Christmas will soon be upon us and with it comes all of its annual hassles: Putting up the tree, decorating the house, baking, shopping, wrapping gifts, all while listening to a dozen different versions of the same handful of Christmas songs. It’s enough to drive you mad! That’s why you have to take a break from the seasonal insanity, which in my case involves watching movies!
While I do indulge in the usual holiday fare every December (e.g. SCROOGED, ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS, DIE HARD, THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL), or sneak off to enjoy the latest big screen Oscar bait or superhero movie from Marvel’s shared cinematic universe, I find that nothing beats sipping a mug of hot cocoa and watching a good (or bad) Horror movie. But it can be tough to decide on what to watch, which is why I created the following list of holiday-themed fright flicks to help YOU choose when the urge hits!
3615 CODE PERE NOEL (1989 – AKA DEADLY GAMES, GAME OVER, HIDE AND FREAK)
Released a year before HOME ALONE, writer-director René Manzor’s DEADLY GAMES has remained criminally unseen here in the United States. The film focuses upon a young boy named Thomas de Frémont, a child genius who is borderline obsessed with action movies. On Christmas Eve a homicidal vagrant dressed as Santa invades the de Frémont mansion and begins killing the hired help. Terrified that he has somehow angered the real Father Christmas, Thomas uses his wits, homemade traps, and a makeshift arsenal to combat the bearded intruder!
This film has been out of print for decades, but you can watch it on YouTube. The only downside is that it has French audio with no English subtitles. For those of you that prefer physical media, you can get the Region 2 German DVD release on Amazon.
BETTER WATCH OUT (2016)
This Australian-American co-production subverts your expectations and riffs a bit on HOME ALONE. Left alone with his 17-year-old babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), 12-year-old Luke Lerner (Levi Miller) attempts to woo her. But his attempts at romance are interrupted first by a visit from his best friend, and later by a masked psycho with a shotgun.
And just when you think you have the movie pegged as a home invasion flick, it hits you with a series of plot twists that may just surprise you! If I’ve piqued your interest in this one, then you’ll be happy to know that BETTER WATCH OUT is readily available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital!
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
This low budget, Canadian-made classic (directed by Bob Clark, the man who gave us A CHRISTMAS STORY!) twists horror, murder, comedy, and Christmas all into one. A group of sorority sisters begin to receive frightening, anonymous phone calls over Christmas break, before they are picked off one by one.
BLACK CHRISTMAS features Margot Kidder (Lois Lane in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE) playing against type, and is regarded by many to be the grand-daddy of the modern slasher film. BLACK CHRISTMAS was remade in 2006, but the 1974 classic that inspired it all is definitely the one you should check out first!
There are multiple editions of BLACK CHRISTMAS available on Blu-ray at the moment, but Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition seems to be the closest thing to a definitive release and comes highly recommended!
CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980 – AKA YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, TERROR IN TOYLAND)
A perennial holiday favorite of director John Waters, CHRISTMAS EVIL has been touted as a holiday slasher film, but is actually more of a psychological drama with a strange fairy tale ending. Years after being emotionally and mentally scarred after watching his parents do a little “Santa cosplay” on Christmas Eve, Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) is now an odd fellow that works in a toy factory.
But as Christmas Eve nears on this particular year, Harry starts to go a tad crazy. He glues on a beard and dons an authentic Santa suit, then spends Christmas Eve visiting children and passing out gifts (i.e. toys he stole from work). But eventually Harry’s grip on reality slips and he ends up going on a small killing spree, and finally ends up getting chased by an angry mob of people carrying torches and pitchforks!
CHRISTMAS EVIL is a bizarre film with a sympathetic “killer Santa,” that has grown on me over the years. It is currently available in a great Special Edition Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome that has a 4K transfer, three audio commentaries, and plenty of other extras!
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015)
I’ve always been a sucker for Horror anthologies (e.g. CREEPSHOW, TRICK R’ TREAT, CAT’S EYE), so when I heard about A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, I just had to see it! Featuring four tales of terror (with a wraparound segment featuring William Shatner as a radio DJ), this anthology is very much a mixed bag. From possessed baby-making, to creepy changelings, to a knock-down-drag-out fight between Santa Claus and Krampus, this movie has something for everyone!
And while I admit a few of the stories may fail to impress, I assure you that the film’s climax is worth waiting for! A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is definitely gets my recommendation, and can be easily obtained on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital!
DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984)
Across the pond in London, someone dressed in a Santa suit has decided to go on a rampage and kill dozens of innocent people. The movie follows an inspector from Scotland Yard who makes it his mission to stop the murderer before his killing spree becomes a twisted holiday tradition.
It’s more Jack the Ripper than it is MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, but DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS is a thrilling film for those looking for a jolt of terror amid all the merriment this season. If anything, it’ll definitely make you think twice before putting on a Santa suit for your company Christmas party or family gathering.
Though it hasn’t made its way to Blu-ray yet, DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS is available on DVD from Mondo Macabro! The disc features the (currently) best transfer of the film you can see, with a making-of documentary, trailers, and more!
GREMLINS takes us in a different direction from the aforementioned titles, forgoing the serial killing Santas and casting the mischief and fear-inducing responsibility into the claws of vicious little green monsters. They start off looking cute and cuddly, like a living, breathing Furby. (Remember those?)
But there are three rules that must never be broken when caring for a Mogwai, and of course, the protagonist of this series Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan – WAXWORK, HATCHET III) just can’t seem to follow directions. After the little furballs have been fed after midnight, they transform into spiteful, evil beasties with a penchant for causing absolute chaos.
They begin tearing apart the town of Kingston Falls, and only Billy and Gizmo can end their reign of terror! And though they are defeated, the Gremlins return and continue their rampage in GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, in which the destructive creatures infest a futuristic skyscraper in New York City!
JACK FROST (1997)
I still remember the day I was slowly walking through the Horror section at Blockbuster Video and suddenly came across the VHS tape of JACK FROST. (Not to be confused with 1998’s JACK FROST starring Michael Keaton.) The box had a lenticular cover that showed a friendly-looking snowman, but once you turned it ever so slightly, the snowman suddenly had a mouth filled with pointy icicle fangs. That was all it took to sell me on the film, which has become one of my favorite movies to inflict on friends during the holidays.
On a cold December night, serial killer Jack Frost is being transported to his execution during a big snowstorm. The transfer vehicle crashes into a truck hauling experimental chemicals, and Jack is doused in some sort of acid that causes him to melt into a puddle. He fuses with the snow on the ground at a genetic level, and soon becomes a murderous snowman that makes a beeline for nearby Snowmonton to take bloody revenge on the Sheriff that captured him.
This movie is so way over-the-top and thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously. The effects range from impressive to hilariously cheap, and it’s just plain hysterical to watch a snowman murder people while making wintry quips. Also keep an eye out for a small role by pre-AMERICAN PIE Shannon Elizabeth who gets attacked by Jack in the shower. (Where’s the carrot?!) JACK FROST is available on a great Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome that has a new 2K transfer of the film, director’s commentary, and several interviews! And yes there IS a JACK FROST sequel, but the less said about it the better!
After his brilliant Horror anthology TRICK R’ TREAT finally saw the light of day and almost instantly gained a cult following, director Michael Dougherty followed it up with his surprise hit KRAMPUS. After a fight with his dysfunctional family on Christmas Eve, young Max tears up his letter to Santa and renounces the holiday spirit. This results in a visit from an evil entity known as the Krampus, who swiftly and silently invades Max’s hometown.
As a blizzard rolls in, and with no help in sight, Max and his family must battle the Krampus and his minions: Killer gingerbread men, terrifying elves, and an assortment of murderous toys! Dougherty’s holiday horror film is quite imaginative, has a great cast, and is just plain fun to watch! Get in Blu-ray now and ring in the Christmas season with arguably the best Krampus film ever made!
RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)
What started out as a pair of hilarious short films (RARE EXPORTS INC. & RARE EXPORTS: THE OFFICIAL SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS) eventually grew into RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE. This Finnish fantasy film was written and directed by Jalmari Helender and follows a young boy named Pietari who gets caught up in a dark adventure involving the “original” Santa Claus. After a group of British researchers discover a giant burial mound deep in the Korvatunturi, strange things begin happening across the area.
Herds of reindeer are found dead, children are going missing at an alarming rate, and a creepy half-starved old man is captured by Pietari’s father and friends. At first they believe that they have found Father Christmas in the flesh, but eventually discover that they’ve actually captured one of Santa’s elves. Speaking of which, the elves number in the hundreds and are busy kidnapping naughty children and placing them at the base of a thawing chunk of ice with two enormous horns sticking out of it. As the monstrous Santa-cicle melts, its a race against time to stop Father Christmas from coming out of suspended animation! To see if Finland survives the onslaught of Santa and his elves, grab a copy of RARE EXPORTS on DVD or Blu-ray ASAP!
SANTA’S SLAY (2005)
A murderous Santa on a rampage is a pretty common holiday horror premise (if this list is any indication), but SANTA’S SLAY offers up a rather distinctive take on things. Santa Claus (played by Bill Goldberg) is actually Satan’s son who had to give gifts and spread Christmas joy after losing a curling match against an angel. (Did I mention that this is a Canadian movie?) After 1,000 years, the deal is off and Santa instantly reverts back to his demonic nature and spreads terror and fear as he goes on a Christmas killing spree.
After watching this unique twist on a centuries old symbol of kindness, you’ll likely never trust those already sketchy mall Santas ever again! If a murderous Satanic Santa sounds like a good time to you, then definitely check out SANTA’S SLAY on DVD!
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s holiday horror classic is probably the most notorious and controversial film on this list. When it hit theaters on November 9th, 1984, there was national outrage. Parents wrote angry letters and picketed theaters. Even Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert joined in on the action by shaming the filmmakers and distributors on live television. What’s kind of funny now is that most of this furor was caused by the film’s ad campaign not the film itself, because trailers pushed the “killer Santa” aspect of the movie.
After a criminal in a Santa suit killed their parents, Billy and Ricky Chapman are sent to an orphanage that is ruled with an iron fist by Mother Superior, who doles out frequent physical punishments to troubled young Billy. A decade later, Billy ends up getting a job at a local toy store and is forced to dress up as Santa. Coupled with witnessing the attempted rape of a co-worker during the “holiday office party,” Billy snaps and begins going on a killing spree, punishing anyone he deems naughty with his double-bit axe! After wiping out the staff of the store, he murders bullies and horny “teens” as he makes his way back to the orphanage to have a word with Mother Superior!
Shunned during its initial release, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT has since found its audience and for that I am glad, because it is a hoot! This movie is so incredibly mean-spirited and has a really dark sense of humor, and I can’t help but love it! If you decide to watch this one Vault Dwellers, I highly suggest getting Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray! It has two cuts of the film (both remastered in 4K!) and loads of cool extras!
Also I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the sequels: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 in which Ricky Chapman goes on his own killing spree (“GARBAGE DAY!”), PART 3: YOU BETTER WATCH OUT in which Ricky comes out of a coma to stalk a blind teenage psychic, PART 4: INITIATION which pits a reporter against a coven of witches, and PART 5: THE TOY MAKER which features a psychopath who uses booby-trapped toys to kill people. There was also a remake of sorts in 2012 called SILENT NIGHT, where the killer in the Santa suit’s weapon of a choice is a flamethrower!
TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972)
Though 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT was the first Horror anthology film ever made, I think it is safe to say that Amicus Productions’ TALES FROM THE CRYPT had a much larger impact. Featuring five horror tales, this classic made the list because of the first segment in the film: “And All Through the House.” In this story, Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) murders her husband on Christmas Eve. But as she is trying to figure out the logistics of cleaning up the crime scene, she hears a bulletin on the radio warning that a homicidal maniac is on the loose.
And wouldn’t you know it, the killer (dressed in Santa garb) has wandered onto Joanne’s property and is looking to come in from the cold. Though she manages to hide her husband’s body, and keep her unwanted visitor from entering the house, Joanna gets her comeuppance just as she finally attempts to call the authorities. Her innocent daughter lets the madman into the house, thinking that it’s Santa, and he immediately lunges at Joanne and wraps his hands around her throat.
This Vault of Horror tale would get an update about seventeen years later on HBO’s Tales From the Crypt series, which featured the inimitable John Kassir as the voice of The Cryptkeeper! The new and improved “And All Through the House” was penned by Fred Dekker (THE MONSTER SQUAD, ROBOCOP 3), directed by Robert Zemeckis (the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy), and starred Mary Ellen Trainor (the LETHAL WEAPON series) and Larry Drake (DARKMAN, DR. GIGGLES), and it is awesome! It tells the same story, but changes things up just enough to differentiate it from the original 1972 version, and gets played here almost every year at Vault HQ!
TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)
This 1980 thriller tells the story of a group of prep-school students who find their holidays anything but jolly when a killer dressed in a Santa suit appears on campus. Who is the killer, and what is their motive? Well it just might have something to do with a girl’s accidental death during a prank gone wrong two years earlier. (Hmmm…. this seems kind of similar to PROM NIGHT, no?) Partying teens plus a mysterious masked killer in a Santa suit equals a movie that’s somewhat predictable, but entertaining nonetheless.
This lesser-known indie slasher was directed by David Hess (SWAMP THING, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), and has all the makings of a cult classic. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for legendary porn star Harry Reems in a cameo role! If you’re looking for a Christmas-themed slasher with a twist, then be sure to grab a copy of TO ALL A GOODNIGHT on DVD or Blu-ray!
Thanks for perusing this list Vault Dwellers and Happy Holidays from all of us here at The B-Movie Film Vault! Please feel free to comment below if you love (or hate) any of the movies on this list, and also share some of your favorite holiday horror gems that I may have overlooked or failed to mention!