Jack Frost (1997)
This ain’t the cringeworthy father/son bonding vehicle starring Michael Keaton. No, this is the Jack Frost where the killer snowman’s nose functions as both a killing tool and a device to sexually assault his victims. All square? But hey, at the least the film isn’t afraid to ride its ridiculous premise as hard as possible.
First of all, an actual killer named Jack Frost crashes into a truck of “genetics material” that causes him to transform into this cold abomination in the first place. That sets the tone pretty nicely for the abundant murders, sex, and plot holes that plague the town of Snowmonton (yup). It’s hard to believe that this film got made, with all of the visuals being some real spectacles that you don’t typically see in the horror genre.
Jack Frost is the perfect Christmas horror film to shut your brain off and watch, or the title that you should be selecting right in the middle of your deep eggnog haze. It’s utter nonsense, but it knows that it is and has tons of fun with itself. We need more talented individuals trying to tap into the killer snowman subgenre. There’s still a true classic waiting to come to life here.
– Daniel Kurland
Morbidly funny in its anti-holiday sarcasm and ridiculous demons, Krampus is like a mashup of the Griswolds, the Grinch, and every mythical beast that has ever been rumored to devour children on the naughty list. You’d rather get coal in your stocking than a killer jack-in-the-box jump scare… or find chilling hoof prints in the snow that are definitely not from Rudolph.
Krampus is one Yuletide monster actually worse than the Grinch. The grisly inspiration for this tale is a Germanic one about a hairy, horned, and cloven-hooved demon who stuffs naughty children in his sack and either beats them with a wooden switch or eats them (depending on who you ask). Also, his heart won’t grow three sizes from gorging on human flesh, either.
This version of Krampus is also hungry for anyone who’s lost their holiday spirit—whether or not you otherwise qualify for the nice list. Watch this with the lights off for the full effect of the power outage that works to the creature’s advantage as he goes hunting for holiday nonbelievers. Kids, don’t scorn Santa or Krampus will come to collect you.
– Elizabeth Rayne
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
There are some of us who know this movie verbatim and to the point where we will shamelessly break out singing “This is Halloween” and raise Jack’s quasi-Shakespearean monologue from the dead even in the middle of July. Or keep warning people that tragedy’s at hand. Or correct anyone who says there are 365 days until next Halloween by growling “364!” The stop-motion animation saga of the talking skeleton turned “Sandy Claws” bewitched an entire generation of ‘90s kids.
Even people who hate Halloween will stare with delight and awe when Jack’s skull bursts out of a snowdrift, and he first puts colored lights in his eye sockets and explores every “what’s this?” in Christmas Town like a spook in a coffin shop. You just can’t help but love the adventurous skeleton, even if he does end up making haunted houses out of people’s living rooms on Christmas Eve. Whether you’d rather be making Christmas with strangely somber carols, reanimated reindeer or toys that bite back, it’s now an officially unofficial holiday classic.
– Elizabeth Rayne
On the sillier end of the Christmas horror spectrum comes P2, a film named after a section in a parking lot, starring Wes Bentley and Rachel Nichols. She’s a business woman trapped in a multi-story parking garage on Christmas Eve, he’s the insane Security Guard who’s obsessed with her and really wants her to try his festive eggnog, so to speak.
Camp and gory, this is the directorial debut of Franck Khalfoun who would follow it up with a remake of Maniac. The movie was co-written by Alexandre Aja who made one of the greatest cat-and-mousers ever in Switchblade Romance. The set up is formulaic, perhaps, but the game performances and relentlessness of the action makes this worthwhile. And if that’s not enough check out a deranged Bentley dressed as Santa, for the angel on the top of the Christmas tree.
– Rosie Fletcher
Rare Exports (2010)
There couldn’t possibly be a more sinister place to search for Santa’s ancient burial mound than in the frigid depths of Lapland. It’s the same supposedly enchanted place Dick van Dyke hiked to in the search for Santa in an ‘80s musical Christmas special, except this time you won’t find him in a cozy cottage with stockings hung by the chimney with care. You won’t find the guy in red from the mall, but anything that takes a disembodied pig’s head as bait couldn’t possibly be jingle-belling on a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer, especially when he seems to have a ravenous appetite for said reindeer.
This time, “the spirit of the season” is literally the most malicious Christmas spirit that has ever terrorized the Yuletide. Even if you watch the whole thing in Finnish and don’t understand a word except the screaming, the ghost of the child in you that really did believe there was a guy in the North Pole will be forever traumatized. This glaze-eyed zombie incarnation of Mr. Claus doesn’t laugh like a bowl full of jelly. You better watch out, indeed.
– Elizabeth Rayne
Santa Claws (1996)
You do have to wonder what happened to John Russo along the line. 30 years after co-writing Night of the Living Dead, he came up with this decidedly sleazy but sadly unoriginal wonderment, which was much more focused on boobs than Yuletide butchery. In what by that point had become a battered cliché of the Slasher Santa subgenre, a young boy named Wayne (Grant Kramer) sees his mom having sex with a man wearing a Santa hat (!), and so murders them both. I’m not exactly sure how this transference would work in Freudian terms, but when he gets older, he a) becomes obsessed with a low-budget scream queen named Raven (played by low-budget scream queen Debbie Rochon) and b) decides he’s Santa.
As you might imagine, stalking someone when you’re wearing a Santa suit is no mean feat, but Wayne gives it his best shot. Most of the film, however, focuses on Raven and her extended family as she gets undressed a lot and wonders not only why that creep in the Santa suit keeps showing up everywhere, but why everyone around her keeps dying in a particularly bloody fashion. It can feel like there are two films going on here, a by-the-numbers stalker/slasher movie and a holiday horror film, which leaves me thinking Russo had one of them in mind, but after some eight-year-old smarty-pants came up with that clever “Santa Claws” pun, well, he just had to run with it.
– Jim Knipfel
Santa’s Slay (2005)
Christmas can sure scare the Dickens out of people. Hence why you can’t not watch a holiday horror flick in which Santa is the Antichrist, sentenced to 1,000 years of delivering gifts after losing a curling match with an angel, and played by former pro wrestler Bill “Who’s Next?” Goldberg.
As the only son of Satan (you know what they say about rearranging the letters in that name) whose grim legend is immortalized in the Book of Claus, he can now at last spread Christmas fear with weapons, karate kicks, hand grenades, exploding presents, and his own perverse idea of what “Ho ho ho” should really mean. Them’s the breaks once the bet’s terms are done.
Santa’s methods of murder are fiendishly festive—to say the least. There is no naughty or nice list when it comes to an insatiable appetite for violence. He even knocks out poseurs in red suits and drives a sleigh with a rocket engine like it’s the Batmobile. Mall Santas everywhere are shaking in their pleather boots.
– Elizabeth Rayne
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Naughty children get punished with more than just a stocking full of coal in this Christmas chiller. Just the opening scene with all those empty-eyed animatronic toys haunting a window display after-hours should tell you that this is not a movie that’s going to end in visions of sugarplums. Forget that it’s supposed to be the season of all things magical. Those things can be more terrifying than every single plastic skeleton and gaping zombie mask you’ll ever see in a haunted house around Halloween.
You’d better watch out for that psycho in the red suit who grabs a hatchet off the wall as if it was his bag full of toys and packs an automatic pistol in his fur-lined pocket, murdering misbehaving kids he’s been watching undercover of shadow. This sadistic Santa clearly doesn’t believe in sliding down chimneys—and the only red he’s interested in wearing is the blood of innocents. If that won’t convince you to stay awake because he sees you when you’re sleeping, you must be Freddie Krueger.
– Elizabeth Rayne
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
Three years after the shit-storm sparked by the original’s ad campaign, some smart cookie decided a sequel was necessary. A tough call there, given most all the principals were killed off pretty thoroughly the first time around, but still, right?
But there was money to be made, so they brought in an untested director (Lee Harry), a mostly untested crew, and a cast of mostly non-professional actors. After a half-dozen writers took a swipe at the script, they came up with a confounding but tepid rehash of the first film. This time around, and mostly in flashback, we learn that after the first killer Santa was sloppily dispatched at the end of Part 1, his brother Ricky becomes determined to uncover what went wrong.
He pays a visit to the sadistic Mother Superior at the Catholic asylum where his brother had been kept, and before you can say “ho ho ho,” Ricky ends up donning the red and white suit himself to do a little rampaging, though without nearly half of his brother’s imagination. They even used the same fucking poster design, just slapped a “2” on it. I guess hoping they might raise the same sort of ruckus the first one had. Sadly, it was too late for that.
– Jim Knipfel
Dutch director Dick Maas took some early steps toward Krampus territory with his re-imagining of the legend of the warm-hearted Saint Nick. Borrowing heavily from earlier Italian, Spanish, and American horror films, as well as Danish folklore, “Sinterklaas” here was actually a bloodthirsty medieval murderer and all around brute who oversaw a savage reign of terror. Finally fed up with all his nonsense, the ornery local villagers banded together on the night of Dec. 5 and lynched him. As per tradition, however, in the moments before he died Sinterklaas vowed vengeance from beyond the grave, promising to return every 32 years on that very night to do bad and icky things to the villagers’ descendants.
Over the centuries, the story was mainstreamed and soft-pedaled, becoming part of the local folklore. The character of Saint Nick became much more benevolent and child-friendly so as not to scare the wee folk. Then, well, wouldn’t you know it? That anniversary creeps around again, Sinterklaas is true to his word, and Amsterdam turns all bloody, leaving it up to an intrepid teenager named Frank to put a stop to the mayhem.
A stylish, wicked, and hugely entertaining take on the darker history of a beloved legend. It was also the top grossing film in Denmark in 2010, which either says something about the Danish film industry or the Dutch themselves.
– Jim Knipfel
Tales From the Crypt: And All Through the House (1972)
The Crypt Keeper first emerged as a ghoulish EC Comics horror host in the pages of Tales From the Crypt who crawled onto the big screen in this horror anthology, welcoming unknowing tourists to his catacombs with bony arms open. What the tourists don’t know is that they’re all recently deceased. The invite is to a subterranean story-time in which he unearths the gruesome details of their deaths with a gap-toothed grin. Creatures are obviously stirring when killer wife Joanne is stalked by a homicidal Santa in this warped homage to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas titled (appropriately enough) “… And All Through the House.”
So it is that “O Come All Ye Faithful” is interrupted while playing on the radio by a scratchy warning of a homicidal maniac run amok. And wouldn’t you just know it, this occurs right as Joan Collins is offing her husband with a shot to the head—and then realizes she has to dismember the body before cashing in on his life insurance. Her blissfully naïve daughter lets the killer jolly old elf in, shrieking that Santa finally came before he erupts into psychopathic rage. Clement C. Moore must be turning in his grave.
– Elizabeth Rayne
The Wolf of Snow Hollow
Certainly less purely Christmas-y than other entries on this list, The Wolf of Snow Hollow is nonetheless a wintry delight set during the holiday season. Carols play ominously in the background during key moments, and the immaculately snowy white setting of Snow Hollow, Utah is broken only by splashes of color from lights on homes and Christmas trees. Oh yes, and the blood of the titular werewolf’s victims.
Jim Cummings’ film is heavy on cozy, ski town holiday atmosphere without leaning on its actual Christmastime setting at all. But good werewolf movies are a rare breed indeed these days, and a werewolf movie set at Christmas? Well…now you know what to watch when the moon is full each December
Got any other suggestions for Christmas horror movies that we missed? Let us know in the comments!