While most of us associate the horror genre with the films that are released around Halloween each year, there are a surprising number of enjoyable horror flicks that actually deal more with the Christmas holiday season. So, to celebrate this quirky sub-genre, to combat the endless TV re-runs of A CHRISTMAS STORY(1983) and to completely avoid GRUMPY CAT’S WORST CHRISTMAS EVER(2014), here’s a look at a list top holiday horror films from years past…
Arguably the leader in Christmas holiday horror films—and with an absolutely spectacular title—Silent Night, Deadly Night is a twisted and creepy movie. It’s also a great one to pick up and check out before this month ends. Basically, the plot goes like this: a young boy named Billy, who has been told that Santa punishes naughty children, witnesses his parents being murdered by a deranged Santa impersonator. Billy grows up with a fear of Santa and a strangely strict belief in punishing the naughty, and he ends up becoming something of a psychopathic Christmas murderer, declaring judgment on the naughty. A recent retro review of the film on Moviepilot called it “just the right amount of festive,” while “embodying the best of ’80s horror.” Calling it festive is something of a joke, but the idea is dead on: this is Christmas-y, terrifying, and nostalgic (for old-school horror fans) all at once. Enjoy.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS(1993)
Tim Burton’s infamous animated holiday musical is not a horror film in the traditional sense, and it will only scare small children. But it deals in enough horror elements (after all, the lead character is “Jack Skellington”) that one can easily think of it as something as a lighter horror film, or even mock horror. And at any rate, it’s delightful: Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, grows tired of his annual holiday routine and essentially seeks to take over Christmas Town instead. But this movie’s real impact is in its legacy of animation. The stop-motion puppeteering of its characters was used in similar fashion in James And The Giant Peach, and it could even be said to have inspired puppet usage in later films like Team America: World Police. The general style and look of the characters is even still being re-used in Christmas material, as seen in the Ghosts Of Christmas holiday slot game hosted on Betfair, which you can view here. This game’s characters are not replicas of Jack Skellington and Co., but there’s a clear resemblance that shows the staying power of the film in portraying a mix of horror and holiday themes.
You know this is a successful horror film (and comedy) because it has been labeled as a “cult classic” in the years since its release, and that tends to happen to the best of them. Here’s the synopsis: An infamous serial killer named Jack Frost is being transported by law enforcement to his own execution when their vehicle collides with a mysterious tanker. Like something out of a Marvel comic, Jack is doused in acidic genetic material and sort of dies and becomes one with the winter snow at the same time. The rest is pure comic horror gold: Jack Frost essentially becomes a murderous mad snowman, picking off victims (in the town of Snowmonton) one-by-one, circling toward the sheriff who captured him. It’s not light in the same sense as The Nightmare Before Christmas, but for those who like a laugh with their scares it’s worth a watch over the holidays. And the whole thing is available for free on YouTube!
Before FRIDAY THE 13th(1980) and HALLOWEEN(1978), from the late great director Bob Clark who gave us CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS(1973) and ironically enough A CHRISTMAS STORY(1983), comes the often imitated but never duplicated tale of sorority sisters being terrorized on Christmas break by a homicidal and psychopathic stalker who’s violent and troubled childhood home is now their Sorority House. It begins with disturbing and obscene phone calls that put the girls on edge, when they start disappearing, they initially get no help from the police. This atmospheric and artistic horror film is STILL effectively creepy and has some great 1970’s styles.
Naturally, there are many other holiday horror options out there, some of them amusing B-List options or what CINEMA INSOMNIA fans call “misunderstood movies”. CHRISTMAS EVIL(1980) involves another Santa-dressed serial killer, SANTA’S SLAY(2005), reviewed earlier this month by our own Mitch Mittens, features the actual Santa turning into a killer, and some would even point to Joe Dante’s GREMLINS(1984) as the best of them all. But the above listed films offer one genuine scare; one light-hearted film with plenty of horror elements; and one classic horror/comedy blend. They should be a nice start for your holiday horror needs!