Saturday, December 4, 2010

Top 13: Christmas-Themed Horror Films of All Time

compiled by Nickolas Cook

When I first tackled this tougher than you might think list of the top 13 best Christmas themed horror movies I wondered what the hell I'd gotten myself into. There didn't at first seem to me to be 13 films to even consider for the list. But after some careful thought, and some serious casting back into my younger years of horrorhead love for all things horror, I discovered (or I should say re-discovered) that there were actually quite a few older titles which came to mind as I started to dig a little deeper into the merry xmas of horror films.
But in all fairness to the horror fans out there, I wanted to keep this a "Christmas-Themed" list, because there are some great movies out there which, while they aren't strictly speaking 'horror' films, I still remember them with love--even if they're not quite as xmas-centric as I might have preferred. And again, to be fair, a few titles on the list aren't exactly meant to be horror films, but in my humble horrorhead opinion, they still have enough darkly horrific moments in them that I felt they deserved a spot on this particular Top 13.
So with that brief explanation aside, I present The Black Glove's Top 13 Christmas-Themed Horror Films of All-Time, in alphabetical order, as usual.

13. To All a Good Night (1980)

Directed by one of horror's most infamous villians, David Hess of the original "Last House on the Left" fame, this little Xmas slasher flick gives us a bunch of naked young women and lost of bloody blades, and one killer in a Santa Claus suit. Of course, it being a slasher, that's not all that surprising for a horror film in the 80s, is it? And one has to wonder how this flick slipped past the censors and parents groups when lesser films got slapped silly by every activist group in the English speaking world.

12. Tales From the Crypt (1972)

Okay, to be technical, not the whole movie. I'm speaking of the "...And All Through the House" 'Killer Santa' segment, which starred Joan Collins as a bitchy murderess who becomes a target when she's caught being naughty by a psycho in a Santa suit. She'd love to call the police for help, but, see, she's got the pesky problem of her dead husband to explain. So she plays cat and mouse with one of the filthiest looking Santas you're apt to see outside a K-Mart Christmas photo line.

11. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

So why the hell did it take this 1984 movie to finally become a target for anti-Santa-in-horror activist groups the world over? It certainly wasn't the first horror movie to depict a slasher in a Santa suit. Probably had a lot to do with Siskel and Ebert, the world's most famous and widely watched film critics at the time. They actually took exception to the whole slasher genre in general, for its misogynistic violence, but specifically targeted this movie as bad for children. And that's all it took for the parents and religious groups to pick up the anti-Silent Night, Deadly Night mantra. It was also released for the Christmas holiday film crowd, the first time that had been done with a specifically Santa suit clad killer.
Not sure if any of these dumbasses checked, but the rating in place for this movie was meant to keep kids from seeing the movie.
But the outcry was resounding, all the major television stations pulled the ads, and most the larger theater chains dropped the movie.
Which, of course, made people turn out in droves to see it.
It's a simple tale of a young boy who witnesses the violent death of his parents at the hands of a Santa Claus suited killer, who gets dumped into a harsh Catholic run orphanage. Years go by in which he takes lots of physical and mental abuse, until he finally snaps and dons the red and white and grabs an axe, goes on his own killing spree.

10. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)

Okay, so there's no actual killer Santa in this one, but it does take place on Xmas, and it does have Mary Woronov in it. It is a fairly gory flick, so there's that too. But there's a reason why it sat on the shelves for two years before finally getting its '74 release.

9. Legend of Hell House (1973)

No slashers, here, in this superb film about the ultimate evil house, The Belasco House, known in paranormal circles as "the Mount Everest of haunted houses". Based on Richard Matheson's book by the same name, it doesn't disappoint. In fact, this movie has made several of our top lists in the past. The tale is about a cynical physicist who decides the Christmas holiday weekend is the perfect time to try out his new spirit sucking machine, which is supposed to purge Hell House of all its badness. Along with him he brings a duo of talented psychics, one who barely survived his first encounter with the evil which resides within Hell House. Great acting, spoton cinematography and direction from John Hough, and a gloomy atmosphere make this one hell of a great horror movie.

8. Gremlins (1984)

Yes, it's that 80s perrenial favorite of light horror and comedy. Not sure why this movie has fallen out of favor in the new century, but it's still a fun flick, with just enough mean spirited nastiness with the bad gremlins to make it fun after all these years. If you don't own this one, get it, watch it and remember why it was so much fun the first half a million times you saw it as a kid.
When Zack Galligan's dad brings home a once in a lifetime Xmas gift, there are some simple rules he must follow: never get this new gift wet and never, ever feed it after midnight. Of course, he breaks all the rules with the Mogwai, and next thing he knows, his hometown is over run with the not-so-good versions of his cuddly little furry pet (voiced by the once very famous Howie about dating yourself when you can know that factiod without checking it on online).

7. Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

This time it's not a killer dressed as Santa that's doing the killing, but an insane psycho who's killing anyone unlucky enough to be wearing the red and white holiday garb. And, boy, does this one get nasty and mean all the way round. Shot in and around London, it has some gorgeous holiday cinematography in Merry Old England, but beware of some cheapjack production special effects. Still, it does it's best to change up the by-then stale slasher sub-genre.

6. Day of the Beast (1995)

This is another one that takes place on Xmas, but takes the stand of it being the literal birth of Christ. A very dedicated Spanish Catholic priest is given a message from God to protect the world from the coming of the true Anti-Christ, and so he commits against his nature as many terrible sins (including pushing an innocent bystander to his death) in an earnest attempt to make contact with the Anti-Christ and destroy it before it can destroy mankind. God told him to, so it must be okay. Right? He's helped in his pursuit by a death metal fan of the first order, who throws himself into his new work with the Lord in his long-haired, slacker best. What a great fun movie this is, with some excellent stop motion animation special effects that tickles the inner Harryhausen kid in me everytime I see it. And it also happens to be the only foreign sub-titled movie on our list. Trust me, if you love good horror, with an edge of comedy, this is one you need to own. Get it for your collection, horrorhead!

5. Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) (1980)

Better known by it's original title "You Better Watch Out", it actually predates the whole 'borrowed' plot of "Silent Night, Deadly Night", in which a man decides to go on a killing spree dressed in a Santa Claus suit. Again, some cheapjack production values make this less than great, but it's got the right spirit to it anyway. It's become somewhat of a cult classic now, so if you want a complete Xmas horror collection, you should have it.

4. Child's Play (1988)

This, along with "Gremlins", has become the perfect bad gift movie. In this case, the now famous Chucky Doll has become synonymous with really bad gifts. An innocent "Good Guy Doll" becomes imbued with the spirit of a serial killer, played by the always awesome Brad Dourif, who takes over the doll and commits horrible, bloody acts of violence in his new indestructible body. Directed by author/director/producer Tom Holland this has become one of the biggest franchises since the "Nightmare On Elm Street" movies, spawning no less than four less than stellar sequels. While this isn't exactly a Xmas movie, it's the thought that counts, with many gifts one gets on Xmas Day, right?

3. Black Christmas (aka Silent Night, Evil Night)(1974)

First off, let's all please forget about that shitty remake of this movie in 2006. Bob Clark was probably turning in his fucking grave when that piece of crap hit the screen. This is the best of the best of not only Xmas horror films, but one of the best slasher movies ever made. It's still one seriously creepy ass movie and still leaves me feeling feeling dirty and disturbed by the end of the movie. Truly one you must own if you ever hope to be a serious Horrorhead.
There's a faceless killer inside a womans' sorority house on Xmas Eve and he's taking them one by one, in some fairly graphic ways. But what's most unsettling about this movie is what you DON'T see.
"Why did you you do it, Billy?"
Just when you think you've got this superior slasher movie figured out...think again. If you haven't seen it yet, put it on your calendar for the holidays. I promise you you will not be disappointed. This comes from a time and place when people knew how to still make horror films.

2. A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Maybe one of Tim Burton's best movies of all time...and that's really saying something. You've also got some great tunes and singing by the great mastermind behind the 80s' Oingo Boingo, turned world famous movie composer, Danny Elfman. There's some of the best claymation effects you will ever see, mixed with a funny, sometimes disturbing, story about Jack Skellington's attempt to turn Christmas into something a little darker than intended by Christians world round. More like a Halloween version of Xmas, if you will. There's a reason why this has become a cult classic for the holidays. You've got Burton's hommage to Halloween and Xmas rolled into one, the great songs, and great claymation, and there has never been a movie like it since. Xmas has never been scarier.

1. A Christmas Carol (1938) didn't really think I was going to NOT put this on a Xmas movie list, did you? I mean, this is maybe the greatest ghost story ever published, and maybe the greatest Xmas story to boot. This is one of the earliest film versions of Dickens' most famous story of all time. 1988's "Scrooged" with Bill Murray is one hell of a great updating on the message, but for my money I will always and forever love this 1938 version best.
In case you've been in a cave most of your life, I'll give you the short version of this timeless classic. Ebenezer Scrooge, as played by the late, great Reginald Owen, is one mean anti-Christmas asshole, who thinks of the holiday as nothing more than an excuse for lazy and shiftless people to get free handouts, and he does nothing but complain about it to anyone who will listen. He even goes so far as to fire his poor employee on Xmas Eve, leaving the man destitue with a family of five to feed.
But the spirits of Xmas decide to give Scrooge a chance to learn a lesson abou the true meaning of the day. He is visited by his dead business partner, dressed in the heavy chains he must wear in his afterlife forever more. He tells Scrooge he's to be visited by three Xmas spirits, one from the past, the present and the future. Let's just say it's the one from the future that shows Scrooge what's to become of him that puts the fear of God into him.
I promise, unless you're made of that post modern plastic which I see more and more of in the new generation of film fans, you will cry and wish people Merry Christmas by the end of the movie.
With that being said, God Bless Us, Each and Everyone.

--Nickolas Cook