You’d think horror and Christmas wouldn’t mix very well seeing as one is a genre specifically designed to pray on our worst fears and the other is considered the jolliest time of the year. Surprisingly though the holiday has been the subject of numerous horror-themed cinematic efforts even courting controversy in some cases by corrupting elements of a holiday usually reserved for peace on earth and good will toward men. Many others before me have compiled lists of the best Christmas-themed horror movies so in honor of the upcoming holiday, and continuing my theme of Christmas lists for December 2020, I thought I’d give it a crack myself and present my favorite spooky films that use Christmas as their setting. These are my picks for the Top 10 Christmas Horror Movies
For this list I considered any horror movie that uses Christmas as its setting as well as movies that might not be particularly terrifying but embraced a horror-themed edge in their presentation. When putting this list together I rated these movie based on which ones I felt were the most fun and best combined the Christmas season with horror ideas. Animated movies were excluded so no “Nightmare Before Christmas” here as that’s less a horror movie and more a subversive take on the holiday.
As always there are plenty of films I didn’t include on this list either because I haven’t watched them myself or I didn’t think they were better or more memorable than the ten I picked here. So if I missed your favorite let me know in the comments below.
10. “Christmas Evil”
Starting off the list is one of the earliest movies to embrace the evil Santa trope, if not THE earliest. Somehow avoiding much of the controversy later Santa-themed horror pictures would suffer, “Christmas Evil” follows a deranged man who, traumatized by a childhood experience, becomes obsessed with Santa Claus and goes on a murderous rampage dressed as the holiday icon. “Christmas Evil” might not be a masterpiece, but it hits all the right notes with campy, B-movie style kills and plenty of Christmas theming. It completely owns the murderous Santa concept effectively starting a trend that still remains today in lower budget horror. Many movies have tried but failed to capture the same charm this movie embraced especially sense it adds unique context to the murderer’s insanity. While its successors may have polished the idea, “Christmas Evil” is the O.G. evil Santa cult classic.
9. “Silent Night, Deadly Night”
On most lists like this “Silent Night, Deadly Night” would crack the top five, but on my list it just makes the top ten. This 1984 slasher film took what “Christmas Evil” started and perfected it. The movie follows Billy Chapman who witnesses a Santa-clad killer murder his parents leaving him with a permanent phobia of the Christmas figure. He is also forced to stay in an orphanage with a Mother Superior who enforces that the naughty must be punished. When Billy grows up, he takes a job at a toy store where he reluctantly takes on the role of Santa eventually leading to a mental breakdown causing him to embark on a murder spree to punish those being bad on Christmas. The film was famously pulled from theaters due to parental backlash, but over the years has earned a cult following and become a franchise. Bloody, gruesome and fun in the ways all good slashers should be, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” is a memorable bit of legendary holiday horror.
8. “The Lodge”
The newest film on this list, released just this year in fact, “The Lodge” isn’t all about Christmas but it’s set during the holiday and serves as a source of commentary about the religion that is most associated with Christmas, Christianity, as well as the difficulties of a stepparent fitting in. Grace is the sole survivor of a Christian cult who all committed mass suicide and is spending Christmas in an isolated cabin with her new husband and his kids. When her husband leaves for a work obligation Grace is left alone with the kids but what should be a bonding session set around the holidays turns into a nightmare as Grace finds herself caught in what appears to be limbo. This slow burn fully embraces the anxiety that comes with trying to fit in as a stepparent and while it might not SCREAM Christmas “The Lodge” contains enough holiday-esque ideas to count as a fitting entry in the holiday horror genre.
7. “Better Watch Out”
A fun horror gem from 2016, “Better Watch Out” is one of those movies that leads you in one direction before pulling the rug out from under you and taking you on a totally different path. To go into too much detail about the film would ruin it for those who haven’t experienced it yet but basically the movie revolves around babysitter Ashley and the boy she is watching, 12-year-old Luke , around Christmas time. The two fall victim to a mysterious home invader who clearly has violent intentions but when the truth is revealed things take a much darker turn. Touted as a horror version of “Home Alone”, and even directly referencing the movie in one gruesome scene, “Better Watch Out” is a memorable twist on the home invasion concept with a little Christmas spirit mixed in for some spice. It’s a movie where you’re better off going in blind the first time to get the full effect but also contains enough charm and energy to warrant seasonal rewatches.
6. “A Christmas Horror Story”
This anthology horror film from 2015 tells four horrifying tales all set during Christmas and tied together by a drunken DJ played by William Shatner who serves as the framing devise for the narrative. The four stories involve students investigating a haunting at their school, a family being hunted by Krampus, a married couple whose child may not be what he seems and Santa Claus battling an army of undead elves. Needless to say, it’s a whole lot of fun. Instead of presenting each story by themselves, the tales are interwoven together playing out apart from each other but also at the same time making for a chaotic but engaging presentation and keeping us on our toes. The final story about Santa and his zombie elves is my personal favorite, especially due to the dark revelation at the story’s conclusion, but all of these tales have potential to be a movie all their own and seeing them together in such a tightly woven package makes for a deserving Christmas horror classic.
5. “Anna and the Apocalypse”
It’s a Christmas-zombie-horror-musical. Let that sink in. “Anna and the Apocalypse” has become a new must-watch Christmas tradition for me with catchy songs, memorable characters and just enough self-awareness to keep it from being campy but also prevent it from taking itself too seriously. Following the titular Anna and her friends who attempt to survive the dawn of a zombie apocalypse during Christmas time, “Anna and the Apocalypse” is often called a blend of “La La Land” and “Shaun of the Dead” which, to me, is a pretty accurate description mixing the bubbly nature and drama of the Oscar winning musical with the comedic zombie-themed elements of Edgar Wright’s famed comedy. While it’s often written off as gimmicky and not everyone appreciates the mix of genres, for me this film is a brilliant piece of inspired filmmaking that is just to charming not to recommend. Plus, I love the soundtrack even if it is a little bit “High School Musical”-ish.
4. “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale”
Coming to us all the way from Finland, “Rare Exports” is a horror gem that takes the idea of Santa in a much darker direction than the Coke Claus we’ve all come to know and love. Based on a pair of short films from the mid-2000s, “Rare Exports” follows young Pietari and his father who discover a strange old man in their village after an American excavating crew makes a discovery in a nearby mountain. They soon learn the man may be connected to the real-life Santa Claus who, himself, isn’t the jolly gift giver we’ve all come to celebrate. Heavily inspired by the tale of Joulupukki, and even incorporating the mythology into its narrative, “Rare Exports” keeps a brisk pace and subverts everything we know about Santa in a way that past movies had yet to truly explore. It’s not without its sincere moments of Christmas joy however, as it also serves as a father-son bonding tale. “Rare Exports” is a delightful blend of dry comedy, fantasy horror and Christmas lore making for one of the most unique entries on this list.
A classic of the 80s, “Gremlins” is a Christmas themed comedy-horror that, frankly, feels fitting to watch any time of the year. Introducing the world to fan-favorite Gizmo, the story revolves around a young man named Billy who is gifted the furry mogwai for the holidays. Upon breaking the rules of not getting him wet and not feeding him after midnight, Billy inadvertently causes Gizmo to multiply with the offspring evolving into deadly gremlins that wreak havoc on their small town. Possessing a perfect blend of dark comedy and genuine horror, “Gremlins” contains a campy charm and plenty of holiday cheer to offset its dark atmosphere and horrifying titular monsters. It also famously played a role in the MPAA establishing the PG-13 rating helping set the standard for what a tasteful, family friendly horror movie could be. Whether you see it as a Christmas classic or just a classic that takes place during Christmas there’s no denying “Gremlins” is a fun way to subvert the joy of the holiday.
Known by many as the anti-Santa, Krampus has become a go-to horror figure for the holidays and in 2015 he was truly a hot commodity being featured in both “A Christmas Horror Story” and this movie directed by “Trick ‘r Treat’s” Michael Dougherty. The opening of this movie is legendary, showing the dark commercialism of the Christmas holiday overlaid with a classic holiday song of positivity. From there the movie follows a young boy named Max who inadvertently summons the titular creature after a fight with his family a few days prior to Christmas. The rest of the film is a blend of dark comedy and horror (which is kind of a theme of this list I guess) that perfectly fits Dougherty’s style and introduces us to numerous memorable creatures like the demonic Der Klown Jack-in-the-box and the living gingerbread men who often overshadow Krampus himself. “Krampus” might not be a five-star effort, but its blend of genres and its mainstream take on a popular symbol of Christmas counterculture have made it a deserving modern classic around the holidays.
1. “Black Christmas”
It’s not a very inspired number one pick, but I can’t deny what many have already said. “Black Christmas” remains the quintessential holiday horror classic that set the bar for every movie on this list as well as the slasher genre as a whole. I even named it the best slasher film of all time a while back. Pioneering many cliches that would go on to define slashers, “Black Christmas” is to Christmas was “Halloween” has become to, well, Halloween as it follows a sorority haunted by a killer who, unbeknownst to them, lives in their attic. It also plays off the tale of “the babysitter and the man upstairs” adding a nice twist to the final act that has become nothing short of legendary. “Black Christmas” is still frighteningly good even by today’s standards and takes full advantage of its holiday theming without going to far with the idea. Its legacy has even led it to be remade several times, but none of the newer versions hold a candle to the original which for me and countless others remains the go-to horror classic for the holidays.