Christmas may be a time for celebration, for family and for getting too drunk at the Christmas party and telling your boss what he can do with his annual appraisal, but it’s also a time to celebrate the darker side of things.
From the ghost stories of MR James and Charles Dickens to the terrifying tales of child-eating Krampus, Christmas has always had a more disturbing element to it in the popular imagination. So, while you’re in-between your Doctor Who’s and your It’s a Wonderful Life’s this Christmas, spare a thought for the dark side of the season and maybe whack on one of these festive chillers.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
Despite an astonishing critical backlash, with the usually measured Siskel and Ebert accusing the producers of accepting ‘Blood Money’ by tainting the name of Santa Claus, Silent Night, Deadly Night is now fondly remembered as one of the seminal slasher works.
Silent Night Deadly Night Followed hot on the heels of John Carpenter’s Halloween with the tagline: ‘You’ve made it through Halloween, now try to survive Christmas.” It tells the tale of a traumatised orphan who grows up to wreak revenge on the world in a full Santa costume.
The film takes great delight in subverting the traditional Christmas accoutrements. In the hands of our murderous protagonist, Christmas lights and decorative deer antlers become deadly weapons. Like many early slashers, it doesn’t make a huge attempt to experiment with the tired and tested format. It’s an entertaining romp that hits all the right notes even if we all know the tune.
A fantastically executed excursion into the dark heart of the holiday season, Krampus delights and shocks in equal measure. In terms of both style and delivery it owes a huge debt to the works of Joe Dante, and the puppetry that went into Krampus and his minions is as good as anything the 80’s had to offer.
It’s Christmas and the Engels family are determined to be good hosts to their nightmarish relatives, but all does not go to plan when they are trapped by a freak blizzard and find themselves under siege from goat-demon Krampus and his gingerbread minions.
Director Michael Dougherty was also the driving force behind the fantastic Trick R’ Treat Halloween anthology movie. We can only assume his next seasonal project will feature a murderous Easter Bunny with an army of eggs.
Boasting a seemingly simple conceit, Dead End tells the story of a family making their regular Christmas trip to Grandma’s house. Along the way they encounter a young girl, clearly suffering from shock, and attempt to find a ranger station to get her help. Before long the highway is strewn with mangled corpses left behind by a sinister black hearse that seems to be stalking them.
Dead End suffered from budgetary constraints that not all the entries on this list shared. However, it makes the most of what it has, delivering a simple tale with a sharp sting in the tale. It also allows the audience’s imaginations to fill in the more horrific blanks, rather than relying on expensive effects sequences.
Billed as a horror comedy, Dead End features some early 2000’s camp that some viewers may find off-putting, but it remains a solid and well-told tale of Christmas terror.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Horror Story
A very Merry Christmas to all of our readers in Finland for whom, as far as we can tell, Christmas is a terrifying ordeal of butchered animals, ancient evil and nude elderly men.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Horror Story harks back to the folkloric origins of Santa Claus, presenting the story of an unwitting discovery by a team of scientists that unleashes a terrifying monster.
This festive offering boasts an impressive visual style that owes much to Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg, and expertly captures the ‘horror through the eyes of children’ atmosphere that marks much of their work. It also has a lot to say about the commercialisation of Christmas, and the supplanting of indigenous myths and legends by corporate interests and expanding religions. Plus, as we say, there’s an army of naked old men in it, so there’s very much something for everyone here.
A Christmas Horror Story
Another instalment in the recent (very welcome) trend for anthology formats, A Christmas Horror Story blends together several storylines all taking place over the course of a single night in the town of Bailey Downs.
Usually a sleepy all-American suburb, Bailey downs is tonight playing host to a terrifying showdown as two ancient forces collide. Meanwhile, there’s tales of Changelings, haunted hospitals, terrifying family dramas and the climax of an ancient grudge between Krampus and Santa Claus. The whole affair is tied together by the Christmas Eve Radio Broadcast from William Shatner, because why not?
It’s a firmly tongue-in-cheek affair, but it’s hard to deny the unironic enjoyment you get from watching Santa brutalise his freshly re-animated undead elves. On the other hand, like many anthologies, it’s something of a mixed bag in terms of quality and tone.
Five years before the Slasher film crystallised in John Carpenter’s Halloween there was Black Christmas. It’s the tale of a sorority house under siege that makes up for its lack of Christmas cheer with an extra helping of murder.
The sisters of Pi Kappa Sigma are on edge after a series of calls from the Moaner, a man who’s been calling the house to breathe heavily and eventually threatens violence. The calls, as ever, are coming from inside the house, and it isn’t long before the moaner is getting creative with sharp things.
It holds up surprisingly well for a proto-slasher, maintaining a sense of tension and building dread throughout that modern by-the-numbers slashers should be envious of. The sense of violated domesticity and the creepy, voyeuristic nature of the kill sequences still make for some unsettling viewing.
Joe Dante gets a great deal of credit for bringing a sense of ghoulish fun to the yuletide season. It’s a reputation well deserved, as at least three of the films on this list would never have existed were it not for his works, with most influence lying in 80’s masterpiece Gremlins.
We hardly feel that we need to explain the plot of Gremlins at this stage, but suffice it to say that some consumers fail to follow the simple instructions on their goods and get what, frankly, is coming to them.
It’s a Joe Dante B-movie classic, overwhelmingly entertaining and uniquely memorable.