Holiday horror is an area of the genre that is all too often overlooked. There are a lot of great flicks set around this time of year. And, of course, there are some not so great ones as well. For whatever reason, there’s something about the Christmas season that horror films of all budgets repeatedly gravitate toward over time.
There are the B-Movies like Silent Night Bloody Night and Jack Frost, Z-Movies like Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, recent fan-favorites such as Rare Exports and Silent Night. So many different flavors that yield so many different results. It can, at first glance, simply appear to be an obscure subgenre of horror filled with lumps of coal, especially if your first inclination is to watch the Silent Night, Deadly Night sequels.
But your holiday horror viewing doesn’t have to be miserable. It should be filled with a special, horrific kind of cheer. So with that in mind, here are the features I always watch to get me through the season.
I know it just came out, but I can’t imagine Krampus not being a perennial holiday horror go-to for me. It’s a perfect complement to Trick ‘r Treat. Not only is it just as much of an embodiment of its respective holiday, but it implies that—while Halloween is a time of fun and mischief if you follow the rules—this holiday is inherently cruel and pretty much wants you dead. That’s a great contrast. It’s also really fun to boot, probably the closest anyone has come to recapturing the tone of Gremlins since Gremlins.Tales from the Crypt (1972)
This excellent Amicus anthology starts off with a bang with the segment “And All Through the House” which was remade by Robert Zemeckis for the HBO TV series years later. It’s a cold, bleak and pretty relentless tale of a woman defending herself from a murderous Santa just after she murdered her own husband. It’s the quickest segment from the film, moving at a pretty fast pace without really worrying about a surprising twist or darkly humorous punchline. The intent of this segment is really just to scare people, which it accomplishes pretty well.
It’s a holiday horror classic, one that will always be notorious for the uproar it caused when it first hit theaters in 1984. Sure, the sequel may be more famous now simply for how bad it is, but I actually think the original is a really neat and non-traditional slasher. In some respects, it feels very similar to what Rob Zombie did with his Halloween, telling the story from the killer’s perspective and following them through their traumatic childhood into their adult rampage. And it is a full-blown rampage, with some obscene and excellent kills.
Black Christmas is the fine wine to Silent Night, Deadly Night’s cold beer. Both are good and both achieve about the same effect, but there’s something a little classier and more artfully done about Black Christmas. It has a great setup, it is genuinely scary and it deals with the topic of abortion in 1974 better than most films in 2015. The impact it had on the slasher genre to follow is clear as day. It even beat When a Stranger Calls to its big reveal. More than anything, I love the mystery surrounding the killer. We don’t get any backstory, any motivation, we never even definitively find out who it is. That could easily have destroyed the whole feature, but when handled as well as it is, it’s a terrifying concept.
There’s no other title that could have been my number one. It’s my favorite Christmas flick in any genre and is probably up there with my favorites of all time. I don’t think there’s really anything in it that doesn’t work or achieve the exact effect it was intended to, even that one particular scene everyone insists is completely out of place. Gremlins is a tonal roller coaster. It can be an Amblin family film one moment, a horror the next and a comedy or serious drama after that. It flips between completely different genres at the drop of a hat and each turn feels effortless. That’s the mark of a top-notch filmmaker.