Christmas and horror have been an unlikely (but winning) combination for decades. Now scary movies set during the holidays are a thriving subgenre. Here are 1
Anna and the Apocalypse
Definitely the world’s only zombie Christmas music comedy, that’s this resourceful, low-cost Scottish production Glee meets Shaun of the Dead. The plot follows a group of teenage outcasts who must fend off the undead the day before the Christmas holidays.
The teen characters are attractive and recognizable even before being chased by zombies. The movie also creatively features the Christmas setting (it turns out that a giant candy cane is great for crushing zombie skulls). Plus, the soundtrack is packed with Broadway caliber songs staged in full-length musical numbers that continue through all the murders.
You can stream Anna and the Apocalypse on Amazon Prime, Epix and Hulu.
Better watch out
What starts out as a deluded teen romance turns deliciously insane in this twisty thriller, which is sort of a horror version of Home alone. Levi Miller stars as a seemingly sweet 12-year-old who is in love with his slightly older babysitter (Olivia DeJonge). He tries to protect her during a Yuletide home invasion.
The dynamic shifts in the first of several plot reversals, and the child’s innocent crush turns out to be something far more sinister. The filmmakers make familiar, feel-good holiday comedy elements quite grotesque.
You can stream Better watch out on Amazon Prime, Shudder, Crackle, Pluto TV, Tubi, Vudu and through many libraries on Hoopla.
Bob Clark’s 1974 horror film about a murderer who stalks sorority residents over the Christmas holidays is one of the first slasher films. It’s also one of the first to be played over Christmas, making it a genre pioneer twice.
It’s creepy and disturbing, with strong performances from Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Andrea Martin as the main sororities. There was a forgettable remake in 2006, but the 2019 version, directed by Sophia Takal, cleverly updates the story with themes of toxic masculinity and rape culture in school.
You can download the 1974 version of Black Christmas on the Criterion Channel, Peacock, Shudder, Popcornflix, Shout! Factory TV, Tubi and through many libraries on Kanopy.
You can stream the 2019 version on HBO Max, Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.
A bunch of unruly kids in the house for Christmas might sound great, until they all run around and cause chaos. It’s also bad when those kids are contaminated with a mysterious substance that makes them murderous, which is what happens in this slow-burning British horror film.
The children’s behavior begins to deteriorate within the credible boundaries of immaturity. However, it gradually becomes more dangerous until it is much too late for the adults to escape. The filmmakers add a surprisingly effective adult drama along with the pint-sized killers, creating more emotional investment for the audience.
You can stream The kids on HBO Max and Tubi.
A deranged killer who dresses like Santa is the plot of many bargain basement Christmas lasher movies, but Christmas evil is more of a psychological thriller. It pays unusual attention to the underlying trauma of its protagonist (Brandon Maggart).
A kind of tragic figure, driven by his extreme, childlike love of Christmas, he only resorts to violence when he meets resistance to spread good cheer. There is grit and pathos to this story that continues to its bizarrely hopeful, magical-realistic ending.
You can stream Christmas evil on Shudder, Vudu and the Roku Channel.
Dangerously cute little monsters are terrorizing a small town on Christmas Eve in this all-time favorite. It has somehow become a family movie, despite all the murder and chaos. It’s hard to get mad at the raw green gremlins, who get just as excited about watching Snowwhite and the Seven Dwarfs as they do in destroying property and killing people.
Director Joe Dante drew on his love of B-movie creature to create the gremlin invasion that wreaks havoc on a charming, sleepy hamlet that usually epitomizes the cosiness of Christmas.
You can buy or rent Gremlins on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and FandangoNow.
There has been a plethora of cheap horror movies in recent years involving Krampus, the demonic counterpart of Santa Claus popular in some European countries. Michael Dougherty’s darkly comedic version is easily the best of all. He manages to turn the family together into a kind of eternal purgatory.
Krampus is unleashed on an extended family, and the bickering members must band together to fight the evil presence. There are strong performances from Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman and David Koechner, along with an eerie atmosphere.
You can buy or rent Krampus on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and FandangoNow.
Micro-budget Christmas horror movies have taken streaming services by surprise in recent years. However, Ryan Nelson’s scrappy production rises above the pack with sympathetic performances and a cheerfully gruesome tone.
This film enthusiastically embraces alternative main courses for Christmas dinner. When a lonely drone is invited into the office by his handsome colleague, he soon discovers that he might be more than just a guest.
You can stream Mercy Christmas on Amazon Prime, Epix, Vudu and through many libraries on Hoopla.
The death of Santa
The pun in the title is indicative of the ridiculousness this exuberantly campy movie has in store. Santa (former pro wrestler Bill Goldberg) is the son of Satan. He’s finally gotten rid of a 1,000-year curse that obliged him to bring joy and gifts every Christmas instead of murder and death.
Now Santa is finally free to go on murder and deliver crazy one-liners like a Christmas Freddy Krueger. The film is set in Canada and culminates in a major showdown involving curling. It also features mutated reindeer and exploding Christmas presents. The filmmakers know how cartoony it all is and love it with its absurdity.
You can stream The death of Santa on Peacock, or buy or rent it on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and FandangoNow.
Silent night, deadly night
This 1984 slasher launched what is probably the only lasting Christmas horror franchise (there have been four sequels and a reboot so far). Due to a series of Christmas-related trauma during his rough childhood, Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) finally snarls while working in a toy store at Christmas.
He puts on a Santa Claus suit and starts picking random victims. The film’s non-apologetic nausea (including a violent orphanage finale) sparked protests at the time of release. Now it just feels like a typical slasher movie with some extra humbug.
You can rent Silent night, deadly night on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and FandangoNow.
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