The Christmas season is a beautiful time of year, covered in bright lights, tinsel, and full with good cheer. It’s a time for bringing joy and happiness to those around you.
However, this borderline obsession with positivity makes Christmas the perfect backdrop for horror movies. It’s almost too easy to shatter that perceived perfection of the most wonderful time of the year.
Blood splatters sparkling snow; old Saint Nick brings an axe down on his victims’ heads; Christmas lights are used as strangulation methods; meaningful gifts turn into murderous machines. These films are able to weaponise the best parts of the holiday season and make them feel unsafe and horrifying.
Some of the best examples are films that make Santa Claus evil, or involve a character dressing as the jolly old man in red. He is the mascot of Christmas, the person who brings toys and presents to all of the good children around the world.
Yet, he is invading millions of homes which in itself feels horrific, but it’s okay because he’s Santa; he would never violate our trust.
Filmmakers take that inherent trust of the fictional figure and swap out the toys for knives. He may not be giving out gifts, but he sure is dishing out the pain.
This is what horror does so well: it takes things that are seen as sacred and beloved, and makes them perverse. Filmmakers in the genre want to interrogate this time of year and its darker sides to make a statement not just about the capitalistic desires inherent to the holiday, but to how easily shattered the joy of Christmas can be.
These ten horror films are then the perfect additions to your holiday viewing, from gory and nihilistic to more light-hearted horror comedies.
But they all share a bloody vision of the festive season, one where a warm fireplace and a cup of hot cocoa can’t keep you safe.
This holiday horror creature feature made the world fall in love with the mogwai, fictional fuzzy creatures with big ears, big eyes, and an important set of rules: don’t expose them to bright light, don’t feed them after midnight, and don’t get them wet.
So of course when Billy receives one as a Christmas gift, he breaks the rules and unleashes a horde of chaos-loving monsters bent on destroying his small town.
Besides Christmas being quite literally ruined by the evil gremlins, there’s one particularly upsetting scene that addresses a much darker side of the holiday. Billy is walking with his love interest, Kate, as she tells the story of why she hates Christmas, which involves her father’s death while trying to climb down the chimney dressed as Santa.
While the violence of these creatures is shocking, something about this quiet moment in the snow makes Gremlins feel like more than a darkly comedic monster movie.
Black Christmas (1974)
Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ like a deranged killer making frequent phone calls to a sorority house, threatening violence and speaking as multiple characters.
The sorority sisters have been dealing with this creep for days, but write him off as just a pervert. Little do they know that this creep, Billy, is more than just a voice on the other end.
Black Christmas is perhaps one of the best Christmas horror movies, brutal yet soaked in the warm colours of Christmas lights and warm fires. It presents an uneasy tension as the joyful imagery we’re accustomed to becomes the backdrop for horrific murder.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
This Finnish horror film completely reimagines Santa Claus as not a benevolent figure, but rather as an ancient evil released from an underground tomb by a secret drilling operation.
The release of Santa is not immediate, but one brought about with the slaughtering of reindeer by his elves. But these are not the sweet creatures dressed in red and green; these are naked old men who want blood.
Rare Exports is such an amazing twist on the Christmas horror movie as it rewrites the mythology of Santa. Santa isn’t just a serial killer, but a monstrosity that was hidden away for hundreds of years, almost like some kind of cosmic horror.
This unique holiday movie is a must-see on any Christmas watchlist.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Christmas isn’t everyone’s favourite time of year and in turn can come with a fair share of trauma. This is the case for Billy in Silent Night, Deadly Night, whose experience with Catholicism has led him to have a mental breakdown after having to serve as his store’s Santa Claus.
Then, on Christmas Eve, dressed in that Santa Claus outfit, he sets off on a murderous rampage.
We know that Santa gives out lumps of coal to those who misbehave, but Billy’s version of Santa Claus murders those he perceives as wicked. This includes bullies, sexual active teens, and drunken bosses. You’ll really want to stay off this naughty list.
Krampus is a horned figure from Eastern European folklore. He is the anti-Santa Claus, the figure that punishes the bad children while Saint Nick rewards the good ones.
The film Krampus takes this legend and creates a new version of the story, which includes devilish gingerbread men and blood-thirsty toys.
Max is a young boy who loves Christmas and still believes in Santa. He embodies the holiday spirit and can’t wait for it. That is, until his dysfunctional family discourages him to the point that he loses that spirit. He no longer sees this as a joyful time as his family can’t stop fighting for even one minute to enjoy each other’s company.
With that last flicker of belief snuffed out, Krampus arrives at their house, coming to claim non-believers and send them to hell. No one is safe and those cute little cookies arranged on a plate are out for blood.
If gore is what you want in your Christmas horror, then look no farther than the New French extremity film Inside. This movie is part of a movement in French horror cinema that focuses on nihilism and the complete destruction of the human body. So you can imagine that Inside is not going to be an uplifting holiday film with a happy ending.
Sarah is pregnant and newly widowed after a car accident kills her husband. She is all alone on Christmas Eve, the day before her due date. As she makes her final preparations for the baby’s arrival, a strange woman appears on her doorstep asking to use her phone.
Sarah eventually realises this woman has been stalking her and wants to steal the baby out of her womb. What follows is a battle full of shocking and increasingly violent deaths. Inside takes the joys of both Christmas and a new baby and completely decimates them.
Anna And The Apocalypse (2018)
Anna And The Apocalypse is a zombie horror-comedy musical, which should be enough to convince you to watch it. It is imbued with that sense of holiday joy while also showing brutal zombie deaths with giant candy canes and bowling pins.
One day, Anna wakes up and discovers that it is the zombie apocalypse. She and her friends band together to survive, all while decked in ugly Christmas sweaters, singing their hearts out, and dancing like their lives depend on it.
It is perhaps one of the happiest Christmas horror films available, giving you a lovely balance of blood and merriment.
The Lodge (2020)
Do you dread spending time with your family over the holidays? Well, The Lodge may make you feel a little better about your family drama as it tells a bleak tale of manipulation in the middle of nowhere.
Grace is left on her own with her boyfriend’s two kids in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a snowstorm. While she tries her best to set up Christmas decorations and get to know them, something sinister is happening. The power goes out, her dog disappears, all of her clothes and the decorations also go missing.
The Lodge is freezing, literally and figuratively, and will leave you feeling hollow. It is truly the antithesis to the typical holiday film.
Christmas Evil (1980)
Similar to Silent Night, Deadly Night, Christmas Evil follows Harry, an ordinary man who takes it upon himself to determine who is naughty and who is nice.
He spies on his neighbours to make his list, he sleeps in a Santa outfit, and his home is always decorated for Christmas. He truly believes he has inherited the position as the next Santa Claus and he doesn’t want to disappoint.
But he goes beyond bags of coal and begins to use toys as murder weapons against those he deems bad. He does still leave gifts for children, which makes him perhaps one of the strangest and even saddest portrayals of the man in red.
Better Watch Out (2017)
Like Home Alone meets The Strangers, Better Watch Out is a rollercoaster of a Christmas home invasion movie that will make you both laugh and scream.
17-year-old Ashley is babysitting a young boy named Luke over the holidays. Luke has a crush on Ashley and wants to try and win her heart. However, someone is trying to break into the house and the two must protect each other from the intruders.
Better Watch Out is another example of a quiet suburban Christmas being shattered by violence. The security brought by Christmas lights and goodwill is an illusion, and films like this prove it.