The Phantom’s Top Ten List of Christmas Horror Movies!

Louisville Halloween presents a Christmas stocking full of horrific holiday themed chillers perfect for any cold December night by the fireplace with a cup of holiday spirits!

Happy Holidays, my creepy little Christmas elves, it’s the Phantom of Ville here in my cold and cavernous secret lair beneath the streets of the River City where I’m busy putting up my traditional orange-and-black holiday lights and waiting for dusk so I can decorate the Christmas tree. You see, my vampire bats are roosting in the tree and I need to wait until they leave for the night to hang the ornaments. It’s never a good idea to wake them up early as they can be quite grumpy before their first cup of blood in the evening.

I’m also busy programming my annual Christmas Horror Movie Marathon. You see, even though I’m obviously a Halloween fanatic, I also love the Christmas season. There’s a wonderful magic on a winter’s night, when the snow blankets the earth in a serene silence and Christmas lights and Santa Claus blow molds pierce the darkness. Friends gather together in front of the fireplace to exchange gifts and celebrate another New Year together.

One night every December, my friends and I like to get together for a night of “unusual” Christmas films. Of course, we all enjoy the traditional Christmas classics. We love “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and all of the magical Rankin-Bass animated holiday specials, but on one night during the festive season we like to indulge in a little bitter to counter the sweetness of the season; a little jangled nerves to balance the jiggle bells of joy if you will.

In this spirit, I present my Top Ten List of Christmas Horror Movies this year. Surprisingly, there are quite a few holiday horrors out there, and the list grows every year, but these titles represent some of the best of the bunch. Now, slash away, slash away, slash away all!

10) “Christmas Evil” (1980): You’ll find that psycho Santas are a recurring theme on this list! Little Harry Stradling witnesses Santa Claus getting hot and heavy with his mom late one Christmas night and develops a lifelong psychosexual fascination with Santa Claus, even spying on the neighborhood children and keeping his own naughty and nice list, until one year he goes completely bonkers and starts killing naughty folks dressed in a Santa Claus suit. The movie walks a fine line with regards to actually sympathizing with Harry’s mentally unstable character and in fact, Harry also engages in acts of Christmas kindness such as bringing a truckload of toys to an orphanage that he learns his company has failed to help in spite of promoting their intensions to do so. Watch for “The Walking Dead” alumni, Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), in a small role as Harry’s “normal” brother.

9) “Santa’s Slay” (2005): In this horror comedy that turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected, wrestler Bill Goldberg plays Santa Claus, who we learn is actually a demon who lost a bet with an angel and was forced to become a benevolent holiday toy giver for a thousand years. When the movie starts, Santa has paid his debt in full and now wants to unleash 1000 years’ worth of pent up rage on humanity! In the amazing opening dinner scene, Goldberg slaughters an entire family of celebrity cameos at a Christmas dinner table (including James Cann!). Fran Drescher gets an especially memorable death scene. This movie would go really well with a six pack of Christmas ale.

8) “Jack Frost” (1997): Not to be confused with the equally terrifying (for completely different reasons) family film starring Michael Keaton, this clever little low budget horror comedy sees a serial killer in a car accident on the way to his execution. In the wreck, he is drenched with a freezing chemical that reacts with the surrounding snow and turns him into a living killer snowman! Hilarity ensues. While Jack Frost has not gone on to become a beloved horror icon in the leagues with Freddy and Chucky, this cheesy little gem has become a personal seasonal favorite of mine with its Rankin-Bass in-jokes and sense of the absurd. There was a sequel, “Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman” (2000), but it’s a lesser-in-every-way lump of coal that needs to be thrown out with the ripped up Christmas wrapping paper.

7) “A Christmas Carol” (Animated, 1971): Every proper list of seasonal horror films should include some version of Charles Dickens’ original Christmas ghost story. In my opinion, this Oscar award winning short film is by far the scariest version ever produced. This was the version that scarred an entire generation of elementary school children in the 1970’s when it was shown to them in schools in the days before Christmas break. I remember getting my first real “shock” of horror, the hairs that stood up on the back of my neck, when Marley’s ghost removed his scarf and his jaw grotesquely dropped to his chest. Then I was subjected to the horrific faces of Ignorance and Want beneath the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robe. Shiver! This 30 minute masterpiece was produced by animation legend, Chuck Jones, and features the voice of Alastair Sim  (“A Christmas Carol” 1951) as Scrooge. Probably in an effort to save today’s children from holiday nightmares, this animated version has never been released on DVD, but you can watch it on YouTube here:

6) “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (1984): The original pyscho Santa classic, this depressing Christmas slasher follows another disturbed child who witnesses an escaped criminal dressed in a Santa Claus suit as he shoots his father and then rapes and murders his mother. Instead of growing up to become Batman, he grows up a mentally unstable toy store employee who goes berserk one Christmas when his boss forces him to dress up as Santa for a store promotion. Punish! Punish! It was followed by an equally depressing sequel that picks up where the first one left off in 1987, and then three made-for-video sequels that really had nothing to do with each other.

LOUISVILLE THEATRICAL SCREENINGS! Fangoria Magazine and our friend, Justin Beahm, is hosting a series of digitally re-mastered theatrical screenings of “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and the Ville is included in the fun! This Friday and Saturday night, December 6th and 7th, special showings of this 1980’s Christmas slasher classic are scheduled at the Carmike Stonybrook 20. Check the Carmike box-office for show times and tickets.

5) “Tales from the Crypt” (1972): This British Amicus horror anthology’s first segment, “All Through the House,” is a truly chilling tale featuring Joan Collins as an unhappy wife who plans to murder her husband on Christmas Eve as a plot to collect insurance money. After she does the deed, she hears a radio alert that an escaped lunatic from a nearby asylum is on the loose in her area dressed as Santa Claus. Sure enough, he shows up at her door with an axe, but she can’t call the police because she hasn’t properly disposed of her husbands’ dead body yet or had time to clean up the murder scene. This frightening short segment was also re-made for the pilot episode of the 1989 “Tales from the CryptTV series which was directed by Robert (“Back to the Future”) Zemeckis and featured Larry Drake (“Dark Night of the Scarecrow”) as the deranged Santa Claus.

4) “Gremlins” (1984): Audiences in 1984 weren’t quite ready for the horror elements in Joe Dante’s Christmas fantasy produced by Steven Spielberg. It all starts out so cute and sweet with little Gizmo popping out of his Christmas package and singing in Billy Peltzer’s (Zach Galligan) arms, but a little spill of water and some chicken wings after midnight gives birth to a gaggle of horrible little monsters whose only desire is to cause mass carnage and destruction. Gremlins are beheaded in Christmas trees, exploded in microwave ovens and melted in sunlight. In one scene that defies all the rules and expectations of Spielbergian fantasy films, Billy’s girlfriend (Phoebe Cates) tells him the story of how her father broke his neck trying to deliver her family Christmas presents down the chimney dressed as Santa Claus, and how the body wasn’t discovered until it started to stink weeks later! The climax of the movie has the Gremlin leader, Stripe, coming after Billy with a Chainsaw in a department store. That’s fun for the whole family.

3) “Silent Night” (2012): Released direct-to-DVD/Blu-ray last Christmas, “Silent Night” is the most recent Christmas horror film on my list. It’s also a very loose re-make/re-imagining of “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” but in my opinion, it’s a lot more fun than the grim 1980’s original. Jamie King (“My Bloody Valentine 3D”) plays a small town sheriff’s deputy with some childhood scars who must try to expose the identity of a psycho Santa Claus who is murdering naughty townsfolk all over her district. Malcom McDowell (Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”) plays her irascible boss and town sheriff, and wonderful character actor, Donal Logue (“Blade,” “Ghost Rider”), plays a foul-mouthed, alcoholic street corner Santa in town trying to make a few bucks over the holidays. While not perfect in its execution, this Christmas slasher film gets more right than it does wrong including the proper wintery atmosphere, chilling sense of cold and small town Christmas iconography. In the end, I just can’t resist a Christmas horror film that includes a psycho Santa with a flamethrower!

2) “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993): For any Halloween lover who also loves Christmas, this stop-motion animated modern classic is like peanut butter and chocolate. Director, Henry Selick, perfectly realizes Tim Burton’s quirky characters and story in a way that even Burton himself rarely manages to accomplish and the results speak for themselves. Disney was somewhat afraid of/embarrassed about this strange blend of holiday worlds during its theatrical release, pulling its line of tie-in toys from toy store shelves before the film even opened in theaters. As the cult following grew over the years, Disney ultimately embraced Jack Skellington and his motley crew, eventually even reworking the Haunted Mansion at Disney World to include the film’s characters during the holidays. The germ of the idea for “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was certainly spawned from the Rankin-Bass stop-motion holiday specials that began with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1964. In fact, the Rankin-Bass produced, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” (1971), involved the Easter Bunny traveling to all the other holiday worlds, including Halloween, in a race to deliver the most Easter eggs against Irontail, voiced by the legendary Vincent Price!

1) “Black Christmas” (1974): Still the ultimate Christmas horror film, Bob Clark’s Canadian lensed proto-slasher masterpiece pre-dated John Carpenter’sHalloween” by four years, and it’s obvious watching it today that Carpenter had certainly seen “Black Christmas,” and in some sequences even copied Clark’s style, lighting and camera angles. The winter Canadian landscape makes “Black Christmas” feel colder than any other film on this list. It just conveys a bone-chillingly icy atmosphere. A college sorority house is terrorized by an obscene phone caller during Christmas break, and one by one the girls in the house are viciously murdered. The cast includes Margot (“Superman”) Kidder, Olivia (“Romeo and Juliet” 1968) Hussey, John (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) Saxon and Keir (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) Dullea. A couple of the phone call sequences still jangle my nerves to the bone, and the film comes to a disturbingly unresolved and unforgettable climax that will stick with you into your nightmares.

Feel free to add any of your own favorite Christmas nightmare movies in the comments section below and to our Louisville Halloween Facebook page post. May your holidays be full of horror and free from humbug!

The Phantom of The Ville

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