The best Christmas horror movies, as a concept at least, are a conundrum. Surely a period so concerned with joy, love, and peace on earth just shouldn’t be the time for blood, guts, and more viscera than Santa could fit in his sack. And yet, somehow, the quest for a perfect family Christmas makes for a dream horror movie scenario. Relationship tensions are high, siblings are bickering, and no-one likes the turkey and there's a really big knife just sitting there. Oh, and snow is white, making festive murder all the more cheery as arteries happily spray across the lawn. Now is the time to say that if you have accidentally arrived here looking for the other, happier, kind of film, you'll want to head to our best Christmas movies.
Despite this being a list of the 30 best Christmas horror movies (checked twice, of course) this isn't just a collection of any old festive nasty. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Shudder, and Tubi are packed with holiday horror and this feature is an easy way to check who has been naughty or nice. Whether you're looking for something ludicrously comedic to take your mind off losing at Monopoly for the tenth year in a row, or want something genuinely frightening to give you an excuse to drink another eggnog, it's all here. Just remember, you're probably never going to look at another shopping centre Santa in the same way. Get ready for the ho-ho-horror...
30. Treevenge (2008)
Let’s start as we mean to go on, kicking off this list of the best Christmas horror movies with something truly, joyously ludicrous. You might be able to tell from the pun title, but this 16 minute short film – that you can find for free on a number of websites – doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. That might be because it’s about Christmas trees getting their own back on humans. Yes, this is... fir real.
Hobo with a Shotgun director Jason Eisener goes to gory town with the concept. Humans are depicted as animalistic psychopaths yanking squeaking pines from the ground, chainsawing their trunks, and murdering sweet tree-lings too small for the job. The trees themselves sound a little like Gremlins and have subtitles but unfortunately the humans just don’t notice until it’s, well, far too late. Things get truly, hilariously splattery here and not all in best taste, but Treevenge is a dark festive joy. Christmas is all about red, right? You’ll never look at that innocent-looking tree in the corner in the same way again.
29. Mercy Christmas (2017)
Not that many of the movies on this list are family fare, but Mercy Christmas definitely isn’t the one to be watching while someone is carving up the turkey. Poor Michael Briskett – yes, that name's no coincidence – is once again spending the festive period alone and working away on his evil manager's paperwork instead of celebrating the holidays. Thus, instead of questioning her intentions more closely when Cindy, his work crush, inexplicably asks him to attend her family Christmas dinner, Michael jumps at the opportunity to share some festive cheer. He just doesn’t know that when they say they’ll be “glad to have him,” they mean quite literally.
Mercy Christmas is low budget fare and veers happily into ludicrous comedy horror territory but there’s something heartfelt about Michael’s quest for a perfect Christmas. Plus, like many of the other movies on this list, the idea of the ideal family festive season is nicely, sometimes literally, skewered by the bickering cannibals who have him hostage. Even if our tastes differ, is it too much to ask for a perfect Christmas?
28. Holidays (2015)
The title says it all. This blood-soaked anthology makes a mess of major holidays like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas along with a few smaller festive occasions. St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day and Easter get a look in too, and you won't think about any of these special days the same way again.
It's the yuletide segment that makes it into our best Christmas movies. It stars Seth Green as a desperate father in a predicament much like Arnie in Jingle All The Way. Except, where Ahnald's after a Turbo-Man for his kid, Green's character is struggling to buy virtual glasses for his son. He manages to procure a pair in a nasty manner, only for the truth of his circumstances to reflect even more horrors within his family. With a definite hint of Black Mirror to the twist, you'll want to keep watching right to the end of this one.
27. Await Further Instructions (2018)
If there’s one theme running through this list of the best Christmas horror movies like blood from a candy cane, it’s that family is hell during the festive season. The forced camaraderie of set traditions… The matriarch desperately trying to keep the peace while peeling potatoes… The melancholy quest to rekindle happier, simpler times… And it’s all here in full grim British form in Await Further Instructions.
When Nick brings his new girlfriend Annji home for Christmas, his racist family’s response is already horrible enough. And that’s before the TV starts sending them messages and a strange black material has sealed the doors and windows. It doesn’t quite keep its tension all the way to the conclusion but this apocalyptic family drama plays out like the best bottle episodes. Claustrophobic and tense despite the hideousness of most of its characters, Await Further Instructions is bleak anti Christmas fare.
26. Dead of Night (1945)
Everyone loves a good Christmas party. Fun and games for the kiddos and a generous spread of fancy finger foods and Prosecco for the adults. But what if your hostess fails to mention that their glorious abode, decked out for the season, is also the site of a horrific murder?
That's the hidden twist at the heart of the Christmas vignette in Dead of Night. One of the first horror anthology flicks, this '40s chiller is most well-known for its terrifying ventriloquist segment - and it is truly horrific - but the Christmas sequence is just as likely to make you soil yourself. Dripping with shadows and an eerie feeling that the abode is haunted, the big reveal is one of slow, dawning terror that'll make the hairs on the back of your arms stand up. It's might be older than anything you own but Dead of Night is a worthy entry to our best Christmas horror movie list.
25. Alien Raiders (2009)
Don't look at us like that. It might sound like a cheap corn snack but Alien Raiders is a tense supermarket hostage situation with a gory twist. Given that it just happens to take place during the holiday season, it’s also the least Christmassy Christmas horror movie on this list but it’s important to take a break from the Santas putting the literal slay into the festive season and enjoy one of the most underrated scary movies of the noughties.
It seems like an ordinary night for the late night staff of an Arizona supermarket but when a van of shotgun-wielding military types rock up and don’t seem interested in the cash in the registers, things get seriously interesting. And "things" is the operative word here. Not unlike John Carpenter’s snowy masterpiece, there’s a monster lurking under people’s skin and the invaders might not be the villains that they first appear. Slick, gory, and genuinely tense, this is one of the best indie horrors you’ve never heard of.
24. Deadly Games (1989)
If we were the moral panic sort, we’d probably blame this 1989 French horror for the, let’s face it, totally pre-meditated murderous behaviour of a certain Kevin McCallister. Game Over, also known as Deadly Games and its original title 3615 Père Noël, is distinctly Home Alone-flavoured as young Thomas has his home invaded by a psychopathic Santa and he sets festive traps accordingly. Oh, and we’re not the only ones to see similarities. At the time, director Rene Manzor threatened legal action against Fox who he said “remade his movie.”
While the holiday cosiness of Chris Columbus’ robber torture ‘em up is all (Christmas) present and correct, Game Over takes the tone in a significantly darker direction. This murderous psychopath is just that. While Thomas thinks he is the real Santa, punishing him for still being awake, this man is a cold blooded killer and doesn’t care who knows it. There’s a genuine sense of threat as Thomas’ sick grandfather remains in the house, unable to defend himself. Dark and satisfying, Game Over is Home Alone with the stabilisers off.
23. Red Christmas (2017)
Aah, Christmas. The perfect time to tackle pro-life and abortion issues in a gory slasher flick starring the legendary Dee Wallace. Yep, with a subject matter spikier than a carpet of crushed baubles this ‘Ozsploitation’ horror definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of a place on this list. Diane has managed to get her warring clan together for one final Christmas in the family home before she sells up and travels after her husband’s death. However, not only do her children have issues with this, a hooded figure known as Cletus has arrived at the door with a letter for 'Mother'.
There definitely isn’t space here to deal with the intricacies of the fact that he is her son from a late stage abortion, but the tone of Red Christmas is fascinating. The gruesome ways that the family are dispatched are gloriously gory but their problems and arguments are real. Tonally it’s all over the place, but somehow still works, and there’s nothing to prepare you for how beautifully shot and lit the third act is. This is slaughter by the neon of Christmas lights and there’s nothing quite like it.
22. Better Watch Out (2016)
Don't get me wrong, a whole season of classic Christmas movies is great. All that seasonal goodwill can sometimes leaves one hankering for... well, trashier fare. There's only so much It's A Wonderful Life a person can take, after all. Better Watch Out is the perfect holiday antidote for when the family's out and you fancy some gore and schlock.
With a simple premise you won't be too taxed. Like all of us, Ashley just hopes to spend an evening getting paid to eat pizza but gets far more than she bargained for when an uninvited guest arrives. It's a little grim occasionally, but Better Watch Out plays like a slasher version of Adventures in Babysitting set at Christmas. You're getting a cheesy serial-killer yarn mixed up with a teenager's worst night at work ever. The flick's winning B-movie formula of blood and silliness works well with its plethora of over-the-top scenarios that'll likely having you rolling your eyes and/or shouting at the screen. Hey, that's half the fun, right?
21. The Nightmare Before Christmas
What do you mean Henry Selick and Tim Burton's stop motion gothic masterpiece isn’t a Christmas horror movie? Children are terrorised by evil dolls and murderous ducks, a shrunken head arrives in a box, and in one, particularly memorable, sequence an entire silver Christmas tree is eaten by a giant snake while a child looks on, shrieking. If that isn’t the true meaning of the festive season, we really don’t know what is.
OK, fine, it’s only a PG, and certainly not Treevenge levels of gore, but The Nightmare Before Christmas makes a perfect creepier, darker tale that doesn’t need you to wait until the kids have gone to bed. Jack Skellington’s love of Christmas and his ensuing destruction of the holiday can be enjoyed and sung along by all. And it might look terrifying on the surface but beneath the ghastly creatures and removable heads there’s a heart of absolute gold and a love story that will melt even the frostiest of evil-looking snowmen. Let's live like Jack and Sally, shall we?
Read more: How to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas online this festive season