RT's Top Holiday Thrillers -- Christmas Countdown, Day Three

by | December 20, 2006 | Comments

Welcome to Day Three of RT’s Five Days of Christmas Countdown, in which we serve up a different list each day of the best holiday flicks around. Today, we’ve got the best-reviewed holiday thrillers — a list that includes a proto-slasher, a cop/buddy flick, and a wrestling match between love and hate.

The holidays are here, and it’s time to break out the sleds, roast the chestnuts, and watch a movie or five about yuletide magic (or a decided lack thereof). And when in doubt regarding your best viewing for any occasion, as always, we’re here to help; the merry elves at Rotten Tomatoes have listed the Tomatometers, checked them twice, and will be presenting, during the Five Days of Christmas, the best-reviewed holiday films in the following categories: Classics, Comedies, Animated/Children’s, Dramas, and Thrillers. Pour yourself a cup of eggnog and get ready for some fine seasonal viewing!

Top Five Holiday Thrillers

All this holiday cheer is all well and good, but what if you like a few chills to go with your jingle bells? We’ve got just the five movies for you. Whether it’s running barefoot through shards of broken glass, Shelley Winters at the bottom of a lake, or sorority girls being hunted down by a murderous psychopath that strikes your yuletide fancy, you’ll find it here!

5) Black Christmas (1975) 63%

Think John Carpenter‘s "Halloween" invented the use of the killer’s-perspective shot? Nope — they’re all over the place in Bob Clark‘s "Black Christmas," released a full four years earlier. Not a film geek and don’t care? Not to worry, "Black Christmas" has lots to love, including the stunning Olivia Hussey (otherwise known as "The Hottest Juliet in the History of Film") and pre-fame versions of Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin. For its 32nd birthday, "Black Christmas" is receiving the big-budget remake treatment. It is bound to suck. Rent the original instead, and you’ll be likely to jump in terror the first time someone calls to wish you a merry Christmas.

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea
Directed by: Bob Clark

4) Gremlins (1984) 80%

"No exposure to bright light. Don’t get him wet. And never feed him after midnight." These would later go on to be helpful rules for taking care of young "Gremlins" star Corey Feldman, but in this holiday classic, they’re the three quick steps from cuddly Mogwai to leathery, troublemaking Gremlin. One of a series of mid-1980s kids’ classics from director Joe Dante, "Gremlins" is notable for helping to provoke the invention of the PG-13 rating, which seems laughably quaint if you compare its more violent bits with those of, say, "Spy Kids." (If viewed back-to-back with "The Santa Clause," "Gremlins" will make for a very Judge Reinhold Christmas. And there isn’t a thing wrong with that.)

Starring: Hoyt Axton, Phoebe Cates
Directed by: Joe Dante

3) Lethal Weapon (1987) 91%

This film’s connection to the season may seem rather tenuous, and we suppose it might be; that being said, it’s hard to argue with the inclusion of a movie in which Christmas is celebrated immediately after Gary Busey receives a brutal, richly deserved public pummeling. Were the sequels necessary? Hardly, but that doesn’t make a dent in Richard Donner‘s steely direction, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover‘s easy chemistry, or Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton‘s terrific score.

Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover
Directed by: Richard Donner

2) Die Hard (1988) 95%

Nothing says "Christmas" like sending a dead terrorist in a Santa cap down an elevator with a note saying "Ho, ho, ho. Now I’ve got a gun." After Bruce Willis killed his movie career with "Blind Date" and "Sunset," it was "Die Hard" that brought it back from the dead — while simultaneously reinventing large chunks of the entire action-movie genre. The sequels couldn’t help but be inferior (and it’s best not even to think about the upcoming "Die Hard 4.0"), but the first entry in the John McClane saga is a lean, mean action machine. Revisit Nakatomi Plaza this season and let the bullets fly all over again.

Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman
Directed by: John McTiernan

1) The Night of the Hunter (1955) 100%

Ah, noir for the holidays — there’s nothing like it. Christmas may not be the first thing on your mind when you watch the tale of murderous Harry Powell (played by Robert Mitchum) and his quest to learn the location of a treasure hidden by his dead prison cellmate, and in fact, there’s nothing terribly jolly about impersonating a preacher or marrying a woman to get at her kids. But if a bloody shiv in your stocking sounds like some primo Christmas cheer, "Night of the Hunter" will have you shaking like a bowl full of jelly.

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters
Directed by: Charles Laughton

Click here for Day Two: Top Five Seasonal Dramas
Click here for Day One: Top Five Yuletide Comedies

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