The holiday season is upon us which means many of you have already started drafting up a watchlist for the off-days that are on the way. Irrespective of whether you’re spending Christmas alone or with your family and loved ones, there’s no better way to get through the holidays than screening some of the greatest Christmas classics ever made.
While traditional Christmas films might be a good choice, they are definitely not as fun as the other options out there. That’s exactly why the subgenre of anti-Christmas has become increasingly popular over the years, with many devoted fans exclusively watching hilarious Christmas horror flicks to celebrate the holiday season with a touch of irony.
This Christmas, check out some of the definitive works from the anti-Christmas genre if you’re already bored with all the Christmas classics that are regurgitated every year on TV. The films listed below are Christmas classics in their own rights, tackling the subject of holidays from wildly outrageous and fascinating angles that you probably wouldn’t have thought of.
The 10 greatest anti-Christmas films of all time:
The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
One of the definitive American masterpieces of the 20th century, The Night of the Hunter is a unique landmark in the history of American cinema. The only notable directorial effort of Charles Laughton’s career, this film stars Robert Mitchum as a sinister preacher who wants to trick a widow into marrying him.
Taking place around Christmas, The Night of the Hunter is actually one of the greatest cinematic explorations of the hypocrisies of Christianity and the corruption in the institutions of God that man has erected. Heavily criticised at the time of its release, the film is now regarded as a bonafide American classic.
The Legend of Hell House (John Hough, 1973)
No list of anti-Christmas films can be complete without including some good Christmas horror flicks and this 1973 supernatural thriller is certainly one of them. Directed by John Hough, The Legend of Hell House does not really reinvent the haunted house subgenre but it exploits it quite efficiently.
A week before Christmas Eve, a group of investigators including a physicist and a psychic are tasked with the responsibility of figuring out what’s going on in a supposedly haunted house that was inhabited by a sadistic killer. Edgar Wright loved this film so much that he used it as the basis for his contribution to Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse.
Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)
Regularly cited as the film which spawned slashers, Black Christmas chronicles the misery of a group of young girls who are tracked down and killed by a deviant during Christmas. The film takes its inspiration from a mixture of sources, ranging from urban legends to actual events.
“[Black Christmas has a] lot of truth and conviction in it,” Clark said. “I think we were the first movie to get away from beach-blanket bikini treatment of college people – our college people acted like college adults. I think it’s just a good chiller and a very well acted film. It just caught on. At the tribute, we had like 400 people that they had to turn away and do a second screening for! – Turns out, it’s a lot of people’s favourite film.”
Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)
Probably the greatest American comedy horror flick ever made, Gremlins is a brilliant satirical interpretation of the excesses of Christmas and the hyper-capitalist domain within which the holiday functions. A true manifestation of anti-Christmas anarchy, Gremlins is essential viewing for every holiday season.
“It’s the movie I’m going to be remembered for,” Dante admitted. The director fervently insisted that Gremlins would solidify his legacy in the history of cinema and proved his claim by stating that it has outlasted many other prestigious projects that came out during the same time.
Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Terry Gilliam’s magnum opus is not just an anti-Christmas film but an anti-modernity one, featuring an extremely dystopian vision of a world that is overpopulated by needles structures and claustrophobic landscapes that stifle the human spirit.
The Kafkaesque events in the film take place during the holiday season, chronicling the breakdown of the human psyche in the surreal absurdities of a nightmarish sociocultural sphere. This cult classic is a hallucinogenic experience that will transport you to the realm of horror and fantasy.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993)
A truly brilliant stop-motion animation about the dark fantasy of Christmas lodged firmly in the mainstream subconscious, The Nightmare Before Christmas has become an indispensable part of the extensive mythology of the holiday season and its relationship with cinema.
The film revolves around the skeleton king of Halloween Town who feels bored with the performative nature of scaring kids during Halloween and decides to surprise the children on Christmas instead. Having originated from the unique mind of Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is as beautiful as it is dark.
The Day of the Beast (Álex de la Iglesia, 1995)
One of the best Spanish horror films ever made, The Day of the Beast is a brilliant gem that finds the perfect intersection of black comedy and horror. Iglesia’s film follows a priest who embarks on a search-and-destroy mission to kill the Antichrist when he discovers that Christmas is going to be ruined.
The Day of the Beast has entered the realm of cult classics because of its ability to weave self-reflexive humour into its fabric of social commentary about theology and festivity. Iglesia’s masterpiece is a wild ride that everyone must go on during the holidays.
Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
Probably the most famous anti-Christmas film ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s last directorial effort is the visual translation of a beautiful nightmare. It stars Tom Cruise as a doctor who sets out on a weird psychosexual odyssey when he realises that his wife (played by Nicole Kidman) is thinking about having an affair.
Although Kubrick passed away before Eyes Wide Shut could be completed, it is the perfect finishing touch to a nearly flawless filmography. The film is now recognised as a sprawling critique of the hedonistic extravagances of human greed and the obfuscation of the real roots of the holiday season.
Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003)
Terry Zwigoff’s 2003 comedy was an instant Christmas classic, featuring Billy Bob Thornton as a severely depressed con artist who takes on Santa roles at department stores in order to rob them later with his dwarf assistant who is a part of the scam team.
Intended as a hilarious black comedy, Bad Santa is now admired by fans for its depiction of Santa as a symbol that is used to exploit and steal. Once you see it, there is no way you’re going to leave it out of your Christmas viewing list for years to come.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Jamari Helander – 2010)
This 2010 absurdist interpretation of the Christmas folklore is one of the weirdest ones out there, following a young boy who discovers a really evil version of Santa Claus who has no problem slaughtering reindeers and might have something to do with the frequent disappearance of young children in the area.
The director explained: “It’s actually funny that the word for Santa Claus in Finland is Joulupukki, and if you translate that directly into English it’s ‘Christmas Goat’…. There are a lot of interesting stories in many European countries about Santa Claus. The original legends are quite scary, it’s interesting.”