Last week I shared with you some of my favorite Holiday Horror movies, but as the list got longer and longer, I realized this was a topic that couldn’t be covered in a single article.
So here’s another set of Christmas horror movies – the good, the bad, and the ugly – guaranteed to curdle your eggnog. Enjoy!
You may not think of it as a horror film, but Gremlins walks a fine line between kid-friendly and somewhat disturbing. It’s a Christmas movie that reinforces Santa’s Prime Directive – if you break the rules, you’re not going to like what you get in your stocking.
In this case, a man returns from a business trip with a special gift for his son Billy, purchased from one of those mysterious Chinatown shops that only exist in the movies. It’s a cute and cuddly little creature called a Mogwai, and it comes with three simple rules: Don’t feed it after midnight, don’t let it get wet, and don’t expose it to bright lights. Of course, Billy inadvertently breaks the rules (or there wouldn’t be a movie, would there?), and a horde of scary little monsters is unleashed to terrorize the town with Christmas mayhem and destruction.
This is one of those rare holiday horror films that’s acceptable for kids (though it was part of the reason the PG-13 rating was created) – it’s a little scary but still evokes the warmth of the holiday season . It even has funny bits that will make you laugh, and not at how bad the writing or acting is. In fact, the script was written by Chris Columbus, who also wrote The Goonies (1985) and later went on to direct Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2 (1992) – you know, the ones about the cute little murderous psychopath?
Even the special effects hold up pretty well, considering that back in the mid-80s, CGI wasn’t a thing yet. Each individual gremlin was an animatronic costing $30,000 to $40,000 each.
Gremlins is one of those rare Holiday Horror films you can actually watch with your children. Which probably explains why Gizmo the Gremlin has become a beloved holiday icon and Krampus, as yet, has not.
Jack Frost (1997) and Jack Frost 2: Attack of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000)
On the way to his execution, serial killer Jack Frost dies when the prison truck he’s riding in crashes into a truck full of… genetic stuff! (I don’t know what it is, exactly. They’re never clear on that…) Though it looks like Jack is dead and his body has melted away, it has merely merged with the genetic stuff, and Jack is resurrected as a murderous mutant killer snowman! And before you know it, he’s back, eager to take revenge on the cop who put him away.
Bullets won’t stop him… Explosions won’t stop him… Even blow dryers won’t stop him. What’s left that might kill a psycho killer snowman?
Jack Frost 2 takes place a year after the Jack Attack, as Sheriff Sam and his companions head for a tropical island, hoping to spend this holiday as far away from snow as possible. But as you probably figured out already, Jack has returned from the melted and is heading south on a mission of revenge. He has even figured out a way to stay frozen even in the Caribbean, so nowhere is safe!
Soon Jack arrives and goes on a killing spree, dispatching tourists one by one in creative ways, using his carrot nose, icicles, and even a horde of baby killer snowballs that he is able to puke up at will. The baby snowballs offer up a Gremlins-esque vibe that is a bit derivative but also quite a lot of fun.
Jack Frost 2 is a delightful mess with terrible acting, painful dialogue, dreadful special effects, and best of all, nonstop bad one-liners from the evil snowman and his tiny minions. I like it even better than the original film, which is high praise when you’re talking about a direct-to-video sequel to a movie that was awful in the first place.
Why did they call it “Elves” when there is only one elf in the entire movie? At least it’s not just another psycho killer in a Santa suit. But don’t get your hopes up – it’s still awful. However, it does improve if you indulge in some “Christmas spirits” while watching.
Here’s my synopsis of the plot: “Grizzly Adams is a chain-smoking, recovering alcoholic ex-cop working as a department store Santa Claus who has to stop a Nazi elf from raping and impregnating the last Aryan virgin so that she will give birth to a human/elf hybrid that will bring about the Fourth Reich.”
If that doesn’t make you want to watch this movie, how about a Nazi inbreeding grandpa in a wheelchair? Washed up former TV stars? Scary elf puppets? How about teenage bimbos performing anti-Christmas rituals in the woods? If that’s not enough for you… there’s no hope.
So if you’re feeling particularly ironic this holiday season and are even slightly inebriated, you couldn’t make a better choice than Elves for an evening of so-bad-it’s-good entertainment.
Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)
Santa-related childhood trauma is apparently a widespread cause of mental illness that has been overlooked as the cause of most Christmas murders. At least this seems to be true in the Christmas horror movie genre.
Don’t Open Till Christmas is no exception, as it features a deranged killer who thanks to such a childhood traumatic holiday event is most definitely not a fan of Christmas. In this case, however, Santa is the victim rather than the killer – this guy is running around London slaughtering anyone dressed in a Santa suit. So instead of a “Killer Santa,” we have a “Santa Killer.”
As usual, Scotland Yard is confounded as Inspector Harris and Detective Sergeant Powell dive into the sleazy side of London trying to track down the murderer. Things get more complicated when a mysterious reporter also gets involved in the case.
There are two clues about this movie that should cause you to lower your expectations right off the bat. One, the title card omits the apostrophe in the word “Don’t.” If you don’t care enough to proofread your title, you don’t care about your movie. Second, the DVD box informs us that the film comes to us courtesy of “the producers of ‘Pieces’ (a perfectly terrible British campus slasher film).
There are a few things, however, that recommend giving this import a try… Father Christmas is dispatched in various imaginative ways, and there’s a twist ending that I admit I didn’t see coming. There’s even a cameo by British proto-scream-queen Caroline Munro as a lounge singer.
If you’re lucky enough to find the DVD, it also includes an entertaining featurette about producer Dick Randall, a notorious schlock merchant famous for his low-budget exploitation films.
Here’s a novel twist on the Killer Santa trope – Santa isn’t the jolly embodiment of Christmas cheer and giving… he’s actually the son of Satan!
So how did he get a reputation as such a good guy? Turns out he was cursed to be nice for the last thousand years because he lost a bet with an angel. That was way back in 1005 AD… but now the spell is lifted, and he’s free to spread holiday carnage once again.
There are actually people you’ve heard of in this goofy black-comedy holiday delight – including SCTV’s Dave Thomas, Oscar-winner James Caan, Robert Culp, Chris Kattan, Tiny Lister, and Fran Dresher.
But it’s former professional wrestler Bill Goldberg who steals the show as the Killer Santa, chewing the scenery with demented glee. Even his murders keep up the holiday theme – stabbing with a candy cane, lobbing sparkly ornament grenades, and even bringing annoying Christmas song “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” to life – all the while cheerfully dispatching his victims while throwing out snappy one-liners and bad puns.
Can a couple of chaste yet obnoxious teenagers put a stop to his holiday killing spree and send him back to Dad where he belongs? Check it out!