It’s Christmas time, and Krampus is coming to town to scare everyone who hasn’t gotten into the holiday spirit. And while the idea of mixing comfort and joy with jolts and screams might seem unusual, there’s a proud tradition of Yuletide scares.
After all, one of the most popular stories at this time of year is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which four ghosts appear to frighten Ebenezer Scrooge into embracing the real meaning of the holiday. And even the original Christmas story has that whole slaying-of-the-firstborn undercurrent to it. (That’s a combination Bible epic/slasher movie that some exploitation filmmaker is bound to get around to one of these days.)
So if your idea of a holiday hero is Jack Skellington rather than George Bailey, here’s a list of five entertaining horror movies that will bring an extra chill to your December. (For a more complete list of scary, funny, exciting, sad, and pretty much every other kind of holiday movie, check out my book Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas.)
In this fiendishly funny and frightening Finnish import, an excavation team makes a mysterious discovery while a young boy researches Santa Claus, only to discover that the old man is a fearsome legend who exists to punish naughty children. As strange events begin occurring around town, the boy fears that the diggers have uncovered Santa’s resting place, and that the man in the red suit plans to exact a hideous revenge.
Director Bob Clark is probably best known for the beloved A Christmas Story, but his first foray into Christmas stories was this pre-Halloween slasher classic about a group of sorority girls being tormented by an obscene phone caller just before winter break. Plucky Olivia Hussey is the valiant Final Girl, but the cast also includes Keir Dullea (2001), veteran comic actress Andrea Martin (who got stunt-cast in the far inferior 2006 remake), and the scene-stealing Margot Kidder, whose wry line readings are unforgettable.
This Santa-slasher horror movie is one of John Waters’ favorite movies, and it might just become one of yours, too. Brandon Maggart (a Tony nominee and Fiona Apple’s real-life dad) plays Harry, a toy factory employee obsessed with Santa Claus, giving himself a beard made of shaving cream and keeping tabs on which of the neighborhood kids have been nice and naughty. When he loses his job, Harry snaps and starts eliminating the people he thinks are lacking Christmas spirit, leading to a must-be-seen-to-be-believed finale. Ho ho ho!
What would happen if you crossed It’s a Wonderful Life and a monster movie? Screenwriter Christopher Columbus (who would go on to direct another seasonal fave, Home Alone) and director Joe Dante decided to find out, subjecting the idyllic town of Kingston Falls to an invasion of the mogwai, creatures that start out cuddly but then turn nasty and start spawning offspring when they get wet. This movie has a nasty streak a mile wide, but its combination of dark laughs and genuine horror has made this one a Yuletide fave. (It also – in combination with another Steven Spielberg production, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – helped usher in the PG-13 rating.)
Forget every other film you’ve ever seen about a serial killer who gets turned into a homicidal snowman: this one’s the real deal. Stemming from a genuinely ludicrous concept, this story about a prisoner whose DNA mixes with experimental acid in the Snowman Capitol of America finds the humorous in the horrific, and vice versa. Keep an eye out for a pre–American Pie Shannon Elizabeth, who turns up to get assaulted by the titular monster. (Not to be confused with the Michael Keaton movie of the same name – that one’s arguably even creepier.)
Follow Alonso Duralde on Twitter at @ADuralde.