Let’s face it, Christmas isn’t always a joyous time of year. The stress of planning, prepping, and making everything perfect is enough to drive anyone mad. Lots of old memories can get stirred up, making us sad and nostalgic all over again. And the eerie winter calm and longer nights bring about feelings of dread and anxiety.
So, it’s no surprise that Christmas horror is such a popular genre. From old European folk legends to the works of Charles Dickens, we’ve always liked some scares to go with our Yuletide cheer. And ever since the introduction of movies, we can bring all our wildest and deepest holiday fears to life like never before. Even the first Christmas movie ever can be a bit creepy.
The Elf Squad has compiled a short list of some of our favorite Christmas horror movies. Whether you enjoy watching them now, during the holidays, or any other time of year, they’re sure to give you plenty of thrills and chills along with all the festive feels.
Keep reading if you dare. But if you are looking for a list of holiday films to watch with young kids, we suggest you...
Jack Frost (1997)
Careful not to confuse this one with the Michael Keaton-led comedy that came out a year later. No, this Jack Frost is a slasher flick filled with comedic death scenes and laughable special effects. In fact, writer-director Michael Cooney has been very open about the film’s low budget, as well as its ridiculous inspiration. Remember that Campbell’s Soup “Let It Snow '' commercial with the living snowman? As charming and memorable as it is, you’ll probably never look at it the same way again now.
On a snowy December night in Snowmonton, convicted serial killer Jack Frost is being transported to his execution site. Then, without warning, he kills the guard on duty and crashes into a truck containing ‘genetic material,’ causing him to disintegrate and fuse with the snow. Shortly after, a series of gruesome and bizarre murders begin to take place. What no one knows is that Jack can now turn himself into a homicidal snowman. And he’s got one big target on his mind — the sheriff who took him down and ended his original killing spree.
Despite the bad reviews and direct-to-video release, Jack Frost quickly gained a cult following. There was even enough interest to create a sequel — 2000’s Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Snowman. A third film was reportedly planned as well, but given the 2008 death of co-lead Christopher Allport, it’s unlikely that will ever happen. Still, many horror fans love to watch these films during the holidays and delight in all their campy glory.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
One of the most famous — and controversial — holiday horror films of all time, Silent Night, Deadly Night was pulled from theaters after only ten days. Critics panned its excessive violence, and parent groups led protests at cinemas all across the country. Many were afraid that the image of a serial killer dressed as Santa would traumatize their children. And the fact that commercials aired during family-friendly TV shows, such as Little House on the Prairie didn’t help either. In fact, reactions were so severe that director Charles Sellier was forced to retire from filmmaking shortly after.
In 1971, a young boy named Billy Chapman receives a warning from his sinile grandfather — Santa Claus punishes those who are naughty. That night, he watches on his parents are brutally murdered by a man in a Santa costume, sending him and his little brother to an abusive Catholic orphanage. When he finally leaves at age 18 and near the holidays, a now psychologically scarred Billy decides to become ‘Santa’ himself. The end result is a Christmas night spree-killing that’s as bloody as they come.
Despite — or perhaps because of — the controversy, Silent Night Deadly Night was a commercial success, earning $2.5 million on a $750,000 budget. It even proved to be stiff competition for A Nightmare on Elm Street, which was released the same day. This also led to the production and release of four sequels and a 2012 remake, simply titled Silent Night.
By now, you’ve probably heard all about this Yuletide monster from German folklore. For those who haven’t, Krampus is a horned, demonic creature who assists Santa Claus… by kidnapping and punishing all the bad children around Christmastime. Now if that’s not a ready-made horror movie right there, then we don’t know what is. Fortunately for us, writer-director Michael Dougherty had the same idea and gave us the 2015 horror comedy, Krampus.
As his dysfunctional family argues throughout the holidays, youngest son Max Engel angrily declares that he hates both them and Christmas. But in doing so, he unknowingly stokes the wrath of a terrifying spirit known as Krampus, who punishes those who lose their Christmas spirit. That night, a sudden blizzard cuts off the power and family members start to disappear one by one. After learning more about the creature from his German-born grandmother, Max and the rest of the Engels must put their differences aside and band together to save each other.
Along with the film, movie-goers were also treated to plenty of accompanying merchandise. Legendary Entertainment released a graphic novel ‘Krampus: Shadow of Saint Nicholas,’ which expanded on the creature’s mythology. Fans could also find a series of collectibles from Weta Workshop, as well as a full-sized Krampus animatronic sold at Spirit Halloween.
Black Christmas (1974)
Here we have another cult classic, and one of the earliest and most influential slasher films ever. Black Christmas was inspired by the Canadian urban legend about a teenage babysitter receiving strange phone calls from inside the house. But this time, it’s centered around a group of sorority sisters at the mercy of a ruthless killer. Between its attractive female cast, Christmas setting, and intense cliffhanger ending, it’s easy to see why this film is so iconic.
With holiday break approaching, a sorority’s Christmas spirit is interrupted by a series of strange and threatening phone calls. One by one, the sisters go missing, and those left behind face a frightening mystery and a police sergeant who won’t take them seriously. But when a detective decides to wiretap their house, everything suddenly changes. As the bloodshed increases, and Jess grows more at odds with her controlling boyfriend, they discover the killer is much closer than they first thought.
Aside from being a financial success — $4.1 million on a $620,000 budget — Black Christmas also inspired two remakes. The first was released in 2006 while the second came out in 2019, both of which show the sorority sisters fighting back against their attackers. Yet even with all this, the original film's legacy goes even further. After all, we'd probably never have the Halloween franchise if it wasn’t for Black Christmas. Funt Fact: Director Bob Clark went on to also direct another Christmas classic - A Christmas Story.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
This next holiday horror is a little different — actually, it’s a zombie musical. Anna and the Apocalypse features 12 original songs about everything from love and Christmas to survival and saying ‘good-bye.’ In an era that’s already oversaturated with zombie stories, this one managed to make the genre new, exciting, and surprisingly festive. And besides, the sight of a teenage girl fighting off zombies with a giant candy cane is just too awesome for words.
It’s Christmastime, and the small town of Little Haven, Scotland has been taken over by zombies. And teenager Anna Shepherd already has enough to worry about with her upcoming graduation. Now she and her friends have to fight — and sing — their way through hordes of undead shoppers, elves, snowmen, and even a few Santas. But as they struggle for survival, they all start to realize that no one is truly safe in this new world. And as everything they once knew falls apart around them, they learn to depend on each other like never before.
Along with its generally positive reviews, Anna and the Apocalypse became a big hit on Hulu and throughout the 2017/2018 film festival circuit. As an added bonus, it won all five of the awards it was nominated for at the 2018 Toronto After Dark Film Festival. This included Best Feature Film and Best Ensemble Cast, which must have been especially exciting for this group of relative unknowns.
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