superiority you'd have at your Christmas parties if you served the punch in a moose glass. They're the perfect conversational piece. You could serve the shittiest food and give out the crappiest presents, it wouldn't really make a difference. The only thing people will remember are those moose cups. I've spent the better part of the past ten years trying to find moose glasses of my very own, with no luck. The production values of this movie aren't going to win any awards. I sincerely doubt they had moose cups specially made for the film. So we know they're out there somewhere. Until the day we find them for ourselves, we have no choice but to watch this movie and keep rewinding this scene over and over again. At this point, its our one and only connection to the fabled, glorious glass moose eggnog cup.
#4 - Clark Goes Crazy. After his perfect family Christmas turns out not to be all that perfect, Clark loses his mind. First, the turkey explodes. Then, Louis burns down the tree. Finally, Clark finds out that his Christmas bonus consists of an enrollment into the Jelly of the Month club. Any normal person would simply call it quits under the pressure, but Clark has a better idea: put on a Santa suit, and go psychotic. A bit of a stretch considering that the last person we saw do that went crazy from watching his mother get oral sex from Santa Claus, but Clark was always a little high strung.
The point is, Clark's idea of going crazy needs work. He doesn't maim and kill. He doesn't even kick anybody. All he does is blink a lot and take a chainsaw to the stair banister. This movie was written by John Hughes, who had already established himself as a hit-or-miss movie maker by the time 1990 rolled around. He's just lucky he had Chevy Chase there to make the script work. Lucky he had Chevy, and very, very lucky he had Aunt Bethany...
#3: Aunt Bethany Says Grace. Clark decides to let Bethany do the honors of saying grace, considering that this is her 80th Christmas. 80th consecutive Christmas, mind you. Bethany doesn't quite understand...Grace passed away thirty years ago! In the animated pic a little further above, you'll see Uncle Louis deliver his master line: THE BLESS-SING!
So Aunt Bethany gives us our prayer, only its not a prayer, its the Pledge of Allegiance. The last scene in the movie has her singing the Star Spangled Banner.
Aunt Bethany is God.
The second-to-greatest scene is one you might've missed. When Eddie takes Clark's psychotic ramblings literally and delivers his boss wrapped in a big red bow, the cops arrive. His boss had already taken back his sour decision to not give out Christmas bonuses, but the cops don't know that...
After breaking into the house, Clark's boss tells them that he's not pressing any charges. Then he starts explaining his previous plan to cut out Christmas bonuses, leaving the lead cop to deliver the best line of the movie. Maybe you had to be there.
But I have to ask, what is with the movie stereotype that calls for every police force to be led by a fat black guy who looks like Carl Winslow? Is it because Carl Winslow actually was a fat black leader cop in the Die Hard series? I'm just realizing it now...at least 70% of the movies I've watched all have a guy like this as part of the cast.
Now all that's left is the scene. The number one scene in the movie - and perhaps the number one scene in any movie. The coming...of the squirrel.
#1: Aunt Bethany announces that she hears a funny, squeaking sound in the house. At first, no one listens to her. After all, this woman had just said the Pledge of Allegiance as a Christmas prayer, and repeatedly apologized for breaking wind. But the noise becomes louder, so Clark inspects the new tree he has just cut down and brought inside...
SQUIRREL!!!! Is it a black mark on the actors' combined talents that the best scene in the movie comes from a squirrel? You be the judge. The squirrel's appearance in the house marks an era of mayhem for the Griswolds, who unanimously flip out to the point where we're led to believe that this is no ordinary squirrel. I can understand being a little on edge if a squirrel turns up in your living room, but the family really goes crazy about it. People scream, people faint, and it becomes crystal clear: if Clark wants to save Christmas, he's gotta get rid of the squirrel.
His father volunteers to help him on this ungodly task. Clark's plan - trap it in the giftbag, and slam it over the head with a hammer. The squirrel is the enemy, the true scourge of the Christmas season. So they go back into the living room, now official Squirrel Territory, and help up Clark's mom. Then his father notices something peculiar on Clark's back. His reaction? Movie history.
I can't begin to count the number of times I've rewound Clark's dad screaming 'Squirrel!', but its one of the most amazing things you can ever see.
To top it all off, the squirrel escapes by jumping onto Julia Louis-Dreyfus' chest. The perfect ending to a perfect movie.
All in all, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a unintentional holiday classic. Sure, it'll never win any awards, but no December is complete without at least one viewing. Though it will undoubtedly be shown on television at least 25 more times before the month's up, you can definitely find it at your local video store, or just pick it up from Amazon by clicking here.