“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” – Clement Clarke Moore
Setting the scene for either a warm cosy Christmas fantasy, or indeed a terrifying tale of festive horror, the classic poem from Clement Clarke Moore often precedes the latter in an attempt to subvert audience expectations. Whilst, of course, the majority of people enjoy more comforting tales of Christmas joy on the belated 25th December, many humbugs of the holidays seek a darker spirit to get them through the saccharine month.
In many ways the perfect holiday to create terrifying horror, as many people during the Christmas break are flung together with long-distance family members they rarely see to play games they’d rather not be taking part in. Then, with the streets desolate and the shops closed, an ethereal atmosphere is created where joy thrives in the warm burrows of terraced houses whilst unknown terrors lurk in the darkness of the outdoors.
Enjoying life in the slasher horror phase of the 1980s, many Christmas terrors were born out of the freedom of such a decade, where cinematic fear was injected into every corner of the social calendar for maximum financial returns.
From the likes of Silent Night, Deadly Night to Christmas Evil, festive horror films have long thrived in the genre, so without further ado, let’s take a look into the top 10 Christmas horror films of all time.
The 10 best Christmas horror movies ever
10. Better Watch Out (Chris Peckover, 2016)
A Christmas horror-comedy from director Chris Peckover, Better Watch Out is a surprisingly effective and compact horror film that is far more terrifying than its marketing and trailer would make you believe.
Set in the madness of the Christmas holidays, Better Watch Out follows a babysitter, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) who is forced to defend a 12-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover this home invasion is anything but ‘routine’. It’s a simple premise, wonderfully executed by Peckover who takes the film to genuinely unexpected places, as he suffuses slasher elements into a purely entertaining B-movie terror.
9. The Children (Tom Shankland, 2008)
For all paedophobes and Christmas grinches, The Children is truly the perfect horror film, following a gang of violent children who go to gruesome lengths to kill their parents and loved ones at a Christmas gathering.
Celebrating the festive season at an isolated country home, the children become rabid, not with excitement, but with murderous rage as we follow the parents in their attempts to defend themselves from their own spawn. A brutally enjoyable ride, The Children offers up a handful of memorable horror moments, whilst the manipulation tactics of the devious children are genuinely quite haunting as they lure their parents to their demise.
8. Anna and the Apocalypse (John McPhail, 2017)
John McPhail’s 2017 horror-comedy musical deserves plaudits for its originality alone, as it tells the vibrant tale of a young girl fighting against an undead horde of festive zombies on the streets of Scotland.
A Christmas film that truly has it all, Anna and the Apocalypse is an absolute joyride starring the likes of Ella Hunt, Sarah Swire, Paul Kaye and Mark Benton in a musical extravaganza. Perfectly mixing all the cinematic joys of the holiday season, each of the songs in John McPhail’s holiday classics are compelling, joy-infused numbers, punctuating the true exhilaration of watching this underrated gem.
7. Silent Night, Deadly Night (Charles Sellier, 1984)
The popular Christmas slasher released amid the height of the genre craze in the 1980s, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a well constructed holiday fright-fest that capitalises on the success of Halloween and more whilst adding a little of its own originality in the mix.
Laced with a sinful festive narrative, the story follows a young boy named Billy who sees his parents get killed by a man in a Santa costume, only to grow up in an orphanage and seek revenge in a similar red outfit on all those who have been naughty. With a clearly defined motive, Silent Night, Deadly Night differed from the other popular films of the genre that often followed a masked killer with nothing but murder on their mind. What viewers are left with is an enjoyable, if meanspirited ride.
6. Krampus (Michael Dougherty, 2015)
Inspired by Joe Dante’s tactile B-movie Gremlins, Krampus follows a dysfunctional family who gathers together on Christmas, only to be stalked by an ancient Christmas creature from the darkest corners of folklore.
A great gory gettogether that supplies some fantastic practical monsters and imaginative set-pieces, Krampus can sometimes miss the mark, but its ambition is perhaps its greatest asset, finding joy and surprise in its continual experimentation. Starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and more, Krampus is an eerie, solidly constructed ride that will long stand the test of time.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1994)
With a name that speaks to both the horrors of Halloween and the joys of the festive period, it’s unclear whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is indeed a film for the holidays, though with its focus on the joy of the season, we think it makes the cut.
Written by Tim Burton, the film is iconic of the director’s gothic style, bringing the most despicable characters from ‘Halloween Town’ to life with ingenious creativity. Following the king of the town, Jack Skellington, as he attempts to sprinkle the joys of Christmas magic on the gloomy, rugged town, Selick tells a vibrant classic of animated horror that is brought to life through excellent characterisation and compelling characters.
4. Christmas Evil (Lewis Jackson, 1980)
A cult classic of the slasher horror sub-genre, Christmas Evil is a favourite of filmmaker John Waters due to its camp B-movie aesthetic, with the director being integral to the film’s wider publicity, making it available on DVD for lovers of festive horror around the world.
Released amid the slasher craze of the ‘80s, Christmas Evil was released long before the more popular Silent Night, Deadly Night, though possesses far more heart and ingenuity than the aforementioned film. The tale follows Harry Stadling, a lonely man who works on the assembly line in a toy factory who decides to don Santa Claus’ iconic red suit to reward the good boys and girls and punish the naughty ones after a disturbing childhood trauma.
3. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Jalmari Helander, 2010)
A fiendish Finnish tale of Christmas evil, Rare Exports tells the story of a group of scientists trying to excavate a site deep in the mountains that is believed to hold the body of one Santas Clause.
Taking an alternative view on the once cheerful Christmas character, here, Santa Clause is a murderous being who would rather eat children than gifting them footballs or Playstations. It all culminates in a highly enjoyable festive tale that sees a group of hunters track down the beast and hold him for ransom, in a perfectly silly story that is wonderfully carried by an impressive lead cast including Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila and Per Christian Ellefsen.
2. Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)
Released in the same year as the highly influential Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas can (and should) be considered as one of the pioneering films of the slasher sub-genre, introducing the much-emulated idea of the tormented babysitter.
Remade in both 2006 and 2019, Black Christmas is a far more prolific horror film than it is given credit for, following a group of sorority girls who are stalked and murdered by a stranger whilst on their Christmas break. Whilst it is indeed a brutal slasher, it is also a pretty compelling comment of voyeurism, with a POV shot being used whenever the murderer is lurking around the corner.
1. Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)
The finest Christmas movie of the lot is undoubtedly Joe Dante’s festive surprise, Gremlins, a fantasy horror-comedy hybrid that would go on to inspire countless creature features and mischievous pulpy terrors.
Not only is Gremlins a dark, anti-Christmas tale, it is also a story that takes aim at the commercial culture of the holiday season that is focused on the act of constant buying. The story follows a young man, Billy, who is gifted a strange new pet he names Gizmo, given to him with a list of three simple rules that the man foolishly ignores, unleashing untold terrors on his town. In equal parts hilarious and terrifying, Gremlins is a film for any occasion, but best enjoyed during the mischievous, playful Christmas months.