Holiday Horror: The Best Christmas Horror Movies

Holiday cheer? No way, just a killer Santa in the Silent Night (2012) by Steven C. Miller.

Christmas themed horror movies are thrilling because they put a twist on what you expect to see from Santa and his elves. After all, the holidays are meant to represent the happiest time of the year. You’re meant to feel safe and secure when listening to carols and seeing blankets of snow. When that trope gets turned upside down, you don’t know what to expect anymore. You’re caught completely off guard – which is perfect when you’re watching a horror film.

Creepy holiday spirits with a vengeance in Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) by Jalmari Helander.

You’re not always going to be in the mood to watch something predictable. When you want to put on something fresh and surprising, you can always watch a Christmas horror film. Since these movies are putting a new spin on a classic type of storytelling, they need to subvert expectations in order to work. This can lead to some truly creative moments. You’ll see the creatures you grew up loving in an entirely new light.

If you’re in the mood for a Christmas horror film, there are plenty of sub-genres to choose from, depending on your personal taste in films. There are movies about Krampus, who punishes naughty children who have misbehaved. There are movies about serial killers on the loose during the holidays. There are slasher films about dysfunctional families stuck together celebrating. You can take your pick. No matter what you’re in the mood to watch, there are Christmas horror movies for you to enjoy at any time of the year.

Black Christmas (1974)

Director Bob Clark changed the original title from “Stop Me” to “Black Christmas” as a dark twist on the classic Christmas carol.

This genre-blending film is considered a horror, a thriller, and a mystery. It’s about a group of sorority girls who are stalked by a complete stranger during Christmas break. When the creepy phone calls escalate and one of them goes missing, the others start to panic. The original title of the film was Stop Me. However, it was changed to Black Christmas as a reference to the famous song White Christmas.

Christmas Evil (1980)

Tagline: Better watch out…better not cry…or you may DIE!

This horror movie centers around a man who is obsessed with Christmas. Frustrated that the people surrounding him aren’t in the holiday spirt, he goes on a Yuletide killing spree. The director, Lewis Jackson, came up with the idea for the film while smoking marijuana. He had a vision of Santa holding a knife and created an entire story around it. Although this film is sometimes referred to as a thriller, Jackson prefers to compare it to Frankenstein (1931).

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Upon its release, parents were outraged at the film’s portrayal of Santa Claus as an evil axe murderer.

This Christmas horror movie is about a little boy who watches his parents get murdered by Santa Claus on a bloody night. When he grows up, he becomes Santa himself and goes on a murderous rampage. At the time of the film’s release, stories about killer Santas were still relatively new, so this film caused a lot of controversy. Angry parents picketed during its release. It ended up being pulled two weeks after hitting theaters. It didn’t even last until Christmas.

Gremlins (1984)

This cult classic was released on the same day as Ghostbusters (1984).

It’s about a boy who adopts a mysterious new pet. When breaks the rules he was given for taking care of the creature, it turns into a mischievous monster. These animals are referred to as mogwais throughout the film. In Cantonese, mogwai means devil, demon, or gremlin. The puppets were so realistic that the boy, Billy, mistook it for a real creature when he first saw it in its box. Even the dog in the scene growled.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

This cult classic from Tim Burton merges Halloween and Christmas.

This animated movie combines the two best holidays – Christmas and Halloween. It’s about a skeleton who discovers that Christmas exists and tries to bring the holiday to his hometown, which only celebrates Halloween. The film took three years to complete. It was Tim Burton’s first Disney movie. It was also the first Disney animated film scored by Danny Elfman.

Jack Frost (1997)

This bloody horror is not to be mistaken with the family friendly classic Jack Frost (1998), which released by the same year one year later.

When a murderer named Jack Frost dies in an accident on the way to his execution, he turns into a snowman in order to get revenge on the sheriff who arrested him. The entire film was shot in only eighteen days. Although it was recorded during winter, there wasn’t any real snow on the ground due to seventy-degree weather. The snow in the film is actually made from foam and cotton swabs.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Kodak supplied Kubrick with as many rolls of a special discontinued film stock that he needed to shoot the film.

This surreal film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, stars Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. The story begins with their characters setting off for an elaborate Christmas party – and things go downhill from there. Eyes Wide Shut won a record for the longest consistent movie shoot. It took the cast and crew four hundred days to finish. Unfortunately, four days after presenting the final cut of this film, Kubrick passed away.

Dead End (2004)

Prior to in-home streaming services, this film was a home media sensation due to its $77 million in DVD sales.

This horror film, starring Ray Wise, takes place on Christmas Eve. It’s about a man who takes a shortcut on the way to his in-law’s house and gets trapped in a living hell. Although the film was made with a small budget, the screenplay is excellent. It tells a Christmas story with a tense and dreadful atmosphere. If you’re a horror fan or a fan of black comedy, you’re going to enjoy watching the story unfold.

Santa’s Slay (2005)

David Steinman wrote and directed this comedy fantasy horror.

In this film, Santa Claus is a demon. He only gives away toys every year because he lost a bet with an angel. However, when the bet comes to an end, he goes back to being pure evil. Funnily, the man who plays Santa, Bill Goldberg, is Jewish and doesn’t celebrate Christmas. However, he enjoyed creating the film because he met his future wife, Wanda Ferraton, on set.

The Children (2008)

Director Tom Shankland’s festive season horror was nominated as Best Horror Movie at the 2009 Fright Meter Festival.

This film takes place during a family Christmas vacation. When one of the children gets sick and starts acting strange, the whole family suffers. Although creepy children are a common trope in horror movies, this film portrays them in a truly horrifying fashion. In fact, the film was nominated for a Fright Meter Award in 2009. Although it has a low-budget feel, the story is thrilling and well-paced.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

This Finnish fantasy film was based off a 2003 short film Rare Exports Inc., by the same writer and director of this feature film.

Once Santa Claus is unearthed during an archeological dig, children start to disappear. A group hunts down Santa in order to stop the kidnappings. However, Santa’s elves retaliate and try to free him. This film, which was written and directed by Jalmari Helander, takes place in Finland on Christmas Eve. Although it features elves and magical creatures, it doesn’t come across as cheesy. It’s perfect for fans of black comedy.

Silent Night (2012)

Director Steven C. Miller has also directed other horror thrillers such as The Aggression Scale (2012), Marauders (2016), and Line of Duty (2019).

This horror movie is a remake of the classic film Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). However, it was partially inspired by a real incident in 2018, the Covina Holiday Massacre. It stars famous faces like Malcolm McDowell and Jaime King who deliver excellent performances. The story takes place on Christmas Eve when Santa murders citizens in a Midwestern town. The police try to find him and bring him to justice.

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Despite the horror and violence in the final cut, filmmakers decided to include a note at the end of the credits saying, “No elves were harmed in the making of this film.”

This film is also known as A Holiday Horror Story. It stars William Shatner and tells several stories set on Christmas Eve. It shows Krampus stalk his prey, and it shows Santa busy slaying zombie elves at the North Pole. Although there is realistic gore and other disturbing special effects, there are fun moments as well. At the end of the film, the closing credits even say, “No elves were harmed during the making of this film.”

Krampus (2015)

Production designers made copious amounts of fake snow from material derived from diapers.

When a young boy has a bad Christmas, he accidentally summons a demon. This forces his dysfunctional family to work together in order to survive. Although the name might not be as well known in the US, Krampus is a massive part of Austrian and German folklore. The film was released on December 4th in order to line up with the Krampusnacht, which is a traditional Austrian festival that celebrates Krampus. Whether you are in the holiday spirit or not, this Krampus movie will have you on the edge of your seat.  

Better Watch Out (2016)

Director Chris Peckover included several references to Home Alone (1990) throughout this comedic horror.

This film, which takes place during a holiday night, was originally called Safe Neighborhood. It’s about a babysitter who tries to save a young boy from home intruders. Due to the theme of the story, there are a lot of references to Home Alone (1990), such as thrown paint cans, Christmas carols, and spiders. Although this film was made with a small budget, it is darkly funny and disturbing. It also has excellent acting and a clever script.

Red Christmas (2016)

A documentary titled Horror Movie: A Low Budget Nightmare is available to enjoy an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into how this movie was made.

This Australian horror film is a ghost story at heart. It’s about a woman who brings her estranged family back together for the holidays. However, a ghost knocks on their door and causes chaos. There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns throughout the film that audiences won’t see coming. Anyone who is a fan of surprises – or slasher films – should give this movie a shot.

Mother Krampus (2017)

Although Krampus himself never makes an appearance, horror audiences will be spooked by Tara MacGowran’s performance as Frau Perchta.

Mother Krampus tells the story of a town where children once went missing — then their bodies were found in the woods. Most people in town assume the story is a local myth. However, when children start to go missing again, the parents start to worry. This film was originally titled The Curse of Frau Perchta because the story is based on the German legend of Frau Perchta. She was a witch who took children on the twelve days leading up to Christmas.

Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)

Stars of the film never saw the final cut of the film until its premiere at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.

This horror movie musical is about a zombie apocalypse. In order to survive, a group of friends have to slash and sing through zombie hordes. The entire film was filmed in Glasgow, Scotland in the middle of winter. However, the snow angel scene still had entirely fake snow. Although this film smashes a lot of different genres together, the most well-done part is the comedy. It’s something you should watch if you need a smile.

Black Christmas (2019)

Director Sophia Takal made it a priority to direct this horror film through a feminist lens.

This is the second remake of the original Black Christmas (1974). However, it is the first one to be rated PG-13 instead of R. It is also the first to be made in New Zealand instead of Canada. This version stars Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, and Lily Donoghue. Like the original film, it’s about a group of sorority girls who are killed one-by-one by a stalker.

Other Christmas Horror Movies

A scene from the Christmas horror/comedy Red Christmas from Australia.

Looking to unwrap more creepy festival movies from under the Christmas tree? Okay you demon elves, here are a few more creepy holiday movies to make your horrifying Christmas party moviefest.

  • Santa Claus vs. The Devil (1959) is a Mexican fantasy film. It follows Santa, who is forced to fight against evil and save Christmas. The title is also known as Santa Claus.
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) is about a Martian leader who is annoyed children are obsessed with Earth’s pop culture and ends up ordering the kidnapping of Santa. It is a family film with fun, comedic moments.
  • The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas (1996) is a family movie with some humor and some horror. It’s about the famous Munster family celebrating the holidays.
  • Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000) is about a snowman possessed by a serial killer on a rampage. Although it’s not as high-rated as the original, there are a lot of funny moments.
  • The Gingerdead Man (2005) is about a witch who revives a dead serial killer. However, he is turned into a giant gingerbread man and sets out for revenge. It stars Gary Busey.
  • A Cadaver Christmas (2011) is a comedic zombie movie. It’s about a dark force in a cadaver lab on Christmas day. It’s rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity.
  • Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas (2012) is a comedy-horror about two brothers hired to play Santa and his elf at a store. However, a fellow store Santa develops a vendetta against them. Although it had a small budget, the filmmaking is still impressive.
  • Red Christmas (2016) is a holiday horror movie with a slight comedic edge. It tells the story of a family being terrorized by a killer on Christmas. It is slightly amusing but does not have great reviews on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Mercy Christmas (2017) is a hilarious film about a man who meets the perfect woman and celebrates Christmas with her family. However, it turns out he’s meant to be their dinner in this cannibal holiday flick.