It’s that time of year again, when it’s dark at 2pm and colourful lights and Christmas music assault the senses. But fear not, as we have a list of films to keep you warm and cosy at home but still celebrate the holiday spirit with some spooky Christmas-themed horror movies from around the world. Here are some of our choices for the best Christmas horror for you this season!
Treevenge (2008) by Jason Eisener
“Foul-mouthed lumberjacks descend on a hillside of trees, cutting them down and trucking them to Christmas tree lots where families paw them, pick one out, take it home, stick it in a stand, and decorate it. The trees experience terror throughout the ordeal: we hear their squeals of pain when axed or sawn, the emotion of separation from family and friends, the fear of the unknown, and the despair they feel during the strange and bizarre rituals of families at Christmas. On Christmas morning, the trees strike back. Man, woman, child, and pet may be in for a grisly end.”
A perfect example of Canuxploitation, Treevenge is an incredible piece of blood-soaked extreme cinema set on the festive day. Although incredibly short-lived at only sixteen minutes in length, the film utilizes this time perfectly to create a remarkably kinetic action-packed gore ride. Leaning into the excessive tone known in exploitation results in tongue in check comedic moments, that not everyone will be a fan of; some people won’t find child murder funny, I guess. A perfect watch to get you in the festive spirit, Treevenge should be on your watch list this Christmas as the film is sure to get a reaction out of everyone… be it laughter or shock.
Krampus (2015) by Michael Dougherty
“When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max gets disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Meanwhile, this lack of festive spirit unleashes the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for one another if they hope to survive.”
Starting off as an exaggerated example of a Hallmark Christmas film, Krampus soon switches gears in its second act. Becoming an impressive mix of creature feature and home invasion thriller, it efficiently implements comedic undertones while maintaining an overall oppressive atmosphere throughout. Furthermore, outstanding special effects reinforce these creature feature elements, choosing imposing animatronics rather than immoderate CGI effects that would be detrimental overall. Featuring an all star cast, each character has excellent progression over the film’s runtime, their personal conflicts dwarfed by this new threat as they realise they must work together to survive. Consequently, Krampus is a great blend of horror and Christmas film, sitting in the category of great for a family viewing this season but may be too intense for younger viewers.
Kazuo Umezu’s Horror Theater: Present (2005) by Yudai Yamaguchi
“A bunch of happy students enjoying themselves at a Christmas party until a sadistic Santa Claus comes and interrupts the festivities. Spruce Green becomes blood red when the plot is different from the naughty children they please.”
Based on the work of the renowned manga artist Kazou Umezu, the story is an excellent representation of a Japanese slasher film, following the standard formula of the genre exceptionally well. Although short in length at only fifty minutes, a concise yet informative introduction to the story assists in elaborating the characters and story efficiently, allowing for the bloody chaos to take centre stage. This excessive violence is brazen in its display, with the camera rarely shying away from the mutilative carnage dished out by Saint Nick, often to the disgust of the characters, continually played off as darkly comedic rather than having a serious tone. Present is an engrossing take on the genre from Japan and worth the exploration if you can find a copy.
Black Christmas (1974) by Bob Clark
“It’s time for Christmas break, and the sorority sisters make plans for the holiday, but the strange anonymous phone calls are beginning to put them on edge. When Clare disappears, they contact the police, who don’t express much concern. Meanwhile Jess is planning to get an abortion, but boyfriend Peter is very much against it. The police finally begin to get concerned when a 13-year-old girl is found dead in the park. They set up a wiretap to the sorority house, but will they be in time to prevent a sorority girl attrition problem?”
Arguably one of the first instances of the slasher genre, a severely dark story starkly contrasts the festive joy and decorations that adorn its setting. The film’s violence is the perfect example of subtlety, realised through a large amount of obscuration of both the violence and the killer themselves, which heightens its impact dramatically. Furthermore, an amazing performance from the cast ascertains a sense of realism to the story as a whole. The story is missing the unnecessary sexual undertones that swamp the genre today. Being the first of its kind (also the first use of infamous “the call is coming from inside the house” trope in film), Black Christmas is an incredible piece of cinema that has withstood the test of time, as impressive now as when released over 47 years ago.
Gremlins (1984) by Joe Dante
“Miniature green monsters tear through the small town of Kingston Falls. Hijinks ensue as a mild-mannered bank teller releases these hideous loonies after gaining a new pet and violating two of three simple rules: No water (violated), no food after midnight (violated), and no bright light. Hilarious mayhem and destruction in a town straight out of Norman Rockwell. So, when your washing machine blows up or your TV goes on the fritz, before you call the repairman, turn on all the lights and look under all the beds. ‘Cause you never can tell, there just might be a gremlin in your house.”
A staple of Christmas for most, Gremlins is one of the more universal horror movies on this list. Featuring heavy fantasy elements and a strong focus on slapstick comedy, it makes for a great introduction to horror for younger children as it is neither too graphic in violence nor too intense in its horror elements. With an incredible score by Jerry Goldsmith as well as some of the best animatronics of the 80s, the film worked its way into our hearts as well as popular culture, where it remains to this day. Although it’s sequel is just as beloved, nothing beats the quality and feeling of nostalgia that comes with the original film.
“Margaret and Lisa, high school friends, take the night train from Germany to Verona to spend Christmas with Lisa’s family. They flirt mildly with male passengers, including two randy delinquents in their 20s, Blackie and Curly. The four of them end up in a first-class cabin with a well-dressed woman of about 30 who has pornographic photographs in her valise. Egged on by the woman, the thugs and a male visitor to the cabin menace and then assault Margaret and Lisa. Meanwhile, we also see Christmas Eve and morning scenes at Lisa’s home, where her parents are polite to each other while discussing divorce. On Christmas morning, they go to the station to meet the girls. Will they be on the train?”
Though incredibly similar to Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972), the film stands out as unique due to the Giallo cinematic techniques implemented and lack of comedic relief. A beautiful use of lighting and a fantastic soundtrack contrasts the film’s sombre story. The heinous, well realised violence towards the protagonists can be unsettling to watch due to its graphic nature. However the film does slow to a crawl at times, resulting in a mixed pace overall. That notwithstanding, the film is a magnificent example of a giallo-rape/revenge hybrid and a more extreme approach to the Christmas horror genre.
Christmas Cruelty! (2013) by Per-Ingvar Tomren & Magne Steinsvoll
“O’Hellige Jul! follows both a serial killer as he plans for his next kills, and the next set of victims he has set his sights on. As the group of friends we get to know prepare for Christmas in their own way we also follow the killer as he stalks and does his final research for this year’s Christmas cruelty.”
Possibly the most nihilistic movie on this list, Christmas Cruelty begins with a brutal home invasion that holds little back, setting the extreme tone that continues throughout. That notwithstanding, the film is difficult to categorise, with a mix of extreme violence perpetrated by the killer as well as humanising scenes of him with his family, all accompanied by an odd, contrasting soundtrack creates a difficult yet intriguing watch. The film also includes a large amount of experimental cinematography, vastly ranging from inventive to confusing and expresses a desire to create something dissimilar from the norm, and Christmas Cruelty certainly succeeded in that respect. As a warning, this film will not be for everybody’s tastes but if it sounds like your cup of tea, I certainly recommend it.
Ju-On: White Ghost (2009) by Ryûta Miyake
“The spiteful ghosts of an abused girl and her grandmother, both mercilessly murdered, return to haunt and take victims under their grudge.”
Originally released with Ju-On: Black Ghost for the tenth anniversary of the series, White Ghost is a slow burn J-horror told in a similar style to its predecessors, with chapters told from different perspectives of the incident in question. That notwithstanding, the story connects together expeditiously to come full circle, all interlinking connections fully established by the third act. The film efficiently builds up unscrupulous tension, the impeccable use of sound sets a lasting apprehension that seems to follow from chapter to chapter. The gradual build up only heightens the impact of the unsettling spirit’s actualization, with her presence never ceasing to cause a feeling of terror. Along with its supernatural horror, White Ghost doesn’t shy away from visceral violence, including the graphic murder and dismemberment of a young girl that may not be for everyone. With that being said, White Ghost is an undeniably creepy Christmas horror that’s sure to give everyone a fright.
Deadly Games (1989) by René Manzor
“Thomas, a very intelligent and resourceful child, is left alone with his beloved and fragile granddad on Christmas Eve, when a psychopath dressed as Santa Claus breaks into their mansion and starts chasing them. Thomas will do whatever he can to save himself and his granddad.”
Though released a year prior, Deadly Games plays out much like an adult version of Home Alone (1990). It sets up an incredibly thrilling home invasion film, cementing an aggressive tone at its beginning with the brutal murder of the family’s dog (not cool man). However, through all this intense carnage and continuous murder, the endearing child-like sentiments of our protagonist shine through persistently. His unwavering belief that this maniacal intruder is actually Santa, punishing him for trying to sneak a peek at the jolly fat man on his delivery is charming throughout. Consequently, because of the shocking depiction of animal abuse, this film may not be for everyone (understandably so). Although, if you can overcome this aspect, this French horror thriller is a tour de force game of cat and mouse that’s sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Night Caller (1985) by Philip Chan
A woman is brutally murdered before Christmas, clearly by someone she knows well, all while her young daughter watches. The investigation of this crime is mainly carried out by two CID men and a woman in a green cap. But as the body count starts to rise and one of the officers is kidnapped, the pressure is on to discover the killers identity before it’s too late.
Heavily inspired by Italian Giallo slashers, this tense game of cat and mouse is brimming with graphic violence and slick cinematography. Furthermore, Night Caller combines fast pace action sequences and impressive martial arts displays Hong Kong Cinema is famous for, creating a unique hybrid of the two styles never before seen together. Well implemented comedic moments are an interesting respite between these action oriented scenes and the Giallo influenced murders, their sporadic use only strengthening the impact. Director Philip Chan shows a deep appreciation for the Giallo genre, his production full of blues and shadows that create a nourishing world for his characters, exhibiting a profound knowledge of what makes the visual style so attractive. Relatively unknown in the West, this Christmas horror thriller is sure to entertain lovers of both Italian and Hong Kong cinema.
Sint (2010) by Dick Maas
“The legendary St Nicholas comes to life under a full moon and terrorises Amsterdam by trying to kill as many Dutch children as possible at Christmas time.”
This one of a kind horror comedy follows an inverted folklore of the Dutch traditions of Sinterklauss. Rather than the usual jolly Sint Nicolaas that rewards well-behaved children, this warped version and his gang of Zwarte Pieten murder indiscriminately as an act of retribution on the people of Amsterdam. Though these traditions will be a foreign concept to most, the gaps in knowledge are revealed organically throughout the story’s progression. Featuring a dynamic mix of gruesome gore as well as laugh out loud comedy works in the productions favour, with the duality working together in an entertaining equilibrium. As such, Sint would be best viewed as a group over the holidays, sharing a laugh with those you hold dear.
Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Technical Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A life long love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.