Celluloid Diaries: Scary Christmas movies to watch during the holidays

Monday, November 13, 2017

Scary Christmas movies to watch during the holidays

scary christmas movies

The time has arrived to start watching Christmas films. Are you bored of the usual fare of romance and comedy? Do you like your Christmas movies with hints of terror or blood?

Then you might want to check out the nearly 200 (!) Christmas horror movies featured in the new book Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television which is now available for pre-order. This comprehensive compendium unwraps the true meaning of films featuring everyone from the Krampus and Scrooge to killer snowmen and evil elves. It contains essays and reviews by acclaimed authors such as Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women), Amanda Reyes (Are You in The House Alone?), Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA), Mike Gingold (Fangoria), Owen Williams (Empire), and more.

To celebrate the occasion, seven writers from Yuletide Terror - Mike Gingold, Kier-La Janisse, Paul Corupe, Leslie Hatton, Owen Williams, Alexandra West, and Diane Rogers - share their favorites and why they should be on everyone's list of Christmas horror movies to watch.

The films are in no particular order, but we saved everyone's favorite for last. Can you guess which one it is?

Better Watch Out (2016)

Mike Gingold: "This a new favorite that perfectly melds morbid humor with chilling tension and a series of unexpected developments; it's kind of a horror version of Home Alone and a much better film."

A Christmas Carol (1971)

Kier-La Janisse: "Richard Williams is probably the world’s greatest living animator and his version utilizes a lot of the scary imagery from Dickens’ text that many other versions tone down or skip altogether. There are a few great versions of A Christmas Carol – the Clive Donner one with George C Scott also focuses on some terrifying imagery – but the Richard Williams one is a personal fave because I’m huge fan of his work."

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

Paul Corupe: "The nastiest St. Nick slasher of them all, this British effort has an unknown killer taking out local blokes clad in Santa costumes in grotesque ways. A wholly unpleasant exploitation film entry from notorious sleaze producer Dick Randall."

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Owen Williams: "Cards on the table, I don’t actually think this is much good – and I sort of prefer the remake with Malcolm McDowell. But I just find it fascinating historically. It was released around the same time as the original Elm Street and was actually doing better until it was pulled from cinemas (for being an abuse of the spirit of Christmas!). And then it somehow becomes a franchise, with sequels directed by Brian Yuzna and Monte fucking Hellman, of all people. And the fifth one’s a sort of version of Pinocchio with Mickey Rooney as Gepetto. I mean, what?"

Christmas Evil (1980)

Mike Gingold: "Never mind Silent Night, Deadly Night—this is the killer-Santa movie to beat, with great oddball atmosphere and a genuine character study underlying the mayhem that results when a man decides to make his own violent judgments of who's naughty and nice."

Elves (1989)

Paul Corupe: "Elves flips the well-known story of Jesus' manger birth as an evil troll-like elf tries to mate with a human female to give birth to a new master race on Christmas morn. Luckily, Dan Haggerty--Grizzly Adams himself--is on hand as a local mall Santa who foils this insane Nazi plot with a few well-placed punches."

A l'interieur (2007)

Leslie Hatton: "The most subversive Christmas film I can think of and certainly the most terrifying."

Gremlins (1984)

Mike Gingold: "Even at a young age, I walked in expecting something anarchic from Joe Dante—but still wasn't ready for the gleeful skewering of the Yuletide spirit running through the monster mayhem, particularly Phoebe Cates' memorable monologue."

Owen Williams: "I feel like this is a really boring, obvious choice. But it’s also one of those films that’s actually as good as it’s cracked up to be, which is why it always makes these lists. Gremlins is actually performing a very difficult balancing act of being sort of gleefully nasty but also genuinely good-humored, with quite a sweet relationship at its center. Those things shouldn’t mesh but somehow they do. It’s also genuinely anarchic. That’s one of those words that gets bandied about and misused, but there’s something just properly loony about having these hundreds of insane creatures crashing around on what’s essentially the set of It’s A Wonderful Life. And the rules don’t make sense, which is also pleasingly weird. Water makes them multiply but snow doesn’t: apparently, frozen water is okay. And it’s always after midnight! When does “after midnight” stop? Noon? What does it mean? Gremlins also has a purely personal frisson of the forbidden for me. I was nine when it came out, and my cousin Steve, who’s about the same age as me, had some of his little friends over to watch it on video for his birthday party, and they were all completely traumatized by it. One of the kids kept having to be taken out of the room. So my aunt then reports back on this horrifying movie to my mother, with the result that I wasn’t allowed to see it for ages. I was probably 12 when I eventually saw it, and it had that slight thrill of being something you’re not really allowed to be watching. That’s embedded in my psyche now, so I still get a distant echo of that when I watch it. My favorite bit is a really small moment when the record player is playing Do You Hear What I Hear and Billy’s mum is looking for Stripe, and his shadow creeps up the wall and then slinks away again.  I love Critters too, but that one’s not set at Christmas."

Dead of Night (1945)

Owen Williams: "This is a portmanteau, and everyone remembers the ventriloquist’s dummy story. But there’s also a great sequence at a children’s Christmas party, where the girl protagonist meets a little boy while she’s looking for a place to hide in a game of hide-and-seek. She later learns that the boy can’t have existed and is part of the dark history of the house, and her moment of realization about what she’s actually seen is beautifully and harrowingly played. It also works well that the boy isn’t obviously ghost-like. He’s not transparent or made up to look ghastly or anything. He’s just a little kid. Incidentally, I think I’m right in saying this segment was entirely omitted from the original American release (simply to get the length down). I’m sure it’s included in modern US editions though."

Sint (2010)

Leslie Hatton: "Sint is a ridiculous Christmas horror film that manages to be funny and creepy at the same time."

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Paul Corupe: "The And All Through The House segment of this horror anthology, based on the original EC Comics story, features one of the first films about a maniacal Santa killer loose in the house, who goes after a woman (Joan Collins) who has just disposed of her husband."

Tales From the Third Dimension (1984)

Paul Corupe: "Another horror anthology that features a holiday story, Visions of Sugar-Plum is a darkly humorous tale about a pair of precocious kids left with their insane grandmother in the days before Christmas. As she tries to bump them off in various ways, finally chasing them around with a shotgun on Christmas Eve, it's up to the big man in the red suit to save them."

Rare Exports (2010)

Owen Williams: "I love this. I love that what appear to be evil Santas are actually Santa’s elves, and the big bad Santa himself is a creature you never actually see. You just glimpse a vague shape frozen in a block of ice, with massive horns sticking out. Although they’re very different, this is another one like Gremlins that’s somehow funny and sweet and scary and vicious all at once."

Scrooged (1988)

Diane Rogers: "I have to watch Scrooged every year; even though it's about thirty years old now. I remember seeing it at the cinema and still think it's an excellent updating of the Dickens classic.  Although only a '12' rating, it's genuinely creepy in places (the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come having a blank, fizzling TV screen for a face remains a perfect figure of fear for the Black Mirror generation), Bill Murray is in his prime as a TV executive obsessed with ratings, trying to terrify audiences into watching his network's Christmas TV special and it even has David Johansen from the New York Dolls as a ghostly cab driver, what's not to love?  It manages to soften my cynical heart every time with genuine pleas from Bill Murray direct to camera about generally being nice to other humans, of which I think Dickens would approve."

The Spirit of Christmas (1992)

Mike Gingold: "The first of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's two animated shorts, pitting suburban kids against a killer snowman, is just as funny as any episode of the South Park series they spawned years later."

Black Christmas (1974)

Alexandra West: "I could probably spend a week talking about why I love the original Black Christmas, from the characters to the physical setting to the inherent dread that Bob Clark builds up over the film's 100 minutes run time, I love it all. But what sticks with me about the film in respect to Christmas is how it deals with characters hovering around the fringe of adulthood, no longer consumed with a child-like excitement of Christmas and forging their own ways, the holiday provides a daunting timeline for making plans, decisions, and connections to those around you who might notice if you go missing."

Paul Corupe: "Director Bob Clark's Canadian-shot proto-slasher features a truly chilling atmosphere and surprisingly rounded characters in the tale of an evil presence who hides in a sorority house attic and plagues his potential victims with rambling, obscene phone calls."

Owen Williams: "Writing this quickly, and from memory, I’m not sure Christmas actually plays any meaningful role in this movie. It’s the reason the sorority is winding down and unusually quiet, I guess, but that would have worked for any holiday. But Christmas gives it its atmosphere. It’s like it can poach the vibe of a classy Victorian ghost story by being set at Christmas, even though it’s a pretty standard slasher at heart. What I think really works, the aspect that’s really memorable, is the phone calls from the psycho, screeching what appears to be gibberish in loads of different voices. The moment where you start piecing together that there’s actually a narrative being related to those calls, and what that narrative is, is really chilling."

Mike Gingold: "The basic story could have been told at any time of year, but setting the housebound terrorization at a time when cheerier gatherings are the norm adds an extra edge to Bob Clark's psycho-stalker classic."

Which of these horror Christmas movies have you seen? Any other favorites you want to add to the list? 

Don't forget that you can find almost 200 more of these movies in the book Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television which you can pre-order here.

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