You can only watch It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas so many times before your brain starts to crumble like a weeks-old gingerbread house. That's where Christmas horror films come in handy. Krampus, a new entry in the genre, opens in theaters tomorrow, but you can also stream these nine Christmas horror movies right now in the privacy of your own home. Grab some spiked eggnog and enjoy!
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Black Christmas (1974)
In 1984, director Bob Clark made holiday-movie history with A Christmas Story, a hilarious, sweet, and nostalgic slice of Americana with just enough rough edges to keep audiences watching every year on cable. But real Christmas-movie fans know that Clark also helmed this brilliant bit of '70s slasher heaven about a murderer running rampant at a sorority holiday party. A major influence on Halloween, Friday the 13th, and many of the derivative slashers to come in the '80s, Clark’s film is mostly notable for its creeping sense of dread, careful pacing, and fantastic outfits. No one gets their eye shot out with a BB gun, but there’s plenty of Christmas carnage to be found here.
Christmas Evil (1980)
A favorite of cult-film legend John Waters, this patient, evocative story of a toy-factory employee (played with real subtlety by Fiona Apple’s father Brandon Maggart) unraveling over the holiday season is probably the most formally inventive, daring, and genuinely unsettling movie on this list. Mixing surreal comedy, slasher-film tropes, and some beautiful cinematography from Louis Malle collaborator Ricardo Aronovich, the movie has lofty themes (articulated in this recent interview with director Lewis Jackson) but it never feels weighed down by them. This is everything a cult film should be: fun, puzzling, and hard to shake.
In a post-Furby world, it’s easy to forget how creepy director Joe Dante’s much-imitated creature feature can be. Yeah, Gizmo is very cute, but the gremlins themselves are terrifying little monsters that wreak gleeful havoc, attempting to kill Billy’s mom before getting the brutal Pop-Tart execution. Thanks to a clever script by future Home Alone director Christopher Columbus, the move has the wit, mayhem, and sense of mischief that distinguished Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment in the '80s, an aesthetic that recent movies like Jurassic World have attempted to revitalized with mixed results. As it turns out, nothing beats the original -- just don’t watch this thing after midnight.
Buena Vista Pictures/YouTube
Jack Frost (1997)
Not to be confused with the family film where a pre-Birdman Michael Keaton inhabits the body of a snowman after dying in a car accident and rides a sled like a skateboard, this ‘90s slasher flick embodies many tired clichés of the era: gruesome kills, broad gags, surprisingly fun practical effects, and wooden acting straight out of a Saved by the Bell marathon. Mostly remembered for a mortifying scene where the killer snowman rapes future American Pie star Shannon Elizabeth, this movie belongs in the returned-gift trash heap of history. Even this image of the snowman driving a car can't redeem it.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Not all horror films have to be brutal and bloody. Sometimes you just want to watch something that has a vaguely spooky vibe, which is where producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick’s Hot Topic-core stop-motion masterwork comes in. It provides just enough poignant holiday charm, eye-popping visuals, and earworm tunes to keep kids and parents entertained. Who says family movies can’t be horrific?
Media 8 Entertainment/YouTube
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
What if Santa was real and buried in a mass grave somewhere in Finland? That’s the bizarre and hilarious question posed by director Jalmari Helander in this whimsical horror romp about a young boy (Onni Tommila) and his reindeer-herding father (Jorma Tommila), who get way in over their heads in dealing with a mysterious company that is excavating a mysterious mountain near their land. Packed with winking John Carpenter references, bursts of gun-churning violence, and a surprising amount of (older) male nudity, the movie occasionally struggles to nail its anarchic, storybook tone down the home-stretch, but it’s more than worth a post-milk-and-cookies viewing.
Santa’s Slay (2005)
So you’d think a movie starring the spark-loving pro wrestler Bill Goldberg as a murderous Santa would be horrible? You’d be right! Not even appearances by James Caan, Chris Kattan, and Fran Drescher in the movie’s opening sequence can save this wannabe cult film. Let’s take this as a lesson: just because a goofy pun title exists in the ether, that doesn’t mean you have to make a movie out of it.
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
This is where it all begins. While many of the titles on this list owe their existence to the runaway success of John Carpenter’s Halloween and the urge to cash in on the trend of holiday bloodletting, this atmospheric chiller about a series of murders committed at an insane asylum-turned-family estate is more of a mystery film than a gorefest. There’s not a lot of Christmas stuff here either -- no icicle impalements, sled decapitations, or blinking-light strangulation to be found -- but the cast is packed with Andy Warhol fixtures like Ondine, Candy Darling, and Tally Brown, making it a must for any cult-film completist.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Perhaps less fondly remembered than its “Garbage Day!” meme-inspiring sequel, which itself features whole chunks of footage lifted from the first movie, the first Silent Night, Deadly Night film is an odd mix of pop psychology, sleazy exploitation violence, and nasty black humor. Watching the film’s protagonist Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) slowly lose his mind and mutter “Punish!” while killing off teenagers has its charms, but long stretches of the film are just plain boring and the novelty of watching a man dressed like Santa commit crimes only lasts for so long. It makes you wish more horror movie directors would heed the words of Billy's grandpa at the beginning of the film: “You see Santa Claus tonight, you better run, boy. You better run for your life!”
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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment and he thinks you should listen to John Waters when he a recommends movie. He's on Twitter: @danielvjackson.