Being naughty or nice won't make a difference
The "horror of Christmas" is different for everyone. For you it might be the feverish panic when you question whether you've bought everyone an equal amount of stocking stuffers, or how best to mask a hideous hangover on Christmas morning. That's nothing compared to what the unlucky characters in this batch of films have to contend with.
Keeping a bright, sunny outlook on the annual holiday is harder to maintain when there's a psychotic Santa after you with an axe. Or a load of neo-Nazi elves on your tail. The dark side to Christmas for this poor bunch is drenched in blood and entrails. The halls decked with bowels, not boughs. So if you're game for a dip into some truly macabre merriment, forget the best Christmas movies and hunker down with this selection of the 20 best Christmas horror movies instead.
20. Elves (1989)
Will Ferrell's happy-go-lucky Elf taught us that Santa's little helpers are a delight. Festive cheer is their forte, and bringing smiles to every child's heart their mission. This 1989 creature feature undoes all of that. These elves aren't your typical joymakers, instead, they bring terror to the holiday in an attempt to get rid of Santa.
And boy are these elves ugly. Imagine one of the savages from The Descent... in a Santa hat. Not sure if it's scarier than the plot, which suggests that Hitler's original plan for world domination involved bringing about a race of half-human/half-Elf hybrids to do his bidding.
19. Don't Open Until Christmas (1984)
Unfortunately, the title isn't referring to that BB-8 toy you'd secretly been dropping hints about since September. The cover of the VHS features a kitchen knife jammed into a Christmas present, puddles of blood oozing into the carpet. Might there be an evil toy that's come to life inside?
No. The unspeakable horror is a serial killer's murderous spree across London. His victims? Anyone dressed in a santa outfit, which, makes his job rather easy. Before long there's a string of corpses dotted across the city, slain in a variety of brutal ways. Crammed with hammy one-liners and casual sleazy sex, it's stinkier than a wedge of Stilton: perfect Christmas entertainment.
18. To All A Goodnight (1980)
Nothing spells seasonal cheer like a deserted, creepy institution does it? Arriving at a time when slasher movies were ten-a-penny, this slay fest stands out by taking a festive approach.
Set over Christmas break, the girls of the Calvin Finishing School decide to hole up inside for a boozy bash. Boyfriends are snuck in, alcohol imbibed, and that can only lead to one thing. Well, nookie, obviously, but that's not all. A serial killer dressed like Santa shows up and starts offing them one-by-one.
What a party pooper.
17. Silent Night, Zombie Night (2009)
Just because it's Christmas doesn't mean the undead take a breather for a few days. This low-budget caper dials in on that scenario. A week before the holiday a viral outbreak hits Los Angeles turning everyone into flesh-eating monsters.
The whole thing unfolds through the experiences of an LAPD officer, whose personal dilemmas are coming to a head at the same time. Troubles with the ex and of course secondary to a horde of moaning brain gobblers, who don't just potter about but run like there's no tomorrow to find living flesh to feast on. Maybe don't watch this when you're about to fix a turkey sandwich.
16. Wind Chill (2007)
Is it wise to get a lift home for Christmas with a stranger? is a question that no-one asks in Wind Chill. Presumably because the alternative -- staying at school alone -- is worse.
This belter of a thriller features an early turn from Emily Blunt, as a college lass who takes a rideshare back home with a fellow student. Their route is invariably fraught with hideous weather that leads them onto a mysterious back road. Throw in a supernatural sheriff who threatens their safe passage and a ghastly case of frost bite and it makes you wonder if it hadn't been better to fly home.
15. A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
The most horrifying thing about the villain of this piece is his impressive physique. Look at it. How does this Krampus find time for evil when he's down the gym kicking out his ab routine 24/7?
He's not the only vessel of terror in this anthology film that spans the course of a night -- and features William Shatner as a DJ in the wraparound story. There's a killer Santa, a changeling and a the pregnant ghost of a nun. The sting in the tail comes in the fourth vignette as Santa prepares to battle the evil Krampus after discovering his wife and elves have been turned into zombies. They're not members of the undead, and the Krampus is just a figment of his distorted imagination.
14. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)
The Christmas in question for this giallo-esque horror takes place 40 years before the events of the movie, when a series of strange happenings at an asylum turn into a total bloodbath. With no survivors the building is inherited by the grandson of Wilfred Butler, the last man to make it out before burning to death.
The plot twists and turns before delivering a bit of surprise ending, after everyone in the mansion gets offed by a killer seeking revenge. It's a moody little chiller that foresaw the oncoming slasher craze by a few years, and delivered the goods on a remarkably low budget.
13. Santa's Slay (2005)
Treading the line between horror and comedy, in this film Santa is not the jolly rotund chappie we've come to know and love. He's actually the result of a Satanic virgin birth that's somewhat soured him. Instead of being content with his lot in life this Santa acts on his frustration at having to deliver presents for 1000 years.
A spate of killings ensue as Santa's way of letting off steam. His first victims are the Masons, a wealthy family who fall foul of his murderous rage on Christmas Eve. No sooner is his down the chimney than they're getting drowned in eggnog, choked on turkey legs and stabbed with tree ornaments. It's one hell of an opening sequence that's got a ton of recognisable faces; James Caan, Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan and Rebecca Gayheart all meet their ends in the first ten minutes.
12. P2 (2007)
"The only thing more terrifying than being alone, is discovering that you're not," reads the tagline to P-2. Actually, the only thing more terrifying than either is realising that it's Wes Bentley who won't let you leave work for Christmas. Why, Wes, why?
Well, because he's a stalker. If movies have taught us anything about underground parking garages it's that the less time you spend in them, the more likely your chance for survival. Here, Bentley's psychopathic security guard Thomas refuses to let Angela (Rachel Nichols) go home for the holidays because he's got a crush on her. Everyone knows that a surefire way to a girl's heart is by denying her a day off work. And trying to kill her. Yeah, no-one finds that charming.
11. Sint (2010)
This Dutch film harks back to the origins of Saint Nick and reimagines him as a scarier version of Sinterklaas. He's not remotely bothered about what you've jotted on your Christmas list, unless you'd like to suffer a grisly end at the hands of a vengeful, seasonal ghost.
Armed with a razor-bladed staff Sint is a "murder bishop" who visits children whenever there's a full moon on December 5th. As mentioned above, and insinuated by his title, he's all about making Christmas as unbearable as possible by kidnapping and murdering those he encounters.
10. Silent Night (2012)
Remakes are, on the whole, lesser versions of the original. Silent Night is far from a mere retread of the eighties classic. It lifts the idea of a serial killer in a Santa outfit and puts him into an entirely new story.
This version finds a small Wisconsin town in peril, as every Christmas the same killer takes to the streets and goes on a murderous rampage. His disguise allows him to blend in with all the other people dressed up in that iconic costume, which proves tough for the deputy assigned to take him down. The gore quotient is pretty high and no-one is safe from Santa's wrath, that he acts out with an axe. Not very Christmassy is it?
9. The Children (2008)
Christmas tends to be a time when children get to cut loose more than usual. Behaviour that might be considered "bad" is overlooked a little, because, c'mon, it's Christmas. That might have been the inspiration for this noughties horror that brings to life a scary scenario that doesn't involve any evil Santas, but asks: what if all the children turned into pint-sized killing machines right around December 25th?
The snow-covered locale amps up the Christmas vibe as two families come together to see in the season. Shortly thereafter, the kids start to come down with a strange virus that makes them want to slice and dice their parents. Their manipulation is downright eerie as they prey on the anxieties of the adults to horrific effect.
8. Dead End (2003)
Similar to Wind Chill in that it takes place almost exclusively inside a car. A family heading home for the holidays engage in the usual car-ride antics: they bicker and banter. That is, until a mysterious pram appears in the middle of the road. It's hardly a surprise as their entire journey has taken place down a dark-lit highway.
A black hearse starts pursuing them and one-by-one the family is carted off by its unknown driver. What the hell? There's a Twilight Zone feel to this corking flick that packs in plenty of scares and chuckles, and even if you do spot the nifty twist it won't spoil the performances or denouement. It will, however, prove once again that Christmas is not a time to be taking short-cuts, especially when you've no idea where you're going.
7. Tales From The Crypt (1972)
This classic anthology flick introduces the serial killer-Santa idea in its first vignette.Tales From The Crypt opens on Joan Collins' character, who's is in a bit of a pickle on Christmas Eve. See, she's just buried a fireplace poker into her husband's head and is quickly trying to make her home into a corpse-free zone.
At the same time a radio announcement about an escaped lunatic dressed as Santa seemingly offers her the perfect escape from her predicament. Blame it all on him! The only trouble is: the crazed psychopath breaks into her home. She can't call the police as her husband's dead body is covered with her fingerprints.
6. Jack Frost (1997)
A darker alternative to the reincarnated Michael Keaton schmaltz-fest. The Jack Frost of this film is brought to life via a shady government experiment. When a convicted killer on his way to the execution chamber is catapulted from his police transport and tossed into a bizarre substance, he returns to life as a homicidal snowman. Kind of like Chucky, if Charles Lee Ray had been in a blizzard instead of a toy store.
Desperate to wreak havoc on his old neighborhood, Jack plies his victims with terrible seasonal gags before offing them. Hardly the film to put you in the festive mood it's nevertheless worth watching for the endless torrent of Christmas puns. You'll never look at a snowman in the same way again.
5. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
This Finnish story on Santa Claus spins him a new, fiendish origin. It takes a chilling view on Christmas lore by presenting a hideous, wild beast who'd rather eat children and steal their presents than have them sit on his lap.
All is revealed when a group of scientists excavate a site in the mountains of northern Finland. What they find is a burial site with one occupant still alive: a naked, bedraggled old timer who immediately starts killing all the local reindeer. Old Father Christmas is a supernatural entity whose appetite for young flesh is a rather unique slant on his typically gruff merriment.
4. Christmas Evil (1980)
Deliciously camp and surprisingly insightful, the murderous tendencies of Christmas Evil are a result of someone's mommy having more than a quick kiss with Santa Claus. For Harry, the sight of that seasonal union scars him for life, and leads him to become obsessed with the holiday into adulthood.
What's still fresh about Lewis Jackson's film is how it makes itself stand apart from other killer Santa movies. Harry's rage at the world isn't blindly directed at anyone: he takes on the duty of conducting a year-round "naughty or nice" assessment, so by the time Christmas arrives he's ready. He's still an unhinged whackjob, glueing on a fake beard and muttering to himself in the mirror, but he only targets those who've been naughty. Like his boss, who doesn't make it to Christmas Day. As for the kiddies, they all receive toys. They're stolen, mind.
3. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
The one that started the killer Santa craze preyed on the success of John Carpenter's seminal 1978 slasher in its marketing materials -- "You've made it through Halloween, now try to survive Christmas." Parallels would have been inevitably drawn without that cheeky nod, because this is essentially Michael Myers going apeshit in a Santa outfit. And it's still a riot.
One major difference is that this killer has a motive. Andy witnesses his parents' brutal murders and spends his childhood in an abusive Catholic orphanage. He grows up and takes out his pent-up psychopathic rage in a Santa costume, choosing to kill anyone who he deems naughty. Which is everyone. He does manage to untangle Christmas lights long enough to strangle someone with them, so, deserves a bit of praise for that thankless task.
2. Gremlins (1984)
Joe Dante's monster movie is the blackest of comedies, taking potshots at the commercialism of Christmas and apple-pie Americana. The mischievous little critters savage the town of Kingston Falls after young Billy accidentally gets his pet mogwai wet. With the 'burg overrun and the townsfolk terrified the fun takes a dark turn.
The Gremlins themselves are the source of both the film's hilarity and terror, thanks to Chris Columbus' sharp script. Turns out they're quite good at scaring the life out of pensioners, as evidenced by their treatment of poor Mrs. Deagle. If you've after true horror then wait for Phoebe Cates' macabre anecdote about her worst-ever Christmas.
1. Black Christmas (1974)
You know the urban legend about the babysitter who after a night of harassing phone calls, discovers that they were coming from inside the house all along? Thank Black Christmas for that eerie-as-hell predicament, one of its many contributions to the slasher genre. Released in 1974 it cuts in front of John Carpenter's Halloween as the start of a new subset of horror, and also predates When A Stranger Calls which nabbed the "calls inside the house" schtick five years later.
It's not just novelty that makes Black Christmas such an effective piece of Christmas horror. At its core it's a brutal, concise study of voyeurism that's made all the more chilling by using the POV shot whenever the killer is about to strike. For the girls of this sorority, he makes Christmas a living hell. Phone calls seem like innocent banter in comparison to the onslaught he brings upon the house at a time when most people are hitting up parties and letting their troubles melt away. Well, except Margot Kidder as the drunken sister who won't let a little blood dampen her holiday spirit.