Ah, Christmas. A season for joy. For generosity. For demonic elves, murderous Santa Clauses, and killer gingerbread men. Wait, what?
For many, Christmas is a special time of year. Ideally, it should be a time of cheer, happiness, and togetherness for everyone across the globe. This is probably why so many horror filmmakers have sought to cash in on the corruption of such starry-eyed ideals (to varying degrees of success). And no doubt, not everyone loves sipping hot cocoa on the sofa while watching drippy Christmas movies about special shoes or big-eyed orphans. So with that, here are 25 Christmas-themed horror movies that may change the way you think about roasted chestnuts, jingle bells, snowmen and every other cloying holiday cliché for good.
25. Don’t Open ‘Till Christmas (1984)
Director: Edmund Purdom
Stars: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Mark Jones
At a lavish London Christmas party, a man dressed as Santa Claus is impaled through the mouth (while blowing on a party favor, no less) by an unseen assailant. This, of course, is only the latest in a string of brutal Santa killings. A masked and hooded killer is loose in London and he is targeting men (and women) dressed as Santa Claus. Scotland Yard has been called in on the case, but they have too many suspects and too little time. The killer strikes and strikes again (as killers often do in slasher flicks) leaving very few witnesses. Will Scotland Yard be able to pull together their sparse resources to apprehend the Santa-hating maniac? Why does the killer have such an apparent and vile disgust for Santa and the Christmas holiday?
It’s rare with these type of movies (as you’ll see more and more on this list) when Santa is the victim as opposed to the victimizer. And boy do these Santa’s get victimized! There’s a great scene in which a Santa is castrated in a public urinal. Other Santa’s are stabbed, burnt, shot, and set on fire. One has his eye poked out with a spiked glove, and another has a machete planted in his face. It’s deaths like this that make the movie a a must-see during the holiday season.
24. The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)
Directors: Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow
Stars: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, David Snow, Pamela Holland
On the eve of Christmas vacation, a college dormitory stands condemned – the dark halls now vacant, and unsafe. Student Joanne Murray and her close friends volunteer to help close down the building, unaware a psychopathic lunatic is hiding in the shadows. As the students disappear one by one, Joanne discovers the horrifying reality that if she is to survive, she alone will have to find a way to slay the brutal murderer.
The Dorm That Dripped Blood (also known as Pranks and Death Dorm) is a bit of a mixed bag for slasher fans. The movie’s production value is pretty low and the story, for the most part, is pretty routine – there’s even a creepy bum hanging around for a red herring. In fact, much of the story’s build-up is pretty forgettable, save for one or two brutal murders. But the movie is really made better by its surprisingly intense climax and one fairly bold, unconventional conclusion. We won’t spoil anything, just check it out.
23. To All A Goodnight (1980)
Director: David Hess
Stars: Jennifer Runyon, Forrest Swanson, Linda Gentile, Kiva Lawrence
To All A Goodnight is set at the Calvin Finishing School in 1980 where just two years prior, a student fell to her death from a balcony when a hazing prank went horribly wrong. When the movie begins, Christmas is right around the corner and most of the students are heading home for the holidays. There are, however, a half a dozen stragglers sticking around: Nancy, Melody, Leia, Trisha, Sam, and Cynthia. When the headmistress has to leave to take care of a family emergency, she leaves the girls in the care of her trusted employee, Mrs. Jensen, assuming all will be well. The girls have other plans though, and they give Jensen a few sleeping pills to keep her out of the way so that they can have some dudes over for a party. You can guess where this is going…
It’s hard not to dig To All A Goodnight. It’s clunky, sure, but it has an earnest charm to it that fits well within the holiday season. This is very familiar territory we’re in, so it all plays out exactly the way you expect it to. It even features one of everyone’s favorite horror clichés: the old “severed head winding up in an random location” gag, and it’s a hoot! If you have never seen a killer Santa movie, don’t start with this one. Start with some that you’ll find further down this list and once you’ve acquired a taste for them, swing by this one and give it a shot.
22. Elves (1989)
Director: Jeffrey Mandel
Stars: Dan Haggerty, Julie Austin, Deanna Lund, Borah Silver
Kirsten is just your average everyday teenager with a grandfather who has a vast occult book collection. One night, she heads out into the woods with her friends after stealing one of his books to conduct a supposed “Anti-Christmas” ritual she got the idea for after seeing a strange figure in her dreams. Kirsten cuts her hand during the seemingly failed ritual and heads back home to her life as a mall waitress – unaware that her blood on the ground has resurrected a demonic elf.
Said elf begins his murderous endeavor by killing the Mall Santa while he’s on his break. This opens the door for the homeless, disgraced, alcoholic, chain-smoking former detective Mike McGavin to take his place. One night, while Kirsten and her friends have decided to sneak into the closed mall with a bunch of boys, she and Mike’s paths cross – along with the paths of the murderous elf and a band of gun-toting Nazis. It turns out that the Nazis had a secret plan, one Kirsten’s grandfather was originally part of, to create an army of elves that would take over the world as a new Master Race. With the demonic elf resurrected, the Nazis are hell-bent on capturing Kirsten so she can fulfill a mysterious destiny tied to said Nazi elves, but they’re going to have to go through Mike first to get her. Yeah, it’s nutter butters.
21. The Christmas Tale (2005)
Director: Paco Plaza
Stars: Maru Valdivielso, Christian Casas, Roger Babià, Ivana Baquero
A group of kids find a woman dressed in a Santa costume trapped at the bottom of a hole in the middle of the woods. They soon discover that she is a thief on the run from the police for stealing a huge sum of money. The gang splinters when deciding what to do with her. Should they turn her in to the police? Wait for her to starve to death? Blackmail her for the money? We won’t spoil what happens, suffice to say that the plot takes a couple unexpected turns and the woman proves to be one hell of an adversary.
A Christmas Tale is reminiscent in tone of such films as The Goonies or The Monster Squad and is a welcome addition to the genre. While physical elements of the holiday itself remain secondary, the image of the maniac Santa chasing children with an axe is as thrilling as one could hope. The third act suffers from unnecessary supernatural elements crammed into the finale, since the tale is strong enough on its own. Despite this last minute fat, this is a respectable title that should be included in your holiday plans.
20. All Through The House (2015)
Director: Todd Nunes
Stars: Ashley Mary Nunes, Jessica Cameron, Melynda Kiring, Johanna Rae
Ms. Garrett, a seemingly nice but noticeably disturbed woman, keeps an effigy in her house of her daughter Jaime, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances years earlier. Rachel Kimmel is Ms. Garrett’s neighbor, a lovely young lady who was Jaime’s only childhood friend. On Christmas Eve, Ms. Garrett asks Rachel if she would mind helping to decorate her house while she’s out for the evening. Unknown to Rachel, she has a twisted connection with the Garrett family. Meanwhile, a maniac in a Santa Claus suit is stalking the streets.
Deranged slasher killer + practical effects + tongue-in-cheek story telling + scream queen drama + demented characters with dark pasts = an on screen formula that continues to work. All Through The House is at times unsettling, and often visually satisfying. The makers of this movie have definitely put a lot of effort into a small Christmas package filled with gore, T&A, and a lot of love.
19. A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
Directors: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Stars: William Shatner, George Buza, Rob Archer, Zoé De Grand Maison
Interwoven stories that take place on Christmas Eve, as told by one festive radio host: You have an upper-middle class family facing off with Krampus, Santa Claus battling a hoard of zombie elves, a young couple that finds their son possessed, and a group of teenagers snooping around the site of a grisly murder that took place the previous Christmas.
In short, A Christmas Horror Story is a lovely surprise that manages to overcome problems with tone and pacing for an enjoyable, bloody experience. It runs the gamut of cheesy gore to genuine terror, but as long as you can manage the quick changes in tone, you’ll have a blast. Plus: it has one of the best twist endings since The Sixth Sense (and that’s only a slightly hyperbolic statement).
18. Wind Chill (2007)
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Stars: Emily Blunt, Ashton Holmes, Martin Donovan, Ian A. Wallace
It’s finals week, and a girl’s plans for traveling home for the holidays fall through. This forces her to hitch a ride with a fellow student, a sort of socially-awkward guy with a beat-up old car that’s seen better days. Along the way, the guy decides to take a scenic route, where an oncoming car causes them to crash into a snow bank. Truths are soon revealed about the guy and his motivations, but not before a series of strange events begin to occur, as our characters are visited by a sinister police officer, ominous priests, and other strange apparitions that may claim them before the icy elements can.
Wind Chill is a movie which will disappoint you if you’re hoping to see an in-your-face type of horror tale. This here is a thoughtful movie which takes the traditional elements of the most primitive horror flicks and re-imagines them for our time. Think of the old James Whale haunted house movie, The Old Dark House, and compare it to Wind Chill and you’ll see how our oldest fears are presented anew – as if to say those old fears are never eliminated.
17. P2 (2007)
Director: Franck Khalfoun
Stars: Rachel Nichols, Wes Bentley, Simon Reynolds
It’s Christmas Eve in Manhattan and everyone is bustling to get out of their offices and home to their families, including our young workaholic heroin Angela, hurriedly making her way down to Level “P2” of the parking structure to go to her sister’s for dinner. Or so she thinks.
P2 centers on a corporate climber who finds herself the target of an unhinged security guard. With no help in sight, the woman must overcome physical and psychological challenges to survive. The movie is great – despite its real estate-related weaknesses. Hint: if you’re ever trapped in a high rise building or its parking structure, simply pull any alarm and emergency personnel will respond immediately. Regardless…
16. Dead End (2003)
Directors: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa
Stars: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Mick Cain, Alexandra Holden
A family driving to grandmother’s house for Christmas encounter a strange woman on an isolated road when dad decides to take a shortcut. But that’s just the beginning of their problems as the road they are on seemingly goes on forever and a doomsday black car starts to mean death for all of them.
Basically, this film is a combination of the Twilight Zone episode, The Hitch-Hiker, and the urban legend about picking up a girl on the road and then she disappears in the backseat only to discover she died years ago. There are a lot of cool elements present here even if you could probably see that ending coming a mile away.
15. Calvaire (2004)
Director: Fabrice Du Welz
Stars: Laurent Lucas, Brigitte Lahaie, Gigi Coursigny, Jean-Luc Couchard
A few days before Christmas, traveling entertainer Marc Stevens is stuck at nightfall in a remote wood in the swampy Hautes Fagnes region of Liège, his van conked out. An odd chap who’s looking for a lost dog leads Marc to a shuttered inn; the owner gives Marc a room for the night. Next day, the innkeeper, Mr. Bartel, promises to fix the van, demands that Marc not visit the nearby village, and goes through Marc’s things while the entertainer takes a walk. At dinner that night, Bartel laments his wife’s having left him, and by next day, Marc is in a nightmare that may not end.
In a nutshell, Calvaire is basically Deliverance in the French Countryside, but with less Ned Beatty, and way more rape. The film looks great, and it maintains an uneasy feel throughout, until eventually the unease turns to anguish during the more violent scenes. Once you realize that everyone in this movie is insane, it makes you feel even more skeeved out about what you’re seeing. It’s hard to imagine that you’ve seen many movies that are as bizarre as this one is.
14. The Children (2008)
Director: Tom Shankland
Stars: Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield, Rachel Shelley
A relentless mood of rising hysteria fuels this British horror film, as the children of two families brought together for a quiet Christmas turn into adult-attacking mini-murderers. Is it a virus? A dream? Did everyone die before the film actually started? Doesn’t matter: the mystery only adds to the creepiness of the situation.
The reason for the greatness of The Children lies in the execution of its simple, basic concept. The straightforward plot doesn’t needlessly complicate things and efficiently unfolds at a steady pace. Not too fast, and not too slow, tension is being built up from scratch to great effect, scares and shocks. The movie also doesn’t really slap you in the face with a big & fancy surprise-climax, but instead the terror rises gradually, almost at an exponential rate, that by the time the final scenes come on, you should already be at the tip of your chair, probably without fully realizing it yourself.
13. Home For The Holidays (1972)
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Stars: Jessica Walter, Sally Field, Jill Haworth, Julie Harris
Four sisters reluctantly return home to the country to visit their ailing, embittered father over Christmas. Their father believes that his current wife has tried to poison him but Dr. Lindsay, the local physician, and the sisters disagree. Then a storm causes the roads to be flooded and the telephone lines to not work. Soon it becomes clear that someone wants to kill the family, as well, when one of them is found murdered. One sister then tries to run through the woods to reach Sheriff Nolan for help. But she has her own encounter, as she sees someone chasing her while dressed in a large poncho carrying the pitchfork. She returns home, only to discover more murders. The prime suspect becomes father’s wife, but was it someone else?
Perry Como once crooned that there’s “no place like home for the holidays,” which means he couldn’t have anticipated this made-for-TV ‘70s flick that puts the “fun” in dysfunctional family.