There's something about Christmas tradition that's inherently a bit twisted. The very idea of a costumed man sneaking into your home to reward the good and punish the naughty is already pretty messed up -- and that's before you dive too deep into the truly creepy holiday mythologies from around the world. Even though Christmastime has been marketed as a Winter Wonderland filled with presents, carols, and good cheer, the truth is, there's always been a dark side.
So it makes perfect sense that horror fans love to get their seasonal thrills along with the wintery chills. However, while the dark roots of Christmas go way back, the Christmas horror film was once an untapped subgenre, considered a shameful and indeed sinful rebuke of all that Christmas stands for (just look at the nutso reaction to Silent Night, Deadly Night). However, over the past few decades, the Christmas horror movie has become a staple we look forward to every year. These days, there's no shortage of holiday horror to choose from, so we've put together a list of the essential Christmas horror viewing list guaranteed to get you in the spirit.
1 The Sacrifice Game
Directed by Jenn Wexler
While its best rewards come in the final course of this holiday meal, The Sacrifice Game is a film that takes The Holdovers and makes it into a fun horror film. Specifically, it centers on two students, Samantha (Madison Baines) and Clara (Georgia Acken), who must stay behind for Christmas at the Blackvale School for Girls in 1971. When a group of roaming killers come knocking at the door for more acts of murder, things go from bad to worse before becoming something darkly humorous in the final act. The precise details of this can’t be revealed here to not spoil the fun, but suffice it to say this film emerges as a potential Christmas horror classic based on how all the pieces come together. You might not remember some of the initial courses, but you sure will the dessert. -Chase Hutchinson
2 Silent Night
Directed by Camille Griffin
2021’s Silent Night is a film best entered into with as little information as possible to preserve the experience of watching this haunting holiday tale. Set during a yearly Christmas party hosted by Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) for their various loved ones, something seems to be rather wrong this time. Everyone who comes seems troubled by some greater darkness and, as we gradually learn, they all fear that this may be the last time that all of them get to gather. Darkly funny and increasingly unsettling, this is one of those films that will leave a pit in your stomach for just how unexpectedly grim it all becomes. Psychological horror is interwoven throughout the tense Christmas party, tempering every interaction until a conclusion that makes everything all the more horrifying in retrospect. - Chase Hutchinson
3 Anna and the Apocalypse
Directed by John McPhail
If you’re looking for a spin on the well-tread zombie story that also is a coming-of-age Christmas musical, then you can’t go wrong with Anna and the Apocalypse. Based on writer Ryan McHenry’s short, it follows the titular Anna (Ella Hunt) who is on the cusp of finishing school but finds that her life is about to be upended by a, you guessed it, spreading zombie infection. While she initially remains oblivious, the crisis soon comes crashing into their world. Anna and her friends will then have to take matters into their own hands to defend the community in one holiday-themed kill after another. This is the film that offers the most joyous fun to be had on this list as it packs all one could ever want for Christmas: music, cheer, and plenty of zombies. - Chase Hutchinson
Anna and the Apocalypse
A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven - at Christmas - forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.
- Release Date
- September 22, 2017
- John McPhail
- Ella Hunt , Malcolm Cumming , Sarah Swire , Christopher Leveaux , Marli Siu , Ben Wiggins , Mark Benton , Paul Kaye
- Main Genre
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Michael Dougherty has a knack for capturing the holiday spirit. The X-Men 2 scribe made his directorial debut with Trick 'r Treat, which seemed to capture the very essence of Halloween on film, and with Krampus, he applied his creepy mythological leanings to the most wonderful time of the year. Turns out it's not so wonderful if you accidentally conjure ol' Saint Nick's murderous counterpart Krampus; an ancient mythological creature who punishes those who misbehave.
Krampus features a fantastic cast as the misbehaving family in question, including Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, and Allison Tolman, who find themselves the subjects of Krampus' wrath when they let their family squabbles squash their Christmas spirit. Dougherty manages to keep his finger on the pulse of holiday joy throughout the carnage, translating familiar Christmas touchstones like children's toys and gingerbread men into visions of terror with help from the visual effects magicians at WETA. Dark and deviant, with wickedly clever set-pieces, Krampus is buoyed by a twisted sense of humor and good cheer, making it a perfect horror pick to get a chill without putting a freeze on your holiday spirit.
A boy who has a bad Christmas accidentally summons a festive demon to his family home.
5 The Nightmare Before Christmas
Directed by Henry Selick
Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? The debate may never end, but to quote a commercial turned meme, why not both? Admittedly, this one is for the kiddos. Adults won't find much to fear in Henry Selick's stunning stop-motion feature, but the whole holiday adventure reimagines Christmas conventions with a love for all things creepy, crawly, and going bump in the night. The truth is, The Nightmare Before Christmas really is a perfect movie for both holidays, bridging the festive spirit between fall and Christmas (especially if my nephew's desire to watch it for three months straight is any indication). It's Christmas in the hands of Halloween lovers and that makes it a delightfully twisted affair, backed by an all-timer soundtrack from Danny Elfman and truly gorgeous animation.
6 Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Directed by Jalmari Helander
Rare Exports is a grisly Santa origin story that serves up Old Saint Nick by way of The Thing. Legend has it that centuries ago the citizens of an Arctic Finnish town were tormented by monsters until they managed to freeze the fearsome creatures in the lake. So terror starts brewing in a local youngster (Onni Tommila) when a secretive drilling team moves in and threatens to unearth what lies beneath. That would be Santa Claus, but you can keep your milk and cookies because this version is a giant, child-thieving beast and his elves aren’t cute in the slightest. They're ferocious, feral (and very naked) old men strong enough to break mental bars, and there's a whole heck of a lot of them. Director Jalmari Helander keeps his zany dark fantasy moving at rapid-fire, building genuine tension throughout, delivering a truly innovative spin on the Santa myth, and sealing it with the cheekiest of endings. Rare Exports is funny, it's frightening, it's refreshingly weird, and it's an instant Christmas horror classic.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 meters deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up. This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus.
- Release Date
- December 3, 2010
- Jalmari Helander
- Per Christian Ellefsen , Peeter Jakobi , Tommi Korpela , Jorma Tommila , Jonathan Hutchings , Onni Tommila
- Main Genre
- This Christmas, everyone will believe in Santa Claus
7 Silent Night, Deadly Night
Directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr.
There's no shortage of Santa slasher films out there, including a pretty damn entertaining if almost unrecognizable remake of this very film, but Silent Night, Deadly Night is the most beloved of the bunch. Well, now it is at any rate. When the film first landed in theaters, it incited a pretty insane uproar. After picketing and critical shaming (most famously and literally by Gene Siskel, who condemned the filmmakers and studio on air), Silent Night, Deadly Night was pulled from theaters after just two weeks. Thankfully, infamy and re-releases have kept Silent Night, Deadly Night on the radar, and it's since earned a spot as a beloved cult classic for its slasherific spin on Santa Claus. The setup is pretty standard stuff for the slasher genre -- a boy witnesses his parents' murder by a man in a Santa suit and, after years of torment by the orphanage's wicked Mother Superior, he blossoms into a full-fledged ho-ho-horrifying serial killer.
8 Christmas Evil
Directed by Lewis Jackson
Christmas Evil, aka You Better Watch Out, takes "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" in a very twisted direction with the tale of Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart), a man who did indeed see his mommy kissing Santa Claus (and then some) as a young boy and grew up to become a murderous Christmas obsessive. But this isn't your average Santa slasher, it's more of a Taxi Driver-style trip through a principled man's mental breakdown; it's just that Harry's principles all revolve around Christmas spirit, and he's hellbent on punishing people who land on his naughty list. Christmas Evil is a strange holiday gem, featuring an equally empathetic and maniacal performance from Maggart, that's somehow both self-serious and dripping with Cheesy Christmas charm.
Directed by Joe Dante
Joe Dante takes on the Christmas season with a healthy dose of his signature humor in Gremlins, the deceitfully adorable creature feature about those fuzzy little Mogwais and the chaos they unearth when you don't follow the rules -- No bright light, don't get water on 'em, and most importantly, never ever feed them after midnight. When that happens, you get a batch of pesky, vicious little Gremlins that will turn your idyllic, Rockwellian Christmas upside down. Voiced by Howie Mandel (yup, that one), Mogwai instantly became a must-have toy for kiddos everywhere; a particularly funny bit of art reflecting life reflecting art considering Dante laid in some slick satire about consumerism and our commercialized Christmas traditions. Alternately a creature feature and family-friendly adventure, Gremlins has the holiday spirit, but much like Mogwai, it secretly packs a big bite.
A young man inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.
10 Black Christmas
Directed by Bob Clark
Before Bob Clark made Christmas wondrous with 1983’s A Christmas Story, he made it terrifying with his 1974 horror classic Black Christmas. Often misattributed as the first slasher film (though it did predate Halloween) but correctly attributed as one of the best of its kind, Black Christmas is classy and subtle, and an impressive exercise in sustained tension. The film stars Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder as two sisters in a sorority house besieged by abusive, pornographic phone calls from a raspy-voiced predator that unfurls as a murder mystery meets house of terrors. When the obscene phone calls escalate to murder, Clark executes the violence with a restrained hand, letting his effective imagery do the heavy lifting with an occasional cheeky indulgence in the holiday trappings — the favorite being when a band of carolers drowns out the sounds of Kidder’s death by ornament. Arguably the Christmas horror movie; Black Christmas is a seasonal must-watch.
Black Christmas (1974)
During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger.
- Release Date
- December 20, 1974
- Bob Clark
- Olivia Hussey , Keir Dullea , Margot Kidder , John Saxon
- 98 minutes
- Main Genre