10 Best Christmas horror films

James Oliver

Explore these ten great films which marry Christmas festivities with bloody horror 

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Good cheer and fellowship! Feasting and quaffing! Apple-cheeked children singing carols on frosty evenings! God bless us, every one!

But Christmas has a darker side. During the Victorian era, telling spooky ghost stories was just as much part of the celebrations as guzzling figgy pudding. Dickens' A Christmas Carol might be best remembered as the ultimate heart-warmer but it features supernatural intervention and gets properly scary at times.

This lives on, in another form, in movies. In addition to things like It's A Wonderful Life and Elf, there's a rich seem of movies that use Christmas as a backdrop for all sorts of ghoulish goings on. It is these that we are looking at today, movies that didn't get the memo that this is the season of goodwill.

None of this is terribly festive, you understand, but they have an especially practical use this year. If you're upset that celebrations are curtailed thanks to the dreaded lurgy, then put one of these on and you should feel much better: watching these will show that things could always be worse...

Black Christmas (1974)

As we proceed through this list, certain trends will become apparent and one of them concerns titles. It seems quite obvious that a few films herein began with a cool title and that the filmmakers worked back from that.

All that seems to have started with Black Christmas, a decent proto-Slasher where the killer targets college students about to go home for the holidays. Sadly, that killer puts little effort into his work, never using Christmas-related murder weapons: he doesn't strangle anyone with tinsel or impale them with a Christmas tree. He doesn't even dress up as Father Christmas. Doesn't he know how important tradition is at Christmas?

Krampus (2015)

Fair play to the makers of Krampus; this is one of the very few American Christmas films that acknowledge customs from beyond their borders. “Krampus” is a figure found in Bavarian Christmas stories, a companion of Father Christmas. Having determined who has been naughty and who has been nice, Santa proceeds to reward the latter dealing Krampus to punish the former.

Here, he gets medieval on the asses of a particularly horrible family—he is inadvertently summoned when the youngest member loses his Christmas spirit after being bullied by his cousins. The results are not pleasant: a valuable reminder of exactly why we'd better be good for goodness' sake...

Rare Exports (2010)

Most studies trace the roots of Father Christmas back to Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who was such a generous fellow that the pope made him a saint (well, he did the odd miracle too). “St. Nicholas” = “Santa Claus”, see. Rare Exports offers an alternative: that he (and his elves) were big horrible troll things imprisoned underneath a mountain until they were accidentally freed.

Made in Finland, it's a film far more aware of Christmas beliefs of an earlier age than most films (because Father Christmas hasn't always been a jovial, kindly fellow). And, perhaps accordingly, it's pleasingly bracing about the modern Christmas industry: it would be a spoiler to explain the title, but the characters resolve their problems in a very inventive—and cynical—fashion.

Jack Frost (1997)

Full disclosure: at the time of writing, your humble correspondent has yet to see Jack Frost. Shall we see what it's about? “A week before Christmas, a truck carrying serial killer Jack Frost”—uh, go on—“crashes into a genetics truck.” Ooh. This is sounding more promising now.


“The genetic material causes Jack's body to mutate and fuse together with the snow on the ground. He comes back as a killer snowman and takes revenge…” STOP! HOLD EVERYTHING! Could this be the greatest idea for a Christmas film ever? A KILLER SNOWMAN! And, if that wasn't enough, according to one critic: “the killer snowman’s nose functions as a killing tool”. Obviously, one shouldn't overpraise films you haven't seen but this is clearly the best movie ever made.

Christmas Evil (1980)

Back to titles again. Here's one that's even better than Black Christmas, and the film isn't too bad either, featuring as it does a killer who takes his festive responsibilities seriously. He is Harry, a young fella who really does wish it was Christmas everyday (his apartment is decorated all the year round). But since this is a result of childhood trauma rather than, y’know, really liking Christmas, it's only a matter of  time before he flips. Sure enough, he joins the Salvation Army and starts to help the poor and the destitute. Only joking! He dresses as Santa and starts killing people instead.

Gremlins (1984)

The ultimate in Christmas monster movies. When Billy Pelzer is given a “mogwai”—an impossibly cute fur ball that he calls “Gizmo”—he is given three instructions. Don't expose him to sunlight, don't get him wet and, above all, don't feed him after midnight. Obviously all three get ignored and his entire town is over-run with horrible scaly monsters before you can say “Jack Robinson”. These gremlins give director Joe Dante all the excuse he needs to take a blowtorch to traditional, idyllic Christmas that the movies so often depict.

It's also a film that scarred a generation on first release. Not for its contents, oh no, but because it was rated “15” and they were too young to see it. Some of us are still bitter.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Here, again, is a film where the title surely came first. It's a slasher movie, and—stop me if you've heard this one before—it's about a psycho Santa who was traumatised in childhood. Unlike Christmas Evil or even Black Christmas, it spawned sequels; five of them in fact, one of them directed by legendary cult director Monte Hellman and another featuring one-time child star Mickey Rooney. There's even a remake too, one that stars the great Malcolm McDowell. One franchise: at least three career lows.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Unlike Gremlins, this was rated PG on first release, so ghoulishly minded children had little trouble getting in to see it. It's about a clash of the seasons: Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king, who thinks Christmas seems more fun than his festival, Hallowe'en. So he decides to kidnap Santa and take over his duties, something that does not go quite according to plan.

Purists might sniff that it's not proper horror but who the hell cares what they think? Lovingly directed by Henry Selick, working from an idea and designs by Tim Burton, it's an ideal way to introduce eager young minds to the glories of horror films, kooky, spooky, and altogether ooky.

Read more: 10 Things you didn't know about The Nightmare Before Christmas 

Tales From The Crypt: “And all through the house” (1989)

Not quite a fully-fledged film this, but an episode from one of those anthology films so popular in the 1970s. Due warning: it's another psycho Santa story, but it's quite the best of them. This is what happens when you start with a story before coming up with a cool Christmas-themed title.

It starts with Joan Collins killing her husband, but she's not the main murderer here. That would be the man escaped from the local secure unit; he's criminally insane and he's stolen the clothes from a passing Santa (it being Christmas time, of course). Of course, all the doors and windows are locked. But when you have a child who is eagerly awaiting the coming of Father Christmas....

Dead of Night: “The Christmas Party” (1945)

And since we've had an episode from one portmanteau film, we may as well have another, from the most famous one of the lot. Dead of Night is best remembered for its episodes about a haunted mirror and the evil ventriloquist's dummy, but the one set at Christmas is one of the spookiest. It's presented as a story told by a young woman, about the time she played a game of hide and seek and got lost. It will be no surprise that she encounters a ghost, but it's the way the story unfolds that makes it so memorable, and one of the best pure ghost stories ever put on film.

 

Read more: 10 Best horror films of the last 10 decades 

Read more: 10 Greatest family Christmas films 

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