Rafael Motamayor on the six holiday horror movies you need to watch at Christmas…
It’s almost Christmas, and many are mid-way through their Holiday marathons. Lights are up, tacky Christmas sweaters can be seen in the streets, but some of us prefer Christmas light illuminating scenes of bloody horror. After all, don’t Christmas sweaters and Christmas decorations look brighter and cooler covered in blood? Killer Santas, devilish elves, kids being awful and kind of psychopathic, you name it.
What better way to take a break from all the pompous glee than watch some horror movies that still maintain some Christmas spirit? Honouring the spirit of the arbitrary-ranking-list-season, here are the best Christmas horror films that will likely piss you off because I omitted your personal favourite.
Better Watch Out (2016, dir: Chris Peckover)
The newest addition to the Christmas horror sub-genre, Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out came out this year, but it already made a huge impression. Described by Peckover as a “John Hughes movie written by Tarantino”, we follow a teenage boy plotting a scheme to make his older babysitter fall for him, before his plans take a hard left-turn when intruders try to enter the house.
Is it scary? Better Watch Out probably won’t give you nightmares. That being said, there’s a couple of jump scares that do just what they are supposed to – and managed to make a friend spill his drink at the theatre – and some shocking scenes that are as disturbing as they are wicked fun.
Is it fun? Hell yes. Peckover takes you along for a wild ride with so many crazy twists and turns, you will be amazed by the direction this movie takes. Better Watch Out is quite grim and has some disturbing plot developments, but it never loses its dark and twisted sense of humour – and the young cast is fantastic!
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984, dir: Charles E. Sellier Jr.)
A young boy witnesses a tragedy when a robber dressed as Santa murders his parents. Years later, having grown up tormented in an orphanage run by nuns, the kid goes on a killing spree dressed as Santa. Honestly, it gets crazier from there, as soon as I read how this movie got pulled from theaters after only 2 weeks I knew I had to see it.
Is it scary? A bit! Silent Night, Deadly Night is a proper slasher, so expect lots of blood and surprise killer Santa coming out of nowhere to hack you to pieces with almost inhuman strength. Seriously, this guy strangled a man with Christmas lights by lifting him from the ground with just one hand!
Is it fun? Let me put it this way. This guy goes out to kill people who according to him have been naughty (mostly people having sex) and when he meets a little girl who says she’s been nice this year, Santa gives her a boxcutter! Silent Night, Deadly Night is the perfect amount of gory pulp that you either find way to campy, or you love its insane story to the point where you instantly want to see the sequel.
Krampus (2015, dir: Michael Dougherty)
In 2015 Michael Dougherty gave us something scarier than a killer dressed as Santa. He gave us something primal, a family of terrible people – and a little kid who loses his Christmas spirit. To punish him for not believing in Christmas, his entire block (or town, we don’t know) is covered in an eternal snowstorm and tortured by numerous evil creatures. Amazing practical effects, a tight script and good performances by Adam Scott and Emjay Anthony make this a new classic.
Is it scary? Yes! You will not piss your pants in fright, but there are some jump-scares as well as some scary imagery in Krampus, mainly from its army of practical-effects monsters – from killer gingerbread men wielding knifes to the creepiest snowmen since 1997’s Jack Frost. Best of all is the titular Krampus, a tall, horned creature that’s half-goat, half-demon which comes every year to punish those who lose the Christmas spirit by literally dragging them to hell. Dougherty builds the plot of the movie like a straight up horror film, where characters are being offed one by one in brutal ways. It also features one of the best attic-scenes in recent horror memory.
Is it fun? Uh, did I not just mention the knife-wielding gingerbread man? Krampus is full of darkly comedic moments, and makes you root for the demise of the main characters in the most brutal ways possible.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010, dir: Jalmari Helander)
Santa Claus is real, and he’s not what Coca-Cola sold you. He’s actually a horned demon that feeds on children who’s buried inside a mountain in Finland. A Christmas take on Carpenter’s The Thing, Helander crafted an old-fashioned adventure film with great humour and fantastic performances by its two young leads.
Is it scary? I wouldn’t count it among the scariest movies ever, though there are some great horror sequences. The demon eyes on Santa’s little helpers are unsettling, and a scene with a captured Santa is straight horror, but it’s not something that will give you nightmares. You are safe to see this one with the kids – that is, if they are ok with hundreds of naked elves running in the snow.
Is it fun? I did just write naked elves running in the snow. This movie is quite absurd, and Helander never hides it, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale has some very dark humour about people being afraid to talk about Santa, which is really amusing.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, dir: Henry Selick)
Is this a Christmas or a Halloween movie? The movie mostly takes place in Halloween town, but they constantly talk about Christmas – and it’s in the title. I always end up watching it both in October and December, so I’m listing The Nightmare Before Christmas as a Christmas movie. Tim Burton’s stop-motion musical masterpiece in which a giant skeleton man decides to take over Christmas by kidnaping Santa Claus and usurping his job. Danny Elfman’s catchy and creepy music elevates this movie to a timeless classic.
Is it scary? Small kids may get scared by the dark imagery of Halloween town, and its variety of citizens ranging from zombies to werewolf and whatever Oogie Boogie is. You don’t watch this movie because it’s scary, but because of the characters, the animation and the music.
Is it fun? Hell yes. The music is incredibly catchy – Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara and the entire singing cast brings the music to life, and Ken Page’s Oogie Boogie’s Song is as menacing as it will make you want to get up and dance. The stop-motion animation is revolutionary, and one can’t help but stare and wonder how difficult it must have been to make this movie. The production design looks like a creepy children’s pop-up book, with each set having a unique look filled with rich detail. By the time the movie’s 76-minute runtime is over, you will hum the songs for the rest of the day.
Gremlins (1984, dir: Joe Dante)
Perhaps the holy grail of Christmas horror, Joe Dante’s classic film about how not following the rules can bring an army of little green monsters to rein hell upon a little town. Gremlins is famous for being one of two films – the other one being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – that inspired the introduction of the PG-13 rating in the US.
Is it scary? It’s quite gory! Those awful little green monsters get microwaved, shredded to pieces and melted like the nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s enough horror and gore to satisfy adults while also scare kids. Plus, half the town dies gruesome deaths! Gremlins also has the absolute bleakest story about Santa ever put on film.
Is it fun? How does a room full of gremlins singing along to Snow White sound? This film understands the absurdity of the concept and has a lot of fun with it. Each of the gremlins has a unique personality, and even the death scenes are funny. For every scary or disturbing scene, there’s an equal amount of comedy. Spielberg decided against Gizmo turning into a gremlin because he should stick around as the hero’s pal, and boy was he right.