We all know it is Christmas time when we start seeing the meme about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie.
But what you might not know is that there are several horror versions of this argument. So if your non-horror family can’t face another Yuletide pleasing you by watching Silent Night, Deadly Night or A Christmas Carol, (especially the Muppet’s version), then try fostering some of these on them instead.
These are going to be a mixture of classic films that everyone loves, right through to my trademark “So bad, they’re good” entries. I suppose it’s probably up to you to judge which ones your family would find more appealing.
However, I cannot guarantee that putting them through these films will make them love you more. Choose poorly and they might just tut at you more than usual, but hey — you still got to watch a horror film rather than Love Actually again… My choice is a drop in the ocean compared to the number of films are set at the Christmas period, either overtly or covertly.
By doing some brief research, I discovered about 100 films that are described as “Christmas Horrors” so if none of these appeal, then there are still a tonne of other options out there.
Night of the Comet (1984)
Night of the Comet is a post-apocalyptic film that takes place only a few days before Christmas, when aliens return to Earth to reclaim it as their own.
While this film is an indie success story, it is sometimes overlooked amid 80’s horror films, and that to me is a shame.
The scenes with the two sisters, Reg (Catherine May) and Sam (Kelli Maroney), in a desolate mall, complete with over the top Christmas decorations and tree is very poignant. It really highlights the fact that most of the world has been demolished as at this time of year, the mall should be full of bustling people.
Sam and Reg are never stereotypical teens spouting the clichéd teen slang of the time. But more importantly, they are not eye candy, but well-rounded characters. You cannot help but love them, whether they are kicking zombie ass or dancing through the mall, this film is a joy.
Who would enjoy this film? Your maiden aunt who has never needed a man in her life, will love Reg and Sam as strong female characters. Or your teenage cousins/nieces as they provide excellent representation for them too.
The Brain (1988)
All I want for Christmas is a giant black-eyed, razor teethed brain! Nothing makes you think of Christmas more than a flesh-eating grin, but instead of it being on grandma’s face, it’s on a brain.
Ok, this might be a film you’ve never heard of, let alone know whether or not it is set at Christmas, but this obscure film needs some more love.
Set at Christmas, this is a homage to 50’s B-Movies, and sees a prank-loving teenager battling against alien invaders (again with the aliens, what do they have against Christmas?!)
The Brain shows multiple scenes with Christmas decorations, Christmas tunes are heard on the radio, and is set in snowy surroundings. And, spoilers ahead, the final scene shows a Christmas tree next to a bundle of rubbish waiting to be taken away, which might be an indication that like Christmas, the alien invasion is over… if only for now.
Who would enjoy this? Your mother might as she probably thought that Tom Bresnahan was hot back in the day. But it’s possibly not the film for your young science teacher brother, as one particular scene will annoy him and he’ll spend the rest of Christmas explaining precisely why it’s wrong…
But seriously, this is a campy Christmas horror that will fill your family’s hearts with joy… or they’ll hate every moment of it.
Lucky Stiff (1988)
My next weird 80’s horror choice is Lucky Stiff. Being alone at Christmas is no fun for anyone, especially if you have just been stood up at the altar.
This scenario is exactly what is unfolding for Ron Douglas (Joe Alaskey), but things start look up for him as he is invited to Christmas dinner by Cynthia Mitchell (Donna Dixon) Unfortunately for Ron, Cynthia’s family are weird cannibals, descended from the Donner Party, and he, as you can probably guess, is the main course.
What is interesting is that we, as the audience, are fully aware that Cynthia’s family are cannibals, so we are waiting for the inevitable from the very start. Lucky Stiff is not out-and-out horror film, but perhaps more a black comedy with the cannibalism being the horror element.
Who would enjoy this? As a tongue-in-cheek film, it should appeal to most, apart from maybe those that need a ‘good quality’ film, or that sad act male family member who will only date the ‘total babes’ off his multitude of dating apps.
So now we move from Antony Perkins, director to Antony Perkins, actor. And now that you have recovered from the shock, I will explain why I think Psycho is a Christmas film.
Psycho takes place between Friday the 11th and Sunday the 20th December, and Christmas decoration are seen in the early scenes in Downtown Phoenix. Ok, it might not have anything to do with Christmas per se, but it is still a perfect holiday film, right?
Alright, so maybe I’m reaching… but while the Christmas feel to this film is accidental, it does provide an interesting juxtaposition with what comes later. I will be honest, I know that the links to Christmas are weak, but I want to give you a film that you might get a fighting chance of pleasing everyone.
There’s not much more to say about this one… it’s the classic battle of good versus evil. The themes of sin, redemption and concealing the darkness within us all sound like most of my family Christmas meals, so what more could you need?
Who would enjoy this? Most of your family will, especially the older generation. The only people who will turn their nose up at this will be the individuals who refuse to watch black and white films, which is a sad thought.
Lurking Fear / Shocking Fear (1994)
This is another film set on Christmas day, with yet another fight for the right to survive. This time two individuals, wronged convict John (Blake Bailey) and Gangster Bennett (Joh Finch) are heading to Lefferts Corners to reclaim their stolen gold.
When they arrive in the town, they find that most of the residents are hiding away in their local church trying to survive the predatory beasts that have taken over the city. And they have chosen Christmas Day for the final battle against these terrible creatures, in which they have rigged the graveyard with explosives.
Lurking Fear is based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, once again lovingly brought to the big screen by Stuart Gordon. Compared to some of the other Lovecraft/Gordon creations, this is probably not the strongest, but it is certainly entertaining.
If nothing else, this film has excellent acting and remarkable gore effects. And let’s be honest here, do you want to upset the Ancient Ones by not including them in your celebrations? It’s not worth the risk, so a little Lovecraft is right.
Who would enjoy this? Jeffrey Coombs fans and your Dungeon and Dragons Lovecraftian cousins. Or anyone a little odd.
The Dorm that Dripped Blood / Pranks / Death Dorm (1982)
Five students choose to stay behind to close their dorm during the Christmas vacation. However, amongst the quiet hallways comes lethal menace.
Instead of “deck the halls with boughs of holly”, it is filled with the screams of students and walls dripping with blood. The dorm has been condemned, and all must be removed in two weeks. But the students are not alone, as they have a crank caretaker, and a fuzzy man that may or may not be the killer.
This film was made infamous here in the UK as being part of the “video nasty” list, and there is no getting away from the fact that it is a brutal and bloodstained film. The kills include tenderising, drilling and boiling.
The Dorm that Dripped Blood again falls into my “so bad; they’re good” category, so you are not getting a classic by any means. It does tend to focus on the kills and not any character development, and we are not even giving a hint of a clue as to the motive of the killer. We also don’t get an iconic killer presence, like Freddy or Jason, unless you find bell-bottoms, sneakers and being sick of ‘staying alive’ (see what I did there!) as iconic!
Who would enjoy it? Those that remember the hysteria around the ‘video nasty’ era and want to feel a little naughty over Christmas period. Also, those that have an excellent ear for music will love the Christopher Young soundtrack. Those that are bothered by the tiniest bit of gore will definitely not enjoy this, but also, gorehounds more familiar with modern horror films will probably find this a little tame.
The Children (2008)
In this film, Christmas has been ruined by a virus that has turned all the children into killers. It follows two couples going to a secluded cabin for what they were hoping to be a tranquil Christmas…
This smart homegrown horror leaves you eager to see how this is going to play out. The murders committed by the children are alarming and convincing. The parents’ heartbreak and misery over the prospect of fighting back jumps off the screen.
The ending itself, however, is weird. The film is a fascinating case study into unconditional love that a parent has for their children, whether they are little ones or teens.
The only pointless part of the film is an implied incestuous relationship between an uncle and his teenage niece that thankfully goes nowhere. The Children goes beyond a Christmas film; it goes beyond a horror film. Its layered themes make this a great horror film.
Who would enjoy it? Those that don’t have or like children — especially that aunt again, validating the fact that she has chosen never to have them.
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
A lonely girl makes a connection with the ghost of his father’s first wife. The sequel of Val Lewton’s classic Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, is an absorbing fantasy that is told from the child’s perspective.
Six-year-old Amy Reed is the daughter of the always-preoccupied Oliver Reed, who relies on her imagination to get through her loneliness.
Her isolation from her counterparts makes Oliver concerned that Amy will follow his long-dead wife Irene’s (the ‘Cat Woman’ from the original) footsteps into insanity. The Curse of the Cat People is not necessarily a horror film. It’s an eerie view of desolation and the strength of a child’s imagination, especially when they do not understand the blurring that can occur between fantasy and reality.
What you have is essentially a slow-burn Christmas-themed ghost story with Amy as the dubious narrator, which harks back to the Victorian-style ghost stories that were a key part of festive times past.
Who would enjoy this? This a film for the grandparents so they can reminisce about the good old times when Christmas was about family and not consumerism. Sadly, no one is listening as they are nose deep in their technology.
Night Train Murders / Last Stop on the Night Train / New House on the Left / Second House on the Left (1975)
Two women are hassled on a train by a gang of rapists as they travel home for Christmas. Night Train Murders is an Italian revenge film, as evident by the titles it is released in America, closely follows Wes Craven’s rape-revenge classic The Last House on the Left.
We open on Christmas Eve in Germany as two friends (played by Irene Miracle and Marina Berti) are preparing to return to Italy via train. We are also introduced to a couple of two-bit crooks who are pickpocketing and harassing a drunk Santa.
The two parties collide as the criminals are forced to take the same train when the police chase them. These men are rough and loud-mouthed to the women, but soon the film takes a dark turn as another passenger (Macha Meril) gets involved in the action.
The point was hammered home with the juxtaposition of the torture that the two girls suffer cut with scenes of Miracle’s parents waiting for their daughter to come back. Meril’s character is an exciting part of the film. This supposed classy socialite woman who so easily slips the shackles of society.
Who would enjoy this? Erm… ‘enjoy’ is perhaps not the best word to use about a film like this. It is a depraved horror in the most extreme of ways. But it might be fun to see if you can get this watched over the Christmas period, especially if you don’t want to be invited to again next year.
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)
Auntie Roo (Shirley Winters), an ageing actress with a dark secret. She holds a Christmas party every year for the local orphanage.
But from the opening scene, we are painfully aware that Roo is not holding all the cards, and at this particular party, she throws the whole deck away. Roo becomes obsessed with the fact that an orphan called Katy is housing the spirit of her dead daughter.
During a moment of madness, Roo hides the child away, tells the others that Katy had gone missing but would return her to the orphanage if she resurfaces. While the mental health angle is not handled particularly well, the premise of this child imprisoned within a crumbling mansion is an exciting theme for a Christmas film.
When the child is ultimately discovered by Roo’s staff, instead of going to the police, they blackmail her. Katy’s brother Christopher escapes the orphanage and tries to rescue his sister, but ends up also being captured by Roo.
It is a game of cat and mouse, leaving us wondering who is going to survive, the children or Roo. This film is absurd, but Winters’ diabolical performance makes the film brilliantly watchable. My only complaint is that the film doesn’t delve into traditional horror themes as much as it perhaps could have done.
Who would enjoy it? Those that are not yet “old” but are no longer “young”. They can enjoy the madness of the older generation safe in the knowledge that it would never happen to them. By Beverley Price
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