Hear the Slay Bells Ringing in Our Favorite Holiday Horror Movies

Hear the Slay Bells Ringing in Our Favorite Holiday Horror Movies

Dec 13, 2012

Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.


Silent Night's Killer Santa

The holiday season might not seem like the best time of the year to be a horror fan – all that yuletide cheer and peace on Earth stuff doesn’t really mesh well with masked madmen slaughtering nubile young women, after all – but that doesn’t mean horror fans have to go on a genre fast in the month of December. There are holiday-themed horror films out there, and some of them are even good. Today, we’re going to take a look at eight that should help get you in the ghoul-tide mood.

Gremlins

Director Joe Dante gave us one of the greatest holiday horror flicks with his 1984 film Gremlins. Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates have to save not only the holiday, but the denizens of their small town after Galligan’s Christmas gift (a small Mogwai named Gizmo) spawns an entire horde of Gremlins with bad intentions.

While Dante’s film is more of a black comedy than a straight genre effort, it’s one of those films I find myself watching every holiday season. The script is clever, the performances entertaining, and it gave us this scene – which many have described as the most hilariously depressing Christmas story ever.

Silent Night, Zombie Night

There’s no shortage of cheap, low-budget holiday horror movies, but Silent Night, Zombie Night is a bit of a rarity in that it’s actually watchable. The zombie apocalypse provides the backdrop for a domestic drama as a cop is forced to spend the holiday with his wife, his partner (who’s having an affair with his wife), and the undead.

Director Sean Cain’s film is at its best when it’s mired in action and predictably suffers when the cast is actually required to slow down and present dramatic dialogue. The plus here is that Cain realizes that and keeps the action scenes coming regularly. As an added benefit, there’s some pretty sweet low-budget gore here too.

Granted, Silent Night, Zombie Night isn’t on the level of Dawn of the Dead – but if you’re trapped at the relatives’ place this Christmas and need a break, this indie charmer could help you kill an hour or two.

Rare Exports

Roger Ebert praised this 2010 Finnish fantasy film, calling it an “R-rated Santa Claus origin story crossed with The Thing.” With a description like that, how can you not want to see this?

When scientists start digging into an ancient burial mound, they unearth the original Santa Claus – very much alive, and way more interested in punishing those who’ve been naughty than rewarding folks who’ve been nice. Things go really off the rails when some locals capture St. Nick.

This clever reimagining of the Santa story is guaranteed to bring a little holiday fear to any holiday gathering.

Saint Nick

Keeping with the dark Santa origin stories, we’ve also got the 2010 Dutch horror comedy Saint Nick (originally known as Sint) on our list this year.

In this outing, Saint Nick’s returned from the grave on December 5 in order to punish the locals who executed him and his gang of murderous criminals in 1492. It turns out the Sinterklaas of popular culture has little in common with the real Saint Nicholas – who’s actually not a nice guy at all.

Like Rare Exports, this foreign flick mixes black humor with horror in an entertaining way. You’ll never look at Santa in quite the same light after seeing either of these films.

Christmas Evil

One of the stalwarts of any good Christmas horror list, Christmas Evil is still worth checking out even 30-plus years after its initial release.

Brandon Maggart stars as a Christmas-obsessed psychopath in this entertaining 1980 outing. Maggart’s character is scarred for life when he sees Mommy getting groped by Santa on Christmas Eve. While clearly upset by this, he grows up to love the holidays anyway – until some snobs insult him while he’s dressed as Santa. After that, it’s psycho-killer Santa time.

While the film is decidedly low budget and lacks much in the way of gore, it’s entertaining anyway – and it has one of the kookiest endings you’ll ever see.

When John Waters calls a film “the greatest Christmas movie ever made,” that’s a movie you need to check out. Christmas Evil fits that description.

Silent Night

Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night is the newest film on the list – having just hit home video earlier this month. The title is sort of a loose remake of the controversial 1984 killer Santa flick Silent Night, Deadly Night – although it’s hard to imagine anyone picketing the video store over this release in today’s world.

The premise is simple: There’s a killer Santa running amok knocking off anyone who’s been naughty this year, and it’s up to the tiny (and borderline inept) police force of Cryer, Wisconsin to put an end to the nightmare. Miller’s film sets out for territory all its own rather than just rehash the original (and its countless sequels…), and Malcolm McDowell is entertaining, but we can’t shake the feeling this one could have been even better with a little more effort. That being said, Silent Night will still provide some gory holiday fear.

Dead End

Not every Christmas movie needs a killer Santa Claus – something Dead End proves quite convincingly.

Veteran actor Ray Wise is taking his wife (Lin Shaye), son, daughter and future son-in-law to grandma's house for Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, the trip turns into a never-ending excursion through hell when dear old Dad gets the bright idea to forgo the freeway and take a back road.

After encountering a “woman in white” and an ominous black car, the family finds their numbers dwindling as they seemingly drive in circles.

While Dead End isn’t very subtle with its narrative (the big twist ending is telegraphed in the first 15 minutes), it benefits from an atmospheric setting and a great performance from Ray Wise (who also played a fantastic devil on the CW series Reaper). The holiday is mostly set dressing in Dead End, but this subdued take on holiday horror is still well worth a look.

Black Christmas

It’s been over 35 years since Bob Clark released Black Christmas on unsuspecting horror fans and it’s still the greatest holiday horror movie of all time.

This one’s got a bit of everything – mouthy coeds, John Saxon as a cop, and one of the most terrifying psychopaths ever to grace a slasher flick. Oh, and it helped usher in the era of the slasher flick, too.

There’s not a whole lot that hasn’t been said already about Black Christmas – so I’ll save you the repetition. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this and grab a copy now. If you have, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s one of the finest holiday horror experiences to ever grace a screen.

Happy holidays! 

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