With the Christmas season in full swing, it's easy for the holiday fuss to get you down. After dealing with the stress of juggling house guests and the physical exhaustion from elbowing eager mothers at the check out line, the warm, family friendly rhetoric spewing from your average Christmas movie can make your stomach turn. When you find yourself spiking your eggnog a bit heavily, don't pop in another carbon-copy holiday classic. This year, shoo the kids off to bed and watch a Christmas horror movie that will earn you a permanent spot on the naughty list. After all, it's not really Christmas until Santa rapes and decapitates someone in front a group of small children.
Widely thought of as one of the better holiday slasher movies, Black Christmas establishes many generic elements four years before Michael Myers's iconic jaunt through Haddonfield. The film centers on a group of sorority sisters stalked by a deranged killer just as school lets out for Christmas break. Unlike most Christmas horror films, Black Christmas doesn't pull any cutesy punches. It doesn't use the holiday setting for kitsch, so you won't find a blood soaked Santa Claus or a decapitated head in a gift box. It uses a familiar, safe atmosphere to draw the audience into a comfortable setting and then rips them apart with a series of gruesome murders. Director Bob Clark
established his career with Black Christmas, and while many view the work as deeply pessimistic and anti-Christmas, without it Clark likely wouldn't have gone on to direct his biggest hit, A Christmas Story
In the Santaless adult world, grown-ups have no St. Nick to keep them in line. Harry, a middle manager at a toy factory, sees the corruption that grips the world and takes on Santa's responsibility of keeping track of the naughty and the nice. If you've ever wondered what Santa Claus would be like if he were a creepy child stalker, then Christmas Evil is your movie. Harry creeps through bushes and peeks through windows as he makes notes about which boys and girls clear their plates or brush their teeth at night. He also keeps a book for the adults he encounters. Come Christmas Eve, Harry glues a white beard to his face, paints a sled on his battered white van and heads off to reward children with a bounty of toys and punish their parents by slitting throats with the star from the Christmas tree.
Director John Waters calls Christmas Evil the "greatest Christmas movie ever made," and while it's not as explicit as other horror films, the violence feels intense when it happens. The movie casts a sympathetic eye on Harry, and as Harry's white van rockets towards the moon after he drives it off a cliff, you may just think the world could be better off with a wrathful Santa.
Gremlins goes to show just how sensitive the public can get when it comes to Christmas. Despite sharing a release date with Ghostbusters
, Gremlins managed to both make a boat load of money and anger parent groups nation wide. In the hands of director Joe Dante (The Howling
), Gremlins has the weird benefit of being one our few family friendly horror movies. It balances out gore with cuddliness and uses the setting of an ideal small town, wholesome Christmas to literally burn the concept to the ground.
Writer Chris Columbus (Home Alone
) originally scripted Gremlins a much darker vision of the film. The script called for Gizmo to turn into Stripe, the mohawked leader of the gremlins, and had the gremlins devour Billy's dog, and decapitate his mother. Dante, not wanting to damage the children of the world too extensively, nixed the ideas and reeled the movie in a bit. Still, the fuss over mixing the violence in Gremlins with a Christmas setting caused such a moral panic, that the film (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
) ultimately led to the creation of the PG-13 rating.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
Christmas themed horror films tend to walk a fine line. In order to keep the Operation: Just Say Merry Christmas ideologues off of their back, most horror filmmakers tend to play out their Christmas movies with a wink. The first film of the Silent Night, Deadly Night
series (there are, count them, five installments) throws that nonsense to the wind and unfolds a perverse tale of a young boy's deep Santa-oriented psychosis.
After seeing a man in a Santa costume murder his parents, young Billy Chapman becomes convinced that Santa Claus rewards the good and punishes the naughty. One year, when working at a toy store, young Billy finds himself in the precarious situation of having to play the store's St Nick. After spending the day quietly threatening children with physical harm, Billy snaps and murders the naughty with a fire axe, several household items and even a pair of deer antlers.
Unlike Christmas Evil, which tries to weave a message into its lunacy, Silent Night, Deadly Night is pure, unapologetic gutter trash. When the movie hit in 1984, parent groups collectively laid bricks. The PTA protested the film nationwide until the studio ultimately shelved it, limiting the film to a VHS release. Siskel and Ebert even reviewed the film on their show (after a piece on Paris, Texas, oddly enough), and in an audacious act of windbaggery called out the filmmakers by name saying "shame on you" after each one.
Despite the self-righteous moral outrage over the film, Silent Night, Deadly Night stands as a grotesquely fun exploitation film. It's hard to dislike a film where a maniac in a Santa costume gingerly gives a well behaved little girl the box cutter he murdered a woman with as a gift. Who says this movie's without heart?
Other Christmas themed horror movies that might get you in the holiday spirit are Santa's Slay
, another Killer Santa movie starring wrestler Bill Goldberg
as a supremely pissed off St. Nick; Jack Frost
, the tale of a serial killer possessed snowman; Don't Open Till Christmas
, a masked madman goes around London killing off Santa Clauses; "Tales from the Crypt: All Through the Night
," a murderous wife gets stalked by an escaped mental patient in a Santa suit; and "The X-Files" episode "Christmas Carol," Agent Scully visits her home for the holidays when she starts getting phone calls from what sounds like her dead sister.
Story by Kris King
Starpulse contributing writer