It’s the holiday season, and it’s safe to assume that you have your festive movie watch list planned out all the way up to the new year. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Elf may be iconic, but you’ve likely forgotten to include movies that fall under one of the most niche genres: Christmas horror. If you want to celebrate Christmas but want to take a break from the sentimental side of things and replace it with frights and gore, then here are some of the most entertaining holiday horror films to feast your eyes on.
Austrian folklore tells of an anthropomorphic goat-like creature who scares children around the Christmas season if they have misbehaved. That creature is known as Krampus, who just so happens to be the villain of a darkly entertaining horror comedy from 2015 that is simply titled Krampus. A squabbling family who can’t stand each other get snowed in together during Christmas. When the young boy Max, who wishes his family were nicer to each other during the holiday season, tears up his letter to Santa in a fit of anger, he accidentally summons Krampus to punish them all.
With a sack full of demonic toys, including a giant jack-in-the-box that eats people, and some murderous gingerbread men, Krampus proves himself to be a force to be reckoned with. Let’s not forget about the terrifying dark elves who help Krampus stalk his prey to imprison them in snowglobes. This film truly has fun with the idea of making Christmas scary.
Black Christmas (1974)
Like many classic slashers, Black Christmas has its fair share of bad remakes, but it’s tough to top this original. Often considered to be one of the earliest examples of slasher films, Black Christmas follows a group of sorority sisters who receive threatening phone calls and are murdered one by one during the Christmas season.
With some gruesome kills and a surprisingly interesting whodunit feel to the plot, Black Christmas will always be an entertaining watch. However, what makes this film truly unsettling are the phone calls the killer has with his victims throughout. Not only was this during a time before caller ID, but the comments he makes to them are absolutely disturbing. Who knew that Christmas can be so twisted?
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Originally considered to be controversial due to using a killer Santa Claus in promotional material, Silent Night, Deadly Night was a huge financial success and has gained a cult following. A young boy witnesses his parents’ murders on Christmas Eve by a man dressed as Santa Claus, then dons a Santa suit for a killing spree of his own as an adult after a psychological breakdown.
This is a Christmas movie where a guy dressed as Santa slaughters people with an axe. What could bring more holiday cheer to fans of Friday the 13th and Halloween?
A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
Horror fans are likely not strangers to anthology films, but they’ve never seen an anthology movie like A Christmas Horror Story. William Shatner plays a radio DJ who keeps receiving notices that there’s a disturbance at the local mall. While he warns listeners to stay away and continues to play music, a series of four stories play out. One follows a group of teenagers breaking into their school during Christmas break to investigate murders that happened the year before. The second has a child go missing while his family is choosing the right Christmas tree to chop down. The third showcases a family who is stalked by Krampus. The fourth is especially entertaining, as Santa battles his army of elves who have been turned into zombies.
Each story is connected to others in surprising and creative ways. The stories all play with the audience’s expectations while providing a bloody good time.
The Gingerdead Man (2005)
The Gingerdead Man stars Gary Busey as a killer gingerbread man. If that doesn’t get you excited in this movie, then nothing will. Obviously closer to the “bad movie night” category of entertainment, The Gingerdead Man follows the events of what happens when gingerbread spice is mixed with the ashes of a serial killer and baked to life, where he then terrorizes a small-town bakery.
The special effects are hilarious and the kills are wacky. It’s also spawned a couple of wonderfully-terrible sequels. Spice up your holiday with this killer cookie.
Jack Frost (1997)
Also from the library of “bad movie night” movies comes Jack Frost, and not the one with Michael Keaton bonding with his son. After a serial killer who is literally named Jack Frost comes into contact with chemicals from a genetic research truck, his flesh blends with the snow on the ground turning him into a killer snowman. He then sets out to wreak havoc on a town that’s actually called Snowmonton.
The film has obtained a bit of a cult following over the years due to its comical death scenes and awful special effects. It somehow got a sequel that’s just as entertainingly bad. Not only is Jack Frost a fun Christmas slasher, but it served as the film debut of Shannon Elizabeth who became famous for roles in American Pie, Scary Movie, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and That 70s Show.
Tales From the Crypt: And All Through the House (1989)
Tales From the Crypt is actually a TV show, and And All Through the House is just one of its 22-minute episodes, but if you’re a horror fan, then you’re likely familiar with how great of a series it was. And All Through the House is the second episode of the series and features an axe-toting maniac dressed as Santa who pays a Christmas Eve visit to a woman after she murders her own husband for insurance money.
It’s as bloody as cable TV allows, but it’s genuinely frightening. A child, eager to see Santa on Christmas Eve, isn’t aware this isn’t a Santa she can trust. This classic episode is suspenseful, creative, and overall a blast to watch. Plus, it’s directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also directed films such as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Forrest Gump. Of course, the episode is wrapped up by the iconic and creepy Cryptkeeper surrounded by Christmas decorations, further adding to the festive feel.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
Anna and the Apocalypse stands out because of its odd mix of genres being a Christmas horror comedy zombie musical. Critics have dubbed it as “Shaun of the Dead meets Lala Land.” When the zombie apocalypse hits during Christmas, teenagers fight, slash, and sing their way through zombified snowmen, Santas, elves, and Christmas shoppers to get to their high school where they’ll be safe. It’s so ridiculous that it works surprisingly well.
Its tunes are catchy, the zombies are terrifying, and it’s delightfully bloody. It’s somehow both a creepy zombie movie and a charming, feel-good Christmas tale at the same time.
Not only is Gremlins one of the best Christmas horror movies, but it’s easily the greatest comedy horror of all time. When a young man gets an adorable creature known as a Mogwai as a pet for his Christmas present, he doesn’t realize that he’s about to learn an important lesson in responsibility. When a Mogwai gets wet, they multiply. When they eat after midnight, they become terrifying, murderous creatures known as Gremlins. The disgusting, slimy Gremlins muder the majority of a small town as Billy, his crush, and his new pal Gizmo slash their way through the seemingly endless hoard of these little monsters.
The Gremlins are creepy and kill just for the fun of it. However, the film still offers quite a few big laughs, especially if you enjoy dark humor. This classic film takes what we know about Christmas and turns it on its head by focusing on the bad instead of the cheery, like a man dressing as Santa and planning on surprising his kids by coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve only to slip, break his neck, and die stuck inside the chimney. That smell certainly is not a cat that got stuck. Gremlins works perfectly as a Christmas movie, as a horror movie, and as a dark comedy.
There are countless other Christmas horror movies out there. Many are genuinely great, while others are hilariously terrible. It’s definitely a subgenre that I plan on exploring further each holiday season. Which Christmas horror movies make it to your holiday watch list every year?