It’s that time of year again: The temperature is dropping, festive decorations are going up, e-commerce platforms have slashed prices for Cyber Monday — the holiday season has arrived. While the rest of the world seems to be gearing up for Christmas, there are those who might be less than enthused when it comes to snowflakes and string lights. If you’re not a fan of winter — or if you’re simply missing Spooky Season — don’t resign yourself to yuletide cheer quite yet. There are plenty of Christmas horror movies to watch when you’re craving more Krampus and less jolly old Saint Nick.
Whether it’s watching mall Santas killing or being killed, elves engaging in neo-Nazi conspiracies, or the terror of family members turning on one another, you have options when it comes to holiday horrors. So throw a log on the fire, curl up in your favorite festive quilt, and hold onto your mittens — you’re in for all the thrills, chills, and kills this time of year has to offer.
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Based on Richard Matheson’s 1971 horror novel, Hell House, The Legend of Hell House kicks off a week before Christmas Eve when a group of researchers opt to spend the lead-up to the holiday in a haunted house. Specifically, this house belonged to an alleged murderer and “sadist” thought to have retained the spirits of his victims within the confines of his walls. A prior cohort of researchers “inexplicably” died during the last attempted investigation of the property — and the only survivor has opted to come back to solve the mystery.
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.
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.
To All a Goodnight (1980)
A remote all-girls school about to go on winter break? Check. A party thrown while the head of the school is gone for the holidays? Check. A group of boys crashes the party and suddenly a maniac in ol’ Saint Nick garb starts slaughtering co-eds? Check and check. Another “guy in a Santa Claus costume goes on a killing spree,” To All a Goodnight is notable for being the worst “guy in a Santa Claus costume goes on a killing spree.” We have over-the-top acting, ridiculous kills, and a nuts final sequence that lacks some internal logic. Who knew bad could be such a good time?
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.”
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is a notoriously bad movie, but bad has never been 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.
As December rolls around, it’s time for anti-Christmas teenagers to hold pagan rituals in the woods and accidentally summon a demonic Christmas elf hell-bent on bringing Hitler’s vision to life — a vision that actually included a eugenic plot to create a half-human, half-elf master race. Luckily, Dan Haggerty (you may know him as Grizzly Adams) plays a disgraced ex-cop turned department-store Santa and is ready to redeem himself by killing some Nazi elves. Not a great movie in the traditional sense, but a great Christmas movie that teaches the most important lesson of all: Nazis are always the enemy.
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.
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.
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.
Red Christmas (2016)
This Australian horror film boasts genre favorite Dee Wallace — whom you probably know from The Howling (1981), Cujo (1983), The Frighteners (1996), or many, many other outings — as the matriarch Diane and focuses on the truly most terrifying part of the holidays: family secrets. Diane’s past comes back to haunt her when a mysterious man appears at a family holiday gathering to exact revenge — and reveal his familial ties. Not for the faint of heart, the “red” in this movie’s title is rightly earned — you’ve never enjoyed watching an entire family be slaughtered this much.
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.
The Lodge (2019)
Let’s just call it like it is: Kids can be freaky. They’re especially freaky when they’re your newly minted stepkids who hate you since their father (Richard Armitage) left their mother (Alicia Silverstone) for you and then she died by suicide. Also, you’re trapped in a remote locale during a snowed-in holiday, and your husband must leave you all on short notice to attend to a work emergency. The premise alone will leave you uneasy, and it only intensifies with the revelation of the stepmom’s (played by Riley Keough) horrific past and cultish father. But also, these kids are little shits.
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Episode 4 – “The Outside” (2022)
In the same vein as the 1960 television show the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Netflix’s new anthology series tells tales of horror, often featuring great creature design, hosted by the master of creatures himself, Guillermo del Toro. Though “The Outside” is technically a television episode, we’re going to consider this hour-long entry directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Bad Batch) as a short movie for the sake of this list. This particular story centers around a co-worker holiday party gone wrong.
Kate Micucci, from the folk-rock-comedy duo Garfunkel and Oats, stars as Stacey, a quirky woman who loves taxidermy. Her boyfriend, Keith (Martin Starr), not-so-secretly wishes she could join the ranks of the other bank tellers — gregarious and gossipy women ultra-focused on outward appearances. An invitation to the clique leader’s Secret Santa party, plus the gift of a mysterious lotion, sends Stacey on a downward spiral too bonkers to believe. In typical horror fashion, be careful what you wish for.
Violent Night (2022)
Technically an action-comedy, Violent Night qualifies for this list by the sheer number of graphic kills that take place during its 107-minute run time. From the producers of John Wick, which should surprise no one, Violent Night stars David Harbour as a particularly murderous Santa Claus defending an estate against a team of thieving mercenaries who break in, take the family hostage, and slay the house staff on Christmas Eve. With weapons including an icicle, sledgehammer, and chimney, Santa uses all the accoutrements of the season to prove he is, indeed, real — real deadly.
It’s a Wonderful Knife (2023)
Starring Cassandra Naud, whom you may know from Shudder’s 2022 horror film Influencer, as well as genre favorites Justin Long, Katharine Isabelle, and Yellowjackets’ Jane Widdop, It’s a Wonderful Knife answers the question, “Would the world be better off if I had never been born?” with “No, a lot of people would have died at the hands of a serial killer, actually.” Definitely leaning more comedic than scary, It’s a Wonderful Knife still serves several seasonal slashings that’ll make you reconsider if all angels deserve their wings.
A Creature Was Stirring (2023)
In this wintry offering, two strangers break into a house to escape a Christmas blizzard and encounter an overprotective mother and otherworldly daughter who give Stephen King’s Carrie and her zealot mom a run for their money. The mother is a nurse who keeps her daughter locked in her room and lethargic on methadone to keep her mystery “illness” at bay. Naturally, there’s more to the daughter’s ailment — and the mother — than meets the eye. From the director of The Cleansing Hour, Damien LeVeck, this one promises more twists than a defective candy cane.
Available on demand beginning December 12.