Not everyone will have the patience for cheery festive movies. Most people under that category fancy a thrill-a-minute, adrenaline pumping fest full of trepidation. Sometimes alone to take the ‘bravery’ test, but often to bring company along for the ride to ease the strain. Fortunately there are plenty of Christmas themed movies that feature ‘Blood-curling ghoulish tales to keep you awake at night during the holidays’. Out of many, we rounded 11 of our top choices for your consideration.
Winter celebrations have been commonplace for a long time in history. Before the historical and religious references to Christmas, it was said that Europeans “celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter” and this scary story arc has continued into the genre of Christmas Horror Movies.
Searching far and wide during our search, we were taken aback by the sheer variety of Christmas-themed fright fest flicks around. Due to filmmakers mostly working with limited funding within the horror genre, we realised why so many did without studio interference and went solo, funding their own passion projects. And why so many great classics of yesteryear were missing relics.
These are just three out of our endless list we didn’t have space for:
In A Christmas Horror Story (2015), a festive radio host gathers a selection of interwoven stories taking place on Christmas Eve: On family brings more than a Christmas tree home with them, a Seasonal spirit terrifies, Santa spends the night sleighing evil, and a student documentary becomes a tortuous reality.
A 12-year-old boy and his babysitter must cover each other when intruders invade their unassuming suburban home. Only they soon realise a normal home invasion is far off what they assumed. The stakes are high in Better Watch Out (2016).
Scotland Yard has to stop a homicidal maniac dressed in a Santa suit before these exploits become an annual killing fest in Don’t Open Until Christmas (1984)
But to avoid diverting you, coming down now are our main 11 scary Christmas movie picks – if you’ve got your brave warrior suit on feel the need to take on a dark garish adrenaline rush. Or if you’re in the mood to prank somebody. Watch all of our Christmas movies here or if you’re looking for gut splitting laughs here’s our 11 Best Funny Christmas Movies list.
11. Krampus (2015)
Originating from pre-Christian, Central European legends and now the mainstay in this spooky feature: With three days still left till Christmas, young Max Engel gathers with his extended family for the holidays. Attempting to escape this year’s dysfunction, young Max aims to call on St. Nick for extra strength this year. Unintentionally, young Max summons a ‘half-goat’, ‘half demonic’-like creature in the process.
Though some critics noted ambiance and timing issues but hailing both Adam Scott and Toni Collette’s performances during its release, audiences blasted into screen rooms. Krampus went on to gross nearly $62million from box office sales. Very impressive against a budget of $15million.
Dir. Michael Dougherty has described the film as a dark diversion from the usual Christmas family film that allows the Krampus creature to make the clashing family issues just a little trickier to deal with. Nonetheless, Dougherty has mustered a stimulating throwback to earlier B-movie classics that combine atypical horror thrills with a meaningful center. If you’re daring, you could convince your family to join you for a viewing this year.
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10. The Children (2008)
Unknown dir. Tom Shankland inserts a fierce tension ride with this impressive small scale modern British horror: A family’s intentionally peaceful Christmas break with extended family out in the countryside goes awry. When they arrive, the parents initiate a crushing game of endurance and fortitude against their own children – who suddenly turned against them.
The Children enjoyed a worshipping critic chorus here in the US and the UK (where the film emanates) during release. However much acclaim they did yield, sadly, The Children didn’t last at the box office – opening at 10th place in the UK with a mere £98,000 return in ticket sales at only 132 cinemas. The Children soon dropped to 13th place, then finally to 22nd before its removal.
Between your pause from board games and extra Egg-nog this Holiday season, make room for this unexpected treasure. You’ll find yourself wondering why it never went viral.
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9. Wind Chill (2007)
Named after the meteorological effect that lowers body temperature due to passing air of substantially lower thermic. Thematically speaking, it complements the film so well: Two students from Pennsylvania University – one ‘guy’, one ‘girl’ – leave campus to drive six hours back to home state Delaware for the Holidays. The ‘Guy’ feeling pressure from the ‘Girl’ takes a scenic short-cut off the main highway. The near-miss with an imminent driver tangles them in the frozen wilderness. The ‘guy’ staggers through the caustic chill to the nearest gas station. Spectral circumstances closing down even further turn out to be a recurring paranormal crime dating back to 1953. Soon discerning the annual event, the ‘guy’ soon realizes his injuries from the car crash are just the beginning.
An earlier film for both Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes. They star as the lead characters driving the narrative who are never mentioned by name. Not ever. If only to dehumanize their mordant situation and pacify the audience. Wind Chill provokes a shivery estimation of ‘cabin fever on the move’. A feasible situation that even you or your loved ones could find yourselves in. Drive safe!
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8. Home for the Holidays (1972)
Some critics compared the plot expanding in an Agatha Christie-like manner. ABC’s tagline they matched the film with appears fitting: Nothing more chilling… Than a warm family gathering! Home for the Holidays follows four adult sisters returning on Christmas Eve to visit their largely bedridden elder father – with a predilection for anti-depressants and hard liquor. On arrival, he confides his doubts, then entrusts them to kill his new wife he suspects is gradually poisoning him.
Limiting budget constraints dictating the shooting regimen forced producers to sacrifice recreating snow for exterior shots. Considering options to substitute, heavy rain was decided to support the movie’s overall sour gloomy atmosphere. Waiting for natural rain adequate enough for shooting didn’t cut it. Fire hoses were needed to fill the outdoor sets full of sufficient rain. When you watch it, you may notice the sky is clearly empty when it appears to be heavily raining in some shots.
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7. The Day of the Beast (1995)
Rated as a faultless approach to thumb your nose at the ‘Christ’ part of Christmas by some. We’re inclined to agree. Spanish black comedy El Día de la Bestia (The Day of the Beast) follows a Catholic priest, Black Metal devotee, and an Occult expert collectively committing many sins to forestall the Antichrist.
Featured satanic rituals in The Day of the Beasts are the real deal. They weren’t filtered in any way which provoked the Satanist community. During production, Dir. Álex de la Iglesia and the crew members received frequent death threats from various Satanist groups.
Iglesia never totally escaped trouble after production. He declared inspiration for the film’s story in an image featuring a gentle man engaging in truly hideous acts. Many opposers still boycotted the film claiming the story in fact plagiarized the novel La luz (The Light). Years later, documentary film El lado oscuro del clan Almodóvar (The Dark Side of Almodóvar’s clan) disproved most conspiracies associated with the book terminating any court cases.
Despite the naysayers, El Día de la Bestia/The Day of the Beast is a much loved dark comedy among fans and scholars. They continue to return to it even when it’s not Holiday season.
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6. The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)
The Dorm That Dripped Blood follows a group of college students while clearing their dormitory, experiencing a haunting disturbance when an unidentified aggressor stalks them on campus during the Christmas break.
Quite an intense premise though comparable to a few of filmmaking duo Stephen Carpenter and Jeffery Obrows’ own experiences. Also partially motivated from seeing Friday the 13th, the two co-wrote the script while at UCLA’s film department with a friend, Stacey Giachino – though earlier drafts changed from ‘The Third Night’ to ‘Death Dorm’. Eventual production took place over Christmas vacation at the UCLA campus over a series of weekends.
a.k.a Pranks when released by New Line Cinema for the UK market – authorities heckled the film by putting it on the highly controversial video nasty list.
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5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)
In Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor. The literal translation into English: Men who hate Women. I’m sure you’d agree, the title is particularly chilling but very accurate if you’re familiar with the popular best selling book series by Stieg Larson.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows young, troubled hacker Lisbeth Salander resolving her personal issues whilst assisting journalist Mikael Blomkvist to uncover the mysterious killing of a woman that happened forty years ago.
Fans of the book and/or movie may question whether it qualifies for the Holiday season. They forget how much of the plot takes place over the Christmas period.
If you are unfamiliar with Män som hatar kvinnor/Dragon Tattoo cosmos, we recommend you watch the extended Millenium TV edition. It features a missing 90 minutes of footage and is much better for it. The extended cut seems more rounded, complete, and presents a deeper insight into Lisbeth’s childhood disturbances that explain thoroughly why she is the way she is.
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4. Sint (2010)
Distributed under the name Saint across Europe, and Saint Nick here in the US. Sint is a Dutch film thought of as a ‘dark-comedy-horror’. It tinkers with the prevalent Sinterklaas folklore: When the full moon emerges on December 5th – the day in which it is customary for gift giving in the Netherlands – homicidal bishop St. Nicholas re-immerges to kidnap and murder naughty children.
Dir. Dick Mass and co-producers received many attacks for the film poster alone. The poster features Sinterklass as a beastly zombie-like creature. Though Sint isn’t advertised to children, the film poster raised concerns by parental figures who believed it would disturb children, triggering future distress. Public outrage was so strong, Dick Mass was taken to court. Fortunately for him, the judge ruled in his favor remarking the beastly Sinterklass in the poster wasn’t entirely visible where children could make out who the character really was.
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3. Dial Code Santa Claus (1989)
Child prodigy, Thomas de Frémont, spends most of his time fixating over action films in a sequestered high-tech mansion with mother Julie, partially blind/diabetic grandfather, Papy and their pet dog, J.R. Following a break-in from a Santa-disguised crook on Christmas Eve, Thomas must put his resourceful skills to good use and guard his family from harm.
Many have been left feeling Game Over shares many similarities with famed American movie, Home Alone, released a year later. Game Over dir. René Manzor himself found parallels and threatened Home Alone producers with legal action proclaiming they remade his movie.
Though the two share comparable traits, we found Manzors film much darker, sinister, and stripped down for Home Alone to be a complete knock off.
Known by some as 36.15 code Père Noël/Game Over or Deadly Games, Dial Code Santa Claus, Hide and Freak, but more commonly by Game Over in the English-speaking world.
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2. Tales from the Crypt (1972)
These gruesome tales in the EC comics serials by Johnny Craig, Al Feldstein, and William M. Gaines, serve very well in this classic 70s horror made during the Amicus Productions anthology era: In Tales from the Crypt, five strangers on a tour of ancient catacombs find themselves lost with the puzzling ‘Crypt Keeper’ as he foretells how each stranger will meet their end.
The first vision ‘…And All Through The House’ starring Dame Joan Collins imparts the festive traits. Adapted from 1954 The Vault of Horror issue #35, greedy housewife Joanne Clayton kills her husband on Christmas Eve. Desperate to disguise the corpse, a radio announcement warns of a bloodthirsty lunatic still at large tonight, then spots a character dressed as Santa who fits the description. However, calling the police would also expose her crimes.
Dir. Freddie Francis feared reading the original stories from the comic books as he assumed it would distract his own interpretation. So he didn’t. The full script altered multiple times during pre-production, mostly to ‘the Crypt Keeper’. In rougher drafts, he addressed the audience directly. Later drafts didn’t feature him. By the penultimate drafts, the production decided he would interact directly with the characters on screen.
Time well spent, as Tales of the Crypt has undoubtedly had an enormous impact on the horror genre. Inspiring persistent fans who themselves have made their own well-received grisly reels. Some borrow heavily from this classic. Some more original.
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1. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)
Topping our list we have this early 70s horror thriller. An ingenious reinvention of the Brother Grimm fairytale “Hansel and Gretel” from dir. Curtis Harrington who was specially petitioned by the lead actress, Shelly Winters. They’d worked together on What’s the Matter with Helen the previous year. STORYLINE: Mrs. Rosie Forrest, lovingly called “Auntie Roo” is admired by all around her. Living alone in her deceased husband’s mansion, she hosts a lavish Christmas gathering and invites children from the local orphanage to stay the night. This year, orphaned brother and sister, Christopher and Katy Coombs are chosen – only to await Mrs. Forrest’s darker plans.
Like many co-US and UK produced films of the period, borders the trending ‘Grande Dame Guignol’ genre (usually blends horror-thriller with Woman’s film – the subgenre that implies a once-glamorous woman in her older years has become unstable mentally and terrorizes any person nearby – a.k.a Psycho-biddy or hag horror).
It’s as kitschy as it is effeminate. Certain scenes may put musical theatre fans in mind of modern classic, Wicked. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? however, retains its shock factor throughout by staying true to its disturbed antagonist’s intentions throughout who maintains her charade with no hesitation. With stringent PC customs ruling modern times, new films may never match it’s shockingly simpering factor making this an especially unusual creation.
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