It’s the holiday season, and many moviegoers will be turning to tried and true feel-good favorites, such as “Elf” or “Frosty the Snowman”. For horror fans, though, movie selection around Christmas time may not be so easy. If you’re someone seeking a little more frights and scares than the regurgitated, happy-go-lucky, selection of festive films this season, choosing the right title could prove to be a challenge. Those of us who take more comfort in terror and monsters than gingerbread and candy canes aren’t completely out of luck, however, as there are still ways to get a healthy dose of the macabre, in the world of yuletide cinema. They’re few and far between, but there are certainly some wonderful Christmas movies curated for lovers of the sick and twisted side of filmmaking. No, they may not all be masterpieces, but these peculiar misfits of the holiday season are just the right fit for anyone looking to get into the spirit of Xmas, without sacrificing their undying appetite for fear. Ranging from guilty pleasures to underrated gems, to pure, bonafide classics; these are the absolute best Christmas movies for horror fans.
10. Christmas Evil (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” meets the happiest season of all in this low-budget rarity of the ‘80s horror canon. Following a depressed, middle-aged man on the outskirts of society, “Christmas Evil” is a disturbing look at the effects of isolation and loneliness around the holidays. Succumbed by his compulsive obsession towards the figure of Santa Claus ever since an early childhood trauma involving jolly old St. Nick, Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart), lives out his days working at a toy factory, and stalking the local children – essentially playing out the role of Santa. Driven by his deteriorating mental state and a yearning for ice-cold justice, Harry makes his own naughty/nice list and embarks on a sadistic killing spree through the snow-covered streets of New Jersey.
Rather than playing the concept for cheap scares or corny humor, director Lewis Jackson paints his picture as more of a studious psychological thriller, in which Harry, despite his clear issues and warped ideologies, is portrayed as a sympathetic subject, while remaining incredibly unsettling. Whether it stems more so from Maggart’s raw leading performance, or from the clear budgetary restraints of the production, the film has a gritty, grounded tone that makes for a deeply unnerving atmospheric contrast to the astoundingly bizarre story. Despite the financial limitations, Jackson delivers an impressively well-crafted vision, through the lens of a grainy character-study that’s sure to get under your skin. Culminating in a stunning finale too mind-boggling to even consider spoiling, this is early ‘80s craziness you simply must see to believe.
9. Jack Frost (1997)
In the expansive realm of ‘so bad it’s good’ holiday horror films, 1997’s “Jack Frost” arguably reigns supreme; and whoever said movies had to be good to be enjoyed, anyway? It may draw obvious comparisons to the Michael Keaton-starring family drama of the same name, but in reality, this bombastic winter slasher is much more akin to Tom Holland’s “Child’s Play”. Centered around Jack Frost, a demented serial killer turned malevolent mutant snowman, the film embraces its cheesy novelty, and feels right at home among the other fun, forgotten experiments of ‘90s horror. Though far from a well-executed concept, there’s certainly something to be said about its distinctive, carefree tone, and unwavering delight towards its own exuberant stupidity. Horror movies like this simply don’t get made anymore.
Related to Christmas Horror Movies: The 10 Best Christmas TV Episodes
Sure, it isn’t handled with even an ounce of competence, but it manages to bask, unapologetically, in its lunacy, and there’s something really quite endearing in that; making it as great a Christmas time watch as any. There are no overarching themes, characters to latch onto, or even a decent story, but what it promises, it most certainly delivers: and that is, a nonsensical creature feature built upon a sentient snowman, that never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. Boasting some impressively inventive moments of carnage, memorable lines, and about as original an antagonist you could possibly ask for, this celebration of low-grade cinema is definitely worthy of at least one viewing around the most wonderful time of the year.
8. The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)
Werewolves undoubtedly have a rich history in the horror genre, yet no film featuring the bloodthirsty ravagers feels quite like “The Wolf of Snow Hollow”. Part murder mystery, part dark comedy, Jim Cummings (who wrote, directed, and stars in the film) brings something to the screen that is both decidedly fresh, and slightly undercooked but manages to stick the landing as an unconventional monster flick. Set in a sleepy mountain town, police officer John Marshall (Cummings) struggles to put together the pieces of an unprecedented murder spree, as his life starts to unravel before his very own eyes. Offering a view on a werewolf story often left unexplored, Cummings anchors in on the idea of a cop tasked with solving a seemingly unexplainable, supernatural crime, and takes the audience down his path of anger and doubt along the way.
The script is admittedly bloated, suffering from a few too many themes being handled at once, resulting in a film that can never really land on a cohesive narrative. Still, what Cummings and crew achieve far outweighs whatever faults there are in the story, and their attempts to push the werewolf mythology in a new direction are surely commendable. Featuring a quirky cast of characters, excellent performances all around, and a sparkly Christmas setting, all hauntingly juxtaposed by the film’s ensuing bloodshed, this newfound gem of winter mayhem lives up to its exciting premise, and isn’t satisfied without some twists and turns along the way.
7. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Released in the thick of the 1980s slasher craze, this b-movie cult classic has become a staple of Christmas-themed horror in recent years. Scarred as a child upon witnessing his parents senselessly murdered at the hands of someone dressed up as Santa Claus, Billy Chapman snaps one day after being forced to pose as Father Christmas for work. Something awakens inside of Billy, as he commences bitter punishment on those who have been naughty. Highly controversial at the time for its violent depiction of the famously joyous holiday, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” has found new life in the horror community, and it’s easy to see why.
Related to Christmas Horror Movies: Halloween in Harry Potter Movies
Beginning as a sympathetic glimpse into Billy’s woeful life, matters are only escalated as he’s confronted by his past holiday demons, and ventures out into the snowy darkness to wreak utter havoc; slipping into typical trashy slasher fare for the film’s final act. And this is where the movie truly shines. With its main character fleshed out and its inevitable plot fully set in motion, the film takes off into another realm, adopting the cheesiness of ‘80s horror, and relishing in it. Delivering an abundance of memorable kills, shocking imagery, and some truly eerie music, the definitive homicidal Santa movie catches its stride and doesn’t look back. It may be easy to take one look at this and dismiss it as a campy chiller (which it is), but it also serves as one of the most truly nostalgic survivors of an important period in horror cinema.
6. Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
Nothing kicks off the holidays quite like a gleeful musical, set against the backdrop of a gruesome zombie apocalypse. It certainly doesn’t sound like a perfect blend, but “Anna and the Apocalypse” brought something undeniably offbeat and innovative to the desperately stale state of zombie movies, in 2017. It also just so happens to take place around Christmas; offering an exciting new entry into holiday horror, in addition to the wonderful sub-genre of zom-coms. Wearing its obvious “Shaun of the Dead” influence on its sleeve, while carving out its own place in modern horror, the film presents the idea of a gimmicky high school drama, pitted against vicious hordes of the undead, and it makes for something totally original, in a risk that pays off far more than it disappoints.
The dips in and out of the musical numbers are hilariously nonchalant, and the playful satire of generic teen movies lands more often than it annoys. With a group of colorful characters, terrific performances (lead by Ella Hunt in an electrifying breakout role), and enough catchy horror-infused songs to last until New Year’s, the film is a breezy watch that never once feels stagnant or forced. Offering a heart and depth lacking in most current zombie flicks, and delivering the perfect amount of grim comedy to contrast, the tone is something almost indescribable, yet completely infectious, with an almost palpable Christmas atmosphere to boot. Terrific gags, a fantastic ensemble, and great music combine to mold an unorthodox concept into one of the boldest Christmas efforts in recent memory.
5. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Returning Christmas to its darker roots with a refreshingly morbid take on the Santa Claus mythology, this Finnish holiday tale is a smart, unforgettable, delve into frostbitten terror. Set in a universe where Santa was really a demonic behemoth who brutalized naughty kids before being imprisoned in ice, the film follows a curious boy who begins to believe this nasty St. Nick is secretly being dug up and unleashed. Desperate to warn the adults around him of the dangers of their expeditions, as they look to capture Santa for financial gain, young Pietari convinces everyone to band together and eliminate the supernatural threat at hand, as children start to mysteriously disappear come nightfall.
Related to Christmas Horror Movies: 10 Great Horror Movie Protagonists of All Time
Treading the line between atmospheric suspense and poignant mockery of Christmas commercialism, seamlessly, with some fantastic writing and powerful direction, Jalmari Helander more than proves himself as a unique maestro of horror, with a one-of-a-kind vision that surprisingly oozes wholesome endearment. From a technical standpoint, the film is also an absolute marvel. The entire thing is shot and framed, beautifully, in a way that enhances the story into something majestic; contrasting the craziness of the plot with the serene landscape of the characters’ remote arctic outpost. An unpredictable story that never misses an opportunity for some sardonic satire, “Rare Exports” is a clever reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, as well as the endlessly creative potential of independent filmmaking.
4. Gremlins (1984)
Joe Dante’s timeless horror-comedy is a staple of Amblin Entertainment’s historic catalog of ‘80s classics, as well as the holiday season. Often credited as the film that partially sparked the necessity for PG-13 ratings, family-friendly horror movies like this really don’t get made anymore. Blurring the lines between a stirring creature feature and light slapstick humor, injected with a dose of Christmas cheer, “Gremlins” is one of the few perfect blends of juvenile exuberance and the macabre, without ever pulling its punches. Everyone is familiar with the story of the harmless Mogwai being transformed into sinister Gremlins after dark, but few appreciate just how special the film really is.
Bringing a legitimate level of fright, mixed with some gruesome gags, to a fanciful, Spielbergian small-town setting, Joe Dante delivers a horror movie that undoubtedly has some teeth, yet manages to be off-the-wall fun for the entire family. It’s a multi-tone balancing act that feels distinctly ‘80s, and, unfortunately, never gets attempted these days. The designs of the Mogwai and the Gremlins are, of course, instantly iconic, with the puppetry still holding up today, and Gizmo making for one of the most beloved figures in all of movie history. A laugh-a-minute riot with more than enough splatter to entertain even the most die-hard horror fans, “Gremlins” is a sure-fire way to get into the spirit of Christmas, as a required holiday viewing.
3. Krampus (2015)
Michael Dougherty’s Christmas counterpart to his Halloween season staple “Trick ‘r Treat” is a loving throwback to Amblin horror classics of the ‘80s, as well as the definitive on-screen representation of everyone’s favorite holiday boogeyman, Krampus. Adapted from the eerie German folktale, Krampus acts as Santa’s devilish helper, sent on Christmas Eve to do the jolly old man’s unspeakable dirty work. While Santa Claus rewards the efforts of children who have been good, Krampus terrorizes those who have been naughty. It’s a simple, effortlessly haunting concept, that the film successfully modernizes, and molds into something universally accessible, in the style of a riveting monster movie.
Related to Christmas Horror Movies: 10 Best Moments in Harry Potter Movies
Rather than making another horror anthology, Dougherty opts to play “Krampus” as a single narrative of a dysfunctional family snowed in for the holidays, at the mercy of the titular goat-horned demon, and his festive minions. With the plot scaled-back into a singular focus, Dougherty tells an impressively refined, cohesive, and genuinely relatable story; putting a seemingly broken family into a situation where they must rely on each other, and fend off evil. It’s a touching tale that perfectly embodies the themes of forgiveness and acceptance that reign so prevalent around Christmas time. Aside from the heartwarming storytelling, the film also boasts some incredible creature designs, a star-studded cast, and an unshakably chilling atmosphere. An inspiringly passionate delve into the mythology of Krampus, this under-appreciated gem of Christmas fear more than earns its spot amongst the greatest accomplishments in 2010s horror.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
It’s no secret that Tim Burton has a strong affinity for the holidays. The master of gothic whimsy has found a way to mix his love for Christmas into several of his projects, but none have taken on his signature style and crossed it with the joys of Xmas, quite like this stop-motion Disney classic. Though technically directed by the amazing Henry Selick, it doesn’t get much more Burtonesque than this. Following Jack Skellington, a miserable big shot who grows tired of his stagnant days in Halloween Town and yearns for something new, the film tells a decidedly mature tale of someone breaking free from the dreary routine of their everyday life, only to fall short. Jack wants to take on the role of Santa Claus, but can’t quite seem to do anything right.
Conveying an uplifting message of someone venturing out into the unknown and failing, but ultimately picking themselves back up to find some beauty and solace in their ordinary existence, the film has found resonance with audiences of all ages. Striking a fascinating balance between Halloween and Christmas, the film explores the psyche of someone going through a midlife crisis, searching for self-acceptance, through the lens of a melancholic musical. Its thoughtful brilliance may be misunderstood by many, but even on the surface, it manages to entertain. From the gorgeously distorted characters and the vibrant music to the infectious holiday atmosphere and charming romance, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a swift, eloquent expedition into a wonderfully twisted winter wonderland.
1. Black Christmas (1974)
One of the all-time most influential horror films is also a Christmas movie. Released nearly a decade before his other iconic holiday staple “A Christmas Story”, director Bob Clark helped to ring in the slasher sub-genre, with this formidably invasive landmark of ‘70s horror. Even pre-dating John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, Clark’s seasonal slasher adopted and perfected many of the tropes that are now considered synonymous with the genre. Centered around a mysterious stalker lurking through a sorority house and picking off unsuspecting victims one by one, this Canadian cult classic, much like Carpenter’s immortal picture, takes a simple concept and converts it into something absolutely skin-crawling. Through unsettling POV shots, creepy phone calls, and the decision to keep its enigmatic killer largely regulated to the shadows, “Black Christmas” crafts a disturbing atmosphere, as well as an intensely unpredictable sense of danger.
Related to Christmas Horror Movies: 12 Essential Christmas Movies To Watch During The Holiday Season
Taking rooted characters, stemming from some impressively authentic performances, and leading them into an inescapable state of terror and panic, Clark delivers an anxiously visceral experience, that will sit with many, long after the film’s runtime. Not only is the movie often overlooked when it comes to its significant contributions to the slasher genre, it also deals with themes far ahead of its time, as a thought-provokingly feminist stance on the cruelty of male misogyny; with topics of domestic abuse and abortion dilemma being explored, alongside the murderer’s evidently sexist motives. It may not be a film filled to the brim with holiday cheer, but this unnerving Christmas fright-fest certainly has all the makings of an indelible horror masterpiece.