Weird Watch: “The Ice Harvest”

Danielle Ryan

To continue our celebration of the Christmas season, we’re looking at Harold Ramis’ dark-as-night comedy, The Ice Harvest.

Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Batman, there is a Darkman. For every Star Wars, there is The Black Hole. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and TV shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is The Ice Harvest! (Last time: Tokyo Godfathers)

Christmas movies are usually lighthearted and fluffy, full of sweet sentiments and the power of family. The Ice Harvest is none of those things. It’s a pitch-black dry comedy that refuses to pull punches. A man executes his wife in front of the family Christmas tree, another man is kept in a metal box until he can be disposed of, and nearly half of the cast kicks it by the end of the film. It’s brutal, but it’s also a tightly-written, well-acted comedy for the most cynical of Christmastime viewers.

Platt and Cusack plan their next move against a psycho mob boss.

The Ice Harvest tells the tale of Wichita lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and his unsavory partner in crime, Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton). Charlie and Vic manage to embezzle $2 million from a Kansas City boss (Randy Quaid). An impending ice storm threatens their chances of escape on Christmas Eve, as does Charlie’s budding relationship with strip club manager Renata (Connie Nielsen).

All Charlie and Vic have to do is lay low until they can leave town, but the ice storm delays that trip until Christmas morning. Vic takes the duffel bag of cash while Charlie spends the night visiting his client’s strip clubs. He meets with Renata, who promises to sleep with him that night if he can provide her with a photo of a local politician’s indiscretions for blackmail. Charlie’s perfect crime begins to unravel as one of the boss’s enforcers comes after Vic and Charlie. The body count rises, and things get way, way out of hand.

Thornton and Cusack discuss their heist in The Ice Harvest.
Thornton and Cusack discuss their heist in The Ice Harvest.

With the exception of Charlie’s friend Pete (Oliver Platt), the characters in this film are all despicable people. They’re self-centered, some of them to the point of being sociopaths. Vic is one seriously evil character, a good precursor to Thornton’s turn as the villain on TV’s Fargo. Quaid’s mob boss is absolutely unhinged, and Renata is willing to manipulate others for her own gain. Charlie is the movie’s protagonist and perhaps one of the least awful people in it, but even he has questionable morals.

The Ice Harvest works because it never backs away from the darker elements of the story. This is a film that delights in nastiness, deriving laughs from murder and mayhem. It never feels as if it’s trying to be intentionally edgy, however. The cruelty of the film is natural, providing a sense of viciousness that lurks even during the holidays. Bad guys don’t just magically behave on Christmas, after all.

Charlie getting into the Christmas spirit(s).

In addition to being the darkest Christmas movie this side of Bad SantaThe Ice Harvest is also delightfully strange. The twists and turns that make up the film’s plot are pretty bizarre. Thankfully, the Wichita setting gives the same kind of small-town weirdness that worked for Fargo. Sure, these are some crazy people doing crazy things. Thornton’s character in particular, is absolutely nuts. As individual pieces, the movie might not have worked, but under Ramis’ direction, it feels natural.

This is a pretty big departure from Ramis’ better-known work. This isn’t exactly Caddyshack or Vacation. For those who like their humor a little darker and their Christmas stories a little less cheery, The Ice Harvest is fantastic addition to the holiday rotation.

Danielle Ryan
A cinephile before she could walk, Danielle comes to Fandom by way of CNN,, and Paste Magazine. She loves controversial cinema (especially horror) and good cinematography; her dislikes include romantic comedies and people's knees.
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