As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, even if you don’t own a calendar, we’re deep into this year’s holiday season, with Christmas quickly approaching. I’m not sure how that happened so fast, since it feels like it was just yesterday that I was counting down the days until Halloween, but I for one am actually quite glad that we’re so close to Christmas. Though October is hands down my favorite month of the year, December is a close second, and one of the reasons for that is because I absolutely love to sit down with a glass (or 6) of spiked egg nog and take in the glorious sights and sounds of Christmas-themed horror flicks.
There’s just something about horror movies that take place during Christmas that I absolutely love, and I’ve got a list of favorites that I make it a point to watch every single December. Though there’s certainly no shortage of horror movies of this sort – with more coming out every single year – there are eight in particular that I absolutely cherish, and that put me in the Christmas spirit like only a killer Santa ever could.
This holiday season, I invite you to watch those eight holiday horror flicks along with me, and I hope that me revealing my list of personal favorites will help you discover some gems that will become a part of your annual viewing tradition, right alongside A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
So fill up your moose mug with some egg nog, drop a shot of rum in there and read along as I rave about my eight favorite holiday horror movies to watch around this time of the year – in no particular order!
We kick things off with the most obvious choice, a beloved horror-comedy that I’m pretty sure is already on your annual viewing list. Joe Dante’s Gremlins was a favorite of mine throughout my childhood and it’s still very much a favorite to this day. The tale of a young boy who gets a Christmas gift keep that keeps on giving – or should I say, multiplying – Gremlins is itself a gift that keeps on giving, a movie that never gets old no matter how many times you watch it. As someone who’s watched it at least twice a year for the past 20 of them, you can believe me when I say that!
2) BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Released in 1974, and directed by the late Bob Clark – who went on to direct A Christmas Story – the original Black Christmas is one of the most influential horror films of all time, predating John Carpenter’s Halloween and in fact serving as a great source of inspiration for Carpenter’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it was made several years before Halloween, it’s mostly Halloween that gets all the credit and respect for being the proto-slasher flick, with Black Christmas being left in the dust. In my opinion, Black Christmas‘ story of young girls being terrorized by an mysterious killer is as gripping and effective as Carpenter’s, the film every bit as deserving of all the praise as Halloween. Without Black Christmas, there very well may have never been a Halloween, and I personally hold both films in the same regard.
3) SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT
If Black Christmas is the Halloween of horror movies set during Christmas time, then Silent Night, Deadly Night is to Christmas what Trick ‘r Treat is to Halloween – the more fun take on the holiday, which I find myself re-watching a whole lot more often. Directed by the late Charles Sellier, Silent Night, Deadly Night is pretty much the embodiment of everything I love about slasher flicks, from a memorable killer to creative death scenes. If there’s any film on this list that I most look forward to watching every December it’s this one, which I quite frankly have an unnatural obsession with. In fact, it’s not all that uncommon that you’ll find me breaking the rules and popping the DVD in well before December, unable to let another night pass by without once again witnessing the psychotic Billy Claus carrying out his gory brand of vengeance. 80s slashers just don’t get much better than this!
4) SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOY MAKER
Many people don’t even realize that the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise continued past the second installment, the original film spawning a total of four sequels. The final one came in 1991 when Friday the 13th Part 3 & 5 writer Martin Kitrosser wrote and directed Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker – from where I stand, one of the most underrated horror sequels ever made. Starring Mickey Rooney, who had previously condemned the makers of the original Silent Night, Deadly Night, The Toy Maker has nothing to do with the storyline from the first two films, instead centering around Rooney’s Joe Petto, a twisted toy store owner who uses killer toys to do his dirty deeds. In my opinion, this movie would’ve ended up becoming a cult classic fan-favorite if it were simply released under the title The Toy Maker, and not connected to the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise – because it was the fifth installment in a franchise everyone had lost interest in by the time it came out, nobody really ever bothered to watch it. That’s the same way I always felt about Halloween 3, and I can only hope that this one someday ends up catching on with horror fans like Halloween 3 has, in recent years. It’s just begging to be loved.
5) CHRISTMAS EVIL
Another highly underrated holiday horror gem, Lewis Jackson’s Christmas Evil was released in 1980, fading into obscurity not long after that. Though not the first depiction of a killer Santa on film – that honor belongs to 1972’s Tales from the Crypt anthology – Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) predates Silent Night, Deadly Night by a few years, telling a similar story of a man who dresses up as Santa Claus and punishes the naughty. While Silent Night, Deadly Night is a much more fun and gory take on the subject matter, Christmas Evil is more slow-paced and psychological, allowing us to peek inside the twisted brain of a man who truly believes he is Santa Claus. It’s an incredibly interesting movie, capped off by one of my favorite finales of all time. John Waters considers Christmas Evil to be one of the very best holiday films ever made – and I don’t disagree with him about that!
6) RARE EXPORTS
No horror film to come along in the last several years has impressed me more than Rare Exports, a movie that become an all-time favorite of mine before the closing credits even began on my first viewing. Directed by Jalmari Helander, and based on a series of short films he made in prior years, the Finnish Rare Exports was released in 2010, a highly original take on the origins of Santa Claus that centers around an archaeological dig that unearths a real life Saint Nick. Fusing together the imaginative adventure of an Amblin film with the dark horror aspects of something from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, Helander crafted one of the most boldly original movies of the last several years with Rare Exports, a unique vision that absolutely must be experienced. Even the late Roger Ebert sung its praises, calling it “an original, daring, carefully crafted film.” I didn’t always agree with Ebert’s opinions, especially about horror movies, but that’s one opinion I echo completely. If you’ve never seen this movie, please make it a point to do so this year.
7) SANTA’S SLAY
2005 saw the release of David Steiman’s horror-comedy Santa’s Slay, which brought the same type of gory fun to Christmas-themed horror films that Silent Night, Deadly Night did decades prior. Starring professional wrestler Bill Goldberg, Santa’s Slay is not about a killer who dresses up as Santa but rather a killer who indeed is Santa, Goldberg playing a not-so-jolly version of Saint Nick. Story goes that Santa was actually the son of Satan, a demonic monster who was forced to deliver presents for 1,000 years, after an angel beat him in a curling match. His sentence served, Santa is now free to do what he does best; come up with clever ways to brutally kill anyone in his path. Is it a ridiculous premise? Absolutely. A great movie? By no means. But Santa’s Slay is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and that’s really all it needs to be.
While I certainly wouldn’t call 1989’s Elves the best Christmas horror movie I’ve ever seen, I do like to refer to it as the best Christmas horror movie you have probably never seen. Written and directed by Jeffrey Mandel, Elves stars Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty as a department store Santa Claus who’s tasked with saving the world from Nazi elves – well, there’s actually only one elf seen in the movie, but that’s neither here nor there. Elves is pure B-movie cheese, the kind of movie that only could’ve been made in the 80s, and it’s been my mission since discovering it in 2010 to spread the word about it to anyone who will listen. So if you’re still reading, find a way to see Elves, and don’t let another holiday season pass by without it in your life. To this date, the film has still never been released onto DVD, though you can pick up a VHS-to-DVD transfer courtesy of my friends over at the VHS Preservation Society. You won’t regret it, of this I can promise you!
Which of my picks do you share a love for? And what are some of your other favorite Christmas-themed horror flicks? Comment below and let me know!