For many people, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and one of the best yuletide traditions involves getting together with your loved ones to watch some classic Christmas movies.
That said, a little bit of holiday cheer goes a long way, and occasionally you need something darker to counterbalance the relentless optimism found in traditional Christmas fare.
Sure, you can watch movies like Die Hard to get your unconventional Christmas movie fix, or you could take things a step further by exploring the nastier side of the holiday season with some of the best Christmas horror movies.
Below you'll find a hand-picked selection of the most celebrated Christmas-themed horror movies ever made, along with information on where to stream or rent them. So send your kids to bed (if you have them), make yourself some hot chocolate, put on your ugliest Christmas sweater, and settle in for a truly twisted holiday movie marathon.
Arguably the greatest Christmas horror movie of all time, Bob Clark's Black Christmas is a nerve-jangling exercise in pure terror. It's often credited as having laid the foundation for the modern slasher — it even pre-dates John Carpenter's Halloween by four years — and its impact is still being felt in the subgenre today. The premise is simple: A group of sorority girls on Christmas break is menaced by an obscene caller who identifies himself only as Billy. Before long, one of the girls goes missing, and it becomes evident that the sorority house is being stalked by a real psychopath. Filled with eerie point-of-view shots from the killer himself, Black Christmas manages to be just as effective almost 50 years on from its release. Add to this one of the most unsettling endings in horror history, and what you have is a stone-cold holiday horror classic.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
One of the more mean-spirited slashers of the 1980s, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a must-watch Christmas film for any self-respecting horror fan. It follows a disturbed young man named Billy (sensing a theme here) who suffers from severe Christmas-related PTSD. Having witnessed the murder of his parents by a criminal in a Santa costume as a young child, and having been tormented and beaten by the nuns at his orphanage for refusing to sit on Santa's lap, grown-up Billy eventually snaps when forced to dress like ol' Saint Nick by his boss. In true horror movie fashion, putting on the costume sends Billy on a murderous rampage. Picketed ahead of its release by outraged parents, Silent Night, Deadly Night was pulled from theaters quickly despite having outperformed the likes of A Nightmare On Elm Street at the box office. Film critic Gene Siskel even went as far as reading out the names of the people responsible for the film on his and Roger Ebert's TV show, before calling it one of the most detestible movies he's ever seen — words that would entice horror lovers everywhere!
Santa isn't the only festive figure who keeps tabs on those who've been naughty or nice. There's also Krampus — a demonic, horned figure from European folklore who will show up instead of Santa to punish both non-believers and children who've misbehaved. Unfortunately for the dysfunctional family at the center of this holiday tale, Krampus is set to pay them a visit they won't soon forget. With a brilliant cast that includes Toni Collette, Adam Scott and David Koechner, this black comedy-tinged monster flick is a delightfully devilish holiday treat for horror fans.
Inside (À l'intérieur)
Christmas is a time for giving and receiving gifts, and what better gift could one receive than a bouncing baby boy or girl? Unfortunately for expectant mother-to-be Sarah (Alysson Paradis), a deranged woman (Béatrice Dalle) shows up to her home on Christmas Eve and insists that she deserves Sarah's baby, and she's not willing to wait for it to be born, either. Along with that other French horror classic Martyrs, Inside (known as À l'intérieur in its homeland) strongly establishes France as the one of the world's leading exporters of extreme horror. Be warned, this film is not for the faint of heart.
Don't Open Till Christmas
Unlike some of the more famous Christmas slashers on this list, the '80s horror flick Don't Open Till Christmas differentiates itself by being set in London, England, giving it a sense of time and place that recalls the likes of An American Werewolf in London. While it's admittedly nowhere near as good as that film, Don't Open Till Christmas is an underseen gem that offers memorable performances and an interesting reversal on the usual 'killer Santa' trope — in this movie, it's the victims who are dressed as Santa Claus!
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
One of the most original Christmas films ever made, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale presents a twisted take on the legend of St. Nick set in the home of Santa himself — Finland. When an acheological dig in the Korvatunturi mountains supposedly unearths the real Santa Claus, all but one child in a local village soon disappear. This leads the one remaining boy and his father to capture Santa and attempt to sell him back to the corporation responsible for the dig. Unbeknownst to them, the old man in their possession is only one of Santa's helpers, and the real Santa is far more terrifying and evil.
Less a slasher and more a first-person character study in the vein of Taxi Driver, Falling Down or Joker, Christmas Evil follows Harry (Brandon Maggart), a toymaker who's still scarred from the time he saw Santa (actually his dad in a costume) getting it on with his mother as a child. Now obsessed with Christmas, Harry keeps a 'naughty or nice' list for people in his town, so when his co-workers fail to show any holiday spirit during a toy donation drive at the local hospital, Harry snaps and goes on a killing spree. Reportedly John Waters' favorite holiday film, Christmas Evil is a surprisingly affecting Christmas horror gem.
Deadly Games: Dial Code Santa Claus
Arriving a year before the original Home Alone, the French Christmas film Deadly Games: Dial Code Santa Clause (a.k.a. Game Over) has a similar premise to that holiday classic — it too follows a young boy who must defend his home from an intruder on Christmas eve. However, that's more or less where the comparison ends, as Deadly Games is far meaner in its approach — it presents an action movie-obsessed kid who engages in a game of cat and mouse with a serial murderer dressed as Santa who's broken into his house and killed his dog. Now, it's payback time, and this Rambo-inspired kiddo will give this Santa a war he won't believe.
A Christmas classic for those with a wicked sense of humour, Gremlins follows Billy (Zach Galligan), a typical American teenager who receives a furry little creature named Gizmo for Christmas. An adorable little guy, Gizmo is a 'mogwai' that comes with a strict set of rules: no bright light, keep him away from water, and don't feed him after midnight (when does it it stop being 'after midnight'?). Of course, it's not long before some water is accidentally spilled on Gizmo, causing a bunch of other, more mischievous mogwai to sprout directly out of his back. Unfortunately, Billy can't stop this gang from eating, causing them to turn into vicious gremlins who want nothing more than to wreak havoc on their peaceful little suburb.
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Stephen Lambrechts is the Managing Editor of Tom's Guide AU and has written professionally across the categories of tech, film, television and gaming for the last 15 years. Before Tom's Guide, he spent several years as a Senior Journalist at TechRadar, had a brief stint as Editor in Chief at Official Xbox Magazine Australia, and has written for such publications as APC, TechLife Australia, T3, FilmInk, AskMen, Daily Telegraph and IGN. He's an expert when it comes to smartphones, TVs, gaming and streaming. In his spare time, he enjoys watching obscure horror movies on physical media, keeping an eye on the latest retro sneaker releases and listening to vinyl. Occasionally, he also indulges in other non-hipster stuff, like hiking.