Halloween is a transitional period for the year. It’s around this time (at least, in places where actual seasons occur) that crops die and the weather starts to get cold. The air feels quiet and the wind feels louder. With that in mind, Christmas time should be considered scarier than it is. The snow you can’t see through, the freezing air that keeps a permanent chill down your spine, December should be a prime month for spooky times.
Of course, Christmas is the most festive holiday and horror fans usually end up feeling left out. But wait! There are plenty of movies that keep the Halloween spirit alive while also accommodating the Christmas spirit. Here are the best movies to watch while Sandy Claws is delivering his presents.
Black Christmas (1974)
Let’s begin with the oldest film on the list, Black Christmas directed by Bob Clark. You may not recognize that name, but he went on to direct A Christmas Story almost a decade later. That’s right, they same guy who made one of the most famous family films and arguably the most popular Christmas movie first made a horror-slasher film set during the same season.
Black Christmas is considered one of the first slasher films, inspiring the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th. It’s about a group of girls trapped in a sorority house on Christmas night being killed off by someone who first calls his victims on the phone. It’s easy to roll your eyes at the cliches in the plot, but keep in mind they weren’t cliches back then. The film arrived exactly the same time as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and is similar in tone and in its gritty feel. It’s very low budget and pretty dated today, but it’s worth a watch for its historical importance alone.
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton’s immortal classic is required for any fan of both Halloween or Christmas. Burton wrote the story and designed just about everything and everyone in the film, but he was actually busy directing the next movie on the list so the directing duties were given to Henry Selick.
Jack Skellington serves as the Pumpkin King in Halloween Town, a place where everybody is some kind of frightening creature and Halloween is all everyone thinks about. Jack is tired of Halloween when he accidentally discovers Christmas town, which is like Whoville on steroids. Things get chaotic when Jack tries to force himself upon the joyous holiday and it upon Halloween Town.
The film is stop-motion animation at its best. If it were made today, it would be entirely computer animated and the charm would be lost. This is one of the most visually appealing movies ever made and if the soundtrack wasn’t also incredible I would almost recommend just staring at it on mute.
Batman Returns (1992)
Another Tim Burton film and the sequel to the 1989 original, Batman Returns is surprisingly festive and dark at the same time. The story takes place over the course of December in Gotham and focuses on the three villains more than Batman himself, and the villains really are the stars of the show.
This time we got the Penguin and Catwoman, but the main attraction is Christopher Walken. He plays a corrupt businessman (sort of an anti-Bruce Wayne) named Max Shreck. That’s the name of the actor who played Nosferatu in the 1922 silent horror film. This is my favorite Christopher Walken role. He’s such a casually evil bastard and nonchalantly holds conversations in scenes with all these ridiculous costumed characters. This is about as dark as Christmas movies get without being straight horror so check it out.
Here we have the most recent entry of the list. Krampus came to theaters only a year ago and has since had a house based on it at Halloween Horror Nights and gained something of a cult following.
Krampus comes from European folklore and is basically the evil Santa Claus. Where Santa would reward the good children, the monstrous Krampus would punish the naughty kids. The movie takes the idea further bringing to life all kinds of horrifying Christmas creatures.
Though it’s a horror film, Krampus isn’t without its share of laughs and self awareness. It’s pretty hard not to laugh at evil little flaming gingerbread men. Still, Krampus keeps a strong festive spirit throughout with great cinematography of winter scenery.
Finally, we have Gremlins, the quintessential Christmas horror comedy. Most of you have probably at least heard of this one, but if not, here’s the gist: a young guy befriends a Mogwai which is basically a cuter version of a Furby. However, if these creatures are fed after midnight they morph into evil Gremlins who want nothing but to have fun at everyone’s expense. They multiply and run amok through the town on Christmas night. What starts out as an innocent family film quickly knocks you on your ass with blood, obscenity, and slapstick violence.
It’s movies like Gremlins where you realize the Christmas backdrop is almost completely unnecessary to the plot but adding it just makes it more interesting and provides a sizable amount of joke material. The Gremlins are scary, but also hilarious and you actually find yourself rooting for them rather than the human heroes. This is a must see for horror fans and there’s no better time to watch it than during the holiday season.
Merry Christmas everyone and stay scared!
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