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The best Christmas horror movies to scare you senseless this season

Yuletide-themed horror films to spread some holiday fear

Matthew Singer
Written by
Matthew Singer

The Christmas spirit is not a monolith. As soon as winter sets in, some of us love nothing more than to heat a cup of cocoa, curl up on the couch and watch a movie about two friends who buy, like, an alpaca farm and reveal their true feelings for each other as snow falls and jingle bells chime. Others, however, just want to see a psycho in a Santa outfit or a murderous snowman stab somebody in the neck with a sharpened candy cane.

Both are valid ways to ring in the most wonderful time of the year. But while holiday romcoms have whole channels dedicated to them, Christmas-themed horror flicks are mostly relegated to those obscure streaming platforms nobody ever watches. So, in the spirit of the season, we think it’s time the latter got some love. To be fair, it’s not a particularly broad subgenre. But if you search deep enough, you’ll find enough peppermint-scented scares to break up all the holly-jolliness and get you through the season. Here are 18 to drop in your queue. 


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🤘 The 40 best cult movies of all-time

The best scary Christmas horror movies

Black Christmas (1974)
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

1. Black Christmas (1974)

A decade before A Christmas Story, director Bob Clark made an altogether different kind of yuletide classic. Considered by many to be the first modern slasher film – predating Halloween by four years – Black Christmas is also one of the few Christmas-themed horror movies that doesn’t aim for ironic schlock-and-awe. It’s genuinely unnerving, even if the simple plot – a group of college girls stuck at a sorority house over winter break are terrorised by an unseen killer – has been diluted by decades of endless copycats.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

An imaginative – and frankly, pretty insane – take on the ‘evil Santa’ trope, this Finnish flick posits that the real St Nick is actually a feral, carnivorous beast who feeds off the world’s naughtiness. It’s best not to go into more detail, lest we spoil the fun, but suffice to say it’s one hell of a fun ride, blending audacious scares with a streak of wide-eyed wonder out of an ’80s Amblin production. 

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
"Silent Night, Deadly Night"

3. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Trash cinema aficionados are familiar with the sequel thanks to the ‘Garbage Day!’ meme, but the overshadowed original is a relatively effective bit of slasher schlock from the video nasty era. It’s not the first movie about a killer Santa Claus, but it squeezes the most value from that premise. After watching his parents get hacked to death by a guy dressed as St Nick, an abused orphan named Billy grows into a Kris Kringle-themed axe-murderer himself. Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 somehow managed to take the idea somewhere beyond over-the-top, but the initial entry is much scarier, at least in the scream-then-laugh, ’80s teen sleepover kind of way.

Better Watch Out (2016)
"Better Watch Out"

4. Better Watch Out (2016)

In this twisty, darkly comic indie horror flick, a babysitter (Olivia DeJonge) must defend herself and the pre-teen boy she’s in charge of watching against a Christmastime home invasion. It’s something like Funny Games meets Home Alone, and at one point answers the question every ’90s kid has once asked themselves: what if Kevin McAllister’s attacks on the Wet Bandits were physiologically accurate?

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  • Horror

Gleefully, goofily and knowingly dumb, this yuletide slasher plays more like a send-up of the Santasploitation flicks that became a subgenre in the years after Black Christmas, but its self-awareness elevates it above a lot of the movies it satirises. As in 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, a childhood trauma leaves a young man with a Christmas fetish that builds into an eventual killing spree against the world’s naughty contingent.  

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
"Anna and the Apoclaypse"

6. Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

Are you the person at the middle of the Venn diagram who equally enjoys zombie movies, Christmas comedies and musicals? Well, then this is the movie for you! The world is overrun by shambling brain-eaters during the Christmas season, really screwing up one young British woman’s (Ella Hunt) holiday plans. She and a group of survivors must fight off the horde of undead to make it back to their families – and they decide to sing about as well. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but if you are one of the people it’s made for, it’s a total hoot.

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  • Horror

Somehow, this B-movie throwback starring Santa’s vengeful European cousin managed to rope in Adam Scott and Toni Collette, and the casting alone elevates the movie from fun, frivolous trifle to something far better than it should be. That doesn’t mean it’s not very silly, of course. After all, it’s still a movie about a demon wreaking havoc on a wealthy American family that’s lost its Christmas spirit. But it’s a movie that knows exactly what it’s supposed to be, and doesn’t short change any aspect.

Red Snow (2021)
"Red Snow"

8. Red Snow (2021)

Mashing up Misery and Twilight, this darkly satirical meta send-up of the supernatural romance genre makes good on its title, splattering crimson all over its wintry setting. A struggling paperback novelist decides to spend the holidays alone in her late mother’s isolated Lake Tahoe cabin in order to get her mojo back, when who should turn up at her door but a handsome bloodsucker named Luke. What happens from there is an effective skewering of multiple genres that doesn’t hold back on the arterial spray. 

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
"A Christmas Horror Story"

9. A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

A kind of peppermint-scented twist on the Halloween-themed anthology film Trick r’ Treat, this plainly-named compilation of Tales from the Crypt-style horror shorts has William Shatner as a cantankerous radio DJ whose interludes link the stories. It’s not nearly as good as the aforementioned Trick r’ Treat but has its moments, notably a climactic finale pitting a mall Santa against the wintry demon Krampus.

Santa Claws (1996)
"Santa Claws"

10. Santa Claws (1996)

Yet another entry in the ‘guy dressed as Santa Claus hacks people to death’ genre, this one at least has a little more on its mind than just sheer gore. Written and directed by Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo, the premise and patina of exploitation are used to explore obsessive fandom, particularly as faced by the so-called ‘scream queens’ of B-movie horror.


11. The Advent Calendar (2021)

In this French-language Shudder original, a paraplegic woman receives an antique advent calendar as a gift and soon discovers it holds secrets much worse than dusty, tooth-chipping chocolates. As Christmasy horror flicks go, it’s a bit serious-minded, for better or worse. But while its scares are familiar, they’re well-executed. 

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1970)
"Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?"

12. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1970)

Shelley Winters stars in this delightfully trashy flip on Hansel and Gretel, playing the titular spinster who throws a lavish Christmas party every year as a means of luring unsuspecting orphans into her home. If you go in expecting actual frights, well, you’ll be disappointed. But who would expect anything other than a campy romp from a movie called Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Sint (2010)

13. Sint (2010)

Similar to Krampus and Rare Exports, this Dutch production takes some old-world myths about the Big Gift Giver and twists them to wicked ends. In this take, jolly old Sinterklaas is actually an evil spirit who spends Christmas claiming souls. It’s the lesser of the films in the sub-subgenre of ‘no, the real Santa is evil, actually’, but it still manages decent scares and a few laughs.

The Gingerdead Man (2005)
"The Gingerdead Man"

14. The Gingerdead Man (2005)

Applying the Child’s Play formula to a piece of pastry, in this campy slice of schlock that somehow turned into a franchise, the soul of a serial killer gets literally baked into a gingerbread cookie. It’s dumb, sure, but that’s the point. The movie’s secret ingredient? Gary Busey, perfectly cast as the titular scowling, knife-wielding treat. 

Santa’s Slay (2005)
"Santa's Slay"

15. Santa’s Slay (2005)

It’s the heel turn of the millennium! Pro-wrestler Bill Goldberg is St Nick, but he’s far from jolly. After centuries of playing nice, Santa is reverting back to his true self – a murderous death demon – and everyone is on his naughty list. Brett Ratner produced this goofy horror-comedy, but any movie that features Fran Drescher, Rebecca Gayheart, Chris Kattan and, for some reason, James Caan getting Santa-slayed in the opening minutes can’t be all bad. 

Jack Frost (1997)
"Jack Frost"

16. Jack Frost (1997)

No, not the Michael Keaton movie where some kid’s dead father is reincarnated as a snowman. In this Jack Frost a serial killer is fused into some icy slush, The Fly-style – please don’t ask about the science here – and ends up resurrected as a vengeful pile of powder. 

Elves (1989)

17. Elves (1989)

An utterly daft blend of holiday horror and Nazisploitation, the biggest problem with this cult curio is that it should be far more offensive than it is. Hampered by Z-grade production values and bonkers plot – it turns out Santa’s elves are actually a creation of white supremacist pagans, or something like that – it’s instead relegated to the golden trash bin of film history. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t search it out if you’re in need of a good laugh.  

The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)
"The Dorm That Dripped Blood"

18. The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a handful of college kids stay behind on Christmas break to tend to their dormitory, and are soon picked off by an anonymous serial killer. Yes, this Z-grade slasher does little to disprove that it’s anything other than a cheap Black Christmas knockoff. But in the Wild West days of no-budget, straight-to-VHS horror flicks, audaciousness carried a lot of weight, and this forgotten lil’ nasty deserves at least an honourable mention for shamelessness alone.

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