Santa Claus and his merry elves are known for spreading holiday cheer, but when the holidays hit, many people forget how closely linked the supernatural is to time-honored traditions. As if a fat man sneaking into your house while everyone is asleep isn't scary enough, let's not forget that the central figures in the famous A Christmas Carol are time-traveling ghosts. It's time we celebrate some nontraditional holiday viewing with the best horror movies set around the holidays!
It's easy for horror movies to set their events around Halloween, clearly the spookiest holidays of them all. However, some films get creative and choose a more difficult route, shining a light on how creepy some seemingly innocent traditions are. Some of these films just use familiar holiday iconography, some films reinterpret mythology, and some create all-new mythology just to get you in the spirit.
What are your favorite holiday horror movies? Let us know in the comments and we wish you a spooky season's greetings!
Black Christmas (1974)
Thanks to the annual 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story, there are few people left on the planet who aren't familiar with Ralphie and his quest for a BB gun. However, director Bob Clark made another Christmas story ten years earlier, which is arguably the very first "slasher," pre-dating John Carpenter's Halloween by four years. In Black Christmas, a sorority house is targeted by a lewd prank caller as the tenants are killed one by one. Clark gained much more acclaim with his family-friendly Christmas movie, but without giving it away, this film gave audiences a great twist on the location of the killer that has been repeated ad nauseam.
Sure, you could dismiss Gremlins as not being a real horror movie because it's more of a comedy, or because it's more fantasy, or just because you don't like it, but there's a reason why it caused the MPAA to change their standards and practices. The story of a bunch of little monsters aiming to cause as much trouble as they could might not be scary, but when our heroes begin to exterminate the threats, things get gruesome, with the titular monsters getting stabbed, microwaved, and melted. Gremlins might not strike fear in the hearts of its viewers, but it's definitely a seminal seasonal horror flick.
Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
There's no shortage of horror films featuring killers clad in Santa suits (like you'll see in another film on this list), but Don't Open Till Christmas takes a slightly different approach. People dressed in Santa suits are getting killed all around London without much information on a killer's motive. With it being the holidays, you can't really ask everyone in an entire city to stop dressing like Santa, so the bodies keep piling up. Even though the ultimate justification for the murders isn't super inventive, the final scene has a wild twist that you don't really see coming.
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
In Silent Night, Deadly Night, a young boy's parents are killed by someone dressed as Santa, something that scars him for the rest of his life. When he grows up and leaves his orphanage, he witnesses another person dressed as Santa assaulting a co-worker, causing the boy to snap and punish anyone he deems "naughty" while wearing a Santa outfit. The reason the film's sequel is recommended is because almost half of SNDN2's running time is comprised of footage from the original, with a few new scenes added in. In fact, so much footage from the first film is used that the closing credits run roughly ten minutes, as it had to include the cast and crew from the first film. With SNDN2, you get two movies for the price of one!
If any of the previous films sounded a little too far-fetched, then strap in, because Elves is one hell of a ride. In a nutshell, a former German scientist has committed incest in hopes of his daughter breeding with an ancient race of elves that he aims to summon in hopes of creating an unstoppable Aryan race like the Nazis first attended, and it's up to Grizzly Adams, Dan Haggerty himself, to stop him. It's truly a movie that must be seen to be believed, and you'll never look at elves the same way again (because you'll be happy that every elf in every other film looks more convincing than the one elf in this movie).
Black Christmas (2006)
This remake of the 1974 horror classic takes the structure of the original, a killer returning home to find sorority girls now living there that he feels compelled to killed, but gives it a different interpretation. Rather than emphasizing the tension of the original, this version of Black Christmas makes the sorority sisters pretty intolerable so you feel no sympathy when they're knocked off, generally in violent ways. The film doesn't hold a candle to the original, but as a weird and gruesome Christmas slasher, it's quite the ride.
Rare Exports (2010)
This Scandinavian fairy tale takes some of the creepier elements of the Santa Claus legend and runs in a different direction with them. When a young boy notices footprints on his roof and sees a massive amount of reindeer mysteriously die nearby, he sets a trap to catch Santa. The boy does indeed catch an old bearded guy, but his captive doesn't offer up any explanations for who he is or how he got there. The young boy thinks this might be Santa himself, but the answer proves to be far more mysterious and much more creepy. Rare Exports really takes liberties with the concept of Santa Claus to make a unique story that ultimately answers a question about one of the holiday's oldest traditions.
Despite not being as well-known as Kris Kringle, the legend of Krampus dates back to pre-Christian times, and in 2015, Mike Dougherty gave the demonic deity its due. Similar to Gremlins, Krampus infused a hearty dose of humor into its horrors. When a boy tears up a letter intended for Santa because of how his family's treating their Christmas celebration, that letter is intercepted by Krampus, who sends evil toys, gingerbread men, and elves after the household. Although it was only just released last year, Krampus is absolutely deserving of becoming a holiday horror classic, and it offers one of the bleakest finales of any other film on this list.
Bonus - Treevenge (2008)0comments
Despite it only being 16 minutes and not feature-length, Jason Eisener's Treevenge shows what happens when Christmas trees finally seek retribution for being chopped down at their prime, dragged into houses for display, and being covered in embarrassing ornaments. The short is violent, bloody, and hilarious. This might not be a film for the whole family, but it's incredibly clever in how it recontextualizes the Christmas tree tradition.