Ruin your festive season with these cult horror classics
The Christmas movie is a festive tradition that dates back nearly a century, from wistful and blessed classics like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, to Home Alone, Elf and Love Actually. Many of us often enjoy being plonked in front of the TV during the holiday season, soaking in pleasant stories of white-bearded men while chomping down a mince pie. But for all these good tidings, the film industry has also produced an awful lot of work by people who evidently dwell on the naughty list – and today, wicked subversions of the Christmas spirit are found all over.
In 2022, a trip to the cinema could ruin Christmas forever if you’re not savvy. All it takes is a simple misunderstanding and an unsuspecting victim could wander into Violent Night — which pits Stranger Things’ David Harbour and his reindeer against a team of elite mercenaries. The Mean One, a violent horror parody of Dr Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas! set in a sleepy mountain town, is no better. And then there’s Christmas Bloody Christmas – a violent tale of a robotic Santa Claus who goes on a relentless killing spree a la The Terminator.
We’ve concluded that the following Christmas films should be avoided at all costs by those wishing for happy holidays this winter.
Believe it or not, the prototype for the entire slasher genre was a Canadian Christmas film. Black Christmas is the work in question – a film about a sorority house terrorised by intimidating crank calls, which lead to suspicious disappearances and bloody murders.
Sound familiar? Sure. But, significantly, this was a full four years before Halloween popularised the now-classic formula. The John Carpenter smash owes much to this often overlooked archetype – not least the POV camerawork that takes the perspective of an unseen antagonist, and the eerie shots of looming corridors and empty interiors.
More significantly, this is proper festive material. The film is largely set in a manor that is lit by the warm glow of Christmas lights and the sparkle of festive decorations, and the general creepiness is augmented by a soundtrack that persistently incorporates classic carols and church bells. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” have never sounded as incongruous as they do here, in between chilling scenes of suffocation and bludgeoning.
In 1971, five-year-old Billy (Jonathan Best) is sitting in the back of a car when he witnesses the sudden murder of his parents by an escaping gas station robber dressed as Santa Claus. In 1984, a traumatised adult Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) makes the misguided decision to take on a job at a toy store during the Christmas season. After being convinced to dress up as Santa himself, he then proceeds to embark on his own killing spree using Christmas decorations and all kinds of tools. Bloody mayhem ensues.
This sleazy, mean-spirited and sex-craven Christmas slasher was the subject of major controversy upon its release in 1984. An intense advertising campaign made no secret that Father Christmas himself was the killer, and the poster tagline read “You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas”. The crew were publicly shamed by celebrity critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on TV, and the distributors were forced to pull all ads for the film after just six days due to the moral outcry.
The film itself was also later withdrawn, but not before outgrossing the original Nightmare on Elm Street, which was released on the same day. The film’s 1987 sequel, meanwhile, is similarly infamous, with the hilariously OTT ‘Garbage Day’ scene today responsible for one of the internet’s all-time greatest memes.
This twisted French Christmas thriller has been called all kinds of things in the past 30 years (it’s also known as Dial Code Santa Claus, Game Over, Hide and Freak and, on horror streaming platform Shudder, Deadly Games) – but “the French Home Alone” is probably the best descriptor.
The film opens with a classic Christmas visual: the Eiffel Tower, covered with snow, sits at the centre of a snow globe, before promptly being crushed by a passing garbage truck. Thereafter, Rambo-obsessed child Thomas de Frémont (Alain Lalanne), his half-blind Grampa (Louis Ducreux), and dog JR find themselves stalked inside a labyrinthine mansion by a demented Santa impersonator. Cue booby traps, gratuitous slow-mo, far too many skewed camera angles and a whole lot of running around in this unexpectedly violent Christmas siege.
After discovering a secret Bible passage that says the Antichrist will be born on Christmas Eve 1995, Father Ángel Berriartúa (Álex Angulo) heads to Madrid with a peculiar mission. Through committing evil acts like robbing homeless people, listening to Napalm Death and keying cars, he intends to set up a meeting with the devil so that he can disrupt his wicked plans. He forms a trio of mismatched wise men with a local metalhead and a TV evangelist thereafter – but with Christmas fast on its way, there’s precious little time to prevent the apocalypse.
This Spanish-Italian production was a major breakthrough for director Álex de la Iglesia, who won six Goya Awards (Spain’s Oscars) in 1996, including Best Director. And while the Christmas festivities are largely background in this Satanic black comedy, the twinkling atmosphere and religious overtones ensure this is a genuine cult classic of the genre.
Jason Eisener’s breakthrough came when he won a contest to direct a fake trailer for Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s cult double-bill project Grindhouse in 2007. His teaser for Hobo With a Shotgun would appear sandwiched between the features Planet Terror and Death Proof alongside clips for made-up films directed by veteran filmmakers Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie and Eli Roth. It was effective enough that, within four years, Eisener was able to adapt the trailer to create a real film (also titled Hobo With a Shotgun) – but not before he directed this 16-minute Christmas massacre in 2008.
Absurd horror comedy Treevenge opens with a loving homage to exploitation classic Cannibal Holocaust, via recycling Riz Ortolani’s swooning score as wide shots take in fields of snowcapped conifers. The mood is quickly dismembered as cigar-chomping tree surgeons come wielding axes and chainsaws – and the anthropomorphic trees express panic and despair as they are cruelly hacked to bits. They eventually get their revenge, though, as merry revellers meet an outrageously gory fate on Christmas Day.
This dark, situational horror comedy from Eric Pennycoff is the latest seasonal offering from genre aficionados Arrow Films (it’s streaming now on the Arrow Player), and it stands up on the strength of its tight direction, enjoyable cast and deranged energy.
A jolly and compassionate young priest blesses a dwindling congregation inside a church in middle America. As snow falls outside, an unhinged vagrant awakens on one of the pews, and after the naive Father David (Graham Skipper) decides to offer Terry (Jeremy Gardner) a place to stay in the lead-up to Christmas, a festive odd couple is born. With the addition of Terry’s girlfriend Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke), the preacher soon finds himself facing his own trials, tribulations and wicked temptations – the result of which may ruin Christmas mass.