Christmas Horror Movies Are Exactly What We Need at the End of 2020!
Horror is the clear theme of 2020, why not lean all the way into it with the joys of Christmas horror.
If you’re staying home and forgoing the usual family festivities this year — like you should be — then you probably have some extra time on your hands this Christmas. And what with horror being the clear theme of 2020, why not lean all the way into it and celebrate the season with the many joys of Christmas horror movies.
This may surprise you [or maybe it won’t, I don’t know your life], but Christmas and horror actually go hand in hand. After all, Krampus is older than Saint Nicholas, and probably older than Christmas. I mean, he’s a horned, fork-tongued, sharp fanged goat-man who wants to whip naughty children with a birch stick as a best case scenario, or put them in a bag to steal them away and eat them in the darker versions. If that’s not horror, I don’t know what is.
I can assure you that there will never be a shortage of horror (and horror-lite) Christmas movies to choose from. This is but a few of my favorites, and a tiny sampling of all the many titles out there. Whether you’re in the mood for family-friendly, downright terrifying, deeply disturbing, or some relentlessly schlocky B-horror (and to be honest, some C to Z-horror, too), there’s something under the tree for you if you’re looking to swap your sleigh for some slay.
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I watched ‘Christmas Evil’ — originally titled ‘You Better Watch Out’ — purely because of this post. My previous experience with Christmas horror was slim, and writing this was a fun way to dive into the hyper-specific subgenre. Many of the movies I watched, none of which shall be named, were hot garbage. ‘Christmas Evil,’ on the other hand, brought me an unexpected bit of Christmas cheer.
I was quite surprised how good this movie was. It’s not that I thought the film wouldn’t be entertaining, I just expected nothing more than a generic late 70s/early 80s-style slasher film, with a killer dressed as Santa. Turns out, that assumption proved patently untrue.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is most definitely a dated, low-budget horror movie, with plenty of the obligatory silliness, but it’s also so much more than that. Unlike a generic slasher film, the story’s jollily-clad murderer is the protagonist, not an evil foil who continues to emerge from the shadows and pick off victims one by one.
Brandon Maggart plays Harry, a profoundly troubled, Christmas-obsessed man, stuck in a mire of arrested development and rage, and his performance becomes increasingly captivating and layered as the character grows more desperate and unhinged.
While never making Harry a hero, his point of view still accurately skewers the way a season of kindness, charity, generosity, and childlike wonder has transformed into a transparently cynical excuse for exploitation, materialism, and greed.
‘Christmas Evil’ is an underrated low-budget horror classic.
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The Nightmare Before Christmas
As I’ve written before, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ somehow seamlessly combines Halloween and Christmas into a single glorious whole.
Henry Selick’s stop motion musical masterpiece is darkly enchanting and genuinely creepy, telling an earnestly hopeful story that fits right in with the Christmas ethos, while remaining unflinchingly macabre.
It’s a moving story of identity, disillusionment, curiosity, and discovery, that has made Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, into one of the all-time great characters of both Halloween and Christmas.
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Forget the ‘Christmas horror’ qualifier, ‘Black Christmas’ belongs in the upper echelons of the greater horror canon.
‘Halloween’ is — quite appropriately— revered for it’s significance to the genre as a whole, and to the creation of the slasher subgenre. But the substantial debt ‘Halloween’ owes to ‘Black Christmas’ is too often overlooked. [Granted, all of it comes from Italy’s giallo cinema, but that’s a different post altogether.]
Watch ‘Halloween’ and ‘Black Christmas’ in the same weekend and you’ll see what I’m talking about. If ‘Halloween’ is the father of the slasher subgenre, ‘Black Christmas’ is the sick, psychopathic grandfather, and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Oh, and five gold rings in honor of the fact that the killer is terrorizing a sorority house, yet there isn’t a single instance of leering voyeurism or stylized sexual violence. No creepy shots through open curtains as a woman gets undressed, no murder the moment two students disrobe at the start an inept sexual encounter. Actually, no nudity at all! In the 70s! How is this a thing?
‘Black Christmas’ forgoes the objectification, and instead uses that time to create a side-villain out of the shitty, misogynistic boyfriend who thinks he should be able to force his girlfriend to keep their baby.
‘Black Christmas’ is solid.
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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
This one is an underseen gem — most likely because it’s almost entirely in Finnish, and too many people shy away from subtitles.
‘Rare Exports’ is fondly reminiscent of an 80s family horror film. The sort that, by today’s standards, is too dark and weird to be seen as appropriate for younger audiences, but was once watched by kids of all ages, because the 80s. [See below: Gremlins.]
But don’t misunderstand, the movie is by no means a nostalgic pastiche of that classic subgenre. Writer-director Jalmari Helander took the blueprint of the ‘adorable kid fights evil because he’s the only one who knows what’s really happening and no one will believe him’ movie, and used it to create an entirely unique, dark, super-weird Christmas horror movie.
If you can roll with subtitles, you should definitely watch ‘Rare Exports.’
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‘Gremlins’ is an all-time classic, and a healthy part of a balanced, nutritious Christmas. With its fantastic practical effects, dark sense of humor, and twistedly playful and original premise, the film stands up just as well now as it did in 1984.
Upon its initial release, national parental watchdog groups weren’t amused. The PG-rated ‘Gremlins,’ along with its 1984 cohort ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,’ led to the MPAA’s creation the PG13 rating — which was created and instituted in two months! All because of some intense, anti-fun panic.
My family didn’t get the memo, and let me watch it a few years later. I was five or six years old at the time, and all the alarmist fears came true. The film profoundly scarred my young psyche, and I grew up to become a psychopath who puts pets in microwaves and blows up movie theaters on the reg.
Either that, or I watched one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made and a great time was had by all.
In truth, it made a different sort of lasting impact. ‘Gremlins,’ didn’t ensure that visions of blood splatters danced in my head when I lay down on Christmas Eve, but was instead one of the earliest experiences that taught me movies are magic. The fact that someone could dream up Gizmo, then bring him to life in the middle of my grandma’s living room, left an indelible mark on my young mind. It helped feed the fire of my burgeoning obsession with cinema, and I’ve never recovered.
For real, though. Gizmo driving around the department store in a Barbie corvette during the final battle with Stripe was very nearly too mind-blowingly amazing for my six-year-old brain to handle.
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Bonus: The Wolf of Snow Hollow
Released earlier this year, ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ definitely isn’t a Christmas movie. However, it is very much a winter movie. I’m throwing it on here as a bonus because it will inevitably slide under the radar of the general populace, and it deserves better.
Much like writer-director-star Jim Cummings’s previous underseen film, ‘Thunder Road,’ ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’s’ tone and sensibility is uniquely his own. The emotional beats swing back and forth between absurd and poignant, and the characters play even the broadest comedic bits with deadpan earnest. The result is a movie that doesn’t feel like anything else out there, certainly not like any other werewolf movie.
In Cummings’s central character, it’s refreshing to see a portrayal of male rage as the transparent emotional immaturity it really is. While it’s clearly rooted in the character’s genuine need to feel seen, validated, and loved, it’s never condoned or fetishized. The oversized anger John shares with so many men — myself included — is absurd, not some sort of misguided superpower. In the end, it’s part of the reason he is neither the hero, nor the villain, of the story. Yet, the films lacks the self-seriousness that would make its takedown of toxic masculinity that never feels preachy.