I like Christmas, but I don’t especially enjoy the nauseating romantic comedy dramas that infest the season. A couple are tolerable, but we shall not speak of them. Instead I’ve been watching some old Christmas favourites and soaking up a bloody tide of Christmas horror movies. Like all horror they’re wildly hit and miss, but each one has at least something that was worth watching them for. Here’s a few thoughts about everything I’ve seen so far this December.
Violent Night (2022)
Brand spanking new, featuring the beloved David Harbour (presumably in between Stranger Things) as Santa, and John Leguizamo as the villain who storms a wealthy family’s compound at Christmas. High production values, fun script and really very violent action scenes once Santa gets started.
The Gingerdead Man (2006)
Total trashy nonsense in which nasty robber/murderer Gary Busey is reincarnated as a gingerbread man in a little bakery. He proceeds to kill a bunch of people. The script is dreadful, but the central idea… somehow brilliant. It’s not good, but I did enjoy it. Apparently there are sequels… (including the wonderfully named Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust.)
Die Hard (1988)
We can skip the “is it really a Christmas movie…” – it’s set at a Christmas party, and that’s the whole reason that everything happens on that occasion. Done. Also, it’s great! Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman absolutely glow. Unmissable Christmas action fun.
Santa’s Slay (2005)
Here we have a wrestler playing an ancient demon finally allowed to go out and murder people at Christmas. I laughed quite a lot during this one, even if there isn’t much to it. Check out the ripped Santa though!
The Children (2008)
A nice simple idea – the kids go crazy (infected with something or other) and try to kill their parents. What’s not to love? It has a few pleasingly grim early murders and “accidents” that should cheer up anyone who’s ever found children a bit worrying. And if you’re into kids being murdered, well, there’s plenty of that here too. Nicely tense and chilling.
Wind Chill (2007)
I don’t think this really qualifies as a Christmas horror movie, but I watched it so… Emily Blunt (who I think I always enjoy watching in films) gets a lift home from a fellow student who turns out not to be who he seems… But it gets much worse when they crash their car into a night of freezing snow, with ghosts! Pretty straightforward and fairly tense, especially while we’re figuring out if the chap she’s with is going to kill her. Definitely has a few surprises, and if you like ghost stories that don’t feature Christmas at all (technically they’re on their way home from college for the festive season), then you might enjoy this.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Unquestionably the best and most faithful version of Charles Dickens’ Christmas ghost story, it’s somehow thirty years old, and we caught the cinema re-release. It was magical. Continuously funny and with heartwarming songs, the highlight for me is how utterly terrible Michael Caine is at singing and dancing. This is definitely up there in my top five Christmas films of all genres.
I somehow missed this entirely when it came out (I dunno, pandemic or something), but it’s Walton Goggins (who I utterly adore) hired to assassinate Mel Gibson’s Santa. Instantly great fun. It’s all driven by a little boy who is very much Artemis Fowl, but a right little shit. The tone is rather odd, because it isn’t played for laughs, even when the elves are subcontracted out to work for the US military.
Silent Night (2021)
Loved this, it’s super-grim. A family and friends meet up at Christmas with their (variously smart, kind, and hateful children) for the very last time… It’s rather subtly done and only partway into the film is it made clear why everyone is running on ragged nerves. It’s funny, and nicely acted by a great cast (including Keira Knightley and Lucy Punch), and the kids are unusually good too. The ending is the exact bleakness I saw coming and very satisfying.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
I’d been looking forward to finally watching this after chasing it around the streaming services for a few years. It’s OK. Zombie musical set at Christmas is cool and there are plenty of funny parts, but it didn’t hang together particularly well for me (I suspect for very similar reasons to the film version of the Matilda musical). I’m glad I’ve seen it, and if you haven’t then it’s totally worth a shot.
Better Watch Out (2017)
This is very slick and satisfying. I’d forgotten that I’d already seen it, and thought I was watching a different film, so I was very happily surprised. I remember having a babysitter when I was younger and vaguely fancying them, but thankfully I’m not a sociopathic little bastard who’s really into his babysitter. This has very nice home invasion vibes, with some excellent subversion, kills and lovely production work all round.
An essential Christmas film which we watch most years, and this time accompanied tree erection. This has all the spirit and mean fun of Dickens with one of Bill Murray’s most satisfying performances, as well as good quality Bobcat Goldthwaite. If you haven’t seen it, but like Christmas films then you’re only letting yourself down.
Christmas Evil (1980)
Alright, this one isn’t good, but it’s oddly fascinating. Low budget, incredibly slow and with a really odd script… Sold? It feels a lot like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, in that the lead is very worrying all the way through. Disturbed by seeing Santa (presumably his dad, but I don’t think that was entirely clear) touching up his mum on Christmas Eve, Harry grows up obsessed with Christmas, taking notes on which neighbourhood kids have been naughty or nice, works in a toy factory… and eventually goes on a little killing spree after his employers turn out to be utterly cynical bastards. It escalates nicely, but the first forty-five minutes is a slog. The flying van is worth it though…
Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022)
The best kinds of Christmas horror films combine a witty script with a cool idea and great murders. This one almost manages it. They’ve nicked the idea from Small Soldiers, only converting military robots into store Santa “toys”, I guess. For some reason one goes on the rampage, killing quite a lot of people. The script is surprisingly full and sharp, beginning with a pair of co-workers in a music shop going out to get wasted. If you wanted the characters from High Fidelity to die horribly, you might be in luck. It’s not brilliant, but the robo-Santa proves to be quite hard to kill and makes for a satisfying end to the movie. It won’t be a total waste of your time.
Black Christmas (1974)
A classic, but like many classics that you just have to see, it’s actually not that great. I don’t care about people being murdered if I don’t like any of them. I’m not exactly cheering on the killer, but I didn’t really care for this. Apart from the movie above, this is the most classic slasher I’ve watched, and they don’t give me a lot of fun overall. I look forward to seeing if the remakes are any better. Props though, for a rather upsetting bathroom scene.
Rare Exports (2010)
An outstanding example of the genre. We’ve been watching this one for a few years now, and it’s not yet diminished. Way up in Lapland some folks are excavating the real Santa, one the Fins killed and entombed long ago, because being European Santa’s not going to give you a teddy bear. Enter a lovely young lad who sort of discovers it’s all going to go tits up, and his hunter/butcher dad. This isn’t an out and out horror slash or action fest, but it’s warm, funny and very dark – another Christmas horror story with a cracking ending. Unlike most of this lot, I find I don’t want to spoil it…
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Possibly the best Christmas action movie ever, this is a stunning Shane Black-written Christmas action comedy (does he write anything else?) with Geena Davis as an amnesiac assassin who’s living the good life with her daughter and boyfriend in a lovely Christmas town. Unfortunately her assassin alter ego is coming back, and so are all the people who thought she was dead… This might also be my favourite Samuel L Jackson film (and is apparently one of his favourites too). There’s some very dodgy ’90s comedy and very snappy dialogue, great shoot ups and fights, and lots of heartwarming Christmas family stuff too. You must watch it. Killer soundtrack too.
The usual Christmas rewatch list obviously includes modern Christmas classics like Elf (2003) (a grown man thinks he’s an elf – horrifying!), and the truly excellent Krampus (2015). We also can’t resist the near-perfect Halloween/Xmas stop-motion musical The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), and the also stop-motion, by Aardman and not-very-horror Robbie the Reindeer (Hooves of Fire 1999 and Legend of the Lost Tribe from 2002) although the second one does see the reindeers trapped as theme park mannequins by the villain (voiced by Jeff Goldblum). Finally, of course, Gremlins (1984) which remains unbelievably good, funny and entertaining. At the very least, every one of these films is shorter than Avatar: Way of the Water and likely a better use of your time.