The holidays are a time for family. A time when you take stock of your life. Time for reflection, and if you’re lucky enough to have the good fortune of having someone special by your side, then it’s a time for celebration. However, for some people — myself included — Christmas is the perfect time for a good scare. Let’s face it — there’s something eerily fun about watching a Christmas horror movie during the holidays. It’s kind of like going to see The Grinch in July (which I’m sure has been done).
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In this list, I’ve gathered ten of my favourite Christmas horror movies. Some are classics. Others may be new releases or even straight-to-DVD films. But all will give you that same chill down your spine you get from watching those holiday specials on television.
Nothing here is as horrifying as the Star Wars Holiday Special, though.
10. Christmas Evil (1980)
One of the earliest examples of a horror flick with Christmas as its central theme, Christmas Evil tells the story of a troubled man who dresses up as Santa Claus and eventually indulges in murder and mayhem right around the holidays. This is essentially what would have happened if Michael Myers had been obsessed with Christmas instead of Halloween.
The film was surrounded by controversy upon its release. It was part of the dreaded saga of the “video nasties” in the UK, where it saw a limited release. Still, Christmas Evil has stood the test of time and is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it before, as long as you can stomach some good old cheesy horror tropes.
9. Jack Frost (1997)
Speaking of cheesiness, 1997’s Jack Frost has got to be one of the most ludicrously bad horror films ever made. Still, for a Christmas-themed horror flick, it’s really not half bad. The plot has a serial killer merging with snow due to a freak accident, which causes him to turn into a killer snowman. It’s so ridiculous that you almost can’t help but enjoy it.
This “so bad it’s good” movie was directed by Michael Cooney, who also wrote the script. This version of Jack Frost should not be confused with the one from 1998, in which Michael Keaton becomes a living snowman through the power of love. That film’s uncanny SnowKeaton is much more terrifying than anything the 1997 version could ever conjure.
8. P2 (2007)
This gory thriller has Star Trek’s Rachel Nichols surviving Christmas Eve trapped in a New York City underground parking lot. Also, there’s a sadistic killer on the prowl, and she’s forced to call upon her inner strength to defeat him. Christmas Eve sure can get hectic in the Big Apple, right?
Critics thought that P2 relied a bit too much on its raw violence. However, the film still manages to create some truly memorable scenes that will leave you wanting more. Here’s a random piece of trivia: did you know that the word “P2” sounds like the word “farts” in Spanish? That’s the reason why the film’s title had to be changed in Spanish-speaking countries. Don’t let this factoid ruin your enjoyment of the movie, though!
7. Better Watch Out (2016)
A sadistic horror thriller starring a young and precocious psycho and his beloved babysitter. The pair engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse around Christmas time. This is one of those movies that might look like it’s aimed at kids, but it’s actually far darker than it looks. It also gets extra points for discussing just how deadly some of the traps in Home Alone would be in real life. Definitely worth a watch, especially after seeing Kevin McCallister torturing two grown men with his sadistic contraptions.
6. Red Snow (2021)
Vampires and Christmas are two things that don’t seem to go well together, yet they make a surprisingly great combination in Red Snow. It’s like dipping your fries in ice cream: you never really knew it was such a good idea until you tried it yourself. This film dares to bring the undead back from their graves and inject them with some Christmas cheer, which makes for a rather unusual twist on the standard vampire mythos.
The movie follows a horror novelist who spends Christmas in Lake Tahoe, looking for inspiration for her latest book. What she finds instead is a group of real-life bloodsuckers. At the very least, she got what she was looking for; it’s a Christmas miracle alright.
5. Silent Night (2021)
So far, our list has had every variation of the usual horror tropes. However, 2021’s goes for a vastly different approach to terror. This psychological horror masterpiece follows what could be humanity’s last night on Earth. Tensions rise, and secrets emerge in one final Christmas dinner. And you thought meeting the in-laws for the holidays could be nightmarish.
4. The Gingerdead Man (2005)
What do you get if you merge Child’s Play with a Christmas film? You’ll probably get something that looks kind of like The Gingerdead Man. A film so unapologetically bonkers that you’ll have to see it to believe it. This piece of horror genius follows the exploits of a killer gingerbread man, as it goes on a murderous Christmas-time massacre.
Did I mention that Gary Busey plays the Gingerdead Man? Because he does, and it’s amazing.
3. Krampus (2015)
While most of the horrific ideas in this list come from the creative minds of some twisted horror filmmakers, the legend of the Krampus is unique in that it is a real-life horror tale centred around Christmas. Good kids around the globe get presents sent by Santa, while bad kids in Germany get taken away by the Krampus instead.
The 2015 film adaptation is not an entirely folklore-accurate version of the legendary Krampus, but it serves as an entertaining cautionary tale about the dangers of excessive consumerism around the holidays and about the importance of spending the holidays as a family. It’s also freaking terrifying, which, as a general rule, is always great for a horror film.
2. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Unlike every other entry in our list, Silent Night, Deadly Night has managed to become a “successful” cult franchise, releasing five films and two reboots since its original 1984 release. A truly impressive feat, especially considering how turbulent its opening week was. You see, people don’t take kindly to seeing people dressed as Santa committing murder, which is everything this film is about.
Perhaps the greatest cultural landmark that the series gave us happened in the sequel. The now-infamous “Garbage Day” scene, which acquired legendary status in meme culture, comes from the 1987 movie. If you ask me, becoming a living meme is what every filmmaker should aspire to achieve.
1. Gremlins (1984)
When it comes to cautionary tales and 80s nostalgia, few films can match Gremlins. A brilliant blend of horror and comedy, it tells the story of a small town overrun by mischievous creatures who turn into monsters if their owners don’t follow a mysteriously specific set of instructions. It’s a classic example of a creature feature that manages to be both frightening and hilarious.
Directed by Joe Dante, Gremlins is a true gem of the decade, managing to be timeless despite coming out over three decades ago. It’s also a surprisingly feel-good film, much more than you would expect from a monster flick of the era, where the creatures always won in the end, somehow. Gremlins is certainly a must-see for all horror fans and one of the best Christmas-time horror films ever made.
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Tell us, what’s your favourite Christmas horror movie?