“It’s the most, wonderful time, of the year.”
It’s Christmas! So for horror fans, perhaps not quite the MOST wonderful time of the year. But Christmas has found itself in a bizarre and strange position in recent years. As horror lovers around the world binge and near overdose on blood and gore and scares and monsters and killers and god-knows-what for the 31 days of October, we need a break. As the Halloween decorations disappear and the Christmas lights begin to appear on the houses in the neighbourhood, genre fans find themselves refreshed and ready for some seasonal slaughter.
So while everyone else – all those NORMAL people – are watching Love Actually and The Muppet Christmas Carol while yet again arguing about Die Hard for the 30th year in a row, lovers of things slightly gorier have a wealth of holiday horror to binge on.
This is, of course, not a new phenomenon. Our Alternative Christmas piece from last year and Yule-Scream series from the year before are evidence of a long-standing need and love for these films. But for 2019, let us introduce you to a few Christmas horror films you may not have heard of. Some are great, some not-so-much. But all of them are worth a look this Christmas.
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All The Creatures Were Stirring (2018)
The directorial debut of Rebekah and David McKendry (Rebekah is a film lecturer and co-host of the Shock Waves podcast), we begin our list with an anthology horror with a Christmas themed wrap-around as Max (Graham Skipper – Beyond The Gates) and Jenna (Ashley Clements) Find themselves on a truly awkward first date on Christmas Eve.
Heading into a little theatre, the pair sit down for “All The Creatures Were Stirring” – five short plays all set around a different Christmas holiday tradition. Telling these tales with a horror twist, the dating pair witness these almost sacred Christmas pastimes turned into nightmares for their participants. Suddenly, everything turns deadly or dangerous. From an office Christmas party becoming hellish when someone gives every participant a weapon in a Jigsaw-like move; all the way to a man doing his last minute Christmas shopping and learning to truly regret asking a couple for help in the car park.
Anthology horror always has its ups and downs, and this one is no different. But with an all-star cast peppered across the five stories, including Constance Wu (Fresh Off The Boat), Megan Duffy (Maniac) and Amanda Fuller (Starry Eyes), All The Creatures Were Stirring kicks off this list of film with an 80 minute splattering of comedy horror that’ll have you glad for your boring, uneventful Christmas jolly with the guys and girls in the office.
Secret Santa (2018)
Another comedy horror for the holiday season, but this one swings far more into the comedy side of things.
A typical family get-together is the scene for this one – a horror movie for most of us at the best of times – but this shindig includes a spiked bowl of punch being thrown into the mix of an already pretty toxic bunch. That the whole night’s supply of booze has been laced with something that makes those that drink it offensively honest and murderously angry is just the beginning of the problems for this family, and as the night goes on it becomes a real game of survival.
If you can imagine a regular old Christmas comedy with the stereotypical family members surrounding the table ready to argue, this film takes that character list, flips it on its head and dares the characters that appear to try and kill each other. From a sex-crazed manic to a truly psychopathic mother, there’s an exaggerated character for everyone here.
Directed by Adam Marcus (Jason Goes To Hell), Secret Santa’s unique selling point in this list is the outrageous comedy. But it’s a comedy that’s an acquired taste. The film STARTS offensive and just gets worse from there. There is something here to make almost everyone go “Oh, you can’t say THAT!”. Secret Santa is a blast, but make no mistake, it is certainly not for the easily offended. Or those difficult to offend. Basically, this film is only for those that like their comedy to be free from society’s moral compass completely.
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The most mainstream film on this list and the one most likely to be on the radar of the average reader. Brought to us by Trick R’ Treat director Michael Dougherty, this anti-Santa Christmas tale is going to find itself permanently on some Christmas horror lists for years to come.
Much like Secret Santa, it’s a family gathering that starts off this entry, but instead of the punch being spiked, the family find themselves the target of the monstrous Krampus and his minions when the last of the Engel family loses their Christmas spirit. It’s a fun, funny, but scary little number with some brilliant jump scares and an almost Gremlins-like family fun feel to it. With some excellent monster designs from a terrifying, child-eating Jack-in-the-box to some hilariously murderous gingerbread men, all the way to a brilliantly realised Christmas demon in Krampus himself.
Krampus is sure to stand the test of time and deserves a spot in everyone’s Christmas viewing calendar.
Better Watch Out (2016)
Christmas wouldn’t usually be the season that would be the perfect setup for a home invasion movie. You’re Next pretty much locked up that title with its Thanksgiving setting. Yet here we are with Better Watch Out.
Babysitter Ashley (The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge) is looking after 12 year old Luke (Levi Miller – A Wrinkle in Time) for the last night before heading off to college. Pizza and horror movies – of course – set the mood for a quiet evening in when strange things start happening outside. Now, Luke, Ashley, and Luke’s best friend Garrett find themselves terrorised by an unknown somebody who is trying to get into the house.
Better Watch Out gained itself a quick following when it appeared first on the festival circuit and then on general release for the way it took the tropes of the home invasion genre and played around with them in ways that no one saw coming. It’s a brilliantly fun little film that is best experienced knowing as little as possible about it going in. Don’t read up on it, no trailer watching, just watch it.
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Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
Saving the best for last. While everything else in this list is worth watching – sometimes just the once – Anna and the Apocalypse is hands down one of the best films to come out in the past few years that no one has heard of.
A Scottish zombie comedy musical might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but this is the tale of Anna Shepherd (Ella Hunt – Lore), a secondary school student soon to find herself free of the education system who finds herself waist deep in the undead as the zombie apocalypse takes hold of her town. Anna and her friends have to find a way to survive not just the walking dead, but the still alive humans who are just as bad – if not worse – than the mindless monsters trying to eat them.
Some very cool kills and some brilliant gore would elevate Anna to above average all on its own as this clever, heartfelt film makes the over-populated genre it lives in something a little special. But when you add some of the best, catchiest songs to ever find their way into a non-disney musical – sorry The Greatest Showman, I can’t name three of your songs, but I can sing the entire soundtrack to Anna and the Apocalypse, including a truly ridiculous song called ‘The Fish Rap’ – and you’ve got a recipe for a real family favourite.
Hopefully those reading this get a film or two that go into their regular Christmas rotation. There’s plenty of room next to Die Hard, Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas to squeeze in a couple of extra, fun horror movies. Merry Christmas.