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!
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 October comes to an end and we move on to the Christmas season? Not everyone wants to watch movies about kids and talking puppies searching for Santa, or heartwarming dramas in which dysfunctional families are 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 for 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 sweetness that clogs up your television every holiday season, check out one of these Yuletide Horrors 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
Most horror fans would probably agree that the Big Kahuna of Christmas themed horror flicks is 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 introduces us to "Billy," who witnessed the murder of his parents by a guy in a Santa suit as a boy. 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 he'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 due to the bad publicity, which naturally made it into a must-see 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 spawned four sequels. 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 but Silent Night is extremely gory, ridiculously violent, and totally over-the-top, which means fans of the original should be pleased.
Other Psycho Santas
Silent Night, Deadly Night may be the most notorious killer-Santa flick, but it wasn't the first. 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 2005's cult horror comedy Santa's Slay, where audiences learned that the jolly old elf (played by pro wrestler Bill Goldberg) is actually the son of Satan. After he lost a fight with an angel, he was sentenced to 1000 years of being "good" by delivering presents on Christmas, but unfortunately for humanity, the thousand years is up, which means Santa is back to making Christmas a "Day of Slaying"...with everyone 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. By this point Killer Santas have practically become a horror sub-genre of their own.
On the flip side, Santa Claus is the victim in the 1984 British import Don't Open Till Christmas, in which 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 much of a selling point.
"Santa's Slay" (2005)
Big Man on Krampus
Evil Santas are an 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. This character from German folklore - whose job is to "punish" naughty children - had a particularly big year in 2015, when he starred in one big-budget theatrical release (Krampus, from Michael 'Trick r' Treat' Dougherty) and had a prominent role in the Canadian anthology A Christmas Horror Story (alongside a bad-ass, scar-faced, zombie fighting Santa ... and William Shatner!) The Yuletide demon has also appeared in dozens of cheap direct-to-video flicks of dubious quality, like Krampus: The Christmas Devil (2013), Krampus: The Reckoning (2015), Mother Krampus (2017) and 2018's Krampus: Origins.
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 considered 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 added a whole 'nother level of weirdness to an already bizarre flick.
Other Holiday Horrors...
In 1972's Silent Night, Bloody Night, an old mansion that was once a mental hospital is the site of a Christmas Eve axe-murder spree. 1974's Black Christmas has become almost as influential as the original 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. Black Christmas has been remade twice in recent years -- the first attempt 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. Another new take on Black Christmas came and went without much notice during the 2019 holiday season, so the third time was obviously not the charm.
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 (Dan "Grizzly Adams" Haggerty!) protects 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.
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! Shoot, Phoebe Cates' mid-film monologue about finding her dead father stuck in the chimney dressed as Santa 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
David Trujillo Uribe from Medellin, Colombia on September 11, 2015:
Jesus! I had no diea there were so many christmas horror flicks! Christmas sounds more scary than Halloween
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 02, 2013:
"Jack Frost" may become my new holiday-horror perennial and I owe it all to you, M.T. ... hahaha
M. T. Dremer from United States on December 02, 2013:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 28, 2013:
Updated now that I've revisited "Jack Frost" thanks to M.T. Dremer's suggestion!!!
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 24, 2013:
Very cool, M.T. -- I may actually have to revisit "Jack Frost" now just to see that....
M. T. Dremer from United States on November 24, 2013:
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.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 24, 2013:
Hi Angie... I think Arbor Day is the only holiday left that hasn't been exploited by horror filmmakers!! Haha
Angie Martin from Frazier Park, California on November 23, 2013:
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.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 21, 2013:
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 from United States on November 21, 2013:
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.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 16, 2013:
Cool, man. Glad you liked it.
Black List on August 16, 2013:
I am a huge fan of horror movies... Great hub.
Tim from Los Angeles, CA on December 21, 2012:
No need to soil your great hub with a mention of SCCTM!
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 18, 2012:
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!
Tim from Los Angeles, CA on December 18, 2012:
The most PSYCHOTIC Santa is the one in Santa Claus Conquers The Martians!
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 27, 2012:
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 on November 26, 2012:
Always a fan of the bad horror films. Jack Frost should not be forgotten. :)
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 22, 2012:
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 from Somewhere In Time on November 22, 2012:
I remember the original!!!! Classic piece of b cinema horror!!!
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on November 22, 2012:
Glad you dug the piece, Dallas. I agree, "Silent Night, Zombie Night" looks like a hoot.
Dallas Matier from Australia on November 21, 2012:
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.