SALT LAKE CITY — When I was a little kid, there was no such thing as the Hallmark Channel or video-on-demand — if we wanted to watch a Christmas movie, we had to wait all year until a classic came on one of the three TV channels we had available.
Now we are guaranteed nonstop Christmas movie bombardment starting the day after Halloween. This is all great, but it got me wondering, what has Utah contributed to the Christmas movie scene? Here are a few interesting Christmas titles you may or may not be familiar with that were filmed right here in Utah.
Although I haven’t seen this 2015 made-for-TV movie, I really liked the fact it was filmed at Pioneer Village in Lagoon. “Christmas Land,” starring Nikki DeLoach and Luke Macfarlane, is about a woman who inherits a Christmas tree farm and she is ready to sell it until she falls in love with the town and a man named Tucker.
I can’t speak to the quality of this film, but I imagine it hits a pretty universal Christmas chord with audiences since it airs like crazy on the Hallmark Channel. I can, however, speak to Pioneer Village as a great location to film a movie. It is basically a charming ready-made year-round movie set.
I remember as a kid standing on the dusty main street of Pioneer Village waiting for the cowboy shootout reenactment to take place. This was essentially a staged 1850s gun battle between cops and robbers that would take place twice a day every day in the summer. As a kid, it was amazing to watch the actors perform this old Western drama in what felt like an authentic old Western town.
Speaking of cowboys and Christmas, “Christmas Mountain,” starring Mark Miller and Slim Pickens, is probably the most obscure movie on this list. Filmed in 1981, “Christmas Mountain” is about a cowboy who gets thrown in a small town jail for failing to pay a restaurant tab. In order to pay his debt to society, he is asked to take much-needed supplies to a family who lives on top of Christmas Mountain. Along the way, he and the townspeople learn a lot about themselves and what they consider charity.
This movie was filmed in Salt Lake City and various places throughout Utah County. I haven’t seen this film either but would love to hear from anyone who has or better yet anyone who remembers it being filmed here in Utah. “Christmas Mountain” delivers a solid 75 percent good review rating on IMDb with a New York Times review stating, "This heartwarming Christmas tale contains a Western twist as it tells the tale of a heavenly cowpoke who rides down to earth to ride herd on a few people in need of some miracles."
You can find “Christmas Mountain” for sale on DVD at Amazon.com.
I debated adding this movie to the list since, full disclosure, half of my family had a hand in some aspect of making this movie, myself and my daughter included. I finally decided to add it to the list because it is a film that has very strong Utah ties and is almost entirely a product of Utah, not just solely because it was filmed here.
“A Christmas Wish” is the story of a recently divorced single mother played by Kristy Swanson who finds herself and her young family alone in a small town at Christmas time struggling to make ends meet. This film is one of the movies you will find playing regularly on The Hallmark Channel during the Christmas season. The setting in Mapleton was perfect for this film, and it didn’t hurt that it happened to snow regularly as they were shooting many of the outdoor scenes. This film boasts a well-known cast including: Ed Hermann, Kristy Swanson, Academy Award winner Tess Harper and local actor (who also is my brother,) KC Clyde.
Now, to totally change the tone of this list, I have included the horror gem from 1984, “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” This film was very controversial when it was released, due to the fact that it featured a killer Santa Clause. The movie was pulled from theaters a week after release.
Filmed on locations throughout Salt Lake City and Heber, director Charles Sellier decided Utah was somehow the perfect location to tell his story. Despite all of the negativity, this movie has built a cult following and has somehow managed to spawn five sequels. I’m not sure this is the movie you want to have playing when family comes over for dinner, but then again, you may.
You can find it for sale on Amazon.com.
This film is rated R for gore and violence.
Last, but not least, “Mr. Krueger’s Christmas” starring Jimmy Stewart is the story of a widower who, after inviting a group of carolers into his home, discovers the true meaning of Christmas.
Released in 1980, this film is the oldest on my list but has stuck out in my mind as a movie I really liked as a kid. As I grew older, I began to wonder if this film was really as good as I remembered. To test this question, I showed it to my kids a few years ago to gauge their responses, and to my surprise, I found my 8-year- old crying after the movie.
I guess it shows that there is a timeless quality to the story and the abilities of Stewart as an actor. This film was shot entirely in Salt Lake City and has some pretty recognizable locations if you are familiar with the city.
If you are looking for a movie to set a great Christmas mood and you are willing to look past how dated everything is, I think you will like “Mr. Krueger's Christmas.”
Whatever your taste in Christmas movies, rest assured that there is something in this list for everyone, and you can watch knowing that you will likely see a little bit of your home state.