Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema featured a look at Christmas horror films. The season is usually associated with sugary feel-good pictures but there are quite a few films about holiday terror. Here are the films discussed on the show as well as a few other titles.
For whatever reason, there has been a resurgence of interest in the mythological creature known as Krampus. Popular in the folklore of Eastern Europe, Krampus is the shadow of St. Nicholas and according to the legend he is a demon who punishes naughty children. The 2015 feature Krampus was mix of horror and comedy and one of the best Christmas horror titles in a long time. A lot of direct to DVD imitators followed.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
Anna and the Apocalypse was a Christmas-themed zombie film released in 2018. The picture is a musical in which the undead besiege a high school winter talent show. It’s not particularly successful either as a horror film or as a song and dance show but the song “It’s That Time of Year,” performed by Marli Siu, is great.
Before Chris Columbus directed Home Alone, he broke out in Hollywood as the author of the screenplay to 1984’s Gremlins. Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Joe Dante, Gremlins is an excellent mix of scares and laughs set against the Christmas holiday. The movie was officially rated PG but the intensity and violence of Gremlins led the MPAA to develop the PG-13 rating.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The Nightmare Before Christmas is now one of Disney’s major selling titles, especially around the holidays, and it has been more successfully merchandised than almost any other animated film from the studio. The irony is that The Nightmare Before Christmas was not originally released as a Disney film. Instead, the Tim Burton produced picture was released through Touchstone Pictures because it was deemed too scary to be associated with the Disney brand. It was only after The Nightmare Before Christmas became such a success that it was rebranded as a Disney title.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984 – 1991)
1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night is the most infamous Christmas slasher movie. The marketing campaign made it look as though Santa himself was on an ax murdering rampage and this led parental groups to picket theaters. Distributor Tri-Star cancelled the film’s entire run in west coast theaters. The controversy ensured the legacy of a movie that is not very good and would probably have been forgotten. A series of sequels followed although the latter movies had nothing to do with the psycho Santa premise of the original. Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 has become as popular as its predecessor because of the “garbage day” meme.
Tales from the Crypt: “All Through the House” (1972/1989)
The EC horror comic Tales from the Crypt was the basis for a 1972 anthology movie as well as an HBO television series. Both the feature film and the television show featured versions of the story “All Through the House” about a murderer in a Santa Claus outfit. The Tales from the Crypt television series was hosted by a ghoulish figure known as the Crypt Keeper and the show and the character became so popular that a Tales from the Crypt Christmas album was released with the Crypt Keeper performing macabre covers of Christmas standards.
Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)
One of the seedier entries in the Christmas horror genre as well as one of the most unusual, Don’t Open Till Christmas is about a killer who murdering people dressed as Santa Claus. It’s a grim and nasty serial killer story set on the streets of London and the movie puts a different spin on the killer Santa formula.
Black Christmas (1974/2006/2019)
Directed by Bob Clark (who would later helm A Christmas Story), the original Black Christmas is one of the early entries in the slasher genre and it is skillfully made and possesses a creepy atmosphere. A gory remake was released in 2006. The remake wasn’t very good but it was bonkers and highly stylized. A third version of Black Christmas was released in 2019 and it wasn’t as scary as either of its predecessors but it did reinvent the material for the Me Too era.
Rare Exports (2010)
In a rural village in Finland, the locals are spooked by an excavation in nearby mountain range. On Christmas Eve a boy and his father investigate the disappearance of local children and in the process discover the truth about Santa Claus. Rare Exports is a strange Christmas horror film with above average performances and a sense of humor.
Better Watch Out (2016)
Better Watch Out begins as a typical stalker scenario in which a babysitter fends off a home invasion during the Christmas season. But the film has a terrific twist that sends the story in different directions. Better Watch Out has interesting characters and nuanced performances especially by Olivia DeJonge and Levi Miller.
A Christmas Carol (2009)
There have been a lot of versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starring actors as diverse as Albert Finney and Mickey Mouse and Bill Murray. The 2009 version starred Jim Carrey and was directed by Robert Zemeckis during his motion capture phase. The gothic style and the uncanny valley effect of the animation turn this Christmas Carol into a horror show that is more frightening than some of the films on this list.
Christmas Evil [a.k.a. You Better Watch Out] (1980)
The best of the killer Claus movies is 1980’s Christmas Evil. This film is distinguished from similar pictures in its intelligence and characterization as well as the way the movie weaves together tragedy and black humor. The protagonist of Christmas Evil is a middle aged man who is consumed by nostalgia. His obsession with Christmas is rooted in an ideal of American life and a preoccupation with innocence that eventually turns violent. Christmas Evil isn’t really a slasher film; it has more in common with Taxi Driver than it does with Silent Night, Deadly Night. This is an excellent picture, one that has been restored in recent years and is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves.