Further Reading: Seasonal Slaying - The 12 Horrors of Christmas

Kim Newman chooses 12 Yuletide nightmares.

by | December 25, 2008 | Comments

Thanks to Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol, the Yuletide season has long been associated with ghost stories — often with hard-won uplift at the end, like Scrooge being reformed by pestering spectres or Jimmy Stewart terrified into affirming that It’s a Wonderful Life after all. In the 1970s, the BBC threw a chill into Morecambe and Wise-dominated holiday schedules with their annual Ghost Story for Christmas series, mostly adapted from stories M.R. James had originally written to be read aloud as a seasonal treat. Somehow, the combination of the long nights, the cold weather and forced proximity to your family is as conducive to bone-freezing horror as joy to the world and all-round merriment.

So, for those who still think Christmas fans should be buried at the crossroads with a sprig of holly through their hearts, here are my recommendations for a full holiday of horrors…

On the first day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
Tales From the Crypt (1972)

Joan Collins bludgeons her husband to death under the Christmas tree and tries to get rid of the body, all the while besieged in her hideous suburban home by an escaped homicidal maniac dressed as Santa Claus. In the end, her innocent little daughter lets Santa in and he throttles Joanie. Heh heh heh. The classic first episode of Freddie Francis’s adaptation of stories from the gleefully nasty 1950s horror comic.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
Hansel and Gretel (2006)

Three Korean psychic kids establish an eternal Christmas with sweets and cake for every meal in a house in the middle of magic woods. Only loosely connected to the fairytale, it features a Korean Santa who can actually grant little kids’ wishes and a miserable orphanage flashback which makes Oliver Twist seem cheery.

Santa's Slay

On the third day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
Santa’s Slay (2005)

A maniacally evil Santa (wrestler Bill Goldberg) turns out to be the Devil’s son, and has only been nice to children for the last thousand years because he lost a bet with an angel. Now the term of the promise is up, and he can revert to his favoured mode of celebrating the ‘slaying’ time of year. Ho ho horror!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
Black Christmas (1972)

Even before Halloween, there were holiday slashers, and Bob Clark’s sorority-set horror film is among the best of ’em, with Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin as sorority girls persecuted by a prank caller (yes, they trace the calls and… they’re coming from the attic!) at Christmas. The remake has murder by sharpened candy cane, but isn’t as good.

Black Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
36:15 – Code Pere Noel (1989)

It’s almost impossible to see this Christmas horror film — which I voted to win several awards at a film festival in 1989 when I was on a jury — because it’s never been distributed outside France. At the time, director Rene Manzor said that Hollywood wanted to remake his story about a shut-in, ingenious kid (Alain Musy) who improvises booby-traps to defend himself from a killer Santa Claus (Patrick Florsheim) over the holidays – but drop the Santa angle. Funnily enough, Home Alone came out a year later and doesn’t credit this as a source. The French film is darker, funnier and has more guts than John Hughes’ version — but good luck trying to find it.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
You Better Watch Out (1980), aka Christmas Evil

My personal favourite psycho-Santa movie, this is about an embittered, holiday-loving employee (Brandon Maggart) of a nasty toy company who spends the holidays murdering folks who abuse the spirit of Christmas and giving away toys for orphans. John Waters said of this film, “I wish I had kids. I’d make them watch it every year, and if they didn’t like it, they’d be punished.” For a real holiday horror, double bill it with New Year’s Evil.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love watched with me….
Don’t Open til Christmas (1984)

If you ever get fed up with Christmas horror films with psychopathic Santas — the worst I’ve ever seen is To All a Goodnight — then check out this dreadful British picture, in which a psychopath (Alan Lake) murders old gits in Santa Claus outfits.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Though there were enough homicidal maniac Santas in movies before 1984 to form a football team — with reserves — this was the picture that excited pro-Christmas protesters to picket at the sacrilege of depicting old Kris Kringle as a murdering lunatic. Maybe it was the scene where Linnea Quigley gets impaled topless on some reindeer antlers. All the fuss didn’t stop Silent Night, Deadly Night from having four sequels. For true perversity, I recommend the immediate follow-up Silent Night, Deadly Night Part II (1987), which cheekily recycles about an hour of footage from the original to pad out the minimal new story, but does run to a wonderful sequence — blatantly ripped off in Scary Movie — as the vigilante killer is taken to see a film about a murdering Santa (“that’s the worst idea for a film I’ve ever heard”) and gleefully takes a knife to some clown who talks throughout the picture.


On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
Gremlins (1984)

A classic — for Phoebe Cates’ “and that’s why I hate Christmas” speech alone. The studio wanted it cut, but Joe Dante insisted it stay in.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
The Addams Family (1991)

The opening of the film brings to life Charles Addams’ wonderful Christmas spirit cartoon, in which his gruesome family celebrate their own variety of togetherness by pouring boiling oil onto the heads of a parcel of merry carol-singers.


On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
P2 (2007)

Rachel Nicholls is trapped in a parking structure on Christmas Eve by a lunatic stalker (Wes Bentley) who wants to have take-out turkey with her and is going to torture her nasty boss to death as a present. There has to be a Christmas-themed torture porn/abduction movie, and this is it.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love watched with me…
The Devil Doll (1936)

This is the one about Lionel Barrymore escaping from Devil’s Island and teaming up with mad scientists to wreak vengeance on his tormentors — he drags up as a little old lady and opens a toyshop, selling shrunken, hypnotised human beings as dolls who also work as assassins. The best scene has a miniature killer smuggled into a victim’s home as a Christmas present for a little girl, then coming to life while tied to the tree and scurrying through the wrapped gifts to leave a nasty surprise come Christmas morning.

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