Ho-ho-ho horror and seasonal scares! This time of year, are you getting sick of festive bonhomie, kitschy gifts, mince pies, and everyone being so nice to each other it’s just wrong? Well, Nina has the perfect response – a look at. Putting the fear into festive, here’s a look at the best cinematic Christmas creepiness.
When it comes to scary times of the year, you probably think of Halloween (John Carpenter creating Michael Myers in 1978) or Valentine’ Day, inspiring films where serial killers who strike on the most light hearted or romantic day of the year.
So why horror on Christmas? Surely the holiday is all about family fun and innocent gluttony, with tubby elderly gents dressed in red climbing down chimneys to distribute presents...what could possibly go wrong? Well, ask Phoebe Cates’ character Kate in Gremlins (1984) whose father meets a notorious December death in a chimney.
Other famous ho-ho-ho horrors include Christmas Evil (1980) featuring a psycho in a Santa suit. Promoted with taglines including: “He’ll sleigh you”, “You better watch out...you better not cry…or you may die!” and also known as “Terror in Toyland”, it’s not surprising director John Waters calls it the “greatest movie ever made”.
A similar flick, Silent Night, Deadly Night, (1984) was picketed by angry parents, who didn’t want their little darlings seeing Father Christmas depicted as an axe murderer. The merry mayhem continued in Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984), a London-shot horror with Santa as a serial killer, billed as the “ultimate festive slasher”. It was followed by Satan Claus (1996), where the evil Santa is now in New York, creating a Christmas tree decorated with pieces of his victims. One Hell of a Christmas (2002) is about sex, drugs and Christmas carols, while Santa’s Slay (2005) features an Old Nick trying to spread a “little yuletide fear” and then Silent Night (2012).
So what does attack you in an onscreen Christmas, with the bloodspattered snow falling around you? As well as outside dangers such as killer snowmen (Jack Frost), there are household hazards such as lethal Christmas trees and electrocuting fairy lights (Gremlins).
Meanwhile, roast turkey dinners suddenly come back to life and attack, while Christmas carols play backwards creepily as the last thing revellers ever hear (Young Sherlock Holmes).
Possibly the most famous seasonal scares are the two versions of Black Christmas. The 1974 original was remade in 2006 by Final Destination’s director-producer Glen Morgan, with his trademark jaunty gore. The festive fun starts with the official “Santa” (who greets women with a lewd suggestion of: “Hey, you wanna see the back of my…sleigh?”) getting murdered and his body is dumped in a present sack.
Later, there’s shards of broken Xmas baubles dropped into a baby’s cot, eyeball gobbling, throttling with tinsel, eating family members for Xmas dinner, violence, serial killers in the attic, and incest (“Her father Billy, who was her brother Billy – the psycho!'). It’s a family time all right.
Festive deaths include an icicle through a merrymaker’s head and a marshmallow fork through an eyeball; green and blood red festive lights cast gloomy light over the creepy tale, as the anti-heroines’ festive exchanges include: “Merry Christmas a******!' and “F*** you, Santa Claus!”
So what’s the appeal of Crimbo chills? Psychologist Donna Dawson, who specialises in personality and behaviour, says the answer goes back to the 19th century.
“The appeal of horror at this festive time may relate back to [horror writer] MR James, who used to tell a ghost story to students and staff in Cambridge at this time of year,” she says. “Also, Christmas can be too “nicey-nice”, so it is a natural reaction to try to find the darker side of the season.”
So are we more receptive to scary stuff this time of the year? Dawson thinks so. “Short, dark days, and snow that covers things and muffles sound, adds an air of mystery and uncertainty. It reminds us of ‘things left out in the cold’”. She points out that we are also surrounded by “bats, owls, ravens, cats, and other creatures of the winter night.”
“It is also the end of the year, which creates a psychological drawing in, an introspection that is keen to dwell on endings, change, alternatives – all conducive to the horror genre.”
“Christmas horror also feels like an extension of Halloween, which is not that far from December.”
“And if Father Christmas is a fairy tale, it leaves the door open for other tales of imagination.”
“Christmas horror allows us to take back control – rather than being passive recipients by ‘waiting’ for Santa to visit, we can become active agents in our own fright.
“Longer, dark evenings allow our imaginations to run riot; and snow reminds us of ghosts, and creates a ghostly, surreal world. Monsters don’t necessarily disappear at this time of year, just because we are busy giving each other gifts! They wait for us in the shadows.”
Maybe the most famous hater of Christmas, Scrooge, should have the last word: “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” Enjoy those mince pies. Merry f***ing Christmas.