It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the season of giving, reflection, and ending the year on a positive note. But it’s easy to get swept up in the holiday rush and lose track of what’s important. That’s where Christmas horror flicks come in, peeling back the layers of consumerism that plague the holiday, and bringing to light some darker traditions associated with the holiday. While you can find your fair share of Christmas movies out there, maybe you need to add some extra spice to your yearly Christmas watch list. So here are ten films that will scare you into the season when your spirits are down. Some familiar favorites for the horror die-hards, and some more obscure films waiting to be unearthed. Enjoy!
10. The Children
I’ll start this list off on a morbid note with this British gem from Sam Raimi’s Ghosthouse Underground imprint. Tom Shankland’s The Children follows a dysfunctional family get-together at a secluded cabin in the days after Christmas. One kid gets sick, and soon, all the other kids are coming down with the bug as well. And this sickness quickly spreads to the brain, making these tykes surprisingly efficient killers. Pretty standard fare story-wise, but The Children has to be one of the most surprisingly violent films of its kind. The onscreen deaths of the kids are just as brutal as the deaths of the adults, and the kids are just as quick to switch on the innocent card to inflict more confusion and panic among the adults. This has some of the better child acting that I’ve seen in a horror film, where the actors seem like believable six-year-olds, even when they’re stabbing you in the eye with a colored pencil. The secluded woods setting is so far removed from the suburban holiday setting we’re used to. The film looks as cold as it feels, making the blood-stained snow stand out to horrifying effect. The kids may be naughty, but this film is a nice treat for even the most seasoned of gore-hounds.
9. Santa's Slay
Dare I say, criminally overlooked, Santa’s Slay was quietly released Direct-to-DVD in the mid-2000’s and seemed to just blend in with bargain brand holiday fare. But, that’s where it find its strength, as it’s presented like a movie you’d see on your go-to “25 Days of Christmas” channel. WWE’s Bill Goldberg stars as Santa, though here he is also the son of Satan, and has had to deliver presents for a thousand years after losing a curling match with an angel. Finally, the years are up, and Santa is now ready to unleash Hell on Earth after he gets revenge on the angel who’s been living quietly in the small town of Hell. Obviously, the film knows how ridiculous it is, and it has as much fun with it as it can. What more could you ask for than an evil, action star Santa, spouting one-liners so dumb you can’t help but laugh. Surprisingly bloodless for a high body count, the film makes up for it with creative death scenes and sight gags. Sure, it grinds to halt in the third act, but at a breezy 78-minute runtime, this is some worthy holiday junk food.
8. Female Trouble
Yes, this is indeed a horror film from the Pope of Trash, John Waters. Starting off Christmas morning, delinquent school girl, Dawn Davenport, played by Divine, doesn’t receive the cha-cha heels she wanted for Christmas. Enraged, she trashes her parent’s house and runs away from home. From there, she’s picked up and knocked up by the lecherous Earl Peterson, also played by Divine, before being left to fend for herself. The single mom spirals further down the rabbit hole of petty crime, to drugs and murder under the influence of corrupt socialites who promise fame and fortune. By the end, Dawn has completed a Kafkaesque transformation into the ogre terrorizing Baltimore; severed limbs and acidic disfigurement in her wake. Despite its desire to shock and appall, Female Trouble never shakes the look of a tacky Christmas ornament, building to a final shot where our lead is lit up like a Christmas tree star. It’s fun for the whole family...if you’re the Manson family.
7. Silent Night, Deadly Night
The iconic slasher classic that enraged the nation, and spawned the most unnecessary 80’s franchise since Highlander. In tragic backstory that could have made him Batman, Billy Chapman witnesses his parents murdered by a man dressed as Santa. From there, he’s raised in an orphanage by an Old Testament preaching, abusive mother superior who grinds a twisted right and wrong into Billy until his teenage years. While working in a department store and seeing how the holidays bring out the worst in everyone, Billy is forced by his boss to play Santa for the store, sending him over the murderous edge. Billy sees himself as a punisher of the naughty and the “slay” ride begins. Fueled by its own misguided controversy, Silent Night, Deadly Night continues to challenge audiences with its unique take on church hypocrisies and mental health. There are no heroes here, or clear-cut answers. Just a reminder that the happiest time of the year may have some baggage for those less fortunate.
From the depths of New French Extremity, comes arguably the most disturbing home invasion films of all time. Inside, the directorial debut of the Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, the Gruesome Twosome of Euro-horror. Set four months after a terrible car accident that claimed her husband, a very pregnant and grief-stricken Sarah is making preparations to deliver her overdue baby the following morning, Christmas Day. That morning may not come however, as an unstable woman known only La Femme breaks into Sarah’s home, after stalking the widow for some time. And she doesn’t want Sarah’s money or jewels, oh no. She wants that baby, because SPOILERS, La Femme was the other driver in the car accident, which killed her unborn baby. It’s not a silent night, but it sure is a bloody night; possibly one of the bloodiest horror films ever conceived. With tight cinematography that keeps the cat and mouse brutality confined to an otherwise somber house, the audience can feel what was supposed to be a beautiful holiday for a new family. Inside is a film with challenging subject matter that raises it above its surface-level slasher appearance. The leads are two women bound together by a common tragedy and seeking closure. And as the movement suggests, closure by the most extreme means possible, but the film doesn’t let you forget that these two are Yin and Yang. To the most seasoned horror veteran, this is a challenge or a treat. A twisted reminder that Christmas has both an ending and a new beginning, where one should be thankful for the loved ones they have.
5. Rare Exports
From across the seas in Finland, comes a film that brings some of the Norse-Pagan influence back to Christmas. Deep in the mountain range of the Lapland providence, a British mining operation finds, under a mountain of rock, a frozen Joulupukki, a folklore figure that helped shape modern day versions of Santa and Krampus. With this entity awaiting transport, an army of elves rises up, ready to awaken their master, while kidnapping naughty children from a nearby village. Caught in the middle of this, is a boy and his father who are trying to move on after a death in the family, and to rekindle their bond in the face of a potentially apocalyptic Christmas. Through foreshadowing up to the third act, Joulupukki is portrayed similarly to an Eldritch god. Yet there is still some mystery to it with two large, protruding horns, giving us a good idea of how massive this thing could be. Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports is original, heart-warming, and ends on a business opportunity worth of the holiday season.
You know it, you love it. Joe Dante’s classic walked, so a future entry could run. The tale of a struggling inventor who acquires a strange creature as a pet for his son, Billy. The pet Magwai, Gizmo, has three simple, but easy to break rules that are quickly broken. Soon, Gizmo multiplies, and his spawn are the titular agents of destruction, and they’re ready to party. Gremlins is able to capture the high energy and chaos of the Looney Tunes, with the stylized lighting of a Universal monster movie. Chris Walas’ gremlin designs still stand the test of time, with some of the best animatronics of the 1980’s. It’s fun for the family, luring you in with its seemingly heartwarming first act, but pushes the PG rating to its limit once that kitchen fight scene kicks in, and you’re laughing as much as you’re wincing from there. The idea that something so heartwarming and innocent can transform into a terrifying menace that just keeps going. And if there’s one thing we can all agree on it’s that Phoebe Cates grinding the plot to a halt to explain that Santa doesn’t exist probably traumatized more kids than the actual gremlins.
Following his cult classic debut, Trick r’ Treat, Michael Dougherty treated audiences to this modern holiday treat. And like his previous film; Krampus eats, sleeps, and bleeds the holiday. In a story that can be described as Christmas Vacation from hell, the bickering Engel family members, with differing values get together for the holidays, testing the patience and spirit of young Max. In a moment of frustration, Max tears up his letter to Santa, invoking a visit from St. Nick’s goth BFF, Krampus. With him comes his own band of helpers and a massive snow storm leaving the family to find the holiday spirit even if it kills them. A surprisingly family friendly film, it still manages to deliver tense scares as much as it can make you laugh, even managing to become the best remake of Demonic Toys you didn’t know you wanted. Despite its namesake, Krampus is more of a glorified final boss, built up for the climax. But his presence is felt as he lurks in the shadows and unleashes the monstrous Christmas knick-knacks in the attic. And even when he’s revealed, his appearance is hidden behind the hollow image of Father Christmas, which gets more frightening if you read the tie-in comic. But as twisted as it plays, Krampus is a reminder that families may grow apart and not get along, but the holidays are a time to reflect and be thankful for each other’s company. And we can be thankful for Scream Factory’s release of the naughty cut this year, to further this growing tradition.
2. Black Christmas
This is one of the go-to movies horror fans think of. The late Bob Clark’s second seminal holiday favorite still stands the test of time over 45 years later, with two questionable reboots doing nothing to taint the legacy. This is the proto-slasher that broke all the rules before any were even written, Black Christmas, aka Stranger in the House. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A house full of sorority girls keeps receiving threatening calls from a deranged loon, not realizing that he’s calling from the attic. He proceeds to stalk and pick off members. It’s pretty standard, and pretty bloodless. But it’s engraved its place in horror history through its tight, shadowy atmosphere; amazing sound & score; and a vague killer with only hints of a backstory. Billy continues to terrify new viewers with only a silhouette, an eye, and the creepy murmuring of a truly damaged individual (who graces Margot Kidder with one of the greatest death scenes ever). In the middle of this is Jess, played by Olivia Hussey, the final girl, with an unwanted pregnancy. She’s not the virginal heroine we’ve come to expect to pull through to the end. In fact, most of her choices make the situation worse. But she is just one of the many complicated characters in this film, where Christmas is both front and center, but clearly an afterthought when you’re dealing with real world problems like neglect, alcoholism, missing children, unsupportive partners, and the real threat of a murder too close to home. Yeah, I can see why this doesn’t get the 24hr TBS treatment.
1. The Day of the Beast
This recently rediscovered gem from Álex de la Iglesia may be the most seemingly unconventional Christmas movie of the bunch, when Basque priest and theology scholar, Angel, discovers the inevitable birth of the Antichrist is coming on Christmas Eve. The only one with this knowledge, Angel sets off on a quest. He causes as much evil as he can in order to catch the attention of the cult that is orchestrating the unholy nativity in Madrid, in order to kill the satanic spawn and preserve the holy light. Along the way, he strong arms a hack TV host and an obese metal head into assisting him, completing the Three “Not-So-Wise” Men in a race against the clock before the last Noel. In the spirit of the season, Angel is more than willing to offer his life, his integrity to the cloth, and his soul for the thankless job of saving humanity. The Day of the Beast is a film that is rightly finding its international audience since Severin Films released on Blu-ray, and introduced a new audience to Spain’s cult favorite director.
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