Killer Santas & Christmas Slasher/Horror Films!

It’s that time of year again…the weather is cold and people are dreading maxing out their credit cards while purchasing gifts they can ill afford. Though commercialism seems to have destroyed the Christmas spirit in many people, certain traditions still hold true. Like, for example, Christmas music played by local radio stations the week after Halloween, the customary office holiday party, and the myriad of television specials hitting the airwaves. Fortunately, amid the forgetable new ones, you can still find such timeless staples as Rankin Bass’ RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER, THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS and SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN.

As adults, we can still enjoy those shows along with an entirely new holiday tradition…the Christmas horror movie. As mentioned In our earlier piece regarding Thanksgiving films, Christmas has an impressive array of its own entries in the holiday slasher sub genre. Naturally, these movies often garner bad press for portraying the holiday’s most endearing figure, jolly old Santa Claus, as a sadistic killer. While also promising lots of nudity and gore to accompany the “blasphemy,” the controversy rarely, if ever lived up to the hype.

Aside from that, a bit of parental “common sense” would go a long way. These films were obviously never meant to be seen by kids and certainly not intended to be seen as a double feature along with IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or A CHRISTMAS STORY (even though the director of A CHRISTMAS STORY, Bob Clark, also directed the zombie classic CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS and the 1975 Christmas horror movie BLACK CHRISTMAS).

What we now present to you is a list of some of the most noteworthy Christmas horror movies to get you back into the Christmas spirit.

Black Christmas poster1. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1975)

This 1974 Canadian film may not feature a killer Santa Claus but is a lot of fun none the less. Taking place at a girl’s sorority during Christmas break, this is a neat horror film with many recognizable stars such as Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder (in one of her worst performances ever), John Saxon and Art Hindle. Surprisingly, with the film taking place at a sorority, there is no nudity but that doesn’t make it any less fun. It is, at times, suspenseful and the fact that the killer is in the house making his terrorizing phone calls to the girls makes it even more creepy (an idea that would later be used in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS). This story was based on a series of actual murders that took place at Christmas time in Quebec. The film’s director, Bob Clark, is probably best known for his 1983 holiday film A CHRISTMAS STORY. He also gets credit for creating a slasher before slashers were cool…it would be five years later before the quintessential slasher (holiday or otherwise) HALLOWEEN would change the horror genre forever.
 
 

 600full-christmas-evil-poster2. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)  

This movie brings us back to the killer Santa Claus. This film, aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, is the story of a boy who is scarred for life after finding out that Santa Claus isn’t real. As an adult he tries to bring the Christmas spirit to everyone, unsuccessfully. He makes his own naughty and nice list as he keeps his eyes on the neighborhood kids. Yes this sounds creepy but he truly loves kids and wants to do right by them, and it is actually the cynicism  of adults that sets him off, turning him into a killer. This movie has a great mix of dark humor and is actually well-acted by a cast of recognizable stars. One particularly funny scene has Harry walking down the street and he asks a bunch of neighborhood kids what they would like for Christmas and one of the responses is “I want a lifetime subscription to Penthouse!” Can you guess who is on the naughty list? This is another one of those movies that deserved its quality DVD/Blu-Ray release!

silent-night-deadly-night-wallpaper3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

Surely no holiday horror film has ever achieved the notoriety of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT! I distinctly remember being fourteen years old and utterly fascinated by a  television preview of this film back in 1984. Though it would soon be pulled from TV, I do recall this occasion, if for no other reason due to the sight of my mother acting completely disgusted regarding the “sick” people in this world that would create such a “travesty.”
 
 While her disapproval only succeeded in making me want to see it all the more, she was not alone in her discontent. A legion of angry parents and PTA groups (obviously with nothing more important to focus on) began protesting the film in droves. Grabbing the knife from the proverbial killer Santa’s mittens, professional film critics began taking their own jabs at it as well. Obviously this could only be for the express purpose of garnering clever soundbites since slasher films were never well received (if even noticed at all) by that crowd to begin with. Their combined efforts, however, would prove successful. The film’s distributor (Tri-Star) soon pulled all the ads and, later, the entire film itself.
 
I was 19 when I finally got to see it.  My friend brought a VHS copy of both SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT as well as its sequel over for an overnight double feature. I have to say I really enjoyed this movie and STILL do. I got a laugh out of the creepy “Santa’s Watching” song along with the catatonic old man at the beginning making a brief return to “reality” in order to warn his grandson that Santa’s on his way and out to “punish” him. The film does deliver the goodies which includes the boobs and blood one comes to expect from this genre. Interestingly, however, this film also has more depth than the average slasher film. After spending the first half of the film witnessing the events that lead to his killing spree, the viewer can hardly blame him for his actions. To this day I am disappointed at the film’s end when Santa is brought down in a barrage of bullets BEFORE delivering the death-blow to the abusive Mother Superior. There is indeed an element of sympathy that sets this film apart from the rest of its slasher brothers and sisters. Perhaps SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT deserves to be kept hidden from the eyes of younger viewers. For adult horror fans, however, it deserves a gander. Just remember before doing so that this Santa, as any other, should not make an appearance until after the kids go to bed! 
 

dont-open-till-christmas-vhs-front2-768179 4. DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984)

I am really not sure what to make of this movie. This time out it is not a killer Santa Claus but someone who kills people who dress up as Santa Claus during the Christmas holiday in Scotland. You would think that once the murders started no one would dress up as Santa anymore but they just keep on doing it! This movie has so many things going against it and yet it is very watchable and actually enjoyable! Go figure! Though this movie came out in the 80’s it has the feel of a movie from the 70’s, complete with bad editing, poor lighting and a horrible soundtrack. None of the characters are even likeable and yet it is actually a decent who-dunnit and some of the murders are gruesome, even though most of the time the scenes are too dark to fully appreciate what is going on. Hopefully some day this film will get a proper DVD release that is clearer with the darkened scenes lightened up a bit.

 

gremlins-poster5. GREMLINS (1984)

GREMLINS is a classic movie, though maybe not a Christmas classic. It is included here because it does take place at Christmas time. Joe Dante has created a dark movie that not only is a lot of fun but it  still holds up to this day. Billy (played by Zach Galligan) gets one of the coolest Christmas presents ever, a Mogwai. The problem is three rules must be obeyed in keeping this creature (never expose them to bright light, never allow them to get wet and never, ever feed them after midnight). Of course all three rules are accidentally broken and that is when the movie becomes really fun. Parents should be cautioned though, if showing this film to youngsters. There is one exchange between Billy and his girlfriend Kate (played by Phoebe Cates) where she explains why she doesn’t celebrate Christmas, coming right out and saying that there isn’t a Santa Claus. This scene may cause many youngsters to come to you with many questions! Besides that though this is a movie NOT to be missed! Chris Walas needs to be commended too for his amazing Gremlins effects!

jackfrost9626. JACK FROST (1996)

This has got to be one of the most ridiculous movie premises ever. A serial killer, on his way to be executed ends up turning into a snowman of all things when the vehicle he is being transported in crashes into a vehicle hauling chemicals to be used in genetic experimentation. The killer, whose name is Jack Frost, comes back in his new form to seek revenge on the sheriff who put him away to begin with.  This movie has so much going against it and yet it works and I found it to actually be a lot of fun. It is b-movie madness at it’s best. The reason it works is because the movie never takes itself too seriously and there are sight gags and jokes throughout. The killer snowman effects are laughable and yet it manages to give the movie even more charm. If you are planning a night of boozing it up, this movie is highly recommended. If you plan on watching it without the aid of alcohol then hopefully you have a good sense of humor and are willing to REALLY suspend disbelief. One of the highlights is an appearance by AMERICAN PIE cutie, Shannon Elizabeth (before she became the has-been she is now) who dies naked.

5033320v1_480x480_Front7. PSYCHO SANTA/SATAN CLAUS (1996)/THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MASSACRE (2001)

Got a camcorder, a cheap Santa suit, and bevy of starstruck friends who can’t act their way out of a paper bag? Congratulations! You have exactly what it takes to make your own holiday horror film! Or at least that’s what the creators of SATAN CLAUS thought while making this 1996 turkey. A devious Santa, charged with the power of Satan, decides to start hacking  innocent people to death during the holiday season. The plot thickens as the killer Santa taunts local investigators (who are so busy hanging out at the station debating how to catch the fiend they don’t notice him openly chopping folks in the middle of Main Street) while no one (including the filmmakers) can tell if he’s supposed to be human or supernatural. In one emotionally charged scene, the town’s lead investigator interviews an eyewitness who describes the killing of his own wife. After listening to the woman’s account, he suddenly grabs his face like Macauley Culkin (think HOME ALONE) shakes his head incredulously, and moans, “I can’t believe he was laughing while he was killing her!!!! (as if her being chopped up with an axe wasn’t the main issue). While it is certainly true that none of the players in this flick can act they can, however, OVER act. This ironically becomes the film’s saving grace as the victim’s attempts at screaming and crying are so bad, they’re downright hilarious. Heading up the search for the diabolical St Nick is an African-American voodoo priestess and her two Hispanic children (one of which is on the police force). The film is only about an hour-long and clearly had a sub-zero budget. I will, however, give them an A for effort. The corn syrup gore, amateur love scenes (that lack the necessary filters for removing the actor’s stretch marks), and ridiculous “surprise” ending will have you Ho Ho Ho’ing while making a mad dash for the holiday schnapps!

satanclaus1

Two more zero budget entries include PSYCHO SANTA and THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MASSACRE. In my opinion, PSYCHO SANTA is the more tolerable of the two. The acting is a step above SATAN CLAUS and I gave the film makers credit for attempting camera techniques and ideas that their budget simply couldn’t pull off. This movie is more of an anthology in the form of tales told via a married couple on their way to a Christmas party. The husband uses the long, dark drive as an opportunity to share with his wife some eerie local legends that took place during Christmas. This film does, however, get a bit dull after a while – despite a scene featuring full frontal (shaved) female nudity along with some piercings that will have you involuntarily start crossing your legs.  I found THE CHRISTMAS SEASON MASSACRE to have been ill named since the killer is actually dressed as a pirate (the back story and reason for this is too stupid to be recounted here). Other than an opening scene taking place in front of a Christmas tree, there are virtually no other ties to this holiday. While the story, acting, and dialogue is beyond ludicrous I will give them credit for some decent amateur gore.

santas-slay8. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

I will start off by saying that I did not have any hopes at all of this movie being any good, especially since everyone I had talked to said it was horrible. Maybe it was because I had no expectations but I really enjoyed this film! The Devil’s son (ex professional wrestler Bill Goldberg) loses a curling bet with an angel and is forced to play Santa Claus for 1,000 years. Now that the 1,000 years is up Santa is no longer jolly and is out for blood! As soon as I saw the opening sequence with a family sitting together at Christmas dinner (with cameos by Fran Drescher, Rebecca Gayheart, Chris Kattan and even James Caan) only to be slaughtered by Santa I knew this was going to be a fun flick! Other recognizable stars include Emilie de Ravin (from LOST), Robert Culp, Dave Thomas and Tommy “Tiny” Lister. This is definitely not one for the kiddies as there is plenty of swearing, violence and nudity…the makings of a great Christmas treat. I found myself laughing out loud in many places, and I was not even drinking alcohol!

gingerdead_man_9. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

This film, in my opinion, falls in that “so bad, it’s good” category. I have always been a fan of the Full Moon Productions’ films by Charles Band…sure they are not big budget blockbusters but most are a lot of fun and are quite creative, considering the budgets with which these films are made. Gary Busey plays Millard Findlemeyer, a psycho killer who is arrested and put to death thanks to the testimony of the daughter of one of his victims. Findlemeyer is cremated and his ashes end up in a batch of gingerbread cookie dough, coincidentally at the daughter’s bakery. When the gingerbread man cookies are put in the oven to bake, the Gingerdead Man comes to life and goes on another killing spree. Like some of the other movies on this list it never takes itself too seriously and the actors and actresses do a great job with the material they are given. This is a short film, clocking in at 71 minutes which is just perfect as no time is wasted on unnecessary scenes. Alcohol consumption, though not necessary to enjoy this film, will definitely enhance the experience. Hint: Kahlua and Cream goes great with gingerbread!

2006-black_christmas-310. BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006)

A lot of people are not fans of this remake, stating that the original is better, but personally I did enjoy it. Sure it had problems but what horror movie doesn’t these days? It is definitely not as good as the original but it is still a fun movie to watch for the Christmas season. The basic story is the same…a bunch of sorority girls are in their sorority house doing some last-minute celebrating before leaving to spend time with their families. The killer, Billy, and his sister/daughter Agnes live in the attic and butcher the girls one by one. This updated version features a lot of extra back story, much of which is unnecessary and actually takes away from the plot of the story. For some reason it is emphasized a lot that Billy was born with some disorder that causes his skin to be yellow and yet this fact does not add anything to the plot. What this version lacks in suspense it more than makes up for in graphic murders and bloodletting. Eyeballs are gouged out and eaten, pieces of flesh are removed with Christmas cookie cutters and then baked at 450 degrees and eaten by the killer and a girl gets scalped with a pair of ice skates. This movie also has the typical slasher movie problems like when one girl suggests that they should all stick together, which makes total sense to me, but no one else agrees and they all continue to die one by one. I also know it is a minor complaint but I am really getting tired of these movies that take place in the winter (it is clearly snowing here and one girl even comments that it is freezing out) and yet when everyone is outside you can’t see their breath! It was nice to see some of today’s up and comers in the movie too! Katie Cassidy (daughter of 70’s teen heart-throb David Cassidy), Michelle Trachtenberg (of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER fame) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (from Quentin Tarentino’s DEATH PROOF) all put in good performances and help make this movie just that much better.

We hope you enjoy your holiday movie viewing and wish you all a very Merry Christmas and nothing but the best in 2013!

The Daves

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4 responses

  1. Hi Dave,
    DITA DIRT NAP here.
    You’ve out-done yourself this time w/your List
    of ‘Holiday-Horror!’ KUDOS!!! Loved reading your Article about the various Xmas-Fright Flix out there! I have been doing a Month-long Tribute to them in ‘DITA’S DEN’ on
    CountGore.com , with the latest being one,
    you didn’t mention called;’TO ALL A GOODNIGHT!’
    It’s still Only Available on VHS,but worth finding and Renting! (See DITA’s Review for details,hon!) Also, you’ll be Happy to know,
    I finally have your Copy made onto DVD-R of ‘ELVIRA’S ‘NEW’ MOVIE MACABRE’ Episode of;’THE GIANT GILA MONSTER’, w/the Uncut/Uninterrupted Ending for you and will mail it to you this week! If you can’t find;
    ‘TO ALL A GOODNIGHT’ anywhere, just let me know and I’ll make you a Copy on DVD-R as well,uh, without the long wait(long-story).
    My apologies. Next Week in ‘DITA’s DEN’, I
    will be Reviewing; ‘SILENT NIGHT,DEADLY NIGHT’ Parts 1 & 2 and a Mini-Review of Part 3′, w/an ‘Online-Interview’ in ‘THE MORGUE’
    w/the Director of Part 2′;MR. LEE HARRY!
    DITA wishes both ‘DAVES’, a ‘VERY SCARY CHRISTMAS & A HAPPY-HAUNTED NEW YEAR!’
    ‘Chainsaw-Hard Candy Christmas-Kisses’
    2 U BOTH,
    DITA(KLAWZZ)DIRT NAP

    December 19, 2010 at 5:36 pm

  2. curiousjane

    Hey Dave,

    I’ve been looking for this specific Killer Santa Claus film that I saw way back. I’m not sure if it’s in your naughty list above, but I see the killer Santa on your web page layout – the one where Santa is all bloody and strangling a blonde girl.

    Please tell me the title of that film, I’ve been dying to see it again. Please. Help out a slasher fan. Thanks.

    December 20, 2010 at 8:52 am

    • Hi curiousjane! The image you are talking about is from the HBO series TALES FROM THE CRYPT. It is from season 1.

      December 20, 2010 at 9:16 am

      • curiousjane

        Thank you very much! I was dying to watch some psycho santa on a rampage to get my holiday spirits.

        By the way awesome list, now I got additional titles to my to watch list.

        Thanks again and Happy Holidays!

        December 22, 2010 at 7:59 pm

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