10 Frighteningly Festive Films For The Holidays

holiday horror

Let’s get right down to it. I’m not a massive fan of Christmas. Not in a Scrooge bah-humbug way, but in an “I don’t like forced social gatherings/family trauma” way. Everyone else, please enjoy as much Christmas as you wish, including terrible Hallmark movies with the same plot. The best thing about the Christmas season for me is the subverting of merry tropes in the form of holiday horror movies.

There are all kinds of holiday horror, from slashers and monster movies to comedies and nightmare-inducing tension-filled cat-and-mouse games. Hide behind your Christmas trees and block your chimney; it’s time for some celluloid jingle bells from Hell.

Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas 1974 Olivia Hussey
Image Credit: August Films.

Let’s start with the classic holiday horror Black Christmas. In a tale as old as time, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a murderous menace during Christmas break. It stars Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and perennial 70s/80s horror movie dad-cop John Saxon, and created the blueprint for holiday slashers and slashers in general.

Starting with threatening phone calls, the tormenting of the sorority sisters ramps up as those they rely on to keep them safe ignore their pleas for help. After all, it’s not a slasher film if the grown-ups believe the youngsters. Right from the start, it sets the tone with several sequences from the POV of a heavy-breathing creeper as he stakes out the sorority house and makes his way inside.

The horror gets underway with a truly vile obscene phone call coming in and the first kill happening within the first 12 minutes. Olivia Hussey does some fantastic shouting on-the-phone acting; the tension never lets up, and it is a masterclass in proving you’re never safe, even in your own home at Christmas. It’s also cited as the first time the “call is coming from inside the house” trope was used.


Krampus 2015 Toni Collette David Koechner
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

After the huge cult success of his Halloween anthology Trick R Treat, director Michael Dougherty turned his hand to a more festive nightmare. Based on Germanic folklore, this claustrophobic monster movie sees an unhappy child accidentally summon the anti-Christmas demon Krampus.

Christmas-loving Max (Emjay Anthony) is ground down by his family constantly fighting and making fun of his love of the holiday and rips up his letter to Santa. This acts as a summoning spell of sorts for Krampus, who descends on the family’s street to trap and terrorize them. Trapped by an unholy blizzard and attacked at every turn by demonic toys, the family has to fight to survive and stay together.

Complete with a stellar cast including Adam Scott (Parks and Rec), Toni Collette (Hereditary), and David Koechner (Anchorman), Krampus is a darkly funny and strikingly emotional holiday horror filled with excellent creature effects.

Anna and the Apocalypse

Anna and the Apocalypse snowman
Image Credit: Blazing Griffin.

Now for something completely different – a Christmas musical zombie horror. Starting with an animated opening credits sequence to the song “What a Time to be Alive,” it’s clear that this is slightly different. Set in Scotland right before the Christmas break, the film follows the titular Anna (Ella Hunt), who feels trapped in the small town and deals with the fallout from her dad finding out she doesn’t want to go to university.

Of course, there will very soon be a whole lot more to worry about. There seem to be a lot of cases of the flu going around. Definitely the flu. There’s also the problem of the school headmaster, portrayed perfectly by Paul Kaye as the definition of a pathetic saddo. Peppered with fantastic choreography, catchy songs, zombies, and gore, the likable cast of characters ensures that Anna and the Apocalypse is a new Christmas genre clash classic. It’s also unfortunate, so be warned.

It’s a Wonderful Knife

It's a Wonderful Knife killer costume
Image Credit: Divide/Conquer.

Hot and fresh out of the oven for this festive season comes the new masked slasher flick It’s a Wonderful Knife. The marketing for this one drew me in with the sleek design for the killer’s mask; happily, it isn’t just style over substance. It opens with my favorite Scream King, Justin Long, wearing some terrifying false teeth, using a frightening Michael Jackson-esque voice, and playing a jerk politician trying to buy up half the town for his greed—a sure sign of festive frivolity.

It isn’t long before the carnage gets underway when a masked killer decked out in all white starts slashing his way through the population on Christmas Eve. From here on out it’s a Christmas nightmare for Winnie Caruthers (Jane Widdop) as she deals with her garbage family, garbage boyfriend, and garbage friends, oh, and the ghost of Christmas killers’ past. That’s all I’m going to say, as any more will ruin it, apart from the fact that it also features Katherine Isabelle and Cassandra Naud as Winnie’s awesome lesbian aunts, who are the only people in her family that don’t suck.

Christmas Evil

Christmas evil santa's sleigh
Image Credit: Edward R. Pressman Productions.

Fair warning: the following two entries are a bad time, and I can’t decide which is the biggest bummer between them. Also known as You Better Watch Out, Christmas Evil features an already less-than-stable toy factory worker sent over the edge at Christmas after being constantly belittled at work. As a child, Harry Stadling learned that Santa wasn’t real in a way we all fear: seeing him bang his mom.

This is hammered home with several massively uncomfortable flashbacks to the moment. In the present day, Harry has a complete mental break and goes around town dressed as Santa and brutally murdering people. It’s a very oppressive film; it’s hushed and sparse, which just hammers home Harry’s isolation and descent into madness. A real yuletide bummer.

Deadly Games

Deadly Games santa
Image Credit: L.M Productions.

Also known as Dial Code Santa Claus, this French shocker should be a fun holiday romp. A genius kid, Thomas is left home alone to defend himself against a rogue Santa using traps and his intellect to outwit him. Sound familiar? Maybe evocative of Home Alone? Well, this film came out first, and it has long been contended that some plagiarism may have been involved.

Despite the similarities, Deadly Games is tonally very different. Patrick Floersheim plays the strung-out Santa and is absolutely terrifying. He’s like a crackhead Terminator in a Santa outfit. He does not stop. He is relentless in his pursuit, and Thomas’s fear is palpable throughout. Nothing here is played for laughs; it genuinely feels like that kid is getting sleighed by Santa at any moment.

Violent Night

Violent Night David Harbour
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

A more recent instant holiday horror classic is Violent Night, which stars everyone’s favorite dad cop from Stranger Things, David Harbour. He is a less-than-jolly old St. Nick—hey, there’s a lot of dad-cops in Holiday Horror. Although, for once, this isn’t an evil Santa, it’s an absolutely incredible Santa. On Christmas Eve, a wealthy family is held hostage in their extravagant home by a group of mercenaries, headed up by John Leguizamo, using the moniker Scrooge, looking for $300 million they know is stashed on the property.

The disillusioned Santa stumbles onto the situation and hears the youngest girl, Trudy, asking for help over a walkie-talkie. He then proceeds to smash up the bad guys. There’s dark humor throughout, with lots of strange hints at Santa lore and a fair amount of violence.

Rare Exports

Rare Exports
Image Credit: Cinet.

This Finnish film takes a slightly different approach to the Santa Claus lore. On Christmas Eve, Santa is unearthed in an archaeological dig. Then, the local children begin to disappear, posing the question of whether there really is a difference between Old St. Nick and his evil counterpart, Krampus.

Add in some intrepid cryptid hunters and an absolutely horrible portrayal of Santa’s elves that I can guarantee you are not expecting, and Rare Exports is a strange Christmas gem for those who suspect that a magical man delivering presents to everyone in the world in one night might not be all he seems.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 2

Silent night deadly night 2
Image Credit: Silent Night Releasing Corporation.

The Silent Night, Deadly Night film series is a semi-legendary series of Christmas horror films, primarily not for being scary but for being bonkers. I am focusing specifically on the second entry in the series because it is hilarious and notorious. The original film focused on Billy, who witnessed his parent’s murder at Christmas, leading him to have a psychological break as an adult and go on a Santa costumed killing spree.

The sequel follows his brother Ricky, who lost it at Christmas and went on a killing spree. It is essentially the same movie. It literally uses about half an hour of footage from the original film. It makes the list because it features the incredible and infamous line “GARBAGE DAY!” In the scene, Ricky spends a lot of time cackling to himself before he sees someone putting out their garbage and decides that this will be the last thing they ever hear. It is delivered as if the man has never said words before, and it is incredible.

Better Watch Out

Better Watch Out
Image Credit: Storm Vision Entertainment.

In this festive home invasion thriller, babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) has to defend 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) when intruders break in…or do they? Things get dark pretty fast as Ashley finds herself stuck in the house in an increasingly dangerous situation. With only a boyfriend and an ex-boyfriend on the outside who could possibly help her, things don’t look great for her.

Not much more can be said without major spoilers, but while DeLonge gives an excellent performance, she is upstaged by Miller, who puts in an excellent performance as a pushed pre-teen in love.

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Photo Credit: Artisan Entertainment.

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Image Credit: Warner Bros.


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Image Credit: Trust Film Sales ApS.

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Written by Emma Oakman

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