I’ve always have had a soft spot for Christmas-themed horror films. Some of my favorite memories from my teenage years involve renting SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT and CHRISTMAS EVIL, and having my friends over for a holiday get-together. Since then, many other classics have been released upon the world which I can’t go a year without watching. Some of my more recent favorites have been SANTA’S SLAY, KRAMPUS, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY and of of course, this years’ superb BETTER WATCH OUT.
Thinking about all the wonderful Christmas-themed horror movies that have come out over the decades, I got to wondering about other people’s favorite horror holiday movies. I reached out to various creative professionals to find out what their favorite holiday horrors are, and why.
NATHAN ERDEL (writer, HEADLESS)
Let’s be honest: if I were to state my true, honest-to-Satan..er…Santa, favorite Christmas horror film, you’d be reading yet another ode to joy regaling BLACK CHRISTMAS as the de facto holiday classic. There’s a good reason — it is. I’d rather spend time talking about its unfortunately underrated and completely fucking mental remake, 2006’s BLACK X-MAS.
Yeah, I can hear you shouting “Bah, humbug!” but BLACK X-MAS isn’t trying to ape its predecessor – it’s more of a “David S. Pumpkins remake” in that it is “its own thing”; a sick, brutal, and hilariously mean remake that has fun with the original property while not needing to recreate every single bit of the original. Yes, the original is the better film, no contest, but the 2006 film is a ridiculous amount of fun; the original’s grim tone and bone-chilling atmosphere give way to a candy-colored, raucous flick that brings both laughs and gore.
BLACK X-MAS is a gorgeous flick that delivers a fast-and-fun Christmas slaughter. The cast is mostly excellent, with Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Lacey Chabert (among others) as entertainingly bitchy sorority sisters, and Andrea Martin (alum of the original BLACK CHRISTMAS) as the house mother. The story of these lambs-to-the-slaughter is paired with the killer’s backstory, an element absent in the original and completely new to the remake, and it adds a grimy layer to the film’s already dark proceedings. BLACK X-MAS traffics in abuse, homicide, incest, matricide, ocular violence, and cannibalism, and it does this in the most merriest of ways.
Okay — I don’t dig that the killer is yellow (I can’t watch this film without thinking of SIN CITY’s Yellow Bastard), but, that minor quibble aside, the flick is an excellent slasher. It doesn’t reach the terrifying crescendo of the original, but it doesn’t try to, either. BLACK X-MAS is content to be its own beast. It’s gory, it’s mean, it’s beautifully shot, and most importantly, it’s a hell of a lot of fun… and it belongs on every horror fan’s annual holiday horror watchlist.
DEBBIE ROCHON (actress, SLIME CITY MASSACRE)
The 1980 film CHRISTMAS EVIL, originally titled YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, is without a doubt my favorite seasonal cinematic treat. If the source I gathered the info from is right, this took filmmaker Lewis Jackson 10 years to get made. And no doubt there are many of us who are grateful he stuck with it and made it happen.
Why the film is such a stand-out for me is star Brandon Maggart’s portrayal of Harry Stadling, the misunderstood, emotionally broken idealist living in an ugly, cynical and fatalistic world of the late 1970s in New Jersey. He is berated and betrayed, both at work and at home. Even most of the neighborhood kids are kinda crappy as human beings at such youthful ages. Harry’s slow burn into both insanity and fantasy would almost be magical if it weren’t for the body count. While this movie doesn’t rely on simple gore-indulgent set pieces, it moves more into the world of Rod Serling’s play PATTERNS, which is about a man who’s life is smashed down inch by inch both at home and work, which leaves him nowhere to go but out of his mind. CHRISTMAS EVIL is funny, sad, bloody, and mindful of letting the viewer decide where he or she stands on the whole humanity thing. Bravo. A very unique slice-of-horrifying-life movie that should appeal to arthouse fans as much as horror fans. It’s a yearly staple in my home.
SCOTT HANSEN (director, THE POSSESSION EXPERIMENT)
So for me, its a tie between GREMLINS and KRAMPUS. Both films had a huge impact on me as a filmmaker and GREMLINS as a kid.
I’m a huge fan of the director of KRAMPUS, who was also behind TRICK R TREAT, so let me just focus on that. The use of characters and his storylines are just a fresh take for horror, because he inserts comedy with KRAMPUS. But we feel a large sense of dread, with the family being trapped during the storm and having to band together when they totally don’t get along at all. I feel like KRAMPUS is totally NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION with monsters all the way, horror, and unexpected comedy.
HENRIQUE COUTO (director, BABYSITTER MASSACRE)
One of the hardest holidays of my life was in 2009, I felt like I was lost in my life, and I didn’t have much going for me. Since I had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to watch all five original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT films. I still look back on that marathon fondly — it really made a difference for me.
If you love horror odds are it is because of the morbid fun, those films really bring that fun to Christmas. One of my happiest memories is eating leftover deviled eggs after Christmas dinner and watching Mickey Rooney build toys that kill children. SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT movies hit all the right chords and I’m so happy to rotate them every year and share them with the people I love.
JARED COHN (director, DEATH POOL)
I’d have to say EYES WIDE SHUT. The beautiful visuals, the cinematography, the intriguing storyline, and superb acting make this a masterpiece.
HARRISON SMITH (director, DEATH HOUSE)
While lately KRAMPUS seems to get a lot of love, I went with RARE EXPORTS as one of the overlooked Christmas horror films. I felt KRAMPUS was a stylistic triumph, but weak on character and didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It also shamefully underused Conchata Ferrell. RARE EXPORTS is not just consistent, but keeps a strong spiritual tone that never takes a backseat to special effects. Well-acted, well-written and most of all, inventive, it’s a terrific take on the Krampus mythos and the dark origins of revered holidays. Find it, enjoy it, and pass the word on a film that deserves a wider US audience and following.
GRAHAM SKIPPER (director, SEQUENCE BREAK)
There are a lot of amazing Christmas horror films. GREMLINS, KRAMPUS, RARE EXPORTS, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (part 2!!!), BLACK CHRISTMAS…
But for me, the scariest will always be the TALES FROM THE CRYPTsegment — from the 1990s reboot — of AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE. Now, I love the original, but the reboot was the one I saw first, and I will never forget being a seven year old kid on Christmas Eve, sitting with my friends while the parents were drinking spiked cider in the next room, and this coming on the TV. Holy shit. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as scared. It looked like our house. That Santa’s fucked-up face. The terrifying final moments with the little girl — WHO WAS BASICALLY ME HOLY SHIT OH GOD CHRISTMAS IS TERRIFYING. It’s masterful. And to this day it remains the one Christmas horror story that legitimately freaks me out. I love it.
Merry Christmas. Now excuse me while I go lock my doors and windows.
ED LUCE (comic book artist, WUVABLE OAF)
Definitely SANTA’S SLAY! I don’t need to expound upon the virtues of Santa Goldberg; even on a purely visual level, he’s a joy to watch. The opening sequence, which features the dispatching of a dinner table full of fading stars, sets the mood so perfectly. It’s pretty well put together, hilarious in all the wrong ways and feels criminally underrated.
JT HABERSAAT (stand-up comedian, ALTERCATION PUNK COMEDY TOUR)
I have a pair of holiday horror flicks that I love equally. The first being BLACK CHRISTMAS, which is just such a weird film. Bob Clark directs? The CHRISTMAS STORY guy? Does a great job too, but that always wrecked me a little. And there are so many red herrings that by the time the end comes about I was just sitting there going ‘WHAT?’ to the screen. That last shot of the attic and the phone ring is such a perfect closer. That movie definitely sticks with me.
The other film I adore would be HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, and I know it is a divisive one. If that movie was simply named SEASON OF THE WITCH, I guarantee it would be a stand-alone classic. Stonehenge and warlocks and the old gods = hell yes. I love the pagan ‘return Halloween to its roots’ approach, and it is a very well acted film. Another great ending too. “TURN IT OFF!”
Minor oft-overlooked holiday horror short gems – the lunatic santa from the old TALES FROM THE CRYPT movie…the comic freaked me out as a little kid… and the ‘New Years Eve’ and ‘Easter’ installations on the recent HOLIDAYS anthology are both wicked fun.
BILLY “BLOODY BILL” PON (director, CIRCUS OF THE DEAD)
There’s lots of great “Horror” Christmas that come to mind but my go to would have to be GREMLINS from 1984. I was a teen and saw it in the theaters on one of my first dates with a girl. My mom dropped us off and I felt like such a grown up getting to buy a girl a ticket, popcorn and a drink. The movie itself I believe still holds up today with it’s story, acting and practical FX. This movie feels like Christmas to me and always takes me back to my youth, you know? Before real responsibilities? It’s got dark humor in it but still is what I’d consider to be a family film. Great introduction film to youngsters that’ll be future horror fans!
MIKE MCBEARDO MCPADDEN (author, HEAVY METAL MOVIES)
Shortly after Christmas in 1992, your then 24-year-old hero picked up a battered $5 VHS copy of the 1989 Nazi-gremlin-Yuletide-mallsploitation regurgitation, ELVES.
I’d been combing Brooklyn video stores for ELVES since I first learned the movie existed. Upon at last coming across the tape, I got so excited I deigned to upgrade my usual day-and-night-long Rolling-Rock-and-Jagermeister consumption with what I deemed snortable “Booze Plus.”
Normally, I reserved narcotic enhancement for actual movie theaters and/or public saloons (healthy boundaries, you know). In addition, though, this exception would pay proper homage to ELVES star Dan Haggerty who, in 1985, did 90 days on a goofball cocaine bust.
On top of that, remember, this was the early ’90s zine era. Thus the prospect of Third Reich-spawned homunculi did occasionally get bounced about in Xeroxed conspiracy screed-sheets with whom I traded my own periodical, HAPPYLAND, (which, in turn, was largely about doing drugs and behaving with full subhuman abandon while attempting to take in crap like ELVES).
ELVES, then, would be a grand opening feature for another blowout at Castle Happyland that would then spill into the streets and, before night’s end, from my every corporeal hole.
Alas, even while siphoning wads of what was probably almost all baby-laxative-and-bodega-speed the size of the former Grizzly-Addams onscreen beard, ELVES seemed like it was in slow motion.
My lady fair at the time was rather tall and blonde and Teutonic, so my Jewish roommate and I enlivened ELVES by ribbing her repeatedly, asking her to verify the National Socialist research technicalities on-screen that had resulted in the titular trolls running rampant over a department store.
She eventually grabbed this weird Mr. Magoo doll I won from a crane machine and attacked us with it like it was her own evil Elf from ELVES. It’s wonderful when the worst of films can enable the best of times, isn’t it?
Not long after that, I was gabbing with a buzz-cutted fellow at Downtown Beirut, my East Village barstool-away-from-the-bathroom-floor-at-home. Talked turn to horror movies. I mentioned ELVES. He took immediate offense.
“Fuck that movie!” he snarled. “Demeaning the German science program, saying shit like, ‘Really they were a just a bunch of madmen!’”
That’s when the dude’s hair-do suddenly took on a new context … and at long last, the movie ELVES scared me!
THEODORE BOULOUKOS (actor, BAG BOY LOVER BOY)
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, a 1972 American made-for-television horror film, directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, produced by Aaron Spelling, and featuring a sterling cast comprised of Sally Field, Eleanor Parker, Julie Harris, Jessica Walter and Walter Brennan. It’s about a wealthy father on his deathbed who invites his four daughters home for Christmas and tells them he suspects his second wife is slowly poisoning him. Shortly thereafter, the girls learn that their stepmother was accused of killing her first husband, and they begin to fall prey to a killer dressed in a yellow rain slicker who knocks them off, one by one, until only Sally Field is left running and screaming for her life in the forest surrounding the family manse. I’m partial to stories about rich people. Especially those imperiled. Especially at Christmas.
ANGUS MAPLE (adult film star, SWINEY’S PRO-AM)
Well, I gotta go with GREMLINS as my favorite Christmas horror movie. Sure, GREMLINS takes place at Christmas time but the horror is timeless. No amount of holiday cheer can stem the tide of chaos that is the universe. Chaos doesn’t play favorites; the vile old woman gets her card punched just like the kindly old man. Phoebe Cates monologue about her dad dressed as Santa dying in the chimney puts a fine, grim point on the whole affair. Safety and comfort are a fragile illusion one bad choice away from being utterly broken. Regardless of the laughs, the cute Mogwai, and the microwave explosions, the core idea in GREMLINS is that the universe is a predator and will kill you first chance it gets.
GREMLINS is existential horror through and through. No slasher dressed as Santa can top that.
NICK SIMON (director, THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS)
For as much as I love BLACK CHRISTMAS. And I LOVE BLACK CHRISTMAS… I’m going to say GREMLINS. GREMLINS is a dark-ass movie and it was the first “Dark Christmas Movie” I remember seeing as a child. It captures what makes a great Christmas movie… The town in GREMLINS itself echos Bedford Falls. It’s also a perfectly balanced movie, tone-wise. Capturing the horror and the holiday spirit.
JEFFREY COSTELLO (fashion designer, JC#RT)
So many of the holiday horror movies are not particularly our favorites, though JACK FROST is amazingly ridiculous. That SANTA CLAUS movie from the fifties is pretty great, but how can an outer-space Claus doing battle with Lucifer be anything but great! That damn cat from MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS is kind of terrifying, and the vintage TALES FROM THE CRYPT, with Joan Collins betrayed by her daughter and strangled by Santa Claus, is perfection!