Well, I’m still clinging desperately to Halloween even as the holly jolly horror show of Christmas consumes the world like some terrible plague. But, just because everyone else has turned their thoughts towards tinsel, candy canes, and rampant consumerism doesn’t mean that horror fans can’t gather around the fireplace and enjoy some holiday creeps. There are lots of great movies and shows out there that capture the magic and wonder of the season while also being filled with monsters and mayhem. And, as expected, here’s a few of my favorites hand picked to give you some festive frights. The list progresses from G rated family frights to all out R rated gore.
The Twilight Zone: The Night of the Meek (1960)
Rod Serling’s seminal series is a classic anthology of science fiction/horror with episodes written by some of the greatest authors of the time. Night of the Meek isn’t necessarily horror but it’s bizarre enough to make it onto this list with a derelict, drunken department store Santa boozed up and alone on Christmas Eve. Finding a magic sack that allows him to hand out gifts to all those he encounters is both a blessing and a curse as he’s brought in by the cops who think he’s a thief. Having nothing to actually hold him on, he’s released and continues to spread a little bit of cheer to a community that would have otherwise seen an abysmal, joyless Christmas morning.
No, it’s not one of the more frightening or bizarre episodes of the long running and heralded series, but it’s one with a distinct and upbeat message that you could actually enjoy with anyone in your home. Think of it as a gentle start into your holiday horrors.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Yet another classic you can watch with the kiddies, The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a quintessential bridge between Halloween and Christmas over the last 25 years. It has everything from the twistedly wonderful mind of Tim Burton to excite and entertain as Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King, attempts to rekindle his passion through the usurpation of Christmas from Santa Claus himself. But things go horribly wrong from the start and he finds out, almost too late, that his gift if for spreading fear, not cheer.
It’s a great family film with those Tim Burton hallmarks that have always made his movies stand out from everything else in the industry. With musical numbers that have engrained themselves indelibly in the minds of children since the film’s initial release and based upon a book that is just as iconic and wonderful to share with your kids this holiday season, it needs to be on your watchlist.
Here’s where we begin moving away from the kiddie stuff and into the more adult fare. Bill Murray stars in this very eighties retelling of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol as a cable network executive whose entire career hangs in the balance as his network puts on a live production on Christmas night.
How can you not feel yourself being sucked into the Christmas spirit by this heartwarming tale of a boy trying to save his family’s home from foreclosure...and monsters. When Billy can’t follow the three simple rules that go along with his new pet mogwai Gizmo, a horde of equally adorable, substantially more evil mogwai are spawned and soon become as hideous as their intentions for the town. Full of love, laughter, and murderous mayhem as the gremlins set out to destroy everything in their wake, it’s been one of my favorites ever since I was a little boy and it’s perfect for a family looking for the right combination of freaky and freakishly funny.
Along the same lines as Gremlins, Krampus takes the ancient myth of the anti-Claus and breathes some new and original life into it. A dysfunctional family is assembled just days before Christmas and everyone’s life almost immediately becomes a living hell of feuding and snark. It leads to Max, the adorable little boy with the hope of Christmas spirit still alive in him, to renounce his faith in Santa, tacitly inviting Krampus to join in his family’s holiday traditions.
Tales from the Crypt: And All Through the House (1989)
Nothing quite says “Merry Christmas” like a deranged, hatchet wielding psycho in a Santa suit attacking a woman and child on the night before Christmas. This classic episode of Tales from the Crypt’s first season is one of the most memorable appearances of an evil Santa in mainstream media. And after nearly 30 years, it still holds up remarkably well upon rewatching. The story plays out like so many school yard spook tales and urban legends and still holds a measure of suspense and realism that is still haunting after all this time.
A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
Zombie Elves, rapey nativity ghosts, evil doppelgangers, and an axe wielding Santa’s final showdown with Krampus are all a part of this Christmas themed horror anthology film. Now, unlike most of the anthologies that come out sharing a common theme or some grim narrator who is the lynch pin holding the stories together in one volume, A Christmas Horror Story actually connects all the characters together in very personal though fleeting ways. From a group of teens exploring a private school where a gruesome murder happened the Christmas before are connected to the girl who’s father holds a key to the building who is connected to the old woman who hides herself away from the vengeful spirit of Krampus who faces a deranged, zombie fighting Santa with connections to the local radio personality whose grandson died in the private school the Christmas before and was found by the cop whose own son was taken by a changeling. Whoo! Make sense? As I said, it’s all very interconnected, well written, well shot, and beautifully performed. And if that’s not enough for you, it also features everyone’s favorite ham actor, William Shatner.
That’s right, it’s a Shat-tastic holiday horror for you and the older kids to indulge in the night before Saint Nick shimmies down the chimney with loads of goodies just for you.
So cuddle up on the couch with a mug of coco and some gingerbread cookies and get ready to deck the halls in bowels from Holly as we celebrate Christmas in the scariest way possible.