The holiday season has rolled again (seriously, where did this year go?) and you know what that means: time to crack out the Christmas movies. But maybe you’re tired of the same old cheesy Hallmark fare, or maybe you’re just not feeling particularly festive this year – we wouldn’t blame you. If that’s the case, we know exactly what you need: one of the best Christmas horror movies.
That’s right – swap the schmaltz for spookiness and slasher flicks and revel in the abject and absurd this festive season. From black and white murder mysteries to talking Christmas trees with a thirst for revenge, this list covers all the bases: there’s something for everyone here. It’s not all blood and guts, either – movies like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas are suitable for family viewing, too. Read on to find out our picks for the best Christmas horror movies of all time.
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30. Treevenge (2008)
Let’s start as we mean to go on, kicking off this list of the best Christmas horror movies with something truly, joyously ludicrous. You might be able to tell from the pun title, but this 16-minute short film – that you can find for free on a number of websites – doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. That might be because it’s about Christmas trees getting their own back on humans. Yes, this is… fir real.
Hobo with a Shotgun director Jason Eisener goes to gory town with the concept. Humans are depicted as animalistic psychopaths yanking squeaking pines from the ground, chainsawing their trunks, and murdering sweet tree-lings too small for the job. The trees themselves sound a little like Gremlins and have subtitles, but, unfortunately, the humans just don’t notice until it’s, well, far too late. Things get truly, hilariously splattery here and not all in the best taste, but Treevenge is a dark festive joy. Christmas is all about red, right? You’ll never look at that innocent-looking tree in the corner in the same way again.
29. Mercy Christmas (2017)
Not that many of the movies on this list are family fare, but Mercy Christmas definitely isn’t the one to be watching while someone is carving up the turkey. Poor Michael Briskett – yes, that name’s no coincidence – is once again spending the festive period alone and working away on his evil manager’s paperwork instead of celebrating the holidays. Thus, instead of questioning her intentions more closely when Cindy, his work crush, inexplicably asks him to attend her family Christmas dinner, Michael jumps at the opportunity to share some festive cheer. He just doesn’t know that when they say they’ll be “glad to have him,” they mean quite literally.
Mercy Christmas is low budget fare and veers happily into ludicrous comedy horror territory but there’s something heartfelt about Michael’s quest for a perfect Christmas. Plus, like many of the other movies on this list, the idea of the ideal family festive season is nicely, sometimes literally, skewered by the bickering cannibals who have him hostage. Even if our tastes differ, is it too much to ask for a perfect Christmas?
28. Holidays (2015)
The title says it all. This blood-soaked anthology makes a mess of major holidays like Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas along with a few smaller festive occasions. St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Easter get a look in too, and you won’t think about any of these special days the same way again.
It’s the yuletide segment that makes it into our best Christmas movies. It stars Seth Green as a desperate father in a predicament much like Arnie in Jingle All The Way. Except, where Ahnald’s after a Turbo-Man for his kid, Green’s character is struggling to buy virtual glasses for his son. He manages to procure a pair in a nasty manner, only for the truth of his circumstances to reflect even more horrors within his family. With a definite hint of Black Mirror to the twist, you’ll want to keep watching right to the end of this one.
27. Await Further Instructions (2018)
If there’s one theme running through this list of the best Christmas horror movies like blood from a candy cane, it’s that family is hell during the festive season. The forced camaraderie of set traditions… The matriarch desperately trying to keep the peace while peeling potatoes… The melancholy quest to rekindle happier, simpler times… And it’s all here in full grim British form in Await Further Instructions.
When Nick brings his new girlfriend Annji home for Christmas, his racist family’s response is already horrible enough. And that’s before the TV starts sending them messages and a strange black material has sealed the doors and windows. It doesn’t quite keep its tension all the way to the conclusion but this apocalyptic family drama plays out like the best bottle episodes. Claustrophobic and tense despite the hideousness of most of its characters, Await Further Instructions is bleak anti-Christmas fare.
26. Dead of Night (1945)
Everyone loves a good Christmas party. Fun and games for the kiddos and a generous spread of fancy finger foods and Prosecco for the adults. But what if your hostess fails to mention that their glorious abode, decked out for the season, is also the site of a horrific murder?
That’s the hidden twist at the heart of the Christmas vignette in Dead of Night. One of the first horror anthology flicks, this ’40s chiller is most well-known for its terrifying ventriloquist segment – and it is truly horrific – but the Christmas sequence is just as likely to make you soil yourself. Dripping with shadows and an eerie feeling that the abode is haunted, the big reveal is one of slow, dawning terror that’ll make the hairs on the back of your arms stand up. It’s might be older than anything you own but Dead of Night is a worthy entry to our best Christmas horror movie list.
25. Alien Raiders (2009)
Don’t look at us like that. It might sound like a cheap corn snack but Alien Raiders is a tense supermarket hostage situation with a gory twist. Given that it just happens to take place during the holiday season, it’s also the least Christmassy Christmas horror movie on this list but it’s important to take a break from the Santas putting the literal slay into the festive season and enjoy one of the most underrated scary movies of the noughties.
It seems like an ordinary night for the late-night staff of an Arizona supermarket but when a van of shotgun-wielding military types rock up and don’t seem interested in the cash in the registers, things get seriously interesting. And “things” is the operative word here. Not unlike John Carpenter’s snowy masterpiece, there’s a monster lurking under people’s skin and the invaders might not be the villains that they first appear. Slick, gory, and genuinely tense, this is one of the best indie horrors you’ve never heard of.
24. Deadly Games (1989)
If we were the moral panic sort, we’d probably blame this 1989 French horror for the, let’s face it, totally pre-meditated murderous behaviour of a certain Kevin McCallister. Game Over, also known as Deadly Games and its original title 3615 Père Noël, is distinctly Home Alone-flavoured as young Thomas has his home invaded by a psychopathic Santa and he sets festive traps accordingly. Oh, and we’re not the only ones to see similarities. At the time, director Rene Manzor threatened legal action against Fox who he said “remade his movie.”
While the holiday cosiness of Chris Columbus’ robber torture ‘em up is all (Christmas) present and correct, Game Over takes the tone in a significantly darker direction. This murderous psychopath is just that. While Thomas thinks he is the real Santa, punishing him for still being awake, this man is a cold-blooded killer and doesn’t care who knows it. There’s a genuine sense of threat as Thomas’ sick grandfather remains in the house, unable to defend himself. Dark and satisfying, Game Over is Home Alone with the stabilisers off.
23. Red Christmas (2017)
Aah, Christmas. The perfect time to tackle pro-life and abortion issues in a gory slasher flick starring the legendary Dee Wallace. Yep, with a subject matter spikier than a carpet of crushed baubles this ‘Ozploitation’ horror definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of a place on this list. Diane has managed to get her warring clan together for one final Christmas in the family home before she sells up and travels after her husband’s death. However, not only do her children have issues with this, a hooded figure known as Cletus has arrived at the door with a letter for ‘Mother’.
There definitely isn’t space here to deal with the intricacies of the fact that he is her son from a late-stage abortion, but the tone of Red Christmas is fascinating. The gruesome ways that the family are dispatched are gloriously gory but their problems and arguments are real. Tonally it’s all over the place, but somehow still works, and there’s nothing to prepare you for how beautifully shot and lit the third act is. This is slaughter by the neon of Christmas lights and there’s nothing quite like it.
22. Better Watch Out (2016)
Don’t get me wrong, a whole season of classic Christmas movies is great. All that seasonal goodwill can sometimes leave one hankering for… well, trashier fare. There’s only so much It’s A Wonderful Life a person can take, after all. Better Watch Out is the perfect holiday antidote for when the family’s out and you fancy some gore and schlock.
With a simple premise, you won’t be too taxed. Like all of us, Ashley just hopes to spend an evening getting paid to eat pizza but gets far more than she bargained for when an uninvited guest arrives. It’s a little grim occasionally, but Better Watch Out plays like a slasher version of Adventures in Babysitting set at Christmas. You’re getting a cheesy serial-killer yarn mixed up with a teenager’s worst night at work ever. The flick’s winning B-movie formula of blood and silliness works well with its plethora of over-the-top scenarios that’ll likely have you rolling your eyes and/or shouting at the screen. Hey, that’s half the fun, right?
21. The Nightmare Before Christmas
What do you mean, Henry Selick and Tim Burton’s stop motion gothic masterpiece isn’t a Christmas horror movie? Children are terrorised by evil dolls and murderous ducks, a shrunken head arrives in a box, and in one, particularly memorable, sequence an entire silver Christmas tree is eaten by a giant snake while a child looks on, shrieking. If that isn’t the true meaning of the festive season, we really don’t know what is.
OK, fine, it’s only a PG, and certainly not Treevenge levels of gore, but The Nightmare Before Christmas makes a perfect creepier, darker tale that doesn’t need you to wait until the kids have gone to bed. Jack Skellington’s love of Christmas and his ensuing destruction of the holiday can be enjoyed and sung along by all. And it might look terrifying on the surface but beneath the ghastly creatures and removable heads, there’s a heart of absolute gold and a love story that will melt even the frostiest of evil-looking snowmen. Let’s live like Jack and Sally, shall we?
Read more: How to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas online (opens in new tab) this festive season
20. Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)
Unfortunately, the title really isn’t referring to that TIE fighter drone gizmo you’ve been dropping hints about since September. The cover of the VHS features a kitchen knife jammed into a Christmas present, puddles of blood oozing into the carpet. Might there be an evil toy that’s come to life inside?
No. The unspeakable horror is a serial killer’s murderous spree across London. His victims? Anyone dressed in a Santa outfit, which makes his job rather easy and the job of Scotland Yard rather tricksy. Before long there’s a string of corpses dotted across the city, slain in a variety of brutal ways. Crammed with hammy one-liners and casual sleazy sex, this is stinkier than a wedge of stilton: perfect Christmas entertainment.
19. To All a Goodnight (1980)
Nothing spells seasonal cheer like a deserted, creepy institution, does it? Arriving at a time when slasher movies were ten-a-penny, this slay fest stands out by taking a festive approach.
Set over Christmas break, the girls of the Calvin Finishing School decide to hole up inside for a boozy bash. Boyfriends are snuck in, alcohol imbibed, and that can only lead to one thing. Well, nookie, obviously, but that’s not all. A serial killer dressed like Santa shows up and starts offing them one-by-one. What a party pooper.
18. Wind Chill (2007)
Is it wise to get a lift home for Christmas with a stranger? is a question that no-one asks in Wind Chill. Presumably because the alternative – staying at school alone – is worse.
This neat thriller features an early turn from Emily Blunt as a college girl who takes a rideshare back home with a fellow student. Their route is invariably fraught with hideous weather that leads them onto a mysterious back road. Throw in a supernatural sheriff who threatens their safe passage and a ghastly case of frostbite and it makes you wonder if it hadn’t been better to fly home. This is snow joke.
17. A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
The most horrifying thing about the villain of this piece is his impressive physique. Look at it. How does this Krampus find time for evil when he’s down the gym kicking out crunches 24/7?
He’s not the only vessel of terror in this anthology film that spans the course of a night – and features William Shatner as a DJ in the wraparound story. There’s a killer Santa, a changeling, and a pregnant ghost of a nun. The sting in the tail comes in the fourth vignette, as Santa prepares to battle the evil Krampus after discovering his wife and elves have been turned into zombies. They’re not members of the undead, and the Krampus is just a figment of his distorted imagination.
16. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
The Christmas in question for this Giallo-inspired horror takes place 40 years before the events of the movie, when a series of strange happenings at an asylum turn into a total bloodbath. With no survivors, the building is inherited by the grandson of Wilfred Butler, the last man to make it out before burning to death. Yep, it definitely sounds like it belongs on our list of the best Christmas horror movies.
The plot twists and turns before delivering a bit of surprise ending, after everyone in the mansion gets offed by a killer seeking revenge. It’s a moody little chiller that foresaw the oncoming slasher craze by a few years and delivered the goods on a remarkably low budget.
15. Santa’s Slay (2005)
Treading the line between horror and comedy, Santa’s Slay sees Santa not being the jolly rotund chappie we’ve come to know and love. He’s the result of a Satanic virgin birth that’s somewhat soured him. Instead of being content with his lot in life, this Santa acts on his frustration after being forced to deliver presents for a thousand years. Figures.
A spate of killings ensues as Santa’s way of letting off steam. His first victims are the Masons, a wealthy family who falls foul of his murderous rage on Christmas Eve. No sooner is he down the chimney than they’re getting drowned in eggnog, choked on turkey legs and stabbed with tree ornaments. It’s one hell of an opening sequence that’s got a ton of recognisable faces; James Caan, Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan, and Rebecca Gayheart all meet their ends in the first ten minutes.
14. P2 (2007)
“The only thing more terrifying than being alone, is discovering that you’re not,” reads the tagline to P-2. No, the only thing more terrifying than either is realising that it’s Wes Bentley who won’t let you go home for Christmas. Why, Wes, why?
Well, because he’s a stalker. If movies have taught us anything about underground parking garages it’s that the less time you spend in them, the more likely your chance for survival. Here, Bentley’s psychopathic security guard Thomas refuses to let Angela (Rachel Nichols) go home for the holidays because he’s got a crush on her. Everyone knows that a surefire way to a girl’s heart is by denying her a day off work. And trying to kill her. What a charmer.
13. Sint (2010)
This Dutch film harks back to the origins of Saint Nick and reimagines him as a scarier version of Sinterklaas. He’s not remotely bothered about what you’ve jotted on your Christmas list, unless you’d like to suffer a grisly end at the hands of a vengeful, seasonal ghost.
Armed with a razor-bladed staff, Sint is a “murder bishop” who visits children whenever there’s a full moon on December 5th. As mentioned above, and insinuated by his title, he’s all about making Christmas as unbearable as possible by kidnapping and murdering those he encounters. The fact that he’s a repugnant mush of Santa and Freddy Krueger adds another level of evil to his regime.
12. Silent Night (2012)
Remakes are, on the whole, never as good as the original. Silent Night is far from a mere retread of the eighties classic. It takes the ‘serial killer in a Santa outfit’ idea and spins out an entirely new story, which makes it entirely deserving of a spot on your best Christmas horror movies list. Have you checked it twice?
This version finds a small Wisconsin town in peril, as every Christmas the same killer takes to the streets and goes on a murderous rampage. His disguise allows him to blend in with all the other people dressed up in that iconic costume, which proves tough for the deputy assigned to take him down. The gore quotient is pretty high and no one is safe from Santa’s wrath that he acts out with an axe and a flamethrower. Not very Christmassy, is it?
11. The Children (2008)
Christmas tends to be a time when children get to cut loose more than usual. Behaviour that might be considered “bad” is overlooked a little, because, c’mon, it’s Christmas. That might have been the inspiration for this noughties horror that brings to life a scary scenario that doesn’t involve any evil Santas, but asks: what if all the children turned into pint-sized killing machines right around December 25th?
The snow-covered locale amps up the Christmas vibe as two families come together to see in the season. Shortly thereafter, the kids start to come down with a strange virus that makes them want to slice and dice their parents. Their manipulation is downright eerie as they prey on the anxieties of the adults to horrific effect.
10. Dead End (2003)
Similar to Wind Chill in that it takes place almost exclusively inside a car. A family heading home for the holidays engages in the usual car-ride antics: they bicker and banter until a mysterious pram appears in the middle of the road. It’s hardly a surprise as their entire journey has taken place down a dark, spooky highway.
A black hearse starts pursuing them and one-by-one the family is carted off by its unknown driver. What the hell? There’s a Twilight Zone feel to this corking flick that packs in plenty of scares and chuckles, and even if you do spot the nifty twist it won’t spoil the performances or denouement. It will, however, prove once again that Christmas is not a time to be taking short-cuts, especially when you’ve no idea where you’re going.
9. Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
Zombies. Scotland. Christmas. Show tunes. It turns out that Anna and the Apocalypse (opens in new tab) has it all. Gorily embracing the background of the festive season for some viscera-packed horror, this musical follows Anna as she and her friends try and save themselves from becoming Christmas lunch for a horde of hungry zombies who have invaded their small Scottish town. Now probably isn’t the time to say that the undead might deserve a roast potato or two, is it?
And if all the bloodied candy canes and zombies weren’t enough, there’s that other Christmas staple: music. Every song here is a true delight guaranteed to make you smile. Fans of Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s musical masterpiece Once More With Feeling can’t afford to miss this. This is one of your new favourite Christmas horror movies.
8. Tales From the Crypt (1972)
This classic anthology flick introduces the serial killer Santa idea in its first vignette. Tales From The Crypt opens on Joan Collins’ character, who’s is in a bit of a pickle on Christmas Eve. See, she’s just buried a fireplace poker into her husband’s head and is quickly trying to rid her house of his corpse. Oops.
At the same time, a radio announcement about an escaped lunatic dressed as Santa seemingly offers her the perfect escape from her predicament. Blame it all on him! The only trouble is: the crazed psychopath breaks into her home and she can’t call the police as her husband’s dead body is covered with her fingerprints. What’s a girl to do?
7. Jack Frost (1997)
A darker alternative to the reincarnated Michael Keaton schmaltz-fest. The Jack Frost of this film is brought to life via a shady government experiment. When a convicted killer on his way to the execution chamber is catapulted from his police transport and tossed into a bizarre substance, he returns to life as a homicidal snowman. Kind of like Chucky, if Charles Lee Ray had been in a blizzard instead of a toy store.
Desperate to wreak havoc on his old neighbourhood, Jack plies his victims with terrible seasonal gags before offing them. Hardly the film to put you in the festive mood, it’s nevertheless worth watching for the endless torrent of Christmas puns. You’ll never look at a snowman in the same way again.
6. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
This Finnish story on Santa Claus spins him a new, fiendish origin. It takes a chilling view on Christmas lore by presenting a hideous wild beast who’d rather eat children and steal their presents than have them sit on his lap.
All is revealed when a group of scientists excavate a site in the mountains of northern Finland. What they find is a burial site with one occupant still alive: a naked, bedraggled old-timer who immediately starts killing all the local reindeer. Old Father Christmas is a supernatural entity whose appetite for young flesh is a rather unique slant on his typically gruff merriment. There’s comedy here, but so much darkness that it’s time to grab yourself an eggnog and settle down. You won’t want to miss it.
5. Christmas Evil (1980)
Deliciously camp and surprisingly insightful, the murderous tendencies of Christmas Evil are a result of someone’s mommy having more than a quick kiss with Santa Claus. For Harry, the sight of that seasonal union scars him for life, and leads him to become obsessed with the holiday into adulthood.
What’s still fresh about Lewis Jackson’s film is how it makes itself stand apart from other killer Santa movies. Harry’s rage at the world isn’t blindly directed at anyone: he takes on the duty of conducting a year-round “naughty or nice” assessment, so by the time Christmas arrives he’s ready. He’s still an unhinged whackjob, though, glueing on a fake beard and muttering to himself in the mirror. But he only targets those who’ve been naughty, like his boss who doesn’t make it to Christmas Day. As for the kiddies, they all receive toys! They’re stolen, mind.
4. Krampus (2015)
If you want to see Toni Collette as part of a dysfunctional family but perhaps don’t feel brave enough to cram Hereditary (opens in new tab) into your eyes, then Krampus is the perfect Christmas horror movie for you. The good news is that it’s still scary, but Michael Dougherty’s festive frolic won’t leave you with actual psychological trauma. Unless, y’know, you have specific phobias of living gingerbread men trying to murder you, in which case, you might be left whispering, err, ‘crumbs.‘
Krampus follows a family who it seems has lost all meaning of Christmas. No one is kind, the extended relatives are mean, everyone is stressed, and no one seems to believe in true festive spirit anymore. When the youngest of the family ends up ripping up his well-intentioned letter to Santa, a demonic presence arrives to punish those who no longer believe in happy holidays anymore. The result is surprisingly terrifying as a blizzard rages outside and the family attempt to barricade themselves in against some seriously dark forces. As you might have guessed from the aforementioned gingerbread men, it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, but the switches from comedy to true horror are deft, making this a far smarter Christmas horror movie than you would first expect.
3. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
The movie that started the killer Santa craze preyed on the success of John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher in its marketing materials – “You’ve made it through Halloween, now try to survive Christmas.” Parallels would have been inevitably drawn without that cheeky nod, because this is essentially Michael Myers going apeshit in a Santa outfit. And it’s still a riot.
One major difference is that this killer has a motive. Andy witnesses his parents’ brutal murders and spends his childhood in an abusive Catholic orphanage. He grows up and takes out his pent-up psychopathic rage in a Santa costume, choosing to kill anyone who he deems naughty. Which is everyone. He does manage to untangle Christmas lights long enough to strangle someone with them, so he deserves a bit of praise for that thankless task.
2. Gremlins (1984)
The original and best, Joe Dante’s monster movie is the blackest of comedies, taking potshots at the commercialism of Christmas and apple-pie Americana. The mischievous little critters savage the town of Kingston Falls after young Billy accidentally gets his ludicrously adorable pet mogwai, Gizmo, wet. With the ‘burg overrun and the townsfolk terrified, the fun takes a dark turn.
The Gremlins themselves are the source of both the film’s hilarity and terror, thanks to Chris Columbus’ sharp script. Turns out they’re quite good at scaring the life out of pensioners, as evidenced by their treatment of poor Mrs. Deagle (opens in new tab). And if you’re after true holiday horror then wait for Phoebe Cates’ macabre anecdote about her worst-ever Christmas. Yeah… Aaaand onto the next one…
1. Black Christmas (1974)
And finally, here it is. The much-coveted number one spot on our list of the best Christmas horror movies. You know the urban legend about the babysitter who after a night of harassing phone calls, discovers that they were coming from inside the house all along? You can thank Black Christmas for that eerie-as-hell predicament, one of its many contributions to the slasher genre.
Released in 1974, it cuts in front of John Carpenter’s Halloween as the start of a new brand of horror. It also predates When A Stranger Calls which nabbed the “call coming from inside the house!” schtick five years later.
It’s not just novelty that makes Black Christmas such an effective piece of Christmas horror. At its core, it’s a brutal, concise study of voyeurism that’s made all the more chilling by using the POV shot whenever the killer is about to strike. For the girls of this sorority, he makes Christmas a living hell. Well, except for Margot Kidder as the drunken sister who won’t let a little blood dampen her holiday spirit.