And the Other Misfit Holidays

Thanksgiving isn’t the only forgotten holiday when it comes to horror presentations. “Easter! Why the hell aren’t people using the idea of a holiday surrounding resurrection as prime fodder for more horror?” says Joe Lynch, who has a point, given how Easter’s current genre representation is mostly bunny monsters (Beaster Day: Here Comes Peter Cottonhell/Nicholas McCarthy’s Holidays segment).  Yet, year after year, Wal-Marts are overstocked with Easter candy for egg hunts and fake plastic grass. Maybe the holiday’s origins are too religiously tied for a truly horrific take? Or, to tag Axelle Carolyn’s words above, there’s nothing about pink-salmon Izods and church sermons worth a horror filmmaker’s time.

Crampton herself likens Veteran’s Day to a holiday that could be prime for some socially stinging horror ideas, saying “Veterans certainly have a lot to be infuriated by in today’s world.” A lot of the best horror is reflective of social issues, which are often highlighted on certain holidays (is Columbus Day seriously still a celebration?). “Soldiers can be used up by the military and come back with horrible PTSD,” she says, “I could see someone really tackling this holiday with truth and humanity and how little of it our heroes receive.” Given the right tightrope, how better to satirize current trends that may need addressing then through familiar, if even on-the-nose means?

Why Holiday Horror Works

Am I freaking you out? Are you like my mother or girlfriend who can’t fathom a reason why I’d prefer Creepmas over Christmas? It’s worth questioning why freaks like me hold holiday horror flicks in the highest subgenre regard, and why others scream “STOP TRYING TO RUIN CHRISTMAS.”

Take a movie like Gremlins – mine and Mr. Lynch’s favorite holiday horror film. It’s not about massacring or desecrating the name of Christmas. No, quite the opposite. “[Gremlins] combines everything one wants in a holiday movie and a horror movie separately, but together it’s the best kind of cinematic fruit cake that fills each bit with so many different flavors,” Lynch says. Nothing nasty about it. Gizmo himself one of the most adorable cinematic pets you’d want to bring home. We get to celebrate a holiday along with “Billy” Peltzer (Zach Galligan) while also embarking on this Mogwai outbreak that splices mischief with even more holiday callbacks (Gremlins Christmas carolers – forever the best). See? It’s not all slashers and sickos. Sometimes being bad is just a wee bit more fun!

Well, as long as your favorite holiday horror film isn’t Black Christmas, which Ms. Crampton stands by. “There’s something about [Black Christmas] that is strangely haunting and sticks with me. Is it the voice(s) on the phone call? Or the killer whom you never see?” Absolutely – but it also comes down to the fact that Christmas is worked like an accomplice. Where the Gremlin carolers don’t kill anyone, director Bob Clark uses carolers to distract some of Black Christmas’ sorority house occupants while “The Moaner” – Clark’s killer – stabs poor Barb with a glass unicorn. Christmas done pitch black, just like Steven C. Miller’s tree farm woodchipper death in Silent Night or David Steiman’s explosive presents in Santa’s Slay that decapitate excited kiddies who tear open booby-trapped presents on Christmas morning. All these things that’d otherwise be reminiscent of happiness now twisted into a chiller aesthetic.

Even more interesting, Ms. Carolyn offers her insight as an international native unaccustomed to our American holiday obsessions: “As a kid growing up in Belgium, I first heard of Halloween through advertisements for the Halloween sequels. I started asking what Halloween – the holiday – was, how it was celebrated, and then started hosting Halloween parties for my family, and later for my friends.” The Halloween franchise [acted] as a gateway into culture that might seem a novelty to some.

All this is to say, there’s more to holiday horror than bastardizing the innocent. Scorching all that’s good in this world and leaving a rotted, unfeeling dystopia behind. If anything, it’s an escapist way to feel emotions and release tensions that are buried under tinsel, pumpkin guts, and boatloads of gravy. Families forced to confront dysfunction amidst nightmare scenarios and true horrors who find humanity in a way that roots to the super-charged comfort of holiday warmth. Holiday horrors help some of us survive them.

Don’t believe me? Just listen to the professionals.

The Final Comments

“Holiday horror works because of the nature of tradition. Drama that occurs as a one-off can be considered coincidence, but nothing is scarier than repetition – ESPECIALLY when it’s tethered to dread, terror and violence. Plus, the juxtaposition of something that is usually considered a celebration mixed with fear and life-altering consequence like death always makes for juicy drama.” – Joe Lynch.

“The most memorable [horror films] have high stakes with personal deep feelings – but a holiday adds natural weight to any situation through expectations and one’s own feelings of joy or loneliness. A holiday forces us to confront our emotions with gore and blood and cool set pieces, but feeling something is just as important.” – Barbara Crampton

“The great thing I experienced making a holiday horror movie is that for most films, you get one chance to be discovered. You tour festivals, you release the movie, and that’s it – that’s your moment. But holiday horror has the potential to come back and grow every year. This year Tales Of Halloween was on Netflix for the first time, and a lot of people discovered it then added it to their list of yearly staples. I saw costumes based on the movie, artwork, carved pumpkins, and even someone’s yard decorations. It’s incredible to be a small part of someone’s holiday traditions.” – Axelle Carolyn

“It’s a bit like comfort food. Like visiting old friends in the way we do on holidays so it’s natural they go hand-in-hand.” – Jackson Stewart

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