20. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

Dir. Theodore Gershuny

Starring: James Patterson, Patrick O’Neal, Mary Woronov, Astrid Heeren, John Carradine, Walter Abel

In the early ’70s, Christmas was tainted by a seasonal housebound thriller about a killer who coaxed victims into his clutches by disguising his voice over the phone… Er, actually it seems there were TWO such titles. You immediately thought Black Christmas, right? Track back two years and you’ve got Theodore Gershuny’s Silent Night, Bloody Night, which methinks might have influenced the more notable Xmas slasher classic. This one is more of a small-town realtor nightmare due to a house’s unstable past and the history that repeats itself. Stoke the fire a bit and cuddle up for a Black Christmas/Silent Night, Bloody Night double-feature. What a creepy, educational treat that’d be for genre fans!

19. La Nuit du Reveillon (2011)

Dir. Serge Meynard

Starring: Quentin Baillot, Armelle Deutsch, Jean-Pierre Lorit

In America, direct-to-television Christmas specials are all about romance, covert Santas and wishes coming true. In France, apparently you can get hostage situations structured around infidelity, corporate scumminess and making seasons a whole lot darker. La Nuit du Reveillon (titled Silent Night Bloody Night stateside) is a slice of Bûche de Noël when you’re expecting stale sugar cookies if only because the “televised” distribution makes us wince based on experience.

18. Blood Beat (1983)

Dir. Fabrice A. Zaphiratos

Starring: Helen Benton, Terry Brown, Dana Day

My own words cannot describe Blood Beat better than the plot synopsis on IMDB already does: “A woman who lives in deer-hunting country in rural Wisconsin is possessed by the spirit of a Japanese samurai warrior.” Sounds craz-mazing, right? Even when knowing the “how,” this hog-wild slasher defies expectations. As outlandish and farfetched ’80s camp goes, it’s unfathomably outlandish, and gratuitously farfetched. Death and sex splattered together during a family Christmas getaway, glowing samurai forms, impalement… Happy holidays?

17. Night Train Murders (1975)

Dir. Aldo Lado

Starring: Flavio Bucci, Macha Méril, Gianfranco De Grassi, Marina Berti, Irene Miracle

Maybe don’t watch this one with the family on Christmas? Aldo Lado’s savage exploitation journey depicts sexually explicit assaults that torment the eyes and psyche, all set to a signature Ennio Morricone score. Two thugs and a socialite nymphomaniac take two innocent girls hostage on an overnight train ride, and yes, there’s murder. Also vengeance on the backside. For a ’70s Italian poke-the-bear pedal pusher? There’s certainly nothing to “love” – but plenty to appreciate from a cinematic standpoint.

16. Dead End (2003)

Dir. Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa

Starring: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Mick Cain, Alexandra Holden

While some people dread family get-togethers, others loathe the car ride there. Assumedly filmmakers Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa are two such people, given how Dead End is a neverending journey to grandma’s house. One final road trip down a stretch of forest highway that never ends, just because dad (Ray Wise) decided to choose the scenic route for once. Sound corny? With a likable ’90s vibe, tremendous lunacy from two genre vets (including Lin Shaye), a driverless roadster and deathly trials for each family member, this indie ends up being a path less traveled that more should seek.

15. Santa’s Slay (2005)

Dir. David Steiman

Starring: Bill Goldberg, Douglas Smith, Emilie de Ravin, Robert Culp, Dave Thomas, Saul Rubinek, Rebecca Gayheart, Chris Kattan, Fran Drescher, James Caan

My love for Santa’s Slay is real. Bill Goldberg as Santa, AKA the Antichrist. Explosive presents that behead children. Chris Kattan getting the everloving holiday snot beaten out of him. What isn’t there to love here? It’s certainly tipping the scale of comedy more than horror, but that’s fine given how much stupid fun there is to be had. A perfect kind of Netflix watch with some spiked goodies and emphasis on getting lost in Creepsmas cheer – nothing wrong with stupid fun now and again.

14. Sheitan (2006)

Dir. Kim Chapiron

Starring: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Roxane Mesquida, Olivier Barthelemy, Leïla Bekhti

Kim Chapiron’s less terrifying, more unsettling flick is one of those “Christmas-ish” horror movies because it merely uses Christmas Eve as a backdrop. Frankly, the date is only mentioned once or twice by three horny club-heads who end up heading to a secluded farmhouse with one of their potential hookups. Turns out Vincent Cassel plays a legendary nutcase in the form of Joseph, the house’s caretaker, and the group of immature horndogs find themselves in an all-too-weird sleepover situation. Chapiron dances the lines of both “Christmas” and “Horror” all too vaguely, but Cassel’s deliciously mad racist, simpleton doll enthusiast makes Sheitan too much fun not to include, even if I’m still trying to piece everything together.

13. A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Dir. Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan

Starring: William Shatner, George Buza, Rob Archer, Julian Richings, Zoé De Grand Maison, Alex Ozerov

I’m a real sucker for anthology horror and A Christmas Horror Story is one of the most underrated gems in both Xmas and indie horror of the past few years. Radio DJ “Dangerous” Dan (played by William Shatner) rings in another merry season for his listeners in the form of not-so-nice holiday tales. Tree cutting mishaps, found footage scares, zombie elves, a throwdown between Krampus and Santa – not every segment is a winner, but the quality ratio favors audiences.

12. Better Watch Out (2016)

Dir. Chris Peckover

Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller Ed Oxenbould, Dacre Montgomery, Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen, Aleks Mikic

During its festival run, people either seemed to love or hate Better Watch Out. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. Performances are, and without question, the film’s greatest gift to the world. That said, there’s a twist – I’m sure you’ve heard – and reactions differ tremendously on execution. Some patrons even cried injustice on marketing materials that sold them “the wrong movie.” Know that going in and brace yourself for what I consider to be gleefully gruesome, pitch black invasion horror combed with the brightest seasonal touches.

11. The Children (2008)

Dir. Tom Shankland

Starring: Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Hannah Tointon, Rachel Shelley, Jeremy Sheffield

Could you kill a child if they started killing first? That’s what Tom Shankland’s The Children dares to ask, as a rage-virus like disease turns daughters and sons against their parents. Opening scenes begin like any indie might, some wobbly acting and a bizarre setup – but then the children warp innocence into a playtime victim hunt. What’s promised is delivered – terrifying tots and a savage fight for survival – in what might be one of the season’s more unsung holiday must-sees.

10. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

Dir. Lee Harry

Starring: Eric Freeman, James Newman, Elizabeth Kaitan, and everyone from Silent Night, Deadly Night

For the first 30-or-so minutes, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is repurposed scenes from the original with Ricky Caldwell’s narration. The rest? Slasher sequel infamy. You don’t even need to see Silent Night, Deadly Night because most the deaths/important plot details are replayed. Then slasher calamity comes flying faster than Santa’s reindeer. Mr. Umbrella Man, the movie theater bit, “Garbage Day!,” a billion other quotable cues – Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is the slasher your momma warned you about, which makes it an even better after-hours watch.

9. Treevenge (2008)

Dir. Jason Eisener

Starring: Jonathan Torrens, Sarah Dunsworth

Yes, this is the only short film I’ll be including here because Treevenge is, bar none, the most enjoyable holiday horror stocking stuffer (at 20-ish minutes). A revolution rages as Christmas trees fight back against the humans who harvest, decorate and plant their corpses for entertainment value. Is it insane? Of course! Prickly furs hopping on their chopped stumps and talking in a forest language. Grotesque kill sequences with snaking branches and practical blood effects gushing from a whole range of victims. It just isn’t Christmas anymore unless I watch Treevenge.

8. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Dir. Jalmari Helander

Starring: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela

The majesty of Rare Exports is…disturbing. Fun, fresh and full of fleshy Santa followers – seriously, prepare for a dongslaught – with a bedtime aesthetic, but Black-Phillip-dark. Just like us genre fans like it. Even better? Main characters range in age so we get both youthful and adult perspectives as a behemoth St. Nick monster thaws, his release bringing apocalyptic doom. It’ll make you feel like a kid again, comforting in the most wicked, warped way. Yuletide magic with a heavy dose of imaginations running too wild to believe – until you’re face to face with death.

7. The Day Of The Beast (1995)

Dir. Álex de la Iglesia

Starring: Álex Angulo, Armando De Razza, Santiago Segura, Terele Pávez, Nathalie Seseña, Maria Grazia Cucinotta

Christmas Eve, an antichrist’s birth and three heroic eccentrics: the sin-embracing man of God, the patched-up metal head, the televised soothsayer celebrity. These details would be odd to most cinematic worlds, but Álex de la Iglesia is an accomplished conveyor when it comes to shadowy oddities. “El Día De La Bestia” is no different, melding cultist doomsdaying with a wryly comical vibe that would pave a golden genre road for the enthusiastic filmmaker. The Witch, eat your heart out. De La Iglesia was making evil goats cool way before 2016. A buddy comedy with a heavy helping of headbanging and religious blasphemy. What else is worth watching around Christmas!

6. Anna And The Apocalypse (2017)

Dir. John McPhail

Starring: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye

Disclaimer: Anna And The Apocalypse still has no distribution after premiering at Fantastic Fest 2017. This fact, for the life of me, cannot be explained. Please watch for a release date like a hawk wearing elf ears.

As a massive fan of happy-go-not-so-lucky genre hybrids, it should come as no shock that I absolutely dig John McPhail’s Anna And The Apocalypse. Nothing is better than dance choreography spliced with zombie killin’ meatiness, and that’s what you’re gettin’ by the verse – High School Musical meets Footloose meets Shaun of the Dead. This is one of those films that demands to become a Christmas tradition, a film that is equal parts heartfelt lyricism, powerful voices and bloody good carnage. Apologies for unwrapping this one early and leaving you with no joy yourself. I promise the wait will be worth it.

5. Krampus (2015)

Dir. Michael Dougherty

Starring: Emjay Anthony, Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, Conchata Ferrell, Allison Tolman, David Koechner

With Krampus, Michael Dougherty dances a very thin line between dark forces and family values. He’s not just here for demonic toy creatures and Krampus scares. A story is told about the true spirit of Christmas, compassion and our gross over-commercialization during December holiday seasons. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not without fangs – ask Mr. Teddy – but the ambiguity of an ending that’s either redemption or damnation asks a valuable question of intent and life’s greatest joys.

Of course, to tell that story, Dougherty pits a celebrating family against a hungry jack-in-the-box, minion elves and one gigantic cloven-footed Krampus. Better to not give up on yearly cheer than learn a lesson from this beastly teacher – no matter how fun this whimsical genre warning may be.

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Dir. Henry Selick

Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Greg Proops

“Uh, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie!” Oh how contrarian of you! And wrong. Jack Skellington wishes to become dear old Sandy Claws in this very Tim Burtonized stop-motion phenomenon, mixing two famous holidays into one genre exploration. Oogie-Boogie and his burlap baddies, razor-toothed toys, a genuine desire for seasonal happiness despite living in a world of monstrosities…what a delightful family tale. Musical numbers, creepy cheers and Jack’s all-around curiosity collides for an all-time type of watch. I mean, would Hot Topic even exist without everyone’s favorite singing pile of bones?

3. Inside (2007)

Dir. Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo

Starring: Alysson Paradis, Béatrice Dalle

Ho-ly baby drama. Inside will leave you gasping for air, clenching extremities and utterly gut-torn from 80-ish consecutive minutes Paradis-on-Dalle primal abuse. A pregnant mother-to-be fighting against a rival female invader who intends to harvest the not-even-newborn and run. Father dead, neighboring families gone to their own festivities. Good thing, too – there’s so much blood and gore in this flick it probably spilled over into the surrounding yards. This is a seriously sick, sadistic, traumatic, violating watch of dueling mamas that cannot be undersold. Bustillo and Maury earned their provocateur status starting with Inside – you better believe each wince and cringe is doubly earned (while also being a tremendously wrought survival horror flick that breaks down the safety of home and leaves a mess of French maternal extremist gunk behind).

2. Black Christmas (1974)

Dir. Bob Clark

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Marian Waldman, Andrea Martin

Black Christmas is not only a holiday horror staple, but a seminal slasher classic. Dating back to 1974, Bob Clark’s vision is one of the earliest influences on slasher cinema that would overtake the horror genre in the late ’70s andearly ’80s. Sorority babes trapped during the Christmas holiday, a killer hiding in their attic, his heavy panting heard over the phone – it’s absolutely horrifying. Excuse me while I forever remain unsettled by this pinnacle of Christmas Horror devastation.

1. Gremlins (1984)

Dir. Joe Dante

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Corey Feldman, Dick Miller

As I continue to replay Gremlins year after year, the magic never fades. Cookie baking with Grandma, tree chopping excursions, a comfy Gremlins watch sometime in December – these are festive traditions as far as I’m concerned. Joe Dante is forever credited with stringing together family-friendly mayhem, irreplaceable creature hijinx and playful Christmas storytelling without sacrificing ambition. A Looney Tunes episode with Dante’s maniac twists drawn in, if you will. How better to celebrate than with everyone’s favorite Mogwai, nasty Gremlin flashers and an entire town being overrun with frolicking jesters of destruction?

The joy I get from Gremlins equals that of a normal movie fan’s affinity towards stop-motion Hermey or Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. It’s not Christmas until Mrs. Deagle is flying out a window or Phoebe Cates is landing one of the quintessential (anti) Xmas monologues ever to hit cinema. No CGI, hyper zaniness. Sweet lord if a new Gremlins doesn’t follow this exact formula (because you know they’re going to make one), someone will owe me an explanation.

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