This year we are refreshing our list of the best holiday horror. I have a deep love for specific sub-genres, and looking at how creative works within a very specific group differ. There are endless examples of holiday horror, a subgenre dating back to pagan times. And even more recently in history, a tradition from the Victorian Era. One of my favorite practices from that time was the telling of ghost stories on Christmas Eve a la A Christmas Carol. Here are the best holiday horror films, according to me.
The Sacrifice Game (2023) is equal parts violence, friendship, belly laughs and holiday cheer. Not for the weak stomached, The Sacrifice Game is a complex story with incredible characters and a great soundtrack. In some ways it goes harder than you’d expect with graphic and creative kill scenes, and in other ways it inspires more vulnerability than we’re used to in horror. But the audience isn’t caught up on the genre as we watch, Director Jenn Wexler creates a perfect seamless balance. This is a brand new film, and a great way to introduce some fresh meat into your holiday viewing lineline.
Black Christmas (1974) There is no way to avoid Black Christmas (and its remake from 2019). The original was directed by Bob Clarke, and written by Roy Moore. The film stars Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey. It tells the story of a group of college girls, living in a house together, who are terrorized by a stalker around the holidays. It’s often considered one of the earliest slasher films, but for being one of the first it's incredibly tense and graphic. The remake was directed by Sophia Takal and certainly holds its own.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) is a hilarious and heartwarming horror holiday zombie musical. It was filmed in Glasgow, Scotland and directed by John Mcphail, Starring Ella Hunt. It remains in my top 5 holiday horror films, and brings a bit of levity to the sub-genre. I highly recommend listening to the soundtrack over and over again, after you’ve seen the movie. It is based on the 2010 short film "Zombie Musical" by Ryan McHenry. The film combines elements of a coming-of-age story, a holiday film, and a zombie apocalypse.
The Lodge (2019) is one of the most impressive winter horror movies of the ten years. Not only is it haunting and bleak, it’s a masterful psychological horror thriller film directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. It premiered at Sundance in 2019, and for good reason. From the performances, to the story, to the cinematography, the lodge is an excellent watch any time of year. But especially during a blizzard.
Dead of Night (1945) is an anthology horror film (even the idea of an anthology film from 1945 is so fascinating to me). Each segment is directed by a different director, and adapts stories from different writers, including HG Wells. One particular segment, called A Christmas Party fits our theme. It was written by Angus MacPhil.
Rare Exports (2010) is a Krampus style film (not a Krampus film) directed by Jalmari Helander. Starring Onni Tommila and Jorma Tommila, Rare Exports belongs to a category of its own. It’s heavily driven by folklore and introduces a new world of winter terror to audiences.
Krampus (2015) Speaking of Krampus films, Krampus from 2015 is way scarier than it has any right to be. Starring Adam Scott and Toni Collete, the film is a great watch for anyone who wants to be scared this holiday season. Of course, it relies on Austro-Bavarian folklore, and it’s worth researching that a bit before you hit play. The filmmakers do a great job of bringing this legend to life.
A Christmas Horror Story (2015) is an anthology horror film that tells stories that all take place on Christmas Eve, starring William Shatner. Personally, this film is not one of my favorites, but I know it has a huge cult following of megafans. The movie weaves together multiple interrelated stories, all set on Christmas Eve, and features a mix of horror, fantasy, and dark humor.
The Devil Doll (1936) was directed by Tod Browning and stars Lionel Barrymore. Set around Christmas time, an escaped convict uses tiny humans (which a scientist has figured out how to do) to get his revenge. 7/10 rating on IMDB and 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is known for its combination of science fiction and horror. It was inspired by the novel "Burn Witch Burn!" by Abraham Merritt.
Gremlins (1984) follows a young man named Billy who receives a small, furry creature called a Mogwai as a Christmas gift from his father. The creature, named Gizmo, comes with three important rules: keep it away from bright light, especially sunlight; don't get it wet; and never, ever feed it after midnight. Gremlins was directed by Joe Dante, starring Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) is exactly what you’d expect it to be. The film was directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr. A young boy who is traumatized as a kid, has flashbacks as an adult and embarks on a murderous holiday ramage. The holiday thrasher film from the 80s that you ordered.
The Curse of the Cat People (1944) from 1944 is a vintage holiday film for the spooky gals. Directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch. Written by DeWitt Bodeen and stars Simone Simon and Kent Smith, it’s a cult classic and deserves to be.
Violent Night (2022) quickly captured the hearts of audiences last holiday season. Starring David Harbour of Stranger Things, Violent Night paints Santa as the hero who tries to save a wealthy family from a brutal attack.
Silent Night (2021) stars Kiera Knightly. It was directed and written by Camille Griffin and tells the story of a Christmas party gone wrong.
Any “best” list is, of course, very dependent on the eye of the beholder. We would love to hear your favorites in the comments below.