I have a confession to make.
You already know I love Halloween. Well, I also happen to love Christmas, but in a different way (completely platonic).
Yes, you heard that correctly. I love Christmas! The trees, the lights, the giving and receiving, and all the festivities. And did I mention all the baking and eating of the baked things? Also, the peace-on-earth stuff and gathering together with the people you love is pretty great too.
Of course, as you’d expect, I also love the dark side of the holidays as well. Perhaps it’s rebelling in my own way against the aspects of the Christmas season that I don’t like. The competitiveness, the pressure, and the rabid consumerism (as much as I like the name, I really hate Black Friday!)… and I especially hate the “War on Christmas” garbage that sets people against each other at a time of year when we should be focused on loving one another.
So I’ve become a master of compartmentalization – that’s why I can watch Miracle on 34th Street one night and then watch something the next night with an axe-murdering Santa.
So just because Halloween is over doesn’t mean you can’t get your fill of seasonal horror in this Second Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
In fact, if you’re a horror film fan, there’s a wealth of holiday-themed material out there for your viewing pleasure! More, in fact, than any other holiday except Halloween. Unfortunately, most of them are real stinkers. But you just have to take the good with the bad.
That being said, here are a few of my favorite Christmas Horror movies. I hope they’ll bring a twinkle to your eye and send a chill up your spine!
Have a very merry Christmas… or DIE! In a nutshell, that’s the message of Krampus, a wonderful seasonal comedy/horror film from the director of Halloween cult classic Trick ‘r Treat (2007).
Dysfunctional families are never more dysfunctional than during the holidays. And Max, a persecuted Christmas-loving tween, has a family so bad that they take the fun OUT of dysfunctional.
It’s easy to understand why Max has lost his holiday spirit, but when he tears up his letter to Santa and it flies away on the wind, a black cloud forms over the house… you know trouble is coming!
Krampus is a cautionary tale about what happens to the naughty who don’t get properly into the Christmas spirit. As if you didn’t have enough to worry about already, Krampus is waiting out there to punish all you Grinches and Scrooges and other party poopers. He must be taking his time working his way down that naughty list, because there are obviously a lot of people out there who need some tough love from Krampus.
Krampus deftly blends comedy and horror, as Max’s family is under constant attack by beloved Christmas icons like gingerbread men and elves and threatened by demonic toys. In the end, the fate of Max and his family is unclear, and we wonder… was it all a dream?
Lately it seems that people just can’t get enough of Krampus… now there’s even a movie called Mother Krampus (2017) about “Krampus’s mom” – Frau Perchta, who goes around terrorizing wicked children during the 12 days of Christmas. Like mother, like son!
(Disclaimer: Yes, I know Frau Perchta isn’t really Krampus’s mom. That was probably the idea of someone in studio PR.)
Black Christmas (1974)
Black Christmas is another one of my particular favorites, a pioneer in the holiday horror genre. It was the first holiday slasher film, and it was also quite influential in launching the whole slasher-in-the-sorority-house subgenre that became super popular back in the 70s and 80s. It was also one of the first to use the device of the seeing the scene from the killer’s point of view.
A group of sorority sisters begin getting creepy obscene phone calls as they prepare for Christmas break. And soon the body count begins to rise in creative ways… for example, one victim is impaled by a unicorn head, while another is Saran Wrapped to death. But there’s less gore than there is good old-fashioned psychological horror and suspense, with respectable performances from a surprisingly good cast (including Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder – even Andrea Martin from SCTV!)
Black Christmas was originally released as Silent Night, Evil Night because the studio was afraid moviegoers would think it was a Blaxploitation film. When that strategy didn’t help at the box office, they reverted to the original title.
Director Bob Clarke was a true Renaissance man. He is best known as the director of the beloved heartwarming holiday classic, A Christmas Story (1983). But what you may not know is that he also was famous for teen sex comedy Porky’s (1981) as well as one of my horror favorites, the unforgettably titled Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972).
Rumor has it that Black Christmas was one of Elvis’s favorite movies, and his family watches it every Christmas in his memory.
Another example of how childhood Santa-related trauma will turn an innocent tyke into a murderous maniac. After 5-year-old Billy witnesses the murder of his parents by a Santa-suit-wearing homicidal maniac, he spends the next 13 years being tormented by sadistic nuns in an orphanage. As one would imagine, when Billy turns 18, he puts on a Santa outfit and goes on a killing spree.
It goes without saying that people having sex are his first priority, but getting revenge on the fiendish Mother Superior is definitely on his to-do list.
You probably won’t recognize anyone in this movie with the possible exception of beloved scream queen icon Linnea Quigley, who plays, as usual, a victim.
This one spawned yet another Twofer, as they made a sequel, creatively titled Silent Night Deadly Night Part II (1987), in which Billy’s little brother Ricky carries on the family axe-murdering tradition. The producers admitted that they were just trying to squeeze a few more pennies out of the original film, and they didn’t shoot a lot of new footage. In fact, they used so much footage borrowed from Part I that they ended up running the entire first movie’s credits for cast and crew.
A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
I declare this movie to be the greatest holiday gift ever from the Great White North! It’s definitely one of the best seasonal horror films out there. (Sadly, there isn’t much competition.)
A small Canadian town is the setting where four individual scary Christmas tales play out, interwoven by the increasingly inebriated Dangerous Dan, a radio DJ played by William Shatner (who is indeed Canadian).
Each of the four stories is compelling on its own. Imagine zombie elves, changelings, demon possession, doppelgangers, and pregnant ghosts, all in the same movie. In the end, it’s all topped off with the Battle Royale – Santa Vs. Krampus! Yes, the Jolly Old Elf Himself goes mano a mano against the Beast of Bavaria! And what’s not to love about that?
Again, Shatner outdoes himself as Dangerous Dan, ranting about the spirit of Christmas… and something weird that’s happening down at the local mall. Shatner’s characteristic dry humor works well in this setting. And there’s a twist ending that I guarantee you won’t see coming!
The killer in this movie reminds me of myself with Halloween but without the killing part. Harry lives Christmas 12 months a year, filling his home with cheery holiday decorations and toys and listening to holiday music. He sleeps in a Santa suit and even works at a toy factory!
Santa – the symbol of giving and good cheer – is his role model, but not in a healthy way. You see, as a little boy, Harry witnessed his mom getting busy with Santa (actually his dad in a Santa suit). Here we have yet another example of how childhood Santa-related trauma will put you on the path to murder.
As you probably guessed, eventually a series of emotional setbacks pushes Harry over the edge. He takes on the actual persona of Santa Claus, including spying on the neighbors and making a special naughty-and-nice list of his own. And believe me, you better hope you’re not on it.
When Harry’s already precarious mental state predictably takes a turn for the worse, he puts on the red suit and goes forth to reward the good and punish the wicked. Sound familiar? Christmas Evil has been called “A Taxi Driver Christmas,” and for good reason.
Cheap and insignificant as Christmas Evil may be, the ending of this movie is still hotly debated by fans nearly 40 years later. What was Harry’s fate? Watch and decide for yourself!
Tales From the Crypt: And All Through the House (1972)
OK, I cheated a little. Though I do love Tales from the Crypt (I screened it in October during my 31 Fright Nights Marathon) and consider it one of the best horror anthology movies, for this purpose, we’re only interested in one particular segment.
I’m referring to “And All Through the House,” a festive tale in which a very young Joan Collins celebrates Christmas Eve by cheerfully murdering her husband with a fireplace poker. Her plan is to throw his corpse down the basement stairs, make it look like an accident, and collect the insurance settlement.
Unfortunately, she picked a bad time to murder her husband, because a psycho killer dressed as Santa Claus happens to be in the neighborhood… in fact, he’s right outside her house! Can she set up a convincing death scene, clean up the evidence, and call the police before Old St Nick gets in and wraps his hands around her neck?
Because there are so many fun Christmas horror films out there, I couldn’t tell you about all of them in one blog. I’ll be back next week with more Scary Christmas movies for the good girls and boys in the Shadow Realm.