Feliz Navidad, Fright Fans! Here’s hoping your days are merry and bright as we wind our way through the holiday season. And what better way to celebrate than to watch some great Christmas-themed horror films! From the darkly funny to the just plain dark, I’ve put together a top ten list of my personal favorites to provide some suggestions and inspiration for your own festive viewing. In no particular order, let’s get things started!
This classic seasonal-slasher made quite a bit of controversy back in its day, both for its ad campaign and for the bashing it gave the Catholic church. Young Billy is traumatized first by seeing a man dressed as Santa kill his parents, and then by the nuns in the orphanage he and his brother are sent to. Fast forward to 18-year-old and buff Billy who finally snaps and goes on a slaying spree, punishing those who have been naughty.
As anyone who listens to the show knows, I’m a sucker for anthology films. Add in the Christmas spirit and William Shatner as a radio show host helping link the stories, and you have a delightfully dark Canadian offering that became an instant favorite for me when I saw it for the first time last year. The four interwoven tales involve zombie elves, changelings, haunted schools, and (as the poster shows) Krampus, and each is a great stand alone as well. If you haven’t seen this one yet, it’s currently on Netflix in the US at the time of this posting.
Speaking of Krampus, the first time I ever heard of this european folk tale was from a Christmas short done for The Venture Bros. cartoon. The idea of essentially an “anti-Santa” seemed kinda cool. It was only a couple of weeks back that I finally watched this Christmas creation from Mike Dougherty. As one of the hugest fans of Trick ‘r Treat, I had been meaning to watch this before now, but it was more than worth the wait.
As the extended family begrudgingly draws together for Christmas, young Max has lost his faith in Santa and Christmas because of all of the fighting and failing family dynamics. Max and his family soon find themselves on the naughty list as Der Krampus comes calling. Some nice twists and surprises in this one, and the minions of Der Krampus are creepy as hell!
Anyone who doesn’t agree that this is a Christmas classic is someone you should reconsider associating with. Seriously. Can you really find any faults with this film? With Joe Dante’s direction and Chris Columbus’s writing, Gremlins is pitch perfect in playing out as a monster movie for the holidays. Add in a dash of Phoebe Cates telling the urban legend-ish tale of why she hates Christmas, and you have many genuinely dark moments in what is often seen as a lighthearted movie.
This is the newest movie on this list since:
1) It was released in October of this year, and 2) I saw it only 5 days ago.
I was genuinely surprised by the directions this film took me in a story that made me laugh, cringe, and even jump once or twice. Tweenage Luke has been crushing on his babysitter, Ashley, for a while now. As Ashley prepares to leave town for school, Luke sees it as one final chance to show her how he feels when Ashley comes over one last time while his parents (played wonderfully yet briefly by Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton) go out for the night to a Christmas party. But a potential home invasion puts a kink in Luke’s plans.
Now the trailer for this gave me an “R-Rated Home Alone” vibe when I saw it several months back. Man, did this turn out to be so much more and in the best ways possible. I highly recommend giving this one a viewing, fright fans.
From Better Watch Out, we go next to film that has the alternate title of You Better Watch Out. Another 80’s classic, inspired in its own way from the “holiday slasher” boom created by John Carpenter’s Halloween, Christmas Evil tells the tale of Harry Stadling. As a child, Harry was obsessed with Santa Claus. Cue the childhood trauma of his little brother telling him Santa’s not real and then seeing Santa (Daddy) groping Mommy by the tree later that night. We then jump to an adult Harry who is still obsessed with all-things Christmas and even works in a toy factory. But after one too many episodes of abuse from his naughty co-workers and neighbors, Harry flips and begins his own rampage of rewards for the good and retribution for the wicked.
This film was great fun to watch because of all the of “Hey! It’s that guy/lady from that thing!” moments for all of the random actors and actresses in this from before they became well-known. Also, not enough can be said about Brandon Maggart’s performance as Harry. You really believe in him, even after he snaps and starts killing. He just has such an earnestness about him as his falls further into his psychosis.
Here’s another new edition to my list. I love finding new-to-me and fairly unknown films like this. Three college friends, Holly, Cali, and Mel, get bored during Christmas break and venture off to an empty mansion that Cali says is owned by her rich uncle. All is not what it seems, and then the girls are found in the house by the groundskeeper (played by Larry Fassenden). Accidents will happen, but lies and fear of jail compound and complicate things. At only 74 minutes (and about 5 of those are credits), this plays out as a tight little thriller with many brutal and tense moments.
Set in the British countryside, a family gathers over the Christmas break for fun and feasting. Soon that all turns to fear as the aforementioned children begin showing signs of illness. Beyond just your basic cold, this infection leads the kiddos to try to kill the adults! Well done creepy kid movies always wig me out a bit, and this is one of the better ones of this millenia. Again, as with all the films on this list, I highly recommend it.
I do believe this was the first Finnish film I had ever seen, and I instantly fell in love with the mannerisms, the dark humor, and general tone of this great film. Set in remote Finland, a corporate archeological dig on Christmas Eve makes a terrible discovery and release Santa Claus from an ancient burial mound. Enter Rauno, a local reindeer butcherer, and his son Pietari, who find many of the reindeer being killed, presumably by wolves. But it’s so much more than that, which makes for a fun and entertaining story. You will never look at the Santa Claus legend, or that of his “elves,” the same way ever again after watching this one.
Last but surely not least, we have a certified classic. This one sets the tone and technique for the vast multitude of slasher films that came after it, including Halloween. A sorority house with a handful of girls who didn’t go home for the holidays is stalked by a crazed killer. To this day, “Billy” remains one of the most creepy and demented killers out there for me. Never fully seeing his face but frequently hearing his psychotic raging, director Bob Clark crafted a brilliant film that shows you just enough. And apparently making one Christmas classic wasn’t enough for Mr. Clark. Nine years later, he would take us home for the holidays again with a more mainstream seasonal favorite: A Christmas Story.
As an extra treat, here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut for me but are still worth a watch:
Santa’s Slay (2005) – Starring Bill Goldberg (yes, the pro-wrestler) as Santa. Chock full of quippy one-liners and the murder of a whiny Fran Drescher in the first 5 minutes.
Tales From The Crypt (1972) – Another great anthology film from Amicus Studios, the segment “And All Through The House” featuring Joan Collins would later be remade as an episode of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt TV series.
Sint (Saint) (2010) – In this offering from the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) is portrayed as a murderous bishop who returns on every full moon December 5th to kill anyone in his path. I didn’t really dig it, but I have several friends that do.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987) – “GARBAGE DAY!!” . . . Need I say more?
Have any of your own favorites that didn’t make my list? Share them in the comments here or on our Facebook page.
On that note: “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. “