On December 1, 1989, Warner Brothers Pictures released their third installment in the National Lampoon Vacation franchise — Christmas Vacation. The film did not disappoint and was equally as outrageous as its two predecessors. Today, it’s regarded as a modern Christmas classic. The movie debuted at No. 2 at the box office grossing $11,750,203 during its opening weekend, although it received mixed reviews from the public and critics. Now, take a look into some of the lesser-known facts about the Christmas film that has been the essence of holiday cheer since it was first released.
The Film Is Based On a Short Story
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is actually based on the short story “Christmas 59,” written by John Hughes for National Lampoon Magazine in December 1980. “Christmas 59” was a follow up to the short story “Vacation 58,” which was made into the original Vacation movie in 1983.
The film pays tribute to Hughes’ original short story when Clark is in the attic pulling out old family Christmas films to watch. During the process, he reveals one that is titled “X-Mas ’59.” This definitely wasn’t a coincidence either.
Have you ever noticed some familiar-looking houses in the film?
Hughes Didn’t Like The Idea of Vacation Sequels
Although many of Hughes’ films have had sequels, he was never excited about any of them. In an interview with William Ham, he said, “The only sequels I was involved in were under duress.” Even though he was a writer on European Vacation, he claims that it was only because he had created the characters.
When the studio was begging him about another Vacation movie, he said that he went along with it because he had written a short story that would work for it already. As the Vacation films started to deteriorate in quality, he tried to distance himself from them as much as possible.
Clark’s Childhood Home May Look Familiar
If Clark’s childhood home in the old movies he found in the attic look familiar, it’s because you’ve most likely seen them before! The house in the old tapes was the same house featured on Bewitched and also New Gidget. That house is part of what is known as the Warner Bros. backlot, also known as Blondie Street.
The rest of the Griswolds’ neighborhood was filmed on a backlot as well. The house owned by the family’s uptight neighbors, Todd and Margo, was also used by the character Roger Murtaugh and his family in Lethal Weapon.
You’ll never guess which director played a roll in making the film happen.
Roger Ebert Didn’t Enjoy The Film
Although the film has been considered a Christmas classic since its first release, not everyone fell in love with Christmas Vacation. Well-respected film reviewer Roger Ebert even gave the film a two-star review.
He described the film as “curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn’t work.” It doesn’t appear that Ebert’s opinion had much influence on the public’s opinion of the movie.
Sequels on Sequels
While many people might not realize it even exists, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure was released for television in 2003. It features Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn as Eddie and Catherine who are a couple that is stranded on an island in the South Pacific for the holidays.
It currently holds a low 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation may have been Randy Quaid’s most recognizable role, it didn’t pan out the same way for Christmas Vacation 2.
Stanley Kubrick Can Be Attributed To The Film’s Success
Christmas Vacation was the directorial debut of Jeremiah Chechik, who began his career as a fashion photographer for Vogue. He then went into commercial directing where his dark, sexy, and progressive style turned some heads — including that of director Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick who claimed his commercials were his favorite in American filmmaking. It didn’t take long for studios to began sending Chechik scripts and he was very interested when Family Vacation came across his desk.
See what happened when filming Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany’s entrance.
Cousin Eddie Was Based On a Real Person
While the character of Cousin Eddie might seem like something right out of someone’s twisted mind, that’s not entirely the case. Apparently, Randy Quaid based the character off of somebody that he grew up with in Texas, even down to the tongue-clicking.
However, Quaid’s wife lent a hand as well an encouraged him to wear Eddie’s sweater and Dickie’s combo for the character’s outfits. While dealing with the person Eddie was based on may have been difficult, we’re glad him and Quaid crossed paths to give us such an unbelievable character.
No “Holiday Road” For This Movie
Christmas Vacation is the only film in the Vacation franchise that doesn’t feature the song “Holiday Road” by Lindsey Buckingham. Considering that the film was Christmas-themed, for the film, they created a new song titled “Christmas Vacation.”
The song was written for the film by couple Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The song was considered to be very appropriate compared the other original Vacation soundtrack. The hit was later covered and can be found on the 2007 Disney Channel Holiday album.
Ellen Griswold Lied To The Police About Kidnapping
After the police raid the Griswold home, Ellen Griswold apologies to Mrs. Shirley, the wife of Clark’s boss whom Eddie had kidnapped. She claims that “This is our family’s first kidnapping,” when in fact, it is actually their second.
In the first Vacation film, the Griswolds force Lasky, a security guard at Wally World, to open the park for them. At least we’re led to believe that that was their first family kidnapping. You can never be too sure with the Griswold clan.
Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany Literally Made the Set Shake
The arrival of Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany wasn’t just a stressful time for Clark Griswold, but apparently the Earth’s crust as well. While filming the scene where Lewis and Bethany arrive at the Griswold home, you may notice a small shaking of the camera as they walk through the front door.
This was the result of a minor earthquake during production that wasn’t even really noticed until after the scene had already been filmed. It would be hard to notice without prior knowledge there was a small earthquake during that time.
You won’t belive the size of the movie’s budget.
The Opening Credits Were a Rarity
During an age when films were trying to use the latest technology around, animation seemed like it was on its way out, especially animated intros. This is what made the intro to Christmas Vacation such a rarity — especially considering that the film was live-action.
Christmas Vacation was only one of three movies in 1989 to use animated opening credits with the others being Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Troop Beverly Hills. While back then it may have seemed underwhelming, today, it’s part of what makes the film unique.
The Film Has Connections to It’s A Wonderful Life
Believe it or not, there are lots of ties between Christmas Vacation and the 1946 classic It’s A Wonderful Life. To begin, Frank Capra III was the assistant director for Christmas Vacation. Coincidentally, he is the grandson of Frank Capra who directed It’s A Wonderful Life.
Secondly, the scene where Clark takes a chainsaw to the wobbly newel post is a reference to the broken newel post at the Bailey house in It’s A Wonderful Life. Finally, Russ can be seen watching the movie on the couch when his grandparents first arrive.
The Cast of the Movie Was Top-Notch
Christmas Vacation had a pretty impressive cast, especially considering that it was a goofy comedy film. The two future stars, Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis, would score an Oscar nomination in a few years.
However, according to Beverly D’Angelo, it was the older cast that was equally if not more impressive. She claimed that “I attribute that to Jeremiah Chechik and his direction in bringing in E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd […] That was really a special cast.”
Director Jeremiah Chechik Had Never Seen a Vacation Movie
When Jeremiah Chechik signed on to direct Christmas Vacation — the third film in the Vacation series — he hadn’t even seen the other two. “I hadn’t seen the first two [Vacation movies], and so I wasn’t really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big—at the time—their big Christmas movie, and comedy,” he told Den of Geek.
After successfully directing Christmas Vacation,Chechik went on to direct Benny & Joon, Diabolique, and The Avengers,as well as episodes of The Bronx is Burning, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and Burn Notice.
The Film Had a Massive Budget
Surprisingly, Christmas Vacation had a giant budget, especially for a comedy film. The budget was $27 million, although there weren’t nearly as many special effects as a movie like Ghostbusters,which was made similarly for around $30 million.
The size of the budget proved to not be an issue, as it made the budget (and then some) back after the film’s final domestic gross was $71,319,526. This was extremely impressive for a Christmas film.
See which scene almost didn’t make the cut.
The Film Doesn’t Have an Official Soundtrack, But Someone Did Release a Fake One
Although the film included many classic holiday tracks such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Clause,” no official soundtrack for the film was ever released. In 1999, however, a bootleg version appeared that claimed to be the “10th Anniversary Limited Edition.”
These were being sold in online auctions claiming that Warner Bros. had pressed 20,000 of the copies that had supposedly been given out specifically at Six Flags amusement parks. They were deemed as fan-made with the biggest clue being that the soundtrack had the wrong version of the film’s title track.
The Griswold’s Reuinted for an Old Navy Commercial
During the holiday season of 2012, Old Navy released a series of commercials to promote their holiday sweaters that featured various members from the original Griswold family. One of the commercials included the original Rusty, Euro Rusty, Audrey, Juliet Lewis, Chevy Chase, and Beverly D’Angelo.
However, actor Johnny Galecki was noticeably missing along with Euro Audrey actress, Dana, Hill who had passed away in 1996. Another one of the commercials that aired had only Beverly D’Angelo and Chevy Chase along with Johnny Mathis.
Rusty Paid Homage to One of Chevy Chase’s SNL Gags
During the scene when Chevy’s lights on the house fail to work for the first time, Clark asks Rusty to double check the lights for him. At that moment, Rusty looks at a non-existent watch on his bare wrist. He pretends to check the time and then excuses himself to go inside.
This was a classic move done by Chevy Chase frequently when performing on Saturday Night Live,so it’s no surprise that they added it into the movie for a similar effect. It was also a nice Easter egg for SNL fans.
The Cat Electrocution Almost Didn’t Make the Cut
While trying to plug the lights into the Christmas tree, Clark accidentally ends up electrocuting the cat and killing it. Although no cats were harmed in the making of the film, the scene was almost cut before its release. Warner Bros. executives wanted the scene cut for fear of offending some viewers, especially animal rights activists.
Producer Matty Simmons then convinced the Warner Bros. executives to leave the scene although they hesitantly obliged. As it turns out, after the first test screening, the audience claimed that the cat electrocution was one of the funniest scenes of the film.
A Connection to the Rocky Franchise
Cousin Eddie, played by Quaid, has a son named Rocky in the film. This is a direct nod to the character Rocky from the boxing films of the same name starring Sylvester Stallone. As it turns out, Sylvester Stallone picked up on this reference who then included footage from Christmas Vacation in his film the next year, Rocky V.
Furthermore, Rocky’s Las Vegas shirt in Christmas Vacation hinted at where the next Vacation film would take place, in Las Vegas, Nevada.