There is a moment near the end of Prime Video’s new Christmas movie Candy Cane Lane that will now be seared into my brain every time I look at Christmas tree decorations. Evil elf Pepper (Jillian Bell) pulls a spherical glass ornament out of her pocket and takes a big chomp out of it like it’s an apple. There’s this chilling crunch noise as she continues to chew, the exact opposite of a soothing ASMR effect.
It’s a small detail in the hullabaloo of the movie’s chaotic finale, but it’s so visceral, I will never be able to forget it.
This weirdly horrific take on a common piece of Christmas decor basically illustrates the entire premise of Candy Cane Lane, and exactly what the movie does best. Director Reginald Hudlin and screenwriter Kelly Younger dare ask the question, “How terrifying can we make Christmas without actually making it scary?” And man oh man, Candy Cane Lane’s Christmas gets pretty darn terrifying.
The story kicks off when, in an effort to win his neighborhood’s holiday decorating competition, Chris Carver (Eddie Murphy) makes a strange deal with the owner of a Christmas store. However, that owner turns out to be Pepper, who defected from the North Pole after deciding that Santa’s gotten too lax with his Nice list. She’s on a mission to huntdown wrongdoers and lure them into Faustian bargains. When they fail to uphold their end of the deals, she turns them into tiny porcelain figurines for her little Christmas village, dooming them to live out eternity in Yuletide cheer.
In Chris’ case, his deal with Pepper grants him some magical decorations for a “12 Days of Christmas”-themed display that stuns the neighborhood. But then it comes to life and begins to terrorize him and his family. As the animals and people from the classic carol wreak havoc on the Carvers’ day-to-day lives, Chris must find the golden rings from the tune’s lyrics and present them to Pepper by 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve, or he, too, will be doomed to be a tiny Christmas figurine forever and ever.
Candy Cane Lane is an unhinged comedy with a bizarre premise, but it does do the typical holiday movie thing, with a story centered around family themes. There are messages about parents being OK with their kids growing up, a family learning to communicate and trust one another, and the general search for the true meaning of Christmas. All of that is fairly standard and pulled off pretty well, especially given the movie’s general chaos.
But what I’m going to remember is the scene where middle Carver child Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixson) opens a classroom door and finds one of the carol’s “maids a-milking” kneeling by a cow, a golden ring piercing the bovine’s nostrils. As he approaches, the maid coquettishly says, “Hi. Got milk?” Then she aims the cow’s udder at him and splashes him with a stream of milk. Thus begins a battle between Nick and milkmaid as he tries to get the golden ring and she fends him off through the power of dairy.
It’s unhinged. It’s delightful. It turns cutesy Christmas quirks into batshit terror. I will never be able to sing “The 12 Days of Christmas” without thinking of a lords a-leapin’ ambush or strategically aimed udders ever again.
Christmas comedies are usually known for their off-the-walls hijinks, usually because one bad thing after another happens as the main characters try to have a happy holiday. There’s a time and place for more subdued and meaningful holiday movies, like It’s a Wonderful Life, Klaus, or A Muppet Christmas Carol. But when you’re doing Christmas hijinks, you have to commit. Send in an elf SWAT team, like in The Santa Clause. Have the main character fake deliver a heart transplant, like in I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Kidnap your brother-in-law’s cruel boss, like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Candy Cane Lane stands by the fine tradition of pushing the shenanigans meter to full throttle, the way the most fun Christmas comedies ought to be.
Candy Cane Lane is available on Prime Video.