Ah, the sights and sounds of the Christmas season. The twinkling lights wrapped carefully around the tree and the glitter and glimmer as the light bounces off of the ornaments. The sweet smell of chocolate as cocoa warms in the kitchen. The cries of pain and screams of horror as – wait, what?!?
While Christmas is traditionally a time of cheer, happiness, joy and hope – like that which can be seen in yuletide favorites such as Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, and A Christmas Carol, it can also be a time of loneliness and despair. For those of you who like your eggnog a little bloody, there are cinematic gifts that will appeal to you as well.*
If your tastes run a little light, or maybe it’s finally the year to introduce some young(er) ones to the world of horror, two great “entry level” movies are Gremlins and A Nightmare Before Christmas. While not horror movies, per se, they both definitely have scary elements to them. Sure, Gizmo is cute, but Stripe and his band of troublemakers constantly flirt with that fine line of devilish mischief and outright terrifying behavior. Chugging some beers? Okay. Rigging one of those chair lifts to send an old lady hurtling to her demise? Running people over with heavy machinery? Not okay.
Still, for every vile act, there’s shots of Gizmo looking cute, so it all sorta balances out. Nightmare Before Christmas, on the other hand, really only has Oogie Boogie who is straight up menacing. Yeah, Jack Skellington looks kind of creepy and seeing a skeleton dressed as Santa Claus might be unnerving to some kids. Come to think of it, everyone in Halloweentown is some type of creature, but they all look and act pretty harmless. Any real scary parts are offset by the music and singing, so chances are that younger viewers will end up singing along. The bonus with this movie? You can watch it at Halloween!
Once we get past the lighter fare, we can categorize (most of) the rest of our holiday fare in two types: Creatures and killers. Two great examples of the “creatures” are two fairly recent movies – Krampus (which came out in 2015) and Rare Exports, a Finnish movie from 2010. Both movies take a while to show their teeth, as it were. Krampus flirts with it’s titular creature, saving him for the final act. Until that point there are his three evil Gingerbread Men and a demonic Jack-in-the-Box that swallows one of the characters whole! It’s rated PG-13, so the scares aren’t too horrific, although the imagery pushes the envelope. On the other hand, Rare Exports goes directly for the jugular after a somewhat slow buildup. To say too much about this movie would spoil it. Suffice it to say that you won’t look at Kris Kringle quite the same after watching it. As a sort of bridge between the “creatures” and “killers”, Jack Frost tells the story of a homicidal snowman. This one tiptoes the line between campy and scary, probably leaning a little towards the camp. Come on, it’s a snowman on a rampage. Just make sure you don’t mistakenly cue up the Michael Keaton movie of the same name.
While there are certainly other movies that fall into the “creatures” column, the “killers” list is long and full of as many lumps of coal as there are wonderful gifts. One of the latter, while a bit too comedic in its tone at times (like Santa trying to kill a couple of teens while driving a Zamboni), is Santa Slay (starring pro wrestler Bill Goldberg). Technically we could probably slip this one into the “creatures” category since the film depicts Santa as being, literally, a son of Satan who is transported around by his “hell-deer”. With no (intentional) humor within, Silent Night, Deadly Night gives us a movie that outraged parents upon its 1984 release. While not the first movie to shine a dirty light on Father Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night was certainly the boldest with its ample nudity, gore and vicious murders. It spawned a number of sequels, but those mainly fall into the aforementioned “lumps of coal” stocking, so the less said, the better. Not to be confused with this (although it could probably be considered a loose “re-imagining”), is Silent Night – a bit of an underrated film. Featuring plenty of kills and enough of the red stuff to make gore hounds happy, it’s not as “angry” a film (if that make sense) as Silent Night, Deadly Night, which – along with a more solid story and better acting – makes it a better movie.
Stepping back from blood and gore, but possibly more scary due to the tension they both wind up, are To All a Goodnight and the grandaddy of the modern slasher, Black Christmas. Both movies have a similar feel to them, although Black Christmas takes that extra step with less quirkiness and more violence.
Two movies that don’t fit neatly into either category are the recent A Christmas Horror Story, an anthology that does a good job of making sure its stories are inter-related, and an old Mexican movie from 1959 entitled, simply, Santa Claus. A Christmas Horror Story plays things as straight up horror, featuring a Krampus, zombie elves and other horrors. Each story stands apart from the others, but all occur within the same “world” in which William Shatner plays a radio DJ working an extra long shift and, while not germane to it’s level of horror, this elevates the movie above what might otherwise be an average entry.
On the other hand, neither scary nor horrific, Santa Claus features plenty of cringe worthy and questionable elements – from Santa watching the world’s children through a big telescope to a mechanical reindeer with a maniacal laugh and, finally, to Santa literally battling Satan for the soul of a child. This one probably would have remained unknown were it not for Mystery Science Theater 3000 which aired it as the 21st episode in their fifth season. Finally, as an added bonus, there’s New Year’s Evil which is, based on its name, obviously not a Christmas movie. What it is, is a truly mediocre slasher movie that hits just about every slasher-movie trope as if it were counting down the remaining seconds until the New Year.
So, sure – you could pop in Santa Claus is Coming to Town or one of the other Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation specials that everyone has seen a dozen times or more, but why not make this Christmas season memorable and give everyone a gift they’ll never forget? Imagine the looks on the family’s faces as they watch a snowman kill a guy with the blade of a sled or the pure unadulterated joy of Santa battling Krampus? Any two bit mall Santa can help spread Christmas cheer, but it takes someone special to spread some Christmas fear.
* In all seriousness, if you ARE suffering from despair or loneliness this holiday season (or any time, for that matter), please know that you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to, a friendly and helpful voice can be found by dialing 800-273-TALK (8255).