Christmas and horror are something most people don’t associate together. But spooky goings-on and the cheerful holiday season can be an absolute delight. If you’re looking for a little blood on the snow, here are the 5 best Christmas horror films of all-time.
5) Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
This 1984 exploitation classic caused quite a stir with parents and church groups. The very image of an axe-wielding maniac dressed as Santa Clause was deemed offensive. So much so, that Tristar Pictures decided pull the movie out of theaters a week after it’s release. Billy is 5-years-old when he sees his parents slaughtered by a man dressed as Santa Clause. Afterwards he’s put into an orphanage ran by nuns where he is taught that sex is a vile thing. Now grown, he has job as a stock boy at a toy store. But soon his mind cracks and goes an yule killing spree punishing those being naughty. Billy’s Santa slaying (see what I did there) rampage gained a cult following through VHS tapes and video stores. While not particularly suspenseful or scary, there is something oddly entertaining about this goofy 80s’ slasher flick. The gory kills, over-the-top performances, and grimy aesthetic all work to make this a great beer-and-pizza movie with a group of like-minded friends.
4) Krampus (2015)
The most recent film on this list, director Michael Dougherty took the legend of Krampus and finally gave him the big-budget Hollywood him he deserved. During a Christmas family get-together, a boy accidentally releases Krampus and his minions turning the night into a fight for survival. Filled with awesome practical effects and gorgeous art direction, the film does feel like one from the late 80s’ without leaning too far into homage or pastiche, making it a great double-feature with Drag Me to Hell. Seeing this and Dougherty’s previous film Trick ‘r Treat makes me absolutely ecstatic about what he does with the nest Godzilla movie. Much like Fred Dekker with The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps, he understands how to get to the hearts of horror fans because he is one himself.
3) Black Christmas (1974)
The psychopathic murder on the loose, creepy point-of-view shots, and the final girl showdown with the villain, this was a trailblazer. You might be had the image of Michael Myers chasing Laurie Strode through the suburbs, but in actuality Black Christmas beat Halloween to the punch by a whole 4 years. Although not nearly as popular as Halloween was on its opening weekend, it has now grown in the horror community as being way ahead of its time. A stranger sneaks into a sorority house’s attic and women begin to go missing even as the police struggle to find the culprit. On my most recent viewing, it struck me how well-defined the characters are. In most slasher flicks, characters are just meat for the slaughter with thinly written stereotypes and dialogue. Not so with Black Christmas. Each character is interesting enough to not just feel like another body for the kill. Speaking of kills, the film is relatively bloodless. It soaks itself in suspense and subtly rather than graphic gore. Director Bob Clark would ironically enough go on to make A Christmas Story. But if you asked me which Christmas tale of his I prefer, I’ll always go with the former.
2) Christmas Evil (1980)
The 2nd killer Santa movie on this list is a much different animal. While Silent Night, Deadly Night is a basic template for goofy slasher flick, Christmas Evil feels more like a slow, disturbing descent into madness. It’s closest comparison would be Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver, a grimy character piece in which we see the world through the eyes of the mentally ill. Brandon Maggart gives a fantastic performance as Harry, a toy worker who’s traumatized as a kid by learning Santa isn’t real. After his co-workers put him down, he suffers a mental breakdown and goes on a killing spree even while as he gives away toys and spreads joy as Santa Clause. Maggart’s performance gives Harry a complexity that is completely unexpected coming from the shlocky slasher genre. It’s scary, hilarious, and sad, sometimes all in the same scene. Along with his performance, sharp directing from Lewis Jackson elevate this underrated and underseen classic.
1) Gremlins (1984)
As if there was going to be any other movie at the top of this list? It’s a film that had me constantly rewinding the VHS tape growing up. You know the rules: No bright lights, no water, and no feeding them after midnight. And of course these rules are broken. Before Tarantino, Dante’s one of those directors that wears his influences and love of b-movies on his sleeve. His control of tone assures entertainment whether you’re jumping out of your seat or laugh-out-loud, there’s no quite like it. The humor strikes that perfect of balance of being silly and dark without ever getting too childish or depressing. It celebrates the holidays even as it’s critiquing the consumerism that’s been injected into it over the last 20th century. The practical effects and puppets of Gizmo and the rest of the Gremlins give the movie a charm that’s hard to find now a-days with some much CGI taking over. Not just the best Christmas horror but a horror-comedy masterpiece, Joe Dante’s magnum opus is a blast of pure fun that gets better with age!