A horror injection ensures that Christmas stays interesting. Add cocoa, dim the lights, and snuggle up around the warm glow of smart TV you pulled off another Black Friday shopper’s mittens for a festive movie night – but ditch Rudolph and that spooky elf. Why not welcome the dark side of Saint Nick’s toy bag into your life?
Frighteningly festive tales dare to defy shopaholic standards of fabricated gaiety draped in overpriced garlands and frosty snow-white. Horror and Christmas mingle with decadence like liquid chocolate and mini marshmallows; a sinful delight. More terror lurks than you might think under the mistletoe or shrouded in hedonistic helpers. Why not stay safe at home for the holidays, or risk stumbling upon one of the Christmas demons below best trapped on your viewing screens?
If you’re not feeling very happy, you can check out the best modern horror movies and our pick of the best horror movie of 2021.
Silent Night (2012)
Here’s a scorching holiday horror take – Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night is better than Charles Sellier Jr.’s Silent Night, Deadly Night by the shortest length of a pine needle. He’s a horribly wicked slasher dripping with Christmas decor and disgusting killings, one of the “last” of its kind by post-2012 horror standards. It’s everything on your wish list, from Malcolm McDowell yelling about avocado on burgers to flamethrowers to breast and nut roasts. From deer antler trophy reminders to new expressions of violence like the encounter of a poor soul with the wood chipper on a forest farm. Miller hits the jackpot in this remake that stands on its own, reinforced by a disinterest in playing well even by the usual expectations of horror fans. This is not a Christmas stocking; it is all of the present.
Jack Frost is a cinch but with chemicals instead of voodoo incantations and a murderous snowman instead of a killer doll. You’ll recognize a pre-American Shannon Elizabeth pie in Michael Cooney’s Bastardy of Frosty the Snowman, as the titular Jack lashes out at the townspeople in many awkward ways. Maybe you’re hugged to death in the shower or strangled by colorful Christmas lights before choking on ornamental shards. Jack Frost continues his streak in Snowmonton, USA – sporting his new frosty form – voiced by Scott MacDonald as channeled by Freddy Kruger and Chucky. While it’s not exactly appropriate content for the whole family, it scores midnight points because the humor isn’t hidden or ignored – the situation is more about chuckles than serious.
Silent night (2021)
New to the holiday horror canon is Camille Griffin’s Silent Night, a frothy night out where friends share the spirits of Christmas before the end of humanity. Guests debate whether Mother Earth is finally revolting or whether the Russians have implemented their apocalypse plan, but the fate of our civilization is inevitable: poisonous gases will engulf every nation. The UK lasts until Christmas, granting characters played by Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and more a celebration last December. Party-goers sip bubbles and debate the ethics of their government-issued suicide pills to spare an “inevitable” agony, as the countdown creates enough social distortion to burn off some tension between the mates. It’s a twisted take on Hell’s Dinners, marked by themes that come with an edgy laugh as Griffin’s mastery over the snark and suspense is tight like a noose.
A Christmas Horror Story stands out from all other Christmas horror anthologies because of its commitment to relentless darkness. William Shatner narrates and serves as the enveloping host by playing “Dangerous Dan,” an alcoholic radio DJ whose soft voice weaves his way through four spooky chapters. Changelings infiltrate families, abused ghosts own schoolgirls, and Santa Claus (George Buza) battles Zombie Elves before facing off against the pro wrestling version of Krampus (Rob Archer). I don’t want to overstate the battle of “good versus evil” that takes place when the muscular Krampus begins to swing his chain in front of a grinning Santa, but it’s a stunning brawl. There’s a happy amount of dark news wrapped up in every segment, all of which culminates in a psychotic break that sells the gruesome vulnerability the Christmas horror catharsis allows.
Better be careful
If you’ve avoided Better Watch Out spoilers thus far, I suggest you stop reading this entry and come back once you’ve watched Chris Peckover’s babysitter thriller. There’s a crush on the babysitter (Olivia DeJonge), a boy out of his love league (Levi Miller), and the boy said best friend (Ed Oxenbould). The sexy Stranger Things lifeguard (Dacre Montgomery) arrives for some backyard antics. There is also bloodshed, underhanded intentions, and a cruel Home Alone myth that proves the traps are much more destructive in reality. I don’t want to reveal much more beyond the worship of the performances at hand – best to leave the hows and whys for early experiences.
Anna and the Apocalypse
Has there ever been a more perfect Scottish zombie musical around Christmas than Anna and the Apocalypse? John McPhail’s seasonal addiction gives High School Musical a middle finger and hits the living dead as Anna (Ella Hunt) makes her way through a winter wonderland of zombies. The soundtrack is incredibly catchy from “Hollywood Ending” to “Soldier At War,” while the horror elements don’t skimp on ferocity or rocking beheadings. He captures the desperation when the holiday cheer is laughed at around every corner, but not without tapping into subsequent feelings of joy that surpass cynicism. It’s ultimately a feel-good movie that doesn’t lie about the ugliness of the world, billed as one of the most ambitious horror films – Christmas or not – since its release.
You can’t talk about Christmas horror without Michael Dougherty’s Krampus. The devilish fantasy of WETA Workshop’s deviant toys – snarling teddy bears, Jack-In-The-Box demons that devour children like anacondas would – help build a Dougherty universe’s Christmas prison. The madman behind Trick ‘r Treat is proving equally adept at capturing important Christmas concerns, from consumerism to obnoxious extended family members. A cast including Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner defend themselves against elven hordes and gingerbread ninjas, as childhood memories turn sour during the invasion of Krampus. The essence of vacation wholesomeness becomes a lesson for those who have taken everything for granted, all before a late snow globe tease that should have given us at least three more sequels by now. Why don’t the studios allow Dougherty to create franchise heirlooms when they are so deserved?
The nightmare before Christmas
What is this? Stop motion? Jack Skellington? The Nightmare Before Christmas may be kid-friendly, but that doesn’t tone down the horror influences that emerge from Oogie Boogie’s burlap booty. There is a sweetness in the union of Jack’s fears and fig pudding, because everyone deserves to experience the magic of Santa Claus at least once. The general themes of life outside the classifiable boxes are also poignant. The Nightmare Before Christmas is an awe-inspiring Gothic art design that rose to fame in pop culture for a reason, along with Danny Elfman’s vocal performance as one of the many singers in the cast of spooky and silly creations. That one is for the whole family and should be shared regardless of the time of year.
Black Christmas (1974)
Bob Clark – one of the grandfathers of the modern slasher – helped cultivate a genre movement. Black Christmas perfects a rod and dagger model to be replicated until human extinction, and yet it has hardly been eclipsed. Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Marian Waldman occupy a sorority house with terrified sisters and guardians who generate gallons of communicable fear. The dead are more a matter of erased innocence than how the corpses are horned, because “Billy” peering through peepholes or evil phone calls are always the scariest sounds and sights. It’s Christmas, the girls won’t be coming home to their parents, and no one can determine why – that’s all Black Christmas needs to become gender royalty. A classic case of triumphant execution, because every good horror movie begins with an airtight narrative, and it’s a lesson more filmmakers should remember.
Gremlins is the pinnacle of holiday horror in the way charming puppets animate a gremlin takeover that sneers, rules anarchy, and chaotically translates cartoonish glee into molds of live action. Gizmo the Mogwai is everyone’s favorite pet they’ll never own; the spotted, scaly green gremlins are the masters of the hijinx, bar takeovers in Snow White, and the seven dwarfs mumble. Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates naturally engage with their prop co-stars, in the same way Joe Dante brings mischievous rubber figures to life through special effects. Gizmo steals your heart with every wide smile, and Cates demolishes your soul with the most heartbreaking Christmas monologue, because Gremlins isn’t just about yuck. It’s endlessly enjoyable, but never to be underestimated, as Chris Columbus’ brightest horror tale dominates the funniest highlights.