Holiday

7 classic holiday horror films that will make your blood run cold

A watch list for when you're in a macabre mood this season.

A watch list for when you're in a macabre mood this season

A woman standing in an open front door, looking outside. Red lights from the wreath on the door illuminate her face.
(Source: Reginald H. Morris/August Films)

The holiday season isn't all cheer and reindeer. In fact, December can feel downright grisly at times. So for the days when you're in the mood for something more macabre than stop-motion snowmen, here's an alternative watch list full of scary seasonal mayhem. These seven holiday horror classics are the perfect antidote if you find yourself inundated with comfort and joy.

Dead End

At the worst of times, being stuck in the same room as your relatives during the holidays can feel a little like purgatory, a never-ending curse of awkward conversations and lumpy potatoes. Dead End, a Christmas Eve-set horror film by French filmmakers Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa, takes these familial anxieties to a chilling level.

In this criminally underseen 2003 release, patriarch Frank (Twin Peaks's Ray Wise) decides to take his family down the scenic route to an annual holiday party instead of taking the highway. Soon, they find themselves on an endless side road to nowhere, with no signs, no lights — and definitely no exits. Steeped in dark existentialism, Dead End is the forgotten holiday horror selection that's sure to frost over any family reunion this year.

Krampus 

As funny as it is festive and freaky, 2015's Krampus is a must-watch for any fans of Yuletide fear who don't like when their horror takes itself too seriously. With memorable appearances by Toni Collette and Adam Scott, this underappreciated horror snowglobe centres on a family being tormented by a monstrous, Santa-like figure known to unleash a cornucopia of chaos.

A big part of this film's appeal is all the creative, Christmas-themed sidekick monsters who aid the anti-Claus in his treacherous holiday slay-ride. My favourites of the bunch? A particularly mean set of murderous gingerbread men named Lumpy, Clumpy and Dumpy. 

Anna and the Apocalypse

A horror movie, Christmas story, high school musical and zombie bloodbath — who says you can't have it all this year? If you're in the mood for a film that's truly outside of the holiday mould, do yourself a favour and turn on Anna and the Apocalypse. It centres around a girl facing an average holiday season … until the zombie apocalypse arrives with a handful of deathly catchy tunes in tow. Think the cast of Glee meeting The Walking Dead on Christmas Vacation

With just the right amount of sentimentality, tension and charm, this zany seasonal selection pushes just enough boundaries to intrigue the younger members of your household and make them feel like one of the grown-ups. 

Black Christmas (1974)

It's impossible to discuss Yuletide terror without unearthing Black Christmas, the original the-call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house horror movie. Helmed by Bob Clark, the same director who brought us A Christmas Story, this film offers a very different vision of December chaos. It follows a university student named Jess (Olivia Hussey) as she handles her overbearing boyfriend's attempts to persuade her not to have an abortion, all while a terrifying stalker is butchering her sorority sisters. 

As scary as it is intensely beautiful, Black Christmas is an ideal watch for those holiday nights when the streets feel eerily still, no matter where you are. Look close and you'll even be able to spot some Toronto landmarks in the background.

Tales from the Crypt: "And All Through the House"

Long before HBO turned it into a TV show, the classic EC comic book series Tales from the Crypt was adapted into an anthology film. The 1972 movie's first — and arguably most memorable — segment stars the incomparable Joan Collins as a woman who murders her husband on an ill-fated Christmas Eve. Coincidentally, a killer in a Santa suit is on the loose in her neighbourhood and inevitably finds his way to her bloody love nest. 

And All Through the House is an iconic piece of holiday horror that can be enjoyed in multiple ways. My suggestion: Start with the 1972 film version, stream the 1989 episode of the HBO series directed by Robert Zemeckis, and then top things off by flipping through the original comic as seen in The Vault of Horror issue 35. It's the perfect triptych of holiday fear. 

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Speaking of killer Santas, the award for the most murderous Mr. Claus may have to go to Billy Chapman of Silent Night, Deadly Night. After witnessing his parents brutally dispatched by a carjacker dressed as Santa, poor little Billy spends his childhood at a Catholic orphanage attempting to undo his trauma. Alas, once he grows up, he sets out on a red-suited spree of his own.

Campy and exploitative, Silent Night, Deadly Night is as fun as it is deeply distasteful — so much so that parents picketed the film's 1984 release, angry that it dared to transform the wholesomeness of Santa into something totally debased. Turn to this holiday horror classic once the very last of the twinkle lights are turned out on Christmas Eve. Just double check that the little ones are fast asleep first. You wouldn't want them to know the gruesome truth about Santa, would you?

Inside

New French Extremity hit horror cinema like a bag of bricks in the 2000s, taking the genre to the brink with its grotesque, thoughtful and mind-bending stories. In 2007, filmmaking duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury entered the scene with Inside, an intimate and nasty film that managed to make even the most seasoned horror fans squirm upon its release. 

This one is a cat and mouse story about a scissor-baring stranger who breaks into a pregnant woman's home on Christmas Eve with a singular goal: to leave with the yet unborn child. Gory, upsetting and totally innovative, Inside promises to paint your halls red with carnage — both physical and emotional. This title is ideal for anyone itching to push their own boundaries when it comes to scary movies. Just don't venture in alone — you'll want to gather your bravest friends for this descent into December desecration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Korngut is a writer and filmmaker based in Toronto. He's also the managing editor of Dread Central, a web publication that covers all things horror. Check out his podcast, Development Hell, wherever you listen, and say hi to him on socials via @joshkorngut.

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