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Xmas Marks The Spot

DVDs that celebrate the holiday season

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You've got the chestnuts on the open fire, the stockings on the chimney, the wreath on the front door, the mistletoe in the hallway, the turkey in the oven, the Very Special Christmas CDs in the disc changer, and Terminator 3 in the DVD player. Something doesn't seem quite right with this picture. . .

With apologies to Arnold, the festive holiday mood won't be complete unless there's a vision of Yuletide cheer filling up that TV screen. To that end, here are a few suggestions on what's available on DVD to fully get into the swing of the season.

Let's start with the new kid on the block. Although filmed several years ago (indeed, its writer-director, NC native Alexander Johnston, passed away in 2000 at the age of 41), The Angel Doll has recently been receiving a lot of exposure: It unspooled at last month's Asheville Film Festival, was subsequently shown at the recent Southern Exposure Film Forum in Charlotte (where it snagged three awards, including Best Dramatic Feature Film), and made its video and DVD debuts three weeks ago. Its modest production values and lowkey demeanor beg comparison to those made-for-TV Hallmark specials, yet this charming and poignant tale, about a boy who searches for a special Christmas present for his dying kid sister, should hold great appeal for Carolinians: It's based on local favorite Jerry Bledsoe's book, it's mainly set in Thomasville, it was largely filmed in Wilmington, and its cast includes several veteran actors who are either NC natives or who have made the state their home (Pat Hingle, Betsy Brantley, Nick Searcy).If your taste runs more toward the classics, you can't go wrong with the DVDs for 1946's It's a Wonderful Life and 1983's A Christmas Story. The Wonderful Life disc is a rather modest affair, containing only a making-of documentary, a tribute to Frank Capra, and the theatrical trailer. Then again, the movie itself is merely one of the all-time greats, so extras almost seem beside the point. Incidentally, the film is available for purchase individually or in a box set with another marvelous Christmas yarn, the 1947 gem Miracle On 34th Street.

A Christmas Story, meanwhile, has been available on DVD for the past four years, but you'll want to avoid that barebones edition. Instead, opt for the two-disc set that came out this October -- it's loaded with a number of engaging extras, including a look at the Daisy Red Ryder ("You'll shoot your eye out, kid!").

The Cat In the Hat isn't exactly a Christmas tale, but with that new live-action version currently stinking up movie theaters, it can't hurt to plug the modest charms of the animated versions that were crafted from Dr. Seuss's classic book approximately three decades ago. The 1971 edition is the one we all remember, while the 1972 take, part of the Beginner Book Video series, was designed for even younger children; both are presently available on DVD. So, too, are a couple of Seuss-related yarns featuring a character who does have something to do with Christmas: the beloved 1966 classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, available on a disc that pairs it with Horton Hears a Who, and the 1982 The Grinch Grinches the Cat In the Hat, an Emmy Award winner that sounds like a titanic grudge match infinitely more appealing than Freddy vs. Jason.

The Seuss collective is just the tip of the TV toon iceberg. Equally enticing is the Peanuts Classic Holiday Collection, which provides patrons with the most bang for their bucks. You can buy the immortal A Charlie Brown Christmas on its own, but this three-disc box set is for the savvy reveler who wants to be covered all through the holiday season, from Halloween until the end of the year. Start with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, slide over into A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and wrap it up with the cherished Christmas classic.

Nostalgists and their kids will also get a kick out of Rankin/Bass: The Original Television Holiday Classics, a three-disc set containing five venerable R/B productions. Sure, the claymation and animation in these childhood favorites are pretty rough (to say the least), but even Ebenezer Scrooge has been known to warm up to the charms of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman, Frosty Returns and, of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

If you prefer your stop-motion more polished, don't miss 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas. With Tim Burton protege Henry Selick serving as director (and Burton himself credited with the story), this is a wickedly smart tale about the mayhem which ensues when Halloween and Christmas bump up against each other. The DVD's pretty cool, generous enough to include some deleted scenes as well as two early short films by Burton, Vincent and Frankenweenie.

Finally, fans of the most infamous of all Christmas flicks, 1964's all-time turkey Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, will be pleased that the film is available on DVD -- but will be disheartened to learn that the print is so wretched (this is, after all, a film in the public domain) that the disc offers little joy. I can't imagine that the renowned Criterion line will want to sully their hands on this one (then again, they did momentarily tarnish their image by releasing Armageddon), but maybe Something Weird or Rhino or one of the other adventurous DVD outfits will take a crack at this irresistible lump of Christmas coal.

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