As the song goes, at this time of year, you’d better watch out, you’d better not cry — but that doesn’t mean that the holiday season isn’t the perfect time to settle down for a marathon of the best Christmas horror movies, nonetheless. Keep reading, and you’ll see that I’m telling you why.
This isn't just the best horror movies (we have a list of the best horror movies!)The crossover between horror and the holidays may not be the first thing that pops into peoples’ heads at this time of year, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a potent idea — enough to have generated some all-time classic movies that should be enjoyed between now and December 25 for full effect. After all, imagining Santa Claus is actually a deranged killer who’s out to get you and your family gets just that little bit less scary when you’re not seeing him everywhere you look for weeks on end.
Consider the movies below a special treat under the metaphorical tree, and as you watch them all, just remember… He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.
9. Santa Claws (1996)
Something about the holiday season brings out the obsessive tendencies in people, it seems; in this wonderfully schlocky horror, actress Raven Quinn (Debbie Rochon, who’d star in Tromeo and Juliet the same year that this was released) finds that her attempts to start over after a divorce are stymied by her next door neighbor, who not only secretly worships Raven, but has a sneaky sideline in murder. Convinced that there’s only one way to win her love, he sets out to murder her co-workers while dressed as Santa. I mean, how else do you make sense of the movie’s title?
Fun bonus: the movie’s tagline is, genuinely, 'His slay bells are ringing!' If that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will.
Santa Claws: Unavailable to watch digitally; buy the DVD on eBay
8. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
Crass and exploitative like the best '70s horror — you know it’s true — Silent Night, Bloody Night was released under a variety of titles as producers tried their best to convince audiences to show up to the theater; it was originally Night of the Full Dark Moon, and would be re-released under the title Death House years later. It’s a grimy, cheap-looking movie that feels awkward and uncomfortable and just plain wrong, in such a way that’ll stick with you long after you’ve stopped watching.
There’s a plot, of course — a lawyer and his mistress arrive to sell a house owned by a man now in a mental asylum, two decades after said man’s grandfather had died in a mysterious accident — but that’s not what makes this great. What makes this great is how you’re going to feel while you watch. It’s the Christmas gift that keeps giving.
7. Krampus (2015)
First off, props to whoever decided to use 'You better watch out' as the tagline for this seasonal cautionary tale, because there’s something about the joke-with-disturbing-connotation tone that is entirely right for this tale of a demonic beast terrorizing a neighborhood summoned because a screwed-up family stopped a young kid from loving the holidays enough. Is it ridiculous? Utterly, but that’s the whole point: this is a horror movie that knows exactly how dumb it is and embraces it in spectacular style.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, 'I want a movie that feels like a B-movie but with some genuine jump scares and maybe a little bit better special effects,' then congratulations: you have something new to add to your watchlist. Don’t forget to check it twice.
6. Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
There’s something about British zombie movies that just hit differently — think of 28 Days Later or Shau of the Dead if you don’t believe me — and, thankfully, Anna and the Apocalypse follows in those footsteps. It’s the everyday story of a young girl struggling with the future, and what’s going to happen when she leaves school, who just so happens to get caught up in a zombie infection at the same time. Are you ready for a high school drama that somehow features a lot of undead? Oh — it’s also a musical, which might be the kind of thing that’ll excite a lot of people, while horrifying others. (As a horror movie, though, is “horrifying” such a terrible thing?)
Despite all of these ingredients — or, perhaps, because of them — the end result is fun and suitably festive. And let’s be honest: who wouldn’t want to watch High School Musical get taken down by a zombie horde?
5. Jack Frost (1997)
Not to be confused with the heartwarming Michael Keaton movie of the same name, this goofy, wonderful horror movie announces just what you’re watching when it reveals the origin of its title character: a serial killer who merges with snow and becomes a living snowman after the truck carrying him to his execution crashes into another truck carrying undefined 'genetic research' materials. It’s a '60s Marvel Comics origin, used for evil… or, at least, used for a movie where the living snowman seeks revenge and causes all manner of chaos in the process, and it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
That’s very much meant as a compliment; this is a pretty classic example of trash horror monster movie with a twist, and very in keeping with the fine B-Movie tradition that it so clearly owes a lot of its DNA with. The DNA that wasn’t changed by the genetic research, that is…
4. The Lodge (2019)
While the majority of the movies on this list are, perhaps, lighter fare than most horror films — something that, honestly, feels suitable for a series of horror movies based around the holidays — The Lodge is something far darker, and far more disturbing. Stranded with her soon-to-be stepchildren at the eponymous lodge in the middle of nowhere during Christmas, the movie follows a young woman whose grasp on sanity starts slipping when very strange, disturbing things that remind her of her traumatizing childhood start happening.
This is a purposefully unsettling watch, anchored by an impressive performance from Riley Keough. Just maybe don’t save it for the holiday party where everyone wants a good scare and a good laugh, is all I’m saying.
3. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
It only makes sense that, given his mythological status and unmistakable superpowers, some would consider Santa Claus to be a potential threat — just as it makes sense that someone would, given his mythological status and unmistakable superpowers, some would set out to capture Santa Claus and find out what he really is. Ladies, gentlemen, and others: welcome to Rare Exports, the Finnish movie that dares to reveal the truth behind ol’ Saint Nick.
It’s a monster movie, a comedy, and a way to ruin your favorite Christmas memories by overwriting them with the possibility that your favorite chimney-dweller was something far more disturbing than you thought. Ho, ho, ho.
2. Gremlins (1984)
I don’t care what anyone says: Gremlins has as much argument for being the greatest Christmas movie ever made as Die Hard, if not more: after all, does Bruce Willis spend any time remembering a horror story about why Christmases in the past have left him so traumatized? No, he does not, and I rest my case.
For those unfamiliar with the movie: shame on you, firstly. And secondly, it’s a satire of American society pretending to be a monster movie about a group of lovable, mischievous little monsters who destroy small-town America over the festive period because some people would rather be selfish than follow the rules (or, you know, common sense). It’s not subtle, but it is very funny — and the closest thing we get to live action Looney Tunes cartoons with the sole exception of the even wilder Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
1. Black Christmas (1974)
Honestly, Black Christmas — originally titled Silent Night, Evil Night, which is arguably a better title but might get mixed up with Bloody Night from earlier in this list — has it all when it comes to holiday horror: it’s about a group of sorority sisters getting harassed, stalked, and ultimately murdered by a killer during the yuletide time, and it’s a wonderfully nasty, dated slasher that feels entirely deserving of the cult following it’s amassed in the years since its original (critically-derided) release.
Does it help that it’s based on both a real life urban myth and a real life series of murders? Yes, of course; who doesn’t want to know that the scary stories they’re watching and reading have some grain of truth in them?
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