Let’s face it — 2020 sucked. It feels like we could all use a collective catharsis right now, and what better way to get it than through some good ol’-fashioned gore? Even if you’re not particularly keen on the holidays, you can still end this particularly hellish year with one hell of a season. Instead of throwing caution to the proverbial wind and spending your winter enduring familial terrors, hole up inside and indulge in a different collection of creeps: holiday horror movies.
By now, even if someone hasn’t seen 2015’s Krampus, they’ve at least heard of it, and it’s become the prime example of this season’s horror-flick offerings. But it’s not the first scary Yule movie, and it’s far from the definitive holiday horror choice. There are plenty of winter horror movies to watch during the holiday season when you kind of wish it weren’t the holiday season. So throw a log on the fire, curl up in your favorite festive quilt, and hold on to your mittens — you’re in for all the thrills, chills, and kills this time of the year has to offer.
Black Christmas (1974)
All of the tropes of the infamous slasher genre can be found in this seminal film — and it just so happens to be a holiday movie. Join a group of sorority sisters who, after receiving an ominous phone call consisting of disturbing voices and guttural animal sounds the night of their Christmas party, begin to disappear one by one. The alcoholic house mom and the psychotic pianist boyfriend make this one a fun tryst into Canadian horror. A remake of this classic came out in 2019, but there’s no topping the original. (Streaming on Shudder and YouTube)
Christmas Evil (1980)
What happens when an impressionable child sees Santa Claus kissing his mom’s lower lips on Christmas Eve? He develops an unparalleled Christmas fetish that culminates in a murder spree to protect the sanctity of the holiday, of course. Join factory worker Harry as he decides to take the spirit of the holiday — and an ax — into his hands and kill everyone who doesn’t embrace the selflessness of the season. Plus, Christmas Evil features an identity parade of Santa Clauses that gives the police lineup in The Usual Suspects a run for its money. (Streaming on Shudder)
Who could forget the timeless story of a father gifting his son a mogwai — a cute creature that looks like a bipedal Pekinese — for Christmas, only to have the mogwai reproduce asexually and then dupe the son into letting them chow down after midnight, after which they transform into the infamous gremlins who terrorized pilots during World War II? Highlights include the gremlins holding a bartender captive to drink ad nauseum in a dive bar and that same bartender divulging the horrible truth about why she hates Christmas to Billy, who replies, “Oh.” (Streaming on AMC+)
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is a notoriously bad movie, but bad has never been so fun (or so festive). Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first one — Part 2 revisits the events of the first movie in a series of flashbacks. This movie focuses on Ricky, the brother of the first film’s murderer. The sequel begins in a mental hospital where Ricky is being held after his own run of murders, years after his brother’s. After a brief recap of his and his brother’s exploits, Ricky escapes from the hospital, steals a Santa suit, and the real schlocky fun commences. (Streaming on Shudder and Amazon Prime Video)
Dead End (2003)
If an overt holiday movie isn’t your idea of a good time, try the French movie Dead End. It combines everything that makes the holidays special: a dysfunctional family, romantic partners on vastly different pages about their relationship, and a brother who thinks any time is an appropriate time to masturbate. But the movie doesn’t feature Santa — or his elves.
On a Christmas Eve road trip that never seems to end, two parents, their two adult children, and their daughter’s boyfriend encounter a mysterious woman in white, her unsettling baby, and a continuously reappearing hearse on a dark, abandoned road. Dead End will remind you that sheltering in place is sometimes the best holiday plan you can make. (Streaming on IMDbTV)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
This Finnish film begins with a research team excavating a site in Finland that turns out to be an ancient burial ground — possibly housing the remnants of Santa Claus. When the excavation’s explosions begin disrupting the safety of nearby reindeer slaughterer Rauno’s herd, Rauno approaches the research team, only to find the site vacant, the earth scorched, and a giant pit at the center of it all. From there, Rare Exports gets weirder. After laying traps for the wolves that Rauno assumed the research team provoked, he finds the trap hasn’t ensnared a wolf at all but a thin, naked old man. Is it Santa Claus? In Rare Exports, the answer isn’t that simple. (Streaming on Shudder, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video)
A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
The same year Krampus had its debut, a second comedy-horror film revolving around the anti-Claus came out. This one features William Shatner as an out-of-touch DJ trying to spread non-politically correct holiday — scuse me, Christmas— cheer. With foul-mouthed zombie elves, murderous changelings, and more, these connected vignettes take place in the same town, with varying degrees of separation between characters. A Christmas Horror Story satirizes all of the overly saccharine ensemble holiday movies, which means if a family member broaches watching Love Actually, you can now say you have a similar suggestion. (Streaming on Shudder and Amazon Prime’s Horror TV Channel)
Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
If you’ve ever wondered what a mash-up of Shaun of the Dead and High School Musical would be like, wonder no more. (And if musical numbers sound unappealing, don’t worry, most of the singers die gruesomely.)
Join Anna Shepherd and her ragtag crew of classmates as they try to make it back to the school where their families have taken shelter after a zombie outbreak occurs the night of the high school Christmas show. With high production values, some snappy songs, and plenty of nods to classic zombie and slasher flicks, Anna and the Apocalypse straddles its genres amazingly well. (Streaming on Hulu)