The Rank Off: What Is The Best Christmas Horror Movie Of All Time?

(In The Rank Off, Rob Hunter and Matt Donato come together to settle once and for all who is better at ranking movies on the internet. Hunter, the wily veteran with years of movie blogging under his belt. Donato, an up-and-coming youngster poised to snatch notoriety from the "seasoned" journeyman. Who wins this round? You decide.)

For our inaugural The Rank Off topic, we'll be ranking our favorite Christmas Horror films. What's better than corrupting holiday innocence and yuletide cheer with a little murder, bloodshed and gore? Gingerbread houses splattered with spilled guts and what have you. Christmas is just too easy – and enjoyable – a target. Who's ready for a little holiday genre stack-up?

Here's how it works. After you read over our Top Fives and choose a side, hit the comments with the name of the writer with the superior list. We'll tally up at the end of the week and announce a definitive loser who must face an awful dare, the details of which will be disclosed soon.

Two writers. Five selections. One winner. Let's get ranking!

Matt Donato's Top 5 Christmas Horror Films

5. Santa’s Slay (2005)

You're at the mercy of my personal tastes, and any movie that opens with WCW/WWE Superstar Bill Goldberg murdering James Caan by shoving a turkey leg down his throat has my attention. Dress Golberg as Santa and trot him out with jingling bell details? Even 'effing better. In the first scene alone, Satan Santa carves his way through a dysfunctional family dinner (victims played by Jewish actors) after busting through a brick chimney – everything you could want in a gleefully offensive holiday horror comedy.

OH, BUT IT GETS BETTER. Apparently Santa was the result of a virgin birth produced by Satan himself. So, Goldberg is like Jesus – except he's the Antichrist. This means jacked-up St. Nick spends his time throwing explosive presents at civilians and tearing-up strip club patrons, because EVERYONE is on his naughty list. Not in an aggressive, hard-R rated way where kills are bloodtastic and gooey, but that's what makes Santa's Slay such a blast. Nothing is taken seriously, Goldberg's performance stands satanically festive, and puns are appropriately lame – in a good way.

Any movie where Goldberg Santa delivers the line "Move bitch, get out tha' way!" and decapitates children with triggered presents certainly belongs on my "Nice" list.

Rob's Counterpoint: I suspect your days spent re-enacting WWE wrestling matches with your imaginary friends have left you with some brain damage. Maybe it's time to find a new weekend hobby?

4. Treevenge (2008)

Short and sweet. Treevenge is a pine-woftin' stocking stuffer for Christmas horror fans with absurd tastes. I mean, did you think talking Gingerbread Men or serial snowmen pushed far enough? Filmmaker Jason Eisener didn't. That's why you can now watch Christmas trees lead a bloody revolution against the monsters who trim them, break apart their families and decorate leftover corpses.

Eisner, a provocateur by gore, holds nothing back. Kill sequences range from needle-pricking bear hugs to branches snaking their way through eye sockets and out mouths. The trees have had enough! But unlike Shyamalan's The Happening, Treevenge brings the bats*** holiday goods. Scared Douglas Firs chattering in their own language, crushing bodies while hopping as a way of movement. 16 minutes of the uprising we so deserve. What else would you want to watch on December 25th?

Rob's Counterpoint: Eisener's film is great fun, but it's a 16-minute short and doesn't belong here. It's like including a Twix bar (one stick, not both) in a ranking of three-course meals.

3. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

When Silent Night, Deadly Night came out, Gene Siskel read aloud the film's production companies on At The Movies as a method of public shaming. "How dare director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. desecrate the name of Santa Claus," cried critics who assured their readers the low-budget slasher would make worst-of lists almost instantly. I mean, theaters pulled the film after only a week. Could one single movie lead a war against Christmas? America certainly thought so.

Yet, here we are. Talking about one of the most cult beloved slasher films of all time, holiday classification or not. It may not receive the infamy of some latter sequels, but that's a good thing. Silent Night, Deadly Night is worshipped not because of "so bad it's good" charms – well, maybe a tad – but more because the slasher elements play surprisingly well. A psycho-snapped orphan boy poisoned by the memory of his parents' death, now killing his way through the Christmas season. The deer antler kill, Xmas lights strangle, full Santa suit...it's all so right. Wrong? I don't know, whatever makes me sound less insane. Not that there's any hope for me.

Rob's Counterpoint: It's telling that you spend nearly as much time talking about Gene Siskel and yourself as you do the movie, because it's a one-note flick. I guess it's cool, though, for teens like yourself who get excited at the thought of boobies and seeing movies that other people want banned.

2. Black Christmas (1974)

Back in 1974, filmmaker Bob Clark created what now stands as one of horror's earliest slasher films. You know the title – Black Christmas – and you might even know it better as a 2006 remake. But, as any respectable horror fan will tell you, Clark's original stands the test of time and quality. This sorority whodunit follows a telephone creeper picks college girls off one by one – from within their own house.

As unsettling as some of the kills are – metal hooks to glass unicorns – a lack of safety permits the most terror. The killer, a deranged madman who we only know through heavy breathing, comes down from the attic whenever he wants to strike. The girls are constantly in danger, and we're always aware of death lurking only a few feet away. Even a simple caroler's visit permits another kill, corrupting atmosphere in the most seasonal way.

This is, in every facet, a film that makes your skin crawl and hair stand on end. In other words, a damn fine horror flick meant to run your nerves ragged.

Rob's Counterpoint: This is a solid pick for which I have no criticisms, but I still hate your stupid face.

1. Gremlins (1984)

Save your "Die Hard is the best Christmas movie!" chuckles. There's only one "Best Christmas Movie," and it's Joe Dante's Gremlins. A puppeteered creature romp the likes we'll never see again thanks to CGI ease and competitive pricing. Those wicked rubber demons running around Kingston Falls causing all kind of mischief, mayhem and old lady deaths. It's beyond nostalgia – Gremlins is cinematic history that should be preserved in amber for generations to come, each watch still defying Hollywood's age-old test of practicality much like Jurassic Park or Jaws.

We all know how it starts – Zach Galligan can't follow three simple rules for owning a Mogwai. Gizmo tries to stay safe, but he "births" more Mogwais after getting wet and they eat after midnight. Thus Stripe and his gang transform into scaly terrors who plaster the biggest holiday smile on any genre fan's face. Drinking in bars and singing along to Snow White – still cheerful and jolly, just a little misguided. Anyone have a copy I can borrow this year? I think my latest Gremlins Blu-ray is burned out already.

Rob's Counterpoint: Wow, way to be true to yourself and put the most obvious choice at #1. I thought we agreed we wouldn't play to the readers for votes, but I see you're as bad at following rules as stupid Billy Peltzer.

Gremlins in Theaters

Rob Hunter's Top 5 Christmas Horror Films

5. Sheitan (2006)

A group of hard-partying friends on Christmas Eve follow a woman to her country home with the promise of drink, drugs, and debauchery, but they discover too late that she lives with a horned-up Vincent Cassel.

This blackly-comic French film is in a similar vein to the brilliant The Invitation – but with more energy, absurdity, and dong. Friends gather for what should be a simple and fun meal together, but odd behavior leads the newcomers and viewers alike to wonder if these folks are simply eccentric or actually up to something far, far worse. Interactions often seem friendly on the surface, but they all feature a feeling that something dangerous and/or perverse is waiting just around the corner.

The village is filled with oddly threatening characters, but it's Cassel who absolutely shines with a performance that simultaneously delights and terrifies. He gives the film such a precise balance between the humorous and the truly disturbing, and while the bonkers third act leans heavily into the latter, you're still left smiling at the audacious nature of it all.

Matt's Counterpoint: Cassel's performance is bats***, like a racist, gender-swapped Harley Quinn or something madder, but Satan (or the French 'Sheitan' to more refined film fans) barely even acknowledges its Christmas roots. As festive as your drunk relative who wears a Santa hat for three minutes then gets hammered and passes out under the mistletoe.

4. Better Watch Out (2016)

A babysitter and her delusionally love-struck pre-teen charge find their holiday evening disturbed by the threat of malicious intruders.

Home invasion movies are a favorite sub-genre of mine as, unlike ghosts and monsters, it's a situation that could actually happen. While some of the best are brutal, terrifying affairs, this Christmas-themed entry is as playful and funny as it is smart and deadly. The script finds humor in the characters and sets up real stakes, and it does a great job of teasing possible plot turns, confirming them, and then twisting them all again a few minutes later.

These kinds of films can often be won or lost on the strength of their characters, and here it's an absolute win as we cheer on our teen babysitter, laugh at the young boy who thinks he loves her, and are unsettled by just how far the villains are willing to go. Fantastic set-pieces, smart humor, and an absolutely perfect ending seal the deal making this a new holiday classic.

Matt's Counterpoint: Better Watch Out is certainly a fun Home Alone subversion – but "new holiday classic?" The poster and Blu-ray have already been released, Rob. Can't get a pull quote at this point.

3, Black Christmas (1974)

Christmas break sees a handful of sorority sisters remaining on campus, but between the celebrations, cat fights, and hook ups a stranger begins calling the house with threats he'll soon be making a terrifying reality.

Director Bob Clark has the rare distinction of being behind two absolute holiday classics with A Christmas Story and this tonally-opposite, beautifully-crafted, and frequently frightening slasher gem. From the caller's creepy as hell phone voice to the way the camera captures the rooms and shadows of the sorority house, the film is a masterclass is unsettling atmosphere.

Is the final shot nonsensical considering that police would have swept the entire house after what happens there? Sure, but credit Clark with creating escalating feelings of terror to the point that our panic begins to match the characters'. The remake is dumb, gory "fun," but the original is where the cool kids hang out to have the crap scared out of them.

Matt's Counterpoint: Rob states many correct things in this paragraph – too bad they don't matter due to his incorrect placement in the #3 spot.

2. Gremlins (1984)

A teen proves once again that kids shouldn't have pets, and an entire town pays the price.

This may very well be an obvious choice for "best Xmas horror," but that doesn't make it any less accurate. Director Joe Dante's never found a better tonal balance between comedy and terror than he does here. Laughs and smiles are plentiful, but he's fearless when it comes to layering in moments of real cruelty and anti-Christmas spirit.

Holiday aside, it's also one of the absolute best creature features out there, family-friendly or otherwise. Chris Walas' practical puppets come alive before our eyes, and the damage they cause to property and flesh alike feels more tangible than any CG creation could hope to match. And finally, everything else being equal, Phoebe Cates' explanation about why she hates Christmas is the best monologue ever captured on-screen.

Matt's Counterpoint: Imagine being so wrong in life that you don't think Gremlins is the best Christmas horror movie.

1. The Children (2008)

Two families come together to celebrate the holiday, but a cold that starts with one of their kids soon turns all of the tykes into murderous little s***s.

This homely British chiller lacks the cache and popularity of my picks above, but it remains the best Christmas horror movie ever made. That's right, I said it! A winter landscape, holiday decorations strewn about, and children buzzed on the high of sweets and presents... it's a familiar world that quickly shatters with the realization that something is very wrong with the children. It builds naturally through small glances and tantrums, themes of parental love and responsibility are woven throughout, and soon the blood starts flowing.

It's also a rarity in that the kills, even those a part of some glorious set-pieces, feel believable and intense. Too often kids who kill (or dolls like in Child's Play) fail to feel threatening because, let's face it, they're little. This film, though, nails the hesitation in their victims either through the situation itself or the realization that most parents simply couldn't fathom hurting (let alone killing) their own children even in self defense. It's a terrifically suspenseful experience, and it builds to a killer ending. See it. Love it. Merry Christmas.

Matt's Counterpoint: The Children is an often upsetting film about parental paranoia which is surprisingly haunting (innocent kiddies turned killers), but to call it THE best Christmas horror film? Above Gremlins? Above Black Christmas? Once again, this is less a horror film about a specific holiday and more a thriller about mommy-murdering kin – to take top honors, shouldn't Christmas play a larger role?

***

You've read the arguments and sized the competition – now let us know who has won this edition of The Rank Off! Sound off in the comments below. Who has the superior, more accurate list – Rob or Matt?