STORY WRITTEN BY VERNOR RODGERS AND MICHELLE MILLS
Southern California News Group
The holidays can be stressful, so the Christmas horror movie genre offers a bit of release. A subgenre of slasher films, most follow the basic formula, which includes an anti-heroic villain wearing a mask or disguise, a lone female who survives to confront him and a focus on violent and graphic death with a plus for the use of original methods and tools. Many also boast some twisted humor. Here’s a few for you to watch.
For mature audiences
Black Christmas (1974): Nine years before directing “A Christmas Story,” Bob Clark made this film, considered among the best and scariest of Christmas horror movies — and perhaps the first slasher film. Sorority sisters, among them played by Margot Kidder,Olivia Hussey and Andrea Martin, are annoyed by what seems to be an obscene phone caller, but things get nasty after the caller issues a death threat. Aremakein 2006 features Katie Cassidy,Michelle Trachtenberg,Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lacy Chabert and, from the original, Martin.
Silent Night Deadly Night (1984): Billy witnesses the murder of his parents and then is abused in an orphanage. As a teen, Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) takes a job as a department store Santa and, spurred by violent flashbacks, goes berserk and becomes a serial killer. This film was picketed by parents angered by the depiction of Santa Claus as an ax-wielding maniac. To protest the film, critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel read the credits out loud on their television show saying, “shame, shame, shame” after each name. However, it was followed by four sequels.
Rare Exports — A Christmas Tale (2010): On Christmas Eve in Finland, Santa Claus is unearthed in an archaeological dig. Soon after, children start disappearing, leading a boy and his father to capture Santa and with the help of fellow hunters they look to sell him back to the corporation that sponsored the dig. There’s also Santa’s elves who are determined to free their leader. Praised as being darkly humorous.
Jack Frost (1997): Not to be confused with the comedy starring Michael Keaton and Kelly Preston and certainly no relative of Frosty. A serial killer (Scott MacDonald) is genetically mutated in a car wreck on the way to his execution. He becomes a murdering snowman seeking revenge on the sheriff who caught him. Well-earned R rating for violence and gore.
Christmas Evil (You Better Watch Out) (1980): As a boy, Harry finds out in a rather adult way that Santa Claus does not exist. By the time he is an adult, Harry (Brandon Maggart), working as a manager of a toy factory, becomes obsessed with being the real spirit of Santa which leads the him to take naughty or nice judgments and punishments to deadly extremes. The cast features Jeffrey DeMunn, who decades later would play Dale, one of the more beloved characters in “The Walking Dead.”
For the family
Gremlins (1984): The endearing movie written by Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante that introduced us to the lovable and cuddly Mogwai Gizmo, along with his mutated brethren (when fed after midnight) that become the gremlins of legend. Led by Stripe, the gremlins turn Christmas Eve into a nightmare in a small town, while Billy (Zach Galligan) and his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) seem to be the only people around with the resourcefulness to take on Stripe and a growing mob of rowdy and deadly merrymakers. Memorable and darkly funny scenes throughout including Billy’s mother Lynn (Frances Lee McCain) turning her kitchen into an effective gremlin-killing arsenal.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): This stop-motion animated movie, mistakenly thought to be directed by Tim Burton — he wrote the screenplay but Henry Selick directed — might be a little intense for young children, but this is a visually stunning movie that ties in Halloween with Christmas. Jack Skellington (voice of Danny Elfman), the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween- but they can’t get it quite right.
Treevenge (2008): A not-so-sweet 16-minute short film available on Vimeo and YouTube, this little indulgence definitely comes with a warning about explicit violence. Ever wonder what a Christmas tree thinks about all this holiday stuff? Co-writers Jason Eisener and Rob Cotterill explore this in “Treevenge” and the result is not pretty. Terrorized by humans seen as cruel, foul-mouthed monsters, Christmas trees in a small town rise up and go on a brutal, bloody rampage. No one is spared. This short should be viewed by people who truly are hard-core in their pursuit of viewing ultra-violent movies and have 16 minutes to spare.
Krampus (2015): Although this movie takes liberties from the Krampus legend originated in Austria, it is a wickedly delightful fright fest. When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns away from Christmas. This lack of festive spirit on his part unleashes the wrath of Krampus — a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. A delightful relationship between Max and his grandmother Omi (Krista Stadler) is a highlight of the movie, and after seeing this film, you will never view gingerbread cookies the same way again.
All Through the House (2015): Having completed a successful, award-winning run on the festival circuit, this throwback to 1980s slasher horror has been released on DVD. Todd Nunes wrote and directed the film, which features his sister Ashley Mary Nunes as Rachel, the final girl. When Rachel returns to her hometown of Napa for the holidays to visit her grandmother (Cathy Garrett), hang out with friends Gia (Natalie Montera) and Sarah (Danica Riner) and assist a lonely neighbor, Mrs. Garrett (Melynda Kiring) in decorating her house, she finds herself in a deadly battle of wits with a Santa slayer wearing a hideous mask who is making the rounds in the neighborhood, slicing and dicing and generally ruining the holidays for people. Along with the terror are a few plot twists.
Silent Night Bloody Night (1972): A man inherits his grandfather’s house that was converted into an institution for the criminally insane. When a serial killer escapes from another institution and finds refuge in this old, haunted structure, well, you know what will happen.
Don’t Open Til Christmas (1984): A murderer is running loose through the streets of London, hunting down men dressed as Santa Claus and killing them all in different and extremely violent fashions.
Elves (1989): The late Dan Haggerty is a loose-cannon Santa Claus who is the only hope in saving a young woman and her friends trapped in a department store with a malevolent elf.
Santa’s Slay (2005): Pro wrestler Bill Goldberg plays the devil’s son who lost a wager with an angel and was forced to spend 1,000 years playing Santa. Time is up and good old Santa isn’t so joyful anymore, so he starts to wreak havoc killing people.
Sint (AKA Saint) (2011): A full moon on a Dec. 5 triggers St. Nicholas disguised as a bishop who kidnaps and murders children. Strangely enough the story is set on the real-life eve of St. Nicholas’ feast day, which is tied to the Krampus folk myth.