There’s something about Christmas tradition that’s inherently a bit twisted. The very idea of a costumed man sneaking into your home to reward the good and punish the naughty is already pretty messed up — and that’s before you dive too deep into the truly creepy holiday mythologies from around the world. Even though Christmastime has been marketed as a Winter Wonderland filled with presents, carols, and good cheer, the truth is, there’s always been a dark side.
So it makes perfect sense that horror fans love to get their seasonal thrills along with the wintery chills. However, while the dark roots of Christmas go way back, the Christmas horror film is a relatively new subgenre, once considered a shameful and indeed sinful rebuke of all that Christmas stands for (just look at the nutso reaction to Silent Night, Deadly Night), but over the past few decades, the Christmas horror movie has become a staple. These days, there’s no shortage of holiday horror to chose from, so we’ve put together a list of the essential Christmas horror viewing list guaranteed to get you in the spirit.
A quick note: getting you in the spirit is the key part here, which means we won’t be talking about the bounty of horror movies set at Christmas time that have nothing to do with Christmas. I see you Inside and The Children. I feel you Calvaire and Seitan. I respect you Dead End and Wind Chill (these two would actually make a pretty good double feature), but if the film doesn’t deck the halls and have a jingle-jangling soundtrack or at least one Santa, it doesn’t belong on this list.
A few runners-up: Treevenge, a hilarious and grim short film about when the Christmas trees have had enough of our slaughter; Sint, a raucously entertaining spin on the Saint Nicholas myth that’s *thisclose* to becoming a holiday essential; Santa’s Slay, which has the nastiest killer santa of the bunch; A Christmas Horror Story, a mostly fun anthology with a truly kickass Krampus segment; P2, which never deserved the vitriol it got; the 2006 Black Christmas remake, which is way more entertaining than people give it credit for; this year’s Better Watch Out, which offers fun subversions of Christmas cinema tropes but never quite masters the tonal tightrope it’s attempting, and Anna and the Apocalypse, which is only relegated to honorable mentions because it hasn’t hit theaters yet.
But this is all about boiling it down to the essential seasonal must-watch movies. So without further ado, here are the essential holiday horror movies to have you trembling in your boots while you’re trimming the tree.