13 Ho-Ho-Holiday Horror Films
Article By: Tony Timpone
Tired of all those cloying, overly sentimental Hallmark Christmas movies about lonely spinsters, orphaned kids or lost puppies, and Santa coming to the rescue? The Holiday season is not usually known for things dark and scary, but fortunately for fright fanatics, there is a plethora of cinematic Christmas evils guaranteed to jingle your bells. So if you’re screaming for a fright Christmas, Chiller has the perfect list for you!
1. DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)
Ever since Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, ghost stories have gone hand-in-chilly-hand with the Holidays. Britain’s trendsetting anthology Dead of Night spins five tales of the supernatural, the most celebrated one remaining the ventriloquist doll episode. In another creepy highlight, a teenage girl at a Christmas party befriends a lonely boy, only to later learn that her new friend had been murdered years ago. For more subtle B&W Christmas shudders, see 1944’s The Curse of the Cat People.
2. TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972 & 1989)
The first omnibus film to adapt the classic EC horror comics wisely chose “And All Through the House” as their debut effort. Vixen Joan Collins (a few years after smooching with Captain Kirk and a decade before cat-fighting on Dynasty) has just snuffed her husband when an escaped mental patient dressed as Kris Kringle decides to see if she’s been a good little girl. This deadly game of hide and go shriek has all the shocks and black humor that the EC brand made famous. When Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis remade the suspenseful story for HBO’s Tales from the Crypt series in 1989, he cast his own wife (actress Mary Ellen Trainor of Roswell) to be terrorized by the sadistic Santa (L.A. Law’s Larry Drake).
3. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Beating Halloween to the punch by four years, director Bob Clark’s seminal Black Christmas spawned a catalog of holiday-set terrors for decades to come. During winter break, a mysterious prowler menaces a group of sorority sisters with lewd phone calls, followed by violent visits. The top-notch cast includes former Juliet lass Olivia Hussey, future Lois Lane Margot Kidder and pre-SCTV star Andrea Martin (who also appeared in the abysmal 2006 remake). Ultimate irony: Clark also gifted us one of the most beloved of all mistletoe movies, A Christmas Story!
4. CHRISTMAS EVIL (a.k.a. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT) (1980)
This offbeat and off-kilter seasonal screamfest finds an unemployed toymaker with a few nuts missing from his fruit cake. Ever since Harry (played by Brandon Maggart, singer Fiona Apple’s pop) saw Mommy (more than) kissing Santa Claus, he turns into a major Christmas crazy. So he dresses in an old Santa suit and gets his jollies by punishing the naughty. Deaths include a nasty poke in the eye with a wooden soldier. Partially shot in uncredited producer Ed (Wall Street) Pressman’s own toy factory, Christmas Evil boasts many oddball pleasures, especially a dementedly surreal ending.
5. GREMLINS (1984)
Director Joe Dante’s madcap movie initially started out as a straight horror film before it veered in a lighter direction when Steven Spielberg came on board as a producer. A horrifically funny story of a small town invaded by a legion of quickly-multiplying toothsome critters, Gremlins combines Frank Capra sentiment, Chuck Jones cartoonishness and ’50s creature feature thrills into one big entertaining package that just so happens to be set at Christmastime. Somehow this popular ’80s movie has escaped the remake meisters. For now…
6. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
In this sleazy film (you know you like it), the most notorious of all ’80s-era slasher flicks, a maniac (Robert Brian Wilson) in Santa duds goes on a murder spree to deck the halls with parts of Hollie…and any other naked nubile girl who falls under his ax. First released during the 1984 holidays, public outcry and protests forced nascent distributor TriStar Pictures to abruptly pull the grue-filled film from theaters. But now fans can experience Silent Night, Deadly Night at multiplexes nationwide again, all month long. See here for details.
7. DAY OF THE BEAST (1995)
This diabolically droll horror comedy, directed by Spain’s Alex de la Iglesia, throws political correctness out the window from the get-go. A Madrid priest (the deadpan Alex Angulo) learns that the Antichrist will be born on Christmas day, and to postpone the Apocalypse, he must become a major league sinner in order to conjure Satan and squash his evil plans. With Day of the Beast, de la Iglesia does not sacrifice scares for laughs. The unique movie supports several nightmarish sequences, including an appearance by that big horned devil that will have you hiding in your chimney.
8. DEAD END (2003)
In this unheralded sleeper helmed by two Frenchmen (Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa), a family (Mom and Dad, plus teenage kids) decide to take a different path on the way to Grandma’s house one late Christmas Eve. But something goes really wrong: the bickering motorists get hopelessly lost on a road to nowhere and strange things start happening (a lady in white keeps appearing on the shoulder, a driverless black car tailgates them, etc.). The acerbic Ray Wise (of Twin Peaks) and harpy Lin Shaye (There's Something About Mary) shine as the tightly-wound parents, and we love watching them unravel as the weirdness and nightmares escalate. The movie’s inspiration? That’s the sign post up ahead. Your next stop: the Twilight Zone.
9. INSIDE (2007)
Wanna ruin the Christmas spirit this year? And for five years after that? Check out the gruesome and sadistic (but you can’t stop watching) Inside, which will have you gagging on your eggnog. Part of a wave of graphic French horror films of the noughties, Inside follows the travails of an expectant mother (Alysson Paradis) trapped in her apartment on Christmas Eve by a psychotic lady (Beatrice Dalle, a fierce lady Terminator). Her horrifying goal (based on true stories): to steal the unborn child from the hapless woman by whatever means necessary. Delivered by Frenchmen Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (what’s with these baguette eaters?!), the harrowing Inside kicks you right in the (pregnant) stomach and takes no prisoners.
10. P2 (2007)
Office workaholic Rachel Nichols (of Syfy’s Continuum) makes the mistake of working late on Christmas Eve, and when she heads to her building’s subterranean parking garage, her car won’t start. Then she gets locked in the foreboding cement structure (don’t you hate when that happens?) once the gates come down. Late-night security drone Wes Bentley, at first such a nice boy, offers to help her, but he soon goes all Fatal Attraction on the young woman. P2 mines goosebumps from its limited location (who hasn’t gotten the creeps inside those underground lots?), with director Franck Khalfoun ramping up the tension during a night of park and stalk.
11. THE CHILDREN (2008)
Two families attempt to celebrate the holidays at their secluded country home when one of their young tykes takes ill. Before long, all the children have become infected by the unexplained ailment, which turns them into vicious and cunning psychopaths. In a short time, it’s a bloody battle royal with child killing parent, and parent killing child in this disturbing British picture. Those kids can count on coal in their stockings next year!
12. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)
From Finland comes one of the strangest—and most delightful—of twisted Christmas treats. A secret expedition in the snowy, desolate northern mountains uncovers the frozen body of a King Kong-sized Santa Claus and his army of silent elves (re-envisioned as naked old men with scraggly beards). Of course, only little Onni knows what’s really behind the deaths of all the reindeer, but no one believes him at first. Eventually the truth comes out, and the greedy villagers decide to hold their monstrous Santa for ransom. Big mistake. Rare Exports is a rare find, beautifully filmed and fiendishly clever.
13. SAINT (a.k.a. SINT) (2010)
A vengeful, demonic Saint Nicholas goes on the rampage in this gory Yuletide yarn from the Netherlands. Huub Stapel stars as the Santa Claus prototype who, ages ago, rewarded the good children and punished (fatally!) the bad until the townspeople turned on him and his minions, burning them alive in their ship. Now, under the full moon of December 5, this bloodthirsty Father Christmas returns to modern Amsterdam with a job to do… Heavily influenced by early John Carpenter, director Dick Maas (who also made two films about killer elevators!) keeps things lively and running red in Saint, the perfect present for old-school slasher buffs.