13 Christmas Horror Films

Silent-Night-Fright-RagsYou’d think Halloween would be fodder for the most scary movie fare, but Christmas horror films trump Devil’s night in sheer number and for sheer terror. For all those scary ghosts and goblins on Hallows Eve, nothing tops sitting in the lap of a complete stranger and not being in a strip club.

Until Christmas horror movies came down the pike, the scariest thing about December 25th was stores with lousy return policies; Now there are fat men in felt with a penchant for blood. There are 12 Days of Christmas but we spent many a night reviewing 13 Christmas horror films.

1. Silent Night, Deadly Night

We’ll start with the 1984 Santa-slasher that was so controversial in its depiction of an ax-brandishing homicidal Santa that when the film was released, angry parents picketed theaters and circulated petitions urging the film to be banned. The parents won. Silent Night, Deadly Night was pulled from theaters two weeks later. Nonetheless, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a wicked slasher with a high body count and gory kills.

Poor little Billy. Christmas Eve and his family are driving home from a visit with catatonic grandpa. They stop to provide roadside assistance to a driver dressed as Santa. Turns out he is a maniac who shoots dad in the head and slits mom’s throat while Billy cowers in the bushes. Three-years later, and Billy is in an orphanage run by a very stern Mother Superior. Come Christmas Eve, he witnesses a nun engaging in an act not very chaste and gets whipped as a result. That night, Billy tosses and turns, but instead of visions of sugarplum fairies dancing in his head, it’s mom and dad being slaughtered.

silent-night-deadly-night-2Billy understandably has a Santa phobia. Ten years later, and one of the nuns gets a now strapping Billy a job as a stock boy at a Toy Store over Christmas. And wouldn’t you know it, the store Santa breaks his ankle and poor Billy now has to face his worst fear and fill in. Christmas Eve. Billy gets drunk and witnesses the cashier whom he has a crush on and his nemesis Andy indulging in a little adult Christmas cheer. Cue the flashbacks. Billy snaps and murders all the store employees. Then, while still wearing his Santa suit, Billy takes his yuletide rampage to the streets.

Most un-Fa-La-La-La-La moment:

A toss up. First young, traumatized Billy is dragged kicking and screaming by Mother Superior to sit on Santa’s lap and decks Santa with a haymaker. Santa flies over his chair, emerges with a bloody nose and mustache and exclaims “What the hell is wrong with that kid?” Later, big, homicidal Billy hoists a topless Linnea Quigley and impales her on a pair of antler horns while growling “Punish!, Punish!”

2. Night Train MurdersNight Train Murders

A Yuletide riff on Last House on the Left, itself a riff on Ingmar Bergman’s  The Virgin Spring, this Italian “video-nasty” from 1975 makes up for its unoriginal structure with stylish and sadistic film making.

Night Train Murders begins with idyllic scenes of shoppers perusing a traditional Christmas market in Munich. The tranquility is broken when two street toughs who look like extras from an Italian production of Death Wish rough up and rob a Santa suit-clad 3-card Monte tosser taking a break for a little nip. We soon meet two young girls – one German, the other Italian – who are heading to Italy by train to spend Christmas break with the Italian girl’s parents.

On the same train are the two German hooligans. A delay in Innsbruk requires the girls to transfer to another train, and the goons follow them along with a sadistic older woman. They impose themselves on the girls’ makeshift X-mas Eve dinner and soon begin terrorizing the girls, leading to full-blown and disturbing sexual assault and death. Come Christmas Day, the parents arrive at the station to pick up the girls whose bodies, unbeknownst to them, have been dumped unceremoniously along the way. Due to some contrivance owing to the fact that the father is a doctor, they take home the psychotic trio instead. When they find out through the radio that the girls are dead, the father gets his revenge medieval style in a way that completely belies the Yuletime spirit of forgiveness.

Most un-Fa-La-La-La-La moment:Night Train Murders2

When the father breaks a glass IV drip in one of the tough’s faces, then takes the stand and pokes it indelicately in the kid’s manhood before impaling him on the shoulder.

He then bludgeons the kid with it but allows him to live just long enough to bleed out and crawl to his death.

3. Silent NightSilent Night Poster

Another psychotic Santa terrorizes a small, Midwestern town on Christmas Eve (actually Winnipeg, Manitoba). There’s not much more to the plot of this 2012 release, but Silent Night does have a few things going for it which makes it more nice than naughty.

It features a seemingly unstoppable killer Kris Kringle who wears one of those creepy translucent plastic facemasks.

The kills are plentiful and brutal and the weapons employed vary from an ax to a scythe to a flamethrower to brass-knuckle bedecked fists. Finally, you have Malcolm McDowell (who seems to do anything for a paycheck these days) as the town sheriff. Malcolm McD is a hoot as he spouts off hilarious non sequiturs such as “Don’t put avocado on a burger” and “My Aunt is my Uncle.”

Silent NightMost un-Fa-La-La-La-La moment:

Killer Santa visits a sleazy motel where a nude photoshoot is occurring. He castrates the photographer with a scythe then turns his sights on the topless model. She escapes through the window and runs into an abandoned Xmas tree lot. Santa hacks her leg off and then puts her into a running wood chipper.

santas_slay4. Santa’s Slay

An astoundingly shitty Edmonton-lensed horror features in-jokes about Wayne Gretzky (“You’ve got it locked in to The Great One 99.9 FM”!) foul-mouthed grannies, zero thrills and wit to match.

Christmas is all about giving and calling Santa’s Slay a horror comedy is charitable to either term.

James Caan is in the opening sequence, and if it wasn’t bad enough that he was acting opposite Chris Kattan, the least impressive cast member ever spawned from SNL, Caan is stuffed with turkey and has forks rammed through his hands by wrestler / Santa Bill Goldberg. We feel sorry for Dave Thomas as a strip club-frequenting pastor and Saul Rubinek, a deli owner killed with a menorah.

Santa’s Slay is forced, tone-deaf, self-satisfied and as close to unwatchable as anything you’ll ever see. Take it from us: we’ve seen every film in the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy.

Most un-Fa-La-La-La-La moment:

Everything from the first to the 78th minute. Someone is killed with a shorted out stripper pole. There’s something to be said for that, just not by us.

Christmas_Nightmare5. A Christmas Nightmare

After a California presidential candidate is murdered by right-wing group Secessionists for a Better Tomorrow (they probably have a splinter group with a better name) a witness couple is shuttled off to an FBI safe house by a chain-smoking Agent Simmons. They’re forced to stay at this creepy bungalow in the middle of nowhere, where the previous owner, a groundskeeper, killed the whole family and hung himself from a windmill water pump (He may have been a psychopath, but for the 1940s, he was ahead of his time with green energy!)

Soon, the missus finds the lunatic’s diary and starts hallucinating the girl victims a la The Shining.

The trio is forced to spend Christmas Eve in a furniture and food-less safe house (thanks to a SNAFU by the FBI, which puts the “Bureau” in “bureaucracy”) while the agent becomes consumed with the evil spirit of the murderer and busts out lines like “the man who holds the gun is never wrong.” It’s a slow-moving, cheap but effectively taut little thriller and worth a look.

Most un-Fa-La-La-La-La moment:

A Christmas Nightmare features dental self-surgery with pliers and a shovel-severed hand.

6. SaintSint Poster

Wow! Now this one’s different. 2010 Dutch import Saint (Sint) presents a version of the (literal) St. Nicholas leagues removed from the version we’re used to from television commercials, shopping malls and bad Tim Allen movies [Editors’ note: the only kind!]

For Dutch kids, the most important day of the calendar is December 5th, for it’s the day when St. Nicholas brings the tykes their gifts. St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, wears red bishop robes and travels with his servants “Zwarte Piet” (Black Peter). Children are told that St. Nicholas rides on the rooftops by horseback and, if they’re good, Black Peter will zip down their chimney and put presents in their shoes. However, if they’re naughty, they’ll be taken to Spain for a year and taught how to behave! This is true. We looked it up.

Saint begins on December 5, 1492 with St. Nick and his men riding ominously into a village. However, instead of leaving gifts, the bishop and his men rape, murder and pillage. Fed up with St. Nicholas’s reign of terror, the remaining villagers form a mob and track St. Nick to his boat where they burn him like a Yule log.

SintFast forward to the present day and Amsterdam is excited for St. Nicholas’ Day. That is all but police inspector Geort, for he knows that if December 5th converges with a full moon, an event that occurs only once every 42 years, St. Nicholas and his minions will go on a murderous rampage and slay anyone in their sights regardless of whether they’re naughty or nice. And since this night is indeed a full-moon, Geort is somewhat uneasy but isn’t believed by anyone save Frank, a high-schooler recently dumped by his girlfriend. Together they team up to take down the charred, desiccated, zombie St. Nick in hopes of preventing another St. Nicholas’ Day massacre.

Most un-Fa-La-La-La-La moment:

Frank, dressed as St. Nicholas, and his two friends dressed as Black Peters, head to a St. Nick’s party. Along the way, one of the Zwarte Pieten needs to answer the call of nature. The real St. Nick sidles up on horseback and cleaves one of the Black Peter’s faces in half before decapitating the other.

Black Christmas7. Black Christmas

[CHECK OUT OUR DISCUSSION OF BLACK CHRISTMAS ON THE PODCAST]

Black Christmas is the Rocket 88 of slasher films, a movie which back in 1974 introduced so many of the themes later cribbed and then beaten to death in subsequent slasher films: the killer with mysterious motivations, the attractive college girls hunted in a house, the inept police force, the POV shots, the dark humor. John Carpenter may have perfected the jump cut / killer point-of-view aesthetic but someone else made it a movie centrepiece first; in this case, Black Christmas director Bob Clark beat him to the Halloween punch by four years.

Clark says he “loves the contrast of the idea of Christmas, the jolliest of all seasons with [a] dark kind of imagery.” And dark it is.

Tame by today’s standards of gore, this Canadian classic and favorite of Tarantino’s is still rich and beautiful to look at (almost Argento-esque) and has enough salty language to preclude it being shown in primetime.

While it has 1/20th the budget of something like The Midnight Meat Train (Bradley Cooper) it’s prettier, smarter and more atmospheric. There are also dynamite performances by Margot Kidder pre-Superman and John Saxon (Cannibal Apocalypse and Enter the Dragon), snappy bits of dialogue and what has since become a staple of many Christmas horror films: the caroling kids.

Most un-Fa-La-La-La-La moment:

A kitty-cat jumping into the lap of a victim asphyxiated with a plastic bag (If that isn’t morbid enough, read this from The Straight Dope about whether cats eat their owners). On a lighter note, for this scene they sprayed actress Lynn Griffin’s face with catnip! Still recognized for the film, she’s known to pose with a plastic bag for lucky fans.

SEE PART II OF 13 CHRISTMAS HORROR MOVIES

(AND DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST)

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