The 5 Best Holiday Horror Movies

BACK IN NOVEMBER 1984, a horror film called Silent Night, Deadly Night unleashed a killer Santa Claus into movie theaters across America.

The outrage was immediate: Protesters railed against the film, Gene Siskel accused the screenwriter of collecting “blood money,” and it was ultimately pulled from theaters ten days later.

Yet during those ten days, Silent Night, Deadly Night raked in a Santa sack of $2.5 millionon a $750,000 budget, no less. Home-video sales of the movie eventually went boom and spurred four sequels and one remake (so far).

Silent Night, Deadly Night wasn’t the first Christmas horror movie, but it was the first to prove something: that what some people really want during the holidays is to cheer on a jolly old man with a round little belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly while he’s using an ax to chop people in the face.

This wasn’t just some ’80s thing: 1996 brought us Santa Claws, 2005 had Santa’s Slay, and come December 2 of this year, David Harbour will don the red suit while fending off a barrage of ruthless mercenaries in Violent Night.

And holiday gore flicks aren’t limited to Saint Nick, either. There are those featuring maniacal snowmen (Jack Frost), demented sentient cookies (The Gingerdead Man), vengeful European folklore beings (Krampus), and even a serial-killing religious zealot (Hanukkah).

Seriously, what’s wrong with us?

“There is an idealized version of Christmas portrayed in traditional Christmas movies that is certainly a fantasy,” says Rick Deaton, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist working in Los Angeles. “But most of us are a bit disappointed that our own Christmases are often stressful and tense and bring out the worst in dysfunctional family dynamics.” Horror movies help some of us process all that dysfunction and worst-ness.

Don’t get us wrong: A lot of us crave a frictionless holiday season—and we like feel-good movies too. Look at the ever-expanding Hallmark Countdown to Christmas movie empire. Or even the canon of irreverent yuletide comedies like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Elf.

But unlike those genres, holiday horror movies almost never end leaving you with the warm fuzzies. Yes, a hero will vanquish the savage Santa/reanimated elf/rampaging snow sculpture, but not before leaving a wake of blood, guts, and ruination all over the sacred holiday season. And isn’t that really what this time of year is about for many of us—survival?

“How cathartic to watch a Christmas horror movie with all of those idealized setups, with a jolly Santa bringing the perfect gifts to the perfect family, and suddenly watch them terrorized and fearing for their lives,” Deaton says.

Witnessing someone literally become a holiday spirit is fun. It’s a release valve—a way to de-stress and not take ourselves so seriously during the most earnest time of year. I agree with Deaton. There’s something special about watching the credits roll on one of these horror movies and thinking: “There’s no way my holidays can be that bad.”

The 5 Best Holiday Horror Movies

Each movie is more intense than the one before. How long can you last?

Gremlins (1984)

Meaner than the Grinch, but in a fun way.

Black Christmas (1974)

A genuinely creepy Canadian college slasher from A Christmas Story’s writer-director.

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

An end-of-the-world Christmas zombie musical (!).

Silent Night (2012)

A Silent Night, Deadly Night remake, this one featuring Santa stuffing someone into a wood chipper.

Inside (2007)

A pregnant woman defends herself, and her baby, from a holiday home invasion.

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