12. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
Director: Theodore Gershuny
Stars: Patrick O’Neal, James Patterson, Mary Woronov, John Carradine
No, no, no, this isn’t Silent Night, Deadly Night, that infamous yuletide killer flick with the similar title (which we’ll be getting to in a moment). Silent Night, Bloody Night is a slow-burn oddity with atmosphere and eclecticism to spare, but style and set pieces that prefigure so many elements of Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (another movie we’ll be getting to in a moment) – killer in the house, creepy phone calls, cold, dark shadowy nights, etc.
In the film, Wilford Butler returns home on Christmas Eve and his house has been turned into a mental institution for the criminally insane. But the day of his return, he is set on fire and dies. The townspeople believe his death was an accident, and the institution-house is later closed down. Wilford leaves the house to his grandson Jeffrey. A few years later, Jeffrey finally decides to sell this grandfather’s house, but the towns people including the Mayor have mixed feelings on keeping people away from the house, especially when a serial killer escapes from another institution and finds refuge there. The killer makes frightening phone calls and kills anyone coming near the house. But what does the killer have in common with what happened to Wilford Butler years before?
11. Santa’s Slay (2005)
Director: David Steiman
Stars: Bill Goldberg, Douglas Smith, Emilie de Ravin, Robert Culp
What if Santa Claus really isn’t the cheerful, over-sized elf that Clement Clarke Moore and Coca-Cola would have us believe he is? Instead, imagine he was actually the son of Satan who lost a bet to one of God’s angels. As a result of the bet, the demon seed had to give up his yearly day of death and destruction and instead deliver Christmas presents for a thousand years. Now, it’s 2005, and the thousand-year sentence is over, and he’s expectedly pissed off and looking to “spread a little Yuletide fear!” It’s up to sixteen year old Nicholas, his eccentric grandfather, and one of Nicholas’s female co-workers to stop Santa from dismembering everything in his sight.
Basically, Santa’s Slay is cheap, it’s goofy, but it’s surprisingly smart and endlessly entertaining. Oh yeah, and instead of having reindeer, Santa just has a giant “hell-deer”, which is some gnarly buffalo or something. Just watch it. You’ll enjoy it. Promise.
10. Jack Frost (1997)
Director: Michael Cooney
Stars: Scott MacDonald, Christopher Allport, Stephen Mendel, F. William Parker
Serial killer Jack Frost (yes, that’s actually his name) has killed nearly 40 people across five states, but his reign of terror is ended when he’s arrested by sheriff Sam Tiler of Snowmanton. En route to being executed, his transport collides with a tanker truck carrying some experimental genetic material that causes Jack’s body to fuse with the snow. This allows him to live on, albeit in frosted form; conveniently for him, this all occurs near Snowmanton, so he can take revenge on the cop who put him away. And everyone else that gets in his path, of course (this includes a now infamous shower scene that must be seen to be believed). Because, who doesn’t enjoy a little mutant-killer-snowman mayhem?
Note: Not to be confused with the 1998 family movie in which Michael Keaton dies and comes back as a snowman. Although that version of Jack Frost is pretty scary too.
9. Sint (Saint) (2011)
Director: Dick Maas
Stars: Egbert Jan Weeber, Bert Luppes, Caro Lenssen, Huub Stapel
So, who here is American? Most of us? Well, sorry to let you down, but it turns out we were lied to about Santa Clause. And it’s not what you think, because it turns out that he does exist! But he’s not the jolly, benevolent fellow with a team of adorable reindeers and elves, giving gifts to all the good little children. It seems, jolly ol’ St. Nick was a 15th century marauding warlord, who would terrorize Amsterdam on the feast of St. Nicklaus, December 5th, with help from his gang of Moorish “Black Peters.” But when the villagers become fed up with his reign of terror, they murder his team of helpers and set fire to his boat, killing him. Now, when the moon is full on the anniversary of the massacre, every 32 years, their ghosts return to take their revenge on an unsuspecting world which has forgotten about the horror that was Sinterklaas.
With a cockeyed charm, some truly clever (albeit preposterous) ideas, and more than enough energy to pull it all off, Sint is a breezy holiday horror which doesn’t outstay its welcome and has a dash of wit to go along with the outrageous premise.
8. Krampus (2015)
Director: Michael Dougherty
Stars: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Stefania LaVie Owen
This holiday horror movie perfectly captures the underlying animosity of what is usually dubbed the “Season of Giving.” The film opens with a slow-motion montage of rabid holiday shoppers clawing and biting their way through a megastore, while Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” sardonically plays in the background. It’s actually a great summation of what Krampus means in the context of Christmas, especially in this day and age.
For the uninitiated, Krampus is an actual character from Alpine folklore. Basically, he’s the Anti-Santa Claus — a villainous, horned creature who punishes children at Christmastime for being naughty. In the movie, a young boy named Max becomes disillusioned when his eccentric family clashes over the holidays. Distraught by the lack of Christmas spirit, Max accidentally summons the evil Krampus who lays siege to the entire neighborhood. And so the pandemonium begins…
7. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Director: Jalmari Helander
Stars: Jorma Tommila, Peeter Jakobi, Onni Tommila, Tommi Korpela
On Christmas Eve in Finland, Santa Claus is unearthed in an archaeological dig. Soon after, children start disappearing, leading a boy and his father to capture Santa and, with the help of fellow hunters, they look to sell him back to the corporation that sponsored the dig. And then there’s Santa’s elves, who are determined to free their leader.
A Christmas Tale offers very black humor and a strange mix of revisionist mythology, gruesome horror and authentic Christmas spirit. It has a gritty, outdoorsy feel appropriate to an exploration of the brutal side of a harsh, all-male life in an extreme climate, where an ancient way of life is threatened by changing attitudes — these could be seal-clubbers or whalers. The filmmakers also shows suspense chops in vintage John Carpenter mode — the scenes with the captured Santa, a grinning creature waiting for a chance to kill, are good, straight horror stuff, and there’s an effective climactic siege of bearded monsters.
6. Child’s Play (1988)
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Brad Dourif, Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon
Childs Play begins with serial killer Charles Lee Ray (aka Chucky) shot and bleeding as he tries to escape the police. Charles is trapped in a toy store with no means of escape. But wait! The hottest seller during the holiday season is the Good Guy doll, and the toy store is stocked with loads of them. Nearing death, he transfers his soul into one of the dolls… because, why not? Little does he know a little boy by the name of Andy Barclay will soon be the new owner of him. Charles confides in Andy while he commits numerous murders. Once the adults accept Andy’s story as truth, it’s too late.
While the film isn’t exactly based around Christmas, it’s hard not to be reminded of Child’s Play around this time of the year. Within the first 20 minutes of the film, if you didn’t know it was young Andy’s birthday, you would think that the film takes place during Christmastime. The toys, the commercials, the murderous chaos… sounds like Christmas to us!
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Director: Henry Selick
Stars: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Reubens
Tim Burton’s stop-motion film transcends the holiday season as one of those Christmas films that you never really know when to watch. Set in the fictional Halloween Town, de facto hero Jack Skellington is sick of being scary, venturing to Christmas Town to bring holiday cheer to the world with disastrous results. Namely, he kidnaps Santa Claus, and assaults an entire planet full of children with homicidal toys on what should have been the most wonderful night of the year.
Part avant-garde art film, part amusing but morbid fairy tale, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a delightfully ghoulish holiday musical that displays more inventiveness in its brief 75 minutes than some studios can manage in an entire year. A work of grand visual wit, clever songs, funny gags and genuine pathos, it is also perhaps the greatest stop-motion animated film of all time.
4. Christmas Evil (1980)
Director: Lewis Jackson
Stars: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick
Harry Stadling is in love with the idea of Santa Claus so much that he actually makes it his mission to carry out the duties of the jolly ol’ man in red. He spies on the children of his neighborhood, jotting down in his big book whose been naughty or nice. His job at the toy factory is filled with crooked workers and greedy businessmen, who seem to have forgotten what Christmas is really about. Harry’s brother Phil has also abandoned the belief in Santa and the festivities, but this year, Harry will show them all. He’s about to make the good boys and girls cheer with joy when Harry, dressed as the famous gift giver, shows up to present his toys to all those worthy of receiving them. And to those who are less commendable, he’s got an axe stuffed away in his bag of goodies to make sure that they no longer share their unhappy beliefs with the rest of the world. Harry no longer worships Santa… he is Santa!
On a side note: It’s not hard to see why Christmas Evil has developed quite a cult following over the years – it looks and feels like the depressed small town America many of us remember from our childhood, and when it takes a turn for the berserk, it feels all too possible.
3. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Director: Charles Sellier
Cast: Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Linnea Quigley
Released on November 9th 1984, Silent Night, Deadly Night was a movie that was surrounded by controversy. The TV spots depicted a man dressed as Santa carrying an axe and murdering people, causing enraged parents to picket the movie during its opening weekend and subsequently got the movie banned. Although they clearly had not seen the film, many felt that it was wrong for Santa to be portrayed as a killer – not knowing the fact that it was actually a deranged and psychologically tortured man dressed as Santa doing the killing as opposed to Kris Kringle himself. It’s a classic tale of morons being told they should be offended by something as opposed to being genuinely offended.
The reason why this movie works so well is that it doesn’t need to focus on Christmas to make the story interesting. Whether it was Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the idea of Santa wasn’t intrinsic to the plot so much as a mascot, which normally makes people happy, was being corrupted. Also, we’re just going to pretend the sequels don’t exist.
2. Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Cast: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
Although Halloween is credited as the film that kicked off the slasher genre and Friday The 13th is the considered the one that inspired a slew of imitations, Black Christmas pre-dates them both by nearly half a decade. This makes it all the more impressive, then, that despite being one of the earliest proper examples of the genre, it remains one of the better slasher movies 40-plus years after its original release.
Black Christmas opens with someone approaching a sorority house. We don’t know who. He watches as the drunken sorority sisters and their boyfriends are having a little fun before the holidays. The figure moves up the side ladder, crawling through to the attic window of the house – no one is the wiser. A phone rings downstairs. It’s him again! The moaner! All the girls are listening in. The caller is intense, holding nothing back. In an eerie, distorted falsetto voice, he calls the girls “pigs” and threatens to “lick [their] pretty piggy c*nt[s].” After being challenged by one of the girls, he ends the call with a simple, monotone threat – as if using his regular voice: “I’m going to kill you.” Thus, the wheels are in motion for one of the all-time great whodunit horror mysteries.
1. Gremlins (1984)
Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain
Gremlins, the classic fright comedy about morphing little menace-monsters wreaking merry mayhem all over small town America during the holidays, actually opened in theaters on June 8, 1984. The movie became an immediate summer blockbuster, but given its very specific yuletide setting – e.g., Gizmo himself, the original gremlin, enters the film as a Christmas gift – Gremlins has endured as a beloved December viewing tradition on par with A Christmas Story, Bad Santa, Home Alone, and Elf.
Gremlins is a gleefully malicious pop-culture Christmas movie, with a new loving reference around every corner of the backlot town where it unfolds. The creatures are class clowns, sneering at seriousness and the sanctity of holidays and good cheer. Little Bugs Bunnies with razor sharp teeth, the Gremlins are agents of chaos as learned from years of cartoons and movies. They’re the perfect riposte to a culture who believes there’s a war on Christmas. Welcome to the number one spot on the list!
What’s your favorite Christmas horror movie? Let us know in the comments below.