‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring….or so you thought. Turns out there might be all sorts of creatures lurking, waiting, and sharpening their blades. So, if you’ve been naughty, check your attic, your chimney, your front yard, and yes, even your oven because you never know what Santa will leave for you. For us boys and girls on the nice list, let’s enjoy an old fashioned Christmas tale while Santa clears some space on the naughty list. Of course, just because it’s the most wonderful time of the year, that doesn’t mean us horror movie fans have to sit the season out.
The weather outside will not be the only thing that’s frightful. Some of the best tales of the season revolve around terror. The most beloved Christmas tale, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, tells the story of some ghosts scaring an old man so badly that he changes his way of life. While it may not scare us any more, the tradition has stayed with us. The season is filled with love and magic, so what happens when that magic gets a little black; a white Christmas turns to, well…
The movies on this list range from silly and fun to cold and dark, but they all keep the tradition that Mr. Dickens started, a frightening tale with a yuletide message. So, put a few extra marshmallows in your cocoa, stoke the fire, and enjoy a haunting Christmas tale. Don’t wait until Christmas to open my present to you, a list of 12 movies that are bound to scare the milk and cookies right out of you.
1. Gremlins (1984)
The 1984 Steven Spielberg produced movie has become a cult tradition. When Spielberg is involved you know you are going to get quality, even if it is a story about turning a pet into a group of monsters. This movie would work any time of the year, but with a Christmas backdrop, it feels more intimate. Director Joe Dante, and writer Chris Columbus know exactly what this movie needs to be, fun with a touch of horror.
2. Krampus (2015)
One of the newer Christmas tales on this list, but it comes from one of the oldest folklores. Krampus is a horned demon-goat-type creature that punishes naughty children on Christmas. How it took so long for Hollywood to make a great movie out of it is baffling. 2015’s Krampus was well worth the wait. The fantastic comedic cast playing it very straight brings a lighthearted tone to the dark proceedings, and it’s pretty dark at times. If you have not seen this one, it really is a treat. Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r’ Treat) is a master at his craft and leaves us wanting more.
3. Black Christmas (1974)
This 1974 horror/Christmas classic about a sorority being terrorized in their home over Christmas break is very special. It is one of the very first slasher movies and one where the killer’s identity is a mystery. When I heard about this movie years ago I was in no rush to see it. Having recently seen it for the first time, I have to say, I was a fool. Although it drags a little, and you do have to forgive the cliché’s because a modern audience is smarter after seeing hundreds of horror movies. With that said it sticks to its Christmas setting and gives some truly unsettling moments. My one piece of advice when seeing this movie is, although it may make you want to see the remake, DON’T!
4. Jack Frost (1997)
This is the first movie on the list that is absolutely ridiculous. Take any hope for a realistic story with any heart and throw it out the window. This 1997 movie tells the tale of a serial killer whose soul gets mutated after a car accident with a genetics truck and fuses with some snow. This allows the snowman to melt and form at will and kill everyone in his path in the town of Snowmonton (BRILLIANT!). The effects are questionable, the acting is laughable, the kills are ridiculous, but the whole thing is a lot of fun you can’t pass up during the holiday season. Turn your brain off and laugh.
5. Santa’s Slay (2005)
In 2005 wrestling star Bill Goldberg stretched his acting legs and brought us a role that I have not forgotten about over a decade later. He plays Saint Nick, but it’s not the Santa that we know and love. This Santa is the son of Satan and he killed every Christmas day until he lost a curling match to an angel. 1000 years later and he’s back ready to kill again. Sound ridiculous? It is, but the movie knows it is and has fun with it. This talented cast (Dave Thomas, Robert Culp, Saul Rubinek, Emilie de Raven) has fun with the material and in result, so does the audience.
6. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Alright, this one is not much of a horror movie, but it is a traditional Christmas movie. There are no real scares, but the creepy images of Tim Burton’s mind bring this classic to life. You can argue if it is a Halloween or Christmas movie, but there is no denying its charm. If you are looking for a break from all the holiday cheer of traditional family-friendly Christmas movies, this one is perfect. It’s beautifully made and a joy to sit through, as if you didn’t know that already.
7. Sint (2010)
While this one may not be widely recognized, it is an original tale from the Dutch. Give yourself some culture this Christmas and be entertained by a story about a bishop, Niklas, and his gang who return from the dead when the moon is full on the anniversary of their deaths, December 5th. The gang returns to kill and kidnap children. It’s hard to find a horror movie as original as this, zombie, pirate-esque, bishop and his gang.
8. Silent Night (2012)
The premise is simple. The police are after a killer Santa Clause on a rampage on Christmas Eve. Technically a remake of 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night this one is considerably darker. It is filled with gore and black humor. The kills are inventive, and the acting is surprisingly good, not as surprising once we welcome Malcolm McDowell back to the screen. McDowell elevates the material and we are all the more thankful for it. He delivers some cheesy lines, but in the context it doesn’t feel out of place. It feels like it should have come out almost ten years ago when these types of gory remakes were being cranked out, but it’s still worthy of the holiday season.
9. A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
An anthology of seasonal horror stories held together by William Shatner. The four stories center on a group of students breaking into their school which is possessed by a pregnant ghost, a changeling, Krampus attacking a family, and Santa fighting zombie elves and Krampus. Not every story lands, but they all have the right spirit. The Krampus and Santa stories play the best. Of course the real highlight is seeing ole Bill Shatner ham it up. Anthologies are very difficult to get right, and A Christmas Horror Story gives it all it’s got.
10. Christmas Evil (1980)
Made in 1980, the tale of a man going on a rampage is pretty tame by today’s standards, but that does not mean it should be overlooked. The original story is the most compelling part of this movie. A man with a traumatic past involving the truth of Santa, suffers a mental breakdown at his toy factory job and goes on a “yuletide killing spree”. It is 1980 so there is going to be less gore than you might hope to expect today. This causes the movie to drag a little, but that allows for more character depth than you would see in a horror film.
11. The Gingerdead Man (2005)
Like Jack Frost this Full Moon Entertainment production is absurd. But this time we get the pleasure of seeing the unhinged performance of Gary Busey. He is absolutely out of his mind and it comes across beautifully. Though this movie is not set during Christmas, it does involve one of the season’s traditions being possessed by a serial killer. The characters are stupid; if they can not escape a gingerbread cookie, then they deserve to die, and it’s a guilty pleasure to watch. Don’t go in expecting much; after all it is called The Gingerdead Man. Just have fun.
12. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Another foreign film. This one from Finland. A team of researchers dig up the secret of Santa. The less said about this one the better. It’ll be more fun for you to experience it on your own. I’ll say this, it’s thrilling, it’s won awards, and it’s definitely an original, unique Christmas movie. Do not wait until next year for this treat.
Special Mention: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Although not a horror movie and also not a real movie, this 1966 television special is undoubtedly a Christmas tradition. It deserves special mention here because it’s about a green monster that “terrorizes” a small town because he doesn’t share their values. Oh, and it’s narrated by, perhaps, the biggest star in horror history, Boris Karloff. It is fun, has a great lesson, and the animation beautifully brings to life the words of Dr Seuss. It is perfection and a nice way to bridge back to the cheery spirit of Christmas.