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Christmas Horror Movies: Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas!

Updated on November 24, 2017
FatFreddysCat profile image

I have a weakness for cheesy, "so bad they're good" low budget horror, sci-fi or action movies. I watch'em so you don't have to!

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A Case of the Christmas Creeps!!

The Halloween season is obviously the biggest time of year for horror film fans, but what's a scary movie fanatic to do when Halloween is over and we move on to the Christmas season? Not everyone wants to watch round-the-clock movies about kids and talking puppies searching for Santa, or heartwarming dramas in which dysfunctional families are suddenly, magically healed by the power of Christmas. Thankfully (or perhaps not, depending on your tastes), Hollywood has produced a bumper crop of Christmas related horror films over the past several decades, providing gore hounds with something shocking in their stockings year after year. These are truly the gifts that keep on giving!! Some people may not think that the Yuletide season is an appropriate time for horror, but perhaps they've forgotten about the ghosts and graveyards in one of the most popular holiday tales of all time—Dickens' "A Christmas Carol!" If you prefer your Christmas movies a little bit on the twisted side, or if you simply need an antidote to the endless parade of holiday sweetness that clogs up your television every December, throw one of these Yuletide Horrors into your DVD player and scare yourself silly. Maybe there's a reason Santa's suit is so red, if you catch my drift...

"Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984) Trailer

Serial Santas...

The Big Kahuna of Christmas themed horror flicks will always be 1984's notorious Silent Night, Deadly Night - a delightfully cheesy, sleazy, mean-spirited slasher flick that enraged a nation and scarred a generation of children. This low-budget splatter fest told the sad story of "Billy," who witnessed his parents being murdered by a guy in a Santa suit as a boy. This naturally caused him to have some lingering "issues" concerning Old Saint Nick. Spending his formative years in a cruel Catholic orphanage run by an abusive Mother Superior certainly didn't help things, either As a grown up, Billy is forced to put on a Santa suit at his toy-store job, which leads (understandably) to a mental breakdown. Soon Billy's stalking the streets of his snowy small town on Christmas Eve, picking off unlucky citizens with an axe while grunting "NAUGHTY!" or "PUNISH!"

The movie probably would've been quickly forgotten if its TV commercials hadn't scared the hell out of children across America, leading to protests outside theaters by angry parents and PTA groups. Even Siskel and Ebert got in on the act, denouncing the movie on their popular "At The Movies" television show. Tri-Star Pictures removed SN, DN from theaters within a week thanks to the public outcry, and naturally its "forbidden fruit" aspect quickly made it into a must-see cult item for horror freaks.. (The film's original VHS release featured a box-cover tag that read "The Movie THEY Didn't Want You To See!!") Despite the controversy - or perhaps because of it - Silent Night, Deadly Night eventually spawned four sequels (three of them direct-to-video) by the early '90s. In a particularly odd twist, actor Mickey Rooney - who'd been one of the original film's most vocal celebrity critics - had a starring role in the final film of the series, Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker.

A "loose" remake of SN, DN, titled simply Silent Night, surfaced in 2012, starring Malcolm McDowell (fresh off of his stint as Dr. Sam Loomis in Rob Zombie's Halloween flicks) as a small town Sheriff trying to track down yet another psycho killer in a Santa suit. Unfortunately his tiny burg happens to be full of guys in Santa suits because it's the night of the the annual Christmas parade. Aside from the killer-Santa angle, this isn't a "straight" retelling of the original SN, DN story (i.e. there's no "Billy," no "Mother Superior," etc.) but Silent Night is extremely gory, ridiculously violent, and totally over-the-top, which means fans of the original should be pleased.

L-R: "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984), "To All a Good Night" (1980), "Christmas Evil" (1980), "Santa's Slay" (2005)
L-R: "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984), "To All a Good Night" (1980), "Christmas Evil" (1980), "Santa's Slay" (2005) | Source

Other Psycho Santas

Silent Night, Deadly Night might be the most notorious killer-Santa flick, but it wasn't the first film to use that hook. In 1980's Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out!) a schlumpy toy company employee snaps on Christmas Eve after a lifetime's worth of cynicism and deception, and goes on a Santa-suited killing spree against everyone who's ever done him wrong. The result is kinda like Taxi Driver re-imagined as a Holiday special.

Santa went psycho again in the 2005 cult horror comedy Santa's Slay, where audiences learned that the jolly old elf (played by pro wrestler Bill Goldberg) isn't really very jolly after all. He's actually the son of Satan, but after he lost a battle with an angel he was sentenced to 1000 years of being "good" by delivering presents on Christmas. Unfortunately for humanity, the thousand years is now up which means Santa can now go back to his true calling, making Christmas a "Day of Slaying"...with everybody on his "naughty" list.

A quick skim through IMDb reveals several other killer-Santa gems like 1980's To All A Good Night, in which a Santa-suited nut job picks off nubile co-eds in a college dorm, and an irresistibly-titled 1996 direct-to-video cheapie called Satan Claus, where a psycho in a Santa suit axe-murders innocent New Yorkers on Christmas Eve and uses their body parts to make a macabre Christmas tree. Sounds like good, clean fun. Who knew there were so many Killer Santa movies? By this point I'd say that they practically deserve their own horror sub-genre.

On the flip side, Santa Claus is the victim, rather than the killer, in the 1984 British import Don't Open Till Christmas, where a slasher is killing street corner and department store Santas all over London, with Scotland Yard in hot pursuit. The film's poster trumpeted the fact that it was "FROM THE PRODUCER OF 'PIECES'!" ...which, if you've seen that particular movie, is not exactly a selling point.

"Santa's Slay" (2005)

Big Man on Krampus

Evil Santas may be the easy go-to concept for Christmas horror flicks, but St. Nick's evil opposite, Krampus, is quickly becoming a familiar face in holiday-horror-film circles as well. This character from German holiday folklore - whose job is to "punish" naughty children - has been the star of one big-budget theatrical release (2015's Krampus, from Michael 'Trick r' Treat' Dougherty) as well as several direct-to-video flicks like 2013's Krampus: The Christmas Devil and 2015's Krampus: The Reckoning. The Yuletide demon also makes an appearance in 2015's Canadian anthology A Christmas Horror Story - which features a bad-ass, scar-faced Santa battling a zombie outbreak among his elves, and William Shatner in a cameo role as a story telling radio DJ (sporting an ugly Christmas sweater)!

L-R: "Krampus" (2015), "Saint Nick" aka "Sint"  (2010), "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (2010)
L-R: "Krampus" (2015), "Saint Nick" aka "Sint" (2010), "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" (2010) | Source

Killer Saints and Yuletide Demons

Not to be outdone, European horror filmmakers have produced a number of Christmas related terror tales in recent years, showcasing the dark side of their own local holiday myths. In the Finnish horror/fantasy Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), the residents of a rural reindeer-herding village must band together to save Christmas - and the world - when corporate blasting atop a local mountain accidentally frees an ancient evil that may have provided the inspiration for the Santa Claus myth. The critically-acclaimed flick shows all the signs of becoming a cult classic and a holiday perennial.

Meanwhile, the Dutch film Sint (aka Saint, or Saint Nick for its U.S. video release) finds Amsterdam under siege by the ancient spirit of Saint Nicholas, a murderous cleric who's nowhere near as jolly as his American counterpart, Santa Claus. Packed with lots of improbable action sequences and some truly nasty gore scenes, Saint might as well be the European answer to Silent Night, Deadly Night. Additional note: the English language version of Saint also happens to be saddled with the worst dubbing job I've seen since the glory days of the Italian exploitation-film scene. Though some may find the awkward, stilted attempts at English dialog distracting, I thought it was a total hoot and it serves to add a whole 'nother level of weirdness to an already bizarre flick.

Other Holiday Horrors...

Of course, you don't have to have a killer Santa to make a Christmas horror movie. In 1972's Silent Night, Bloody Night, an old mansion that was once a mental hospital is the site of a Christmas Eve murder spree. 1974's Black Christmas, meanwhile, has become almost as influential as the original 1978 Halloween in the annals of slasher filmdom. In this controversial classic, the residents of a college sorority house (including a young Margot Kidder and one-time "Juliet" Olivia Hussey) are victimized by an obscene phone caller who becomes a murderous home invader as they prepare for Christmas break. Ironically, Black Christmas director Bob Clark would go on to helm the warm-n-fuzzy family holiday perennial A Christmas Story several years later. A Black Christmas remake bombed at the box office in 2006, despite a high carnage factor and a cast of young, nubile hotties like Michelle Trachtenberg and Lacey Chabert. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night, the Black Christmas remake garnered its share of protests from angry parents and religious groups who objected to its Christmas Day release date.

For the truly dedicated Z-Movie bargain bin divers, there's 2009's temptingly-titled Silent Night, Zombie Night, a low-budget, direct-to-video flick in which Los Angeles' holiday celebrations are rudely interrupted by an outbreak of flesh-eating undead, or 1989's Elves, where a department store Santa (played by Dan "Grizzly Adams" Haggerty!) attempts to protect a teenage girl from a demonic Nazi Elf unleashed by a pagan blood ritual on Christmas Eve. Seriously! You can't make this stuff up, folks.

L-R: "Silent Night, Bloody Night" (1972), "Black Christmas" (1974), "Elves" (1989), "Jack Frost" (1997)
L-R: "Silent Night, Bloody Night" (1972), "Black Christmas" (1974), "Elves" (1989), "Jack Frost" (1997) | Source

Had Enough Yet?

Sick of zombies? Slashing Santas not your style? Then how about a killer snowman? In 1997's tongue-in-cheek cult classic Jack Frost, a serial killer has an unfortunate run-in with some experimental genetic material on a cold winter's night, turning him into a psycho Frosty. Jack Frost simply has to be seen to be believed, and I'm not just sayin' that because it stars a pre-American Pie Shannon Elizabeth (whose death scene in this movie is one of the greatest things ever committed to celluloid). Obviously this flick is not to be confused with the 1998 family film of the same name that starred Michael Keaton (though by all accounts, the Keaton film is pretty horrific in its own right...).

...and hey, let's not forget that Joe Dante's 1984 creature classic Gremlins takes place on Christmas Eve, too! In addition to the massive amounts of tiny-critter carnage, Phoebe Cates' mid-film soliloquy about finding her father's dead Santa-suited body stuck in the chimney when she was a little girl is more disturbing than just about any other movie mentioned in this article. Shoot, I'm tearing up just thinking about it right now. (Sniffle...sob...)

Has this article sufficiently ruined Christmas movies for you? If so, then I'm off to enjoy some eggnog, secure in the knowledge that I've done my job. If those of you in Readerland have any other favorite Holiday Horrors that I've neglected to mention, feel free to give me a clue in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and have a happy - and horrific! - holiday season!!!

© 2012 Keith Abt

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    • David Trujillo profile image

      David Trujillo Uribe 2 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      Jesus! I had no diea there were so many christmas horror flicks! Christmas sounds more scary than Halloween

    • FatFreddysCat profile image
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      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      "Jack Frost" may become my new holiday-horror perennial and I owe it all to you, M.T. ... hahaha

    • M. T. Dremer profile image

      M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States

      Awesome!

    • FatFreddysCat profile image
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      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Updated now that I've revisited "Jack Frost" thanks to M.T. Dremer's suggestion!!!

    • FatFreddysCat profile image
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      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Very cool, M.T. -- I may actually have to revisit "Jack Frost" now just to see that....

    • M. T. Dremer profile image

      M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States

      It was Shannon Elizabeth, probably pre-american-pie. My wife and I had a good laugh when we saw her on screen. It was very similar to when we saw Erica Durance having a small roll in The House of the Dead before she went on to Smallville fame.

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      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Hi Angie... I think Arbor Day is the only holiday left that hasn't been exploited by horror filmmakers!! Haha

    • Angie Martin profile image

      Angie Martin 4 years ago from Frazier Park, California

      Great hub breaking down our Christmas horror options! It's funny how Halloween (the holiday) has so many great horror movies that revolve around it, but other holidays seem to have those fun movies that require a bit of drinking to truly enjoy ~ April Fools Day, Valentine's Day...I'm sure there's a killer tree out there for Arbor Day :) Maybe one day we can have a totally awesome movie for Christmas or other holidays.

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      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Hey M.T. - was that really Shannon Elizabeth in "Jack Frost?" It's been so long since I've seen that movie. Maybe I just didn't know who she was when I last saw it, haha.

      I bought a cheap 12-pack horror movie DVD about a month ago that has "Jack Frost 2" on it -- I haven't been brave (or drunk) enough to attempt sitting through it yet though.

      ...and that was a kickass "Supernatural" episode, I've seen that!!

    • M. T. Dremer profile image

      M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States

      I think the only christmas horror movie I've seen is Jack Frost, not to be confused with the family comedy of the same name. It was an awful movie, but almost worth watching for the absurd sex scene between Shannon Elizabeth and the snowman. I believe they made a sequel. Though I do recommend the holiday special that they made for Supernatural (the television show). The episode saw the Winchester boys trying to solve a bunch of grisly murders where Santa would come down the chimney and eat the childrens' parents.

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      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Cool, man. Glad you liked it.

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      Black List 4 years ago

      I am a huge fan of horror movies... Great hub.

    • bat115 profile image

      Tim 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      No need to soil your great hub with a mention of SCCTM!

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      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Haha, you are probably right. Funny you mention "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," cuz I was just playing the oh-so-ginchy theme song from that movie, "Hooray For Santy Claus," for my kids today. Haha.

      I considered mentioning "SCTTM" in this Hub but decided not to since it's technically not a horror movie... though it is horrifically bad!!

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • bat115 profile image

      Tim 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      The most PSYCHOTIC Santa is the one in Santa Claus Conquers The Martians!

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      Keith Abt 5 years ago from The Garden State

      Hey Geekdom. Quite frankly, I've been trying to forget "Jack Frost" ever since I saw it on video back in the day...haha!! But I agree, I probably should've mentioned it, if only for the cool holographic VHS box art!

    • Geekdom profile image

      Geekdom 5 years ago

      Always a fan of the bad horror films. Jack Frost should not be forgotten. :)

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      Keith Abt 5 years ago from The Garden State

      Hi Freedom -- I haven't seen the original "Silent Night, Deadly Night" in years, but I understand that the first two films are being re-released in a special DVD pack soon to co-incide with the remake... might have to give it another spin!

    • FreedomMetal profile image

      FreedomMetal 5 years ago from Somewhere In Time

      I remember the original!!!! Classic piece of b cinema horror!!!

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      Keith Abt 5 years ago from The Garden State

      Glad you dug the piece, Dallas. I agree, "Silent Night, Zombie Night" looks like a hoot.

    • Dallas Matier profile image

      Dallas Matier 5 years ago from Australia

      Heh... some of those look absolutely terrible. I want to watch all of them! Twice!

      If it weren't for the traditional Christmas viewing of Die Hard, I'd definitely try to get hold of some of them. Maybe one for later at night, though? Silent Night, Zombie Night looks particularly awful.