It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas: eggnog lattes, mince pies, inappropriate kissing of work colleagues.
But nothing says Christmas like a Yuletide slasher movie, and there are more to choose from than you might think.
Mostly, this is due to the slasher boom of the early Eighties, when low-budget film-makers sliced and diced their way through every holiday imaginable.
Still, spooking moviegoers at Halloween or on Friday the 13th is fair game. Taking the most joyous festival of the year, one in which our hopes and prayers and fond childhood memories are invested, and making it sinister and creepy — now, that’s sick.
Yet the festive period is more susceptible to the horror treatment than might appear obvious. Christmas-themed slashers tap into our fear of being alone over the holidays, when everyone else seems to be snuggled up with family or significant others.
Loneliness and rejection are scary enough; add an axe-wielding Santa Claus to the mix and you’ve got yourself some genuine tinselled terror.
And when the plucky Final Girl turns the tables on the killer and beats him to death with a Yule log — what better symbol of the true meaning of Christmas? Hope, the triumph of good over evil, and body bags.
So, just to prove that your credit rating isn’t the only thing that gets massacred at this time of year, here are 10 festive frightfests to get you in the mood.
1. Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)
This Canadian-passing-for-American classic is the granddaddy of the slasher genre. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) may be the superior work of art but Bob Clark’s sorority-set scarer got there first. A house full of college girls is packing up to head home for the holidays but a deranged killer has other ideas, taunting them with obscene phone calls and picking them off one-by-one — and imaginatively; how many movies can boast a unicorn impalement scene? Innovative for aligning the audience with the killer’s POV, and featuring entertaining turns by John Saxon and an up-and-coming Margot Kidder (only she could pull off a dirty telephone exchange joke), Black Christmas never rises above B-movie schlock but its twisted kills and carol-scored thrills are more than enough.
2. Silent Night, Deadly Night (Charles Sellier, 1984)
When it was released in 1984, this Santa slasher was denounced by critics and family groups alike for its depiction of St. Nick as a brutal murderer. Three decades on, it’s easier to appreciate the movie’s cynical sense of humour and the scuzzy look of the ultra-cheap production only adds extra punch. Five-year-old Billy is mentally scarred after seeing his parents killed by a robber dressed as Santa Claus. He’s sent to live in a Catholic orphanage which, because this is Hollywood, is run by a sadistic mother superior who beats the notion that “punishment is good” into her young charge. Naturally, Billy is left somewhat funked up by all this and years later is pushed over the edge when his boss forces him to stand in as a store Santa at the last minute. Billy snaps and goes on a festive rampage, picking off his naughty list one by one until he reaches the now-frail mother superior. Four sequels, of rapidly declining quality, followed and were joined by a dumb-but-fun remake in 2012.
3. Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)
Also released in 1984, Gremlins is a snappily-paced horror-comedy about a teenager given a small, demonic creature as a Christmas present. As you do. The furry fiend begins to multiply until his owner has a small army of the creatures on his hands, and has to find a way to put their mayhem to an end.
4. P2 (Franck Khalfoun, 2007)
It’s like Die Hard in an office building. No, wait… Cat-and-mouse chiller P2 isn’t particularly original but it is packed with jumps and scares and lots of creepy little touches. Workaholic Rachel Nichols is the last person to leave her office on Christmas Eve but when she arrives at P2, the underground parking garage, she realises she’s been locked in. Rachel goes looking for security guard Wes Bentley but soon finds out that her confinement is not accidental. Can she survive the night against a stalker who has all the keys, all the CCTV cameras and knows every inch of the building? The highlight is Bentley as a homicidal obsessive with a twisted approach to romantic gestures.
5. Black Christmas (Glen Morgan, 2006)
This remake got a lump of coal in its stocking from most critics upon its release but it makes for a watchable update of the 1974 classic. Kristen Cloke and Katie Cassidy make a decent stab at bringing a pedestrian script to life and the sickness level is amped up way beyond anything the original dared to do.
6. Dead End (Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa, 2003)
Proving that some things are even scarier than turkey with the in-laws, Dead End follows a family’s drive to visit relatives over Christmas which descends into the road trip from hell. Ray Wise stars as a father confronted by ghostly apparitions on a lonely stretch of backwoods road.
7. Christmas Evil (Lewis Jackson, 1980)
One of the nastier entries on our list. Released four years before Silent Night, Deadly Night, Christmas Evil hocks much the same premise. A kid witnesses a traumatic event involving Kris Kringle — he sees mommy doing a lot more than kissing Santa underneath the mistletoe, not realising it’s his father — and so naturally he grows up to become a serial killer in a Father Christmas costume. Working a minimum-wage job in a toy-making factory, he becomes convinced that he is Santa Claus and divides everyone he meets between his naughty and nice lists. So begins his Christmas Eve spree, complete with a massacre of parishioners leaving Midnight Mass. A little tasteless but worth checking out all the same.
8. Jack Frost (Michael Cooney, 1997)
Three words: Killer. Snowman. Movie.
9. Don’t Open Till Christmas (Edmund Purdom, 1984)
Another Clausploitation flick from 1984, this time set in England and with a twist: Instead of dressing up as Santa and slaughtering people, the psychopath is slaughtering people dressed as Santa. That’s as original as it gets.
10. Wind Chill (Gregory Jacobs, 2007)
This indie horror offering starts out promisingly enough, with college student Emily Blunt slowly realising that her ride home for the holidays, Ashton Holmes, isn’t all he seems. There is an hour of solid stalker thriller in here but the movie leaves the road when it attempts to introduce an uninspired supernatural plot twist.
If you’ve had enough of those syrupy Hallmark Christmas movies and are looking for something a little darker, give a few of these flicks a try. And, for now: Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good fright!