Christmas is a time for feel-good movies. It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the usual Hallmark Hall of Fame drivel that hits the airwaves every December. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the mainstream Christmas classics as much as the next guy. But at night, when my family is all snug in their beds, that’s when I drag out my sick and twisted Christmas collection…
Black Christmas, Christmas Evil, Silent Night Deadly Night, Don’t Open Till Christmas, those are the films I like to cuddle up to with a spiked eggnog. What is my favorite? That’s a difficult question. I love them all for different reasons, but if I had to pick one, I would have to pick a recent import from Finland called Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. A modern mashup of The Thing and the Krampus mythology, it is a truly creepy film that has to be seen to be believed.
Speaking of film mashups, I was talking with an artist friend, Lou Rusconi, about how Bob Clark directed two of the most iconic Christmas films ever made, Black Christmas and A Christmas Story. We both agreed that it would have been awesome to combine those two films into a new Christmas horror mash up. This is my idea of the ultimate Bob Clark Christmas movie, brought to life by Lou Rusconi.
This got me thinking: what do other people like to watch at Christmas? So I contacted some writers, film directors and artists and asked them “What is your favorite Christmas horror film? And why?” Here are their answers:
James Bickert (Director, Dear God No!)
My favorite Christmas film is Blood Beat (1983). It's just so fucking weird. A guy brings his girlfriend home for Christmas which seems to piss off his psychic mother. Everyone in the film seems to have a supernatural connection of sorts. Then a mysterious glowing Samurai warrior shows up with some kind of psychic link to the girlfriend’s orgasms! This no-budget slasher flick was shot in Wisconsin by French director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos. While not as straight forward as Bob Clark's wonderful Black Christmas, it's so bizarrely compelling, I find it impossible to look away long enough to fill my eggnog.
Nicolas Caesar (Artist)
Gremlins. I know why it's not shown on repeat every year sandwiched between A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life. It will fuck you up as a kid. Not since Watership Down has there ever been such a “fuck you” to kids. It takes everything cute and nice about the holiday, feeds it fried chicken and out comes the horror! Even outside of the anarchy and carnage you have Phoebe Cates’s heart-rotting story about finding dad's corpse in a Santa's suit smelling up the chimney. Christmas is the dumbest holiday under Thanksgiving. Watching it burn to the ground is the best present Joe 'Piranha' Dante ever gave the world! Yeah I know Silent Night Deadly Night 2 has Linnea Quigley's boobs, 'Garbage Day!' and Santa's angry monsters and shady backdoor deals in Chinatown. Gremlins had what Nightmare Before Christmas will never have: murder, microwave death and Corey fucking Feldman!
Clint Carney (Artist)
My favorite Christmas horror movie is Gremlins. It has great mix of horror, drama, and laughs, and has a really solid story too. I suppose since I grew up watching it, it evokes a nostalgia that I don’t get with other Christmas themed horror flicks. Though, on a side note, I think the scariest onscreen Santa was played by Oliver MacGreevy in the “All Through the House” segment of the 1972 Tales From the Crypt.
Roger Corman (Producer/Director, Masque of the Red Death)
I have always been horrified by It's a Wonderful Life.
Jeremy Cross (Artist)
Gremlins. Watching this flick at the tender age of eight, I quickly fell in love (like so many) with the adorable, cuddly and charming little critter known simply as "Spike'. Sure, Gizmo gets all the attention, but the star is by far the mohawk sportin’ villain. I was rooting for him the whole way. This movie is all too often just remembered for its cooing protagonist and not even for the inventive (and pretty damned horrific) death scenes! From the "chairway to hell" with the grumpy cat lady, to the plowed-to-death old coot, and the hungry mailbox, it’s a chucklefest of gory PG-13 awesome. And who didn’t want to comfort Phoebe Cates after she told that whackadoo Christmas story about her dad? Easily my fave and an annual must-do every holiday at the Cross Compound.
Neil Gaiman (Writer, The Graveyard Book)
The Innocents, I think. I saw it first on TV at Christmas and it scared me as a boy.
Mick Garris (Writer/Director, Masters of Horror)
Gotta be Gremlins, because it takes the Norman Rockwell vision of Christmas and sends it straight to hell, with a dark black sense of humor.
Ray Garton (Writer, Live Girls)
I went through all the Christmas horror movies I could think of, but I kept going back to the first one I ever saw, Black Christmas, from 1974. I saw it on a double bill with The Boogens. I took my nephew and niece, who were probably much too young to be seeing a movie like that, but they enjoyed it. It scared the hell out of me. It was a slasher film --- the first of the holiday-themed slashers --- and I'm not fond of that genre, but this one stands out, I think. It doesn't rely on gore. It's a genuinely frightening, suspenseful, atmospheric movie directed by Bob Clark, who also gave us A Christmas Story. He made two radically different Christmas movies that have endured, I think, because they're just damned good movies. And almost 40 years later, I don't think Black Christmas has lost a bit of its strength. It's still a scary movie.
Kenneth J. Hall (Writer/Director, Puppetmaster, The Halfway House)
My all-time favorite Christmas movie is, of course, Die Hard. Another Christmas film that would not be considered a genre piece but has surely fueled some pre-pubescent nightmares is a Mexican filmed dubbed here in the states by K. Gordon Murray simply called Santa Claus. It should truly be called "Santa vs. Satan" as Kris Kringle lives in outer space, has mechanical reindeer, and does battle with Ol' Pitch, a nellie devil with horns, red tights, and greasy makeup. One of its many highlights is Santa shooting his nemesis in the ass with a toy rocket!
However, as to legitimate holiday-themed horror films, I would have to say Silent Night, Deadly Night. Though I have worked with Linnea many times in the past and had seen a clip of her topless impalement, I only saw this entire movie for the first time a few years ago. Fortunately, it was at the New Beverly with a packed house of fans hooting and hollering at the screen. With an audience more appreciative than there probably was on its original release and its unerringly consistent display of mean-spirited bad taste, how could this not wind up at the top of my list, even if Bob Clark's Black Christmas is a better film? Gremlins occurred to me as a Christmas film that could also be considered horror, even though Spielberg had the original, violent script toned down considerably.
Tom Holland (Writer/Director, Fright Night, Child’s Play)
Black Christmas. Bet everybody will cite it. It was the first time I’d seen a horror riff on Christmas, they were big stars to me, Kier Dullea from 2001, and Olivia Hussey from Romeo and Juliet, and John Saxon from everything. It was the first use I remember of an anonymous caller on the phone, threatening an innocent (and beautiful) girl. It was considered a failure at the time, but it influenced so many films after that, e.g. When a Stranger Calls, Halloween (cause Black Christmas was a slasher film before slasher films; does anybody know that?), Scream, and any film where a shrill telephone ring (Child’s Play and the baby sitter? Where do you think I learned that?) makes you jump. Also, this is not gory, shows you the strength of less is more, and still scares the shit out of you, by making you wait for something terrible to happen.
This was also Bob Clark, a much under-sung director, who did another favorite riff on my favorite holiday, A Christmas Story. Also, Black Christmas was a first, establishing so many horror moments that became clichés later on, they were used to much. A tip of the hat to originality in this film, and a Merry Christmas to everyone.
And don’t forget Alistair Sims’ version of A Christmas Carol. The ghost of Christmas past was terrifying when I was ten.
Joe Lansdale (Writer, Bubba Ho-Tep, Dead in the West)
I'd have to say Christmas With the Dead, based on my short story because my friend Terrill Lee Lankford directed it, my son Keith wrote it, my daughter is in it and wrote two songs, and it was shot in Nacogdoches. It's low budget, and that shows, but it is fun and has a lot of heart, and since it's based on my story and I helped produce it, the real work goes to others, so I think I can claim it even if it is based on my story.
Tim Lucas (Writer, Video Watchdog, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark)
A few worthy films spring to mind, like Gremlins and The Curse of the Cat People, but I think my favorite Christmas horror film might be Jess Franco's Faceless. It isn't really set up as a Christmas story, at all; it's a brutal but stylish reworking of Franju's Eyes Without a Face and Franco's own The Awful Dr. Orlof, in which a mad doctor (Helmut Berger) undertakes a series of facial grafts - from unwilling donors, of course - to restore the ruined beauty of his sister. The entire film was shot in Paris in the month of December, when the city is at its must luminous and its women are at their most radiant. Towards the end of the film, the cast is gathered around a Christmas tree and Berger's renegade Nazi surgical associate (Anton Diffring) salutes his partners with a toast, adding "Deep down, I'm a real sentimentalist." I guess I am, too.
UncleBob Martin (Writer, original editor of Fangoria)
I'll concur with John Waters that Christmas Evil [aka You Better Watch Out and Terror in Toyland] is “the best seasonal film of all time” because instead of disturbing us with the prospect of Santa as a deadly threat, we instead have a character study of a nice-enough gentleman whose reverence for the Christmas holiday is thin cover for his twisted kink, a sublimated fondness for the wee ones. It also helps that the lead is played by Brandon Maggart, the father of Fiona Apple, who bowed out of family life when Fiona was only 4 years old, so he's probably responsible for a lot of angry song lyrics.
Kim Newman (Writer/Film Historian, Anno Dracula)
Psycho. It takes place in the run-up to Christmas holidays, but no one mentions it ... the Bates Motel has no decorations or cards up in the office, even the folksy Sheriff's house hasn't got a tree, and the Crane sisters don't have plans for Christmas dinner.
Fred Olen Ray (Writer/Director, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers)
The one I remember most vividly was the film Bob Clark made, Black Christmas with John Saxon. I saw it when it was new and it literally had me on the edge of my seat. Since then there have been a lot of films that have used that same plot device, but at the time it was very effective. I have also always been very fond of the original Tales From the Crypt for the sheer delight of watching Joan Collins being given the good ole Amicus treatment.
Eric Red (Writer/Director, The Hitcher, Near Dark)
For me, the best Christmas horror moment in movies is in Gremlins, with Phoebe Cates’s monologue about the worst thing that ever happened to her on Christmas. She talks about being nine and waiting for her father to come home from work and he doesn’t. Days pass and the house is cold and she says she went to light a fire and noticed the smell for the first time. Her dad was dead inside the chimney dressed Santa Claus, arms filled with presents he was going to surprise her with before he slipped and broke his neck. Pheobe’s last line is, “And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.” Great writing and perfect acting make it a unforgettable scary funny black comic Christmas horror scene.
Lou Rusconi (Artist)
I have lots of favorite Christmas horror films. My favorite would be the original Black Christmas. I was a young teen when I saw it. It scared the crap or of me because the killer is... SPOILER ALERT - inside the house! This film was a precursor to what would become “the stalker” subgenre. Lots of inventive kills and atmosphere, this film is a winner. The remake that was pretty much a remake in name only is a fun film too. I know fanboys hate it and purists ignore it but it is grindhouse and mean-spirited and therefore has a place in my black heart.
Gary Sherman (Writer/Director, Raw Meat, Dead & Buried)
I'm not sure that I have one particular Christmas horror film, but the first thing that came to my mind when you asked me was Freddy Kruger. Freddy, one of my all-time favorite horror characters was supposedly conceived on Christmas when his mother was raped. So I'd say the best Christmas present given to the horror genre was from Wes Craven. Thank you Wes Craven, and Merry Christmas to you!
Jen Soska (Writer/Director, American Mary, See No Evil 2)
Sylvia (my twin sister) and I love Scrooged. It's been our favorite Christmas movie since we were little. Our folks didn't, and don't, believe in censorship, so we never thought we were weird. It's an amazing take on the classic Scrooge story but modernized and beautifully executed. I'd love to remake the film, but it's too perfect to dare. It never gets too sappy. Even the heartwarming ending is very real and honest. It's a phenomenal film. And I believe it's also Katharine Isabelle's favorite, too.
James VanBebber (Writer/Director, Deadbeat at Dawn, The Manson Family)
Christmas Evil, because of Moss Garcia. “I want a lifetime subscription to Penthouse magazine!”
Fred Vogel (Writer/Director, August Underground, August Underground’s Mordum)
Bob Clark's Black Christmas is not only my favorite Christmas horror film, it's one of my favorite films of all time. It's haunting as well as disturbing. This film was groundbreaking to the genre with the killer's POV and paved the way to the rise of the slasher films.
So it looks like the two most popular Christmas horror films are Gremlins and Black Christmas. What are your favorites?
Kevin Klemm is the “Corpse” half of Girls and Corpses Magazine. L.A. Talk Radio calls him “L.A.’s King of Corpses”. His corpse work has been featured in Maxim, FHM, Penthouse, Total Guitar Magazine, Bizarre, and many more. His work has also been featured in several art galleries including Hyaena Gallery in the L.A. area and MF Gallery in New York. Kevin’s writing has appeared in Girls and Corpses, Icons of Fright, and various trade publications. He currently lives in the L.A. area with his wife, daughter, and assorted corpses. You can follow him on Twitter @KingofCorpses.