The 15 Best Christmas Horror Movies Ranked

Christmas is inherently menacing — there, I said it. Yes, the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ is often rife with cheer and good company, but it's also the day after a burly man in crimson red clothes stalks down your chimney, eats what sweets you have, and leaves it silent as a ghost. 

Is that not terrifying? Of course it is! Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is, too, as is the European myth of Krampus and the horse skull-filled Welsh folk custom Mari Lwyd. Though we think of Christmas as a festive and charitable time, it is (and always has been) a moment in which severe judgments are passed, from those of the innkeepers who cast out Joseph and Mary to those of Frau Perchta. That is fertile ground from which to make a fun or nightmare-inducing fright flick. 

Here then, ranked, are the 15 best horror movies set in the holiday season.

15. Treevenge

Some films' quality hinges on their subtext. "Treevenge" doesn't suffer from this problem, as there is almost zero subtext in "Treevenge." What it does include, I am thrilled to report, is a sentient Christmas tree that's brutally murdering people left and right. Its branches sever limbs. It fills eye sockets with pine needles. If someone needs to sell you on why "Treevenge" is a hysterical and transgressive time at the movies, it probably not gonna be your thing. 

That said, director Jason Eisener (who would go on to helm the equally bugnuts "Hobo With A Shotgun") is nothing if not a craftsman, and "Treevenge" is stuffed with more inventive shots and little lighting tricks than many feature-length films. The short serves as proof that runtime and theme don't necessarily guarantee a great time at the movies. As it turns out, sometimes construction and creativity are enough to get the job done. Don't watch it in view of your Christmas tree.

14. I Trapped The Devil

Slow-burn horror is a difficult beast. Make a movie with too little build and it doesn't fit the genre. Make one with too little payoff and the whole thing ends up feeling insubstantial. 2019's "I Trapped The Devil," written by and starring indie horror mainstay A.J. Bowen, finds an elegant way to strike that tricky balance correctly: set your film on Christmas Eve. 

Is any day of the year more emblematic of high-stakes waiting than December 24th? I think not — it's an entire night dedicated to anticipation! The plot of "I Trapped The Devil," which finds a couple arriving at their extended family's home for the holidays only to find Satan might be in the basement, supercharges the evening's built-in anticipation to "pressure-cooker boiling over" levels. Add in tremendous performances from Scott Poythress, Susan Burke, and the previously mentioned Bowen and you have a recent addition to both the holiday horror and slow-burn canons worth celebrating.

13. Better Watch Out

There's a sub-genre of film whose trailer is both sales pitch and smokescreen. Think "Malignant," "The Village" or even "Avengers: Endgame." In all three instances, the audience's first taste of the movie bore little similarity to the eventual main course. It's a heck of a gamble, and only sometimes pays off. And more than any of the films either linked to or listed above, the Christmas horror standout "Better Watch Out" really took a gamble with its first trailer release. It obfuscates a twist that changes the whole thrust of the movie, namely (spoiler alert): What is marketed as "'Home Alone' but make it horror" is really "babysitter attacked by home invaders hired by psychopathic child."

Slightly different, yeah? The major plot reveals of "Better Watch Out" are infamously divisive and, for my money, well worth it whether you enjoy them or not. Chris Peckover's direction is stylish enough to carry any turn of story and the film boasts several stars before their breakout, including "Stranger Things" MVP Dacre Montgomery and rising genre stalwart Olivia DeJonge ("The Visit," "The Society"). And don't worry, folks, this write-up didn't spoil "Better Watch Out" entirely. Those reveals really are worth it. 

12. The Children

I don't have children so I'm not confident I can fully appreciate the potential horror of parenting on Christmas. It isn't difficult to imagine, though. No holiday is higher-stakes or more rife with potential pitfalls for parents than December 25th. Did you buy the right gift for your child? If you have more than one, will both be pleased with their hauls, or will your choices instantly inspire (possibly violent) in-fighting? Hey, did you develop an ulcer just reading this?

Having children on Christmas, it seems, speedily reveals all the anxiety and tension which are consistent undercurrents of the holiday. So it's little wonder that "The Children," a British horror film released in 2008, is so brazenly effective. From its opening moments, Tom Shankland's lean chiller makes young ones the sort of nightmare they can feel like around the holiday. The story of two families gathered together whose children become sick and suddenly violent, "The Children" does not hesitate to put its young protagonists in harm's way. 

What's more, Shanklandm divines sterling performances from his entire ensemble of both minor and adult performers, who inexorably shift the film's premise from ridiculous to sublimely scary. "The Children" plugs audiences into a bevy of nightmares all at once — from the interpersonal to the super-natural — and its ability to do both makes it linger in the mind long after credits roll. 

11. & 10. Black Christmas (2006) / Black Christmas (2019)

"Black Christmas" will appear on this list three times in three different forms. I'm as shocked as you are. Somehow, when no one was looking, Bob Clark's ice-cold slasher classic became both a template for and a time-capsule of the latest horror trends. 

2006's "Black Christmas," for example, offers a gory slice of post-Bush-era nihilism. As outlined by the "Aughtsterion" podcast (which you can listen to here), horror films of the mid-2000s (lovingly referred to by the show as "tank-top horror") are due for critical reappraisal. For few films is this truer for than 2006's "Black Christmas," which was written off as a 1970s retread but is slickly directed by Glenn Morgan ("Final Destination," "The X-Files"), offers a gorehound's paradise, and serves as a summit for some of the decade's more notable teen-movie superstars to be memorably axed off. 

2019's "Black Christmas," in contrast, inverts the focus of Clark's original chiller, honing in on the terrors women face on a daily basis more than those of evil, masked psychopaths. Don't worry: Sophia Takal's take is still full of costumed malevolent. But without getting into spoilers, the specters of macho hostility and gaslighting feel just as deadly (if not more so) in this version. Neither reimagining of "Black Christmas" can compare to the original, but taken as a triptych? They become an almost anthropologically enjoyable watch.

9. Anna & The Apocalypse

Christmas and musicals pair as impeccably as milk and cookies. If it's not a musical with an iconic Christmas song or sequence ("Rent," "White Christmas"), it's a Christmas movie that has been turned into a musical ("Elf," "A Christmas Story). The pairing is logical when you consider how often musicals rely on characters whose feelings grow so large that only the form of song can hold them. Anyone who's ever attended a Christmas anything — be it service, dinner, or work party — can attest that emotions run high. What "Anna & The Apocalypse" has that other Christmas musicals or most musicals period have is zombies. Lots of zombies.

Greenlit during the heart of the zombie-movie boom, "Anna and The Apocalypse" is as gleefully genre-blending as "Warm Bodies," "Cooties," or "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"; its setting and songs, however, immediately distinguish it from the pack. Especially the songs, which feel like the logical extension of the bouncy, endearing tunes which made the "Buffy" musical episode so memorable. Add in some hysterical, Yuletide-inspired gore and you have a recipe for a great Christmas horror watch that you might see on stage before long.

8. Tales From The Crypt ("And All Through The House...")

Yes, I've included a television episode among our best Christmas Horror Movies of all-time list, and with good reason. "All Through The House," which was the second episode of HBO's breakthrough horror anthology series "Tales From The Crypt," is an impeccably crafted Yuletide yelp yarn directed by a Hall of Fame helmer at the peak of his powers.

Excess alliteration aside, let's discuss Robert Zemeckis for a moment. In an excellent YouTube essay, noted Christmas enthusiast Patrick H. Willems observes how Zemeckis does his best work "about ambition and escape and someone's tactical process of getting there." That, it should be noted, is the story of "All Through The House," which opens on a beleaguered housewife murdering her husband and then having to survive a psychopath dressed as St. Nicholas. 

The episode also finds Zemeckis toying around in both the mediums of TV and horror right before dropping "Back To The Future Part II," and three years before his finest horror effort, the iconic "Death Becomes Her." Simply put: He's keyed in here. Every frame is impeccably composed, it's shot with verve by Dean Cundy ("Jurassic Park, "Apollo 13"), and the end result is a breathless ride from start to finish. There's no reason not to think of it as a short film and, as such, it's still better than several entries on this list. It belongs right where it's at.

7. Rare Exports

Growing up is a series of journeys both shared and idiosyncratic. As we age, most humans can't help but wonder if our friends and family experience the same joys and fears that we do. Fairytales, happily, suggest this actually happens. The catch of that truth is this: They age from meaningful to childish and back again, growing almost ominous by the time we hit adulthood. The lasting resonance of these stories helps us understand that the distance between youth and old age is shorter and more tenuous than we're ever prepared to imagine.

I wax poetic about all this because "Rare Exports," the fantastic Finnish horror film directed by Jalmari Helander, is presented as a sort of fairy tale. It's filled with adult content, though, from a monstrous St. Nick who gets thawed from the deep ready to kill to a surprising amount of male genitalia (Truly, it is as if "Rare Exports" took it upon itself to restore the decades-old balance between male and female nudity in movies and, honestly, we respect it). 

Most fascinatingly, its balance of whimsy and pitch-black horror encapsulates our shared human experience of both fairy tales and the holiday season at almost any age. It's the sort of film you're surprised to discover most people like, even if it isn't their cup of tea. "Rare Exports" cuts deep. Just like growing up. 

6. The Day of the Beast

Alex de la Iglesia has made a career out of defibrillator horror. His movies are made for folks whose love of film is in cardiac arrest, who need a shock to restore their faith in what cinema and the horror genre can do. His recent breakthrough TV hit, the gothic and buck wild "30 Coins," was pitch-perfect proof of this. Every week featured sequences and creature designs that titillated, stunned or frightened in equal measure. Somehow the show was also a Telenovela riff. And if "Telenovela by way of Catholic horror" doesn't make your pulse race, well, you need Alex de la Iglesia more than you think. 

Given that: Why not try "The Day of the Beast?" Inglesia's thrilling early-career highlight features heavy metal fans, psychic priests, and an infant Antichrist all against the backdrop of Christmas. It seers crazy image after crazier image right onto your brain until its wildness is your everything. And if your family only watches, say, "The Family Stone" at Christmas, this is a film to shake up those doldrums. Shocks to the system can save lives.

5. Inside

Near the beginning of the 21st century, "Artform" critic James Quandt dubbed a set of recent films the "New French Extremity." Their hallmarks included an unruly convergence of exploitation tropes and arthouse presentation and were often full of body horror, slasher, and "torture porn" elements. Think "Martyrs." Think "Haute Tension" (Or maybe don't think about either, given how gnarly both films are).

"Inside," a late "New French Extemity" offering, might somehow be gnarlier than both of the above examples. When I tell you that a scissors-induced c-section is just one of the stomach-churning horrors that writers-directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo deploy here, know that it isn't the most discomforting one. The good news, if any, is that the violence of "Inside" reaches operatic pitches. At a certain point, the gore is more noise than not, which allows the deeply felt performances by Alysson Pardis and Beatricé Dalle to play out like contrapuntal bass lines to every bloody development, both anchoring and complimenting the distorted riffs of the plot. Through them, the film almost becomes traditional. 

That surprising classicism is what makes "Inside" a great Christmas horror beyond its bloodied holiday trappings. The holiday season is a time for both the comforting and familiar, and while "Inside" is not the former, it's enough of the latter to make horror fans of all stripes feel right at home.

4. Krampus

People tend to underrate the work of Michael Dougherty at first blush, and their inevitable reappreciation of his films seems to follow a pattern. First, Michael Dougherty makes a film. By the time the new Michael Dougherty has dropped, the last one's become a cult classic. In the case of "Trick R Treat," it's become utterly emblematic of Halloween. According to some, "Godzilla: King Of The Monsters"  is our best and most pointed modern Godzilla movie. But when the new Michael Dougherty movie actually drops the result is a just above fresh Rotten Tomatoes score and tepid box office mojo.

What I'm getting at is this: It's unclear why "Krampus," which was the follow-up to Dougherty's beloved "Trick R Treat," was ever deemed a disappointment. Few horror films or Christmas horror films employ a nasty streak with such a Cheshire Cat grin full of razor-sharp teeth. That's how "Krampus" feels for the entirely of its run time. 

The story of a family whose squabbling summons the fearsome demon of Austro-Bavarian folklore, "Krampus" makes no character indispensable, finds no holiday tradition it can't skewer (The opening sequence, which finds a round of holiday shopping grow hysterically, uncomfortably violent, resembles peak Billy Wilder in its hysterical, bleak strain of savagery). When it isn't killing characters off, it's giving those characters room to breathe and employing dynamite actors like Adam Scott and Toni Collette to bring them life. An R-rated version drops next month, but honestly, we should also be celebrating the great version of "Krampus" we already have. Life's too short for underrating. 

3. The Nightmare Before Christmas

If you are between the ages of 28 and 40, "oogie" and "boogie" are two words which still might terrify you.  And if you don't know why "Oogie Boogie" strikes fear in the hearts of grown adults, you need to watch "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" is a horror movie; it is also a Christmas movie. It's a Christmas movie in the sense that it (mostly) believes in the best of its characters. Accordingly, director Henry Sellick extends them the gift of a happy ending, olive-branch like, or even the stocking stuffer of somewhat morbid personal betterment (looking at you, Mayor of Halloween Town). 

But here's the rub: "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is also a horror film, because only a horror film would construct the waking nightmare that is the Oogie Boogie man and dispatch him to such a queasy end that I still think about it every time I see an errant bug. In Christmas tales, punishment is just. Here, it's also just a little cruel. That edge makes "The Nightmare Before Christmas," like the protagonists who inhabit it, a blend of separate and wonderful worlds. It's the best.

2. Black Christmas

It's tempting to include "Black Christmas" on this list as a "respect your elders" gesture alone because Bob Clark's 1974 film is the proof in the figgy pudding that holiday horror films can not only exist, but thrive at the box office. What's more, it is viewed as a major influence on the most important slasher film of all time. Failing to note it here would be a lump of coal in SlashFilm's stocking and mine. 

That said, it's also important to find a reason "Black Christmas" is worth celebrating that we haven't acknowledged before, so let me offer a bevy of them. For one, the cold, stark realism of Clark's vision still has few equals in either horror or the slasher sub-genre (Watch the trailer for proof). From the cross-cutting between brutal violence and ominous shots of a decoration-decked home to the reveal of a corpse amongst unhinged yet artful acting, its two minutes of transgression are emblematic of the whole. Boundary-pushing art, regardless of its quality, endures."Clash of The Titans" comes to mind, as does the previously mentioned "Back To The Future" series. Though "Black Christmas" couldn't be different than both of those films, it's an essential watch for the strains of possible art it all but introduces into cinematic language. That it's also excellent and relentlessly disturbing makes it one of the ultimate Christmas horror classics. 

1. Gremlins

There's no wrong way to make a great Christmas horror movie. But Joe Dante, B-movie wunderkind, made the blueprint for the best kind of Christmas horror movie. Have one archetypal Scrooge (someone cynical, cruel) then add another character who definitely loves Christmas (the Nephew Fred, as it were). Find time to make a Christmas tree ominous. For mayhem, and at least one sequence anyone would feel guilty for watching on Christmas. That is the blueprint for "Gremlins," and that blueprint is perfect. 

If you've been living under a rock since 1984, here's the plot of "Gremlins:" A gadget salesman buys a rare pet, a Mogwai, for his son Billy ... but he must follow three rules in order to do so. Those rules get broken, gremlins get birthed, and Dante's film shifts into overdrive to a degree that would inspire countless others to build more manic engines. 

Every set-piece in "Gremlins" is more memorable than the last. It's a movie the way that Green Day's "Dookie" is an album — all hits, front to back (That the kitchen and YMCA sequences happen back-to-back is some sort of cinematic miracle, pure kismet). More than that, the movie is transgressive, being one of two films with Steven Spielberg's name on it that led the MPAA to make the PG-13 rating two months after its release. There's no catching that sort of Yuletide lightning in a bottle again, and "Gremlins" is an enduring testament to both a genre and holiday's transformative, wicked powers.