12 Twisted Horror Films To Watch By The Fire This Christmas Season

Inside Christmas

With each passing year, I wonder if I’m starting to prefer watching horror movies during the Christmas season a little bit more than Halloween. The 31-day themed challenges in October are, of course, always welcome (the Psychotronic Challenge from Scarecrow Video is a favorite). But crossing genre titles off a list as the witching season presses on can feel a little forced. But when Santa comes down the chimney and the eggnog starts flowing, sneaking in a few Christmas-themed scares is more subversive and, frankly, just seems a little naughtier.

So, this year, scrap the Hallmark movies and the umpteenth viewing of Love Actually to make room for some new selections that turn the joy of Christmas on its head for good.


“They’re not working for Santa…anymore.” The VHS box art is enticing but make no mistake, Elves is not a good movie. A group of teens accidentally awaken a demonic Christmas elf in a DIY pagan ritual gone wrong. (Any weird kid who grew up near the woods can relate). In a series of unfortunate events, the elf in question happens to be at the center of a Neo-Nazi plot to create a perfect race of elf-human hybrids. Obviously, elves aren’t usually considered scary so add in the worst villains of the 20th century, and voila!

Elves has an overly serious, TV movie-of-the-week quality that undercuts its inherent ridiculousness. Thankfully, a chain-smoking Dan Haggerty swoops in as a drunken mall Santa to save the day (and Christmas). For the truly deranged, this should be a holiday staple moving forward.


Saint made somewhat of a splash when it premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. Since then, sadly, it’s been shut out in the snow. This Dutch slasher creates a backstory for jolly old St. Nick (a.k.a. Sinterklaas) as a spear-wielding spirit avenging a centuries-old tragedy. Only a local cop named Goert (Bert Luppes) knows the truth about Sinterklaas—an ancient entity that’s more of a ruthless killer than a benevolent gift-giver. Saint is a surprisingly eerie, atmospheric tale that feels like a bloody fairy tale come to life. Directed by horror maestro Dick Maas, who gifted us with Amsterdamned and The Lift, Saint needs a little more attention now that Christmas is almost here.

All the Creatures Were Stirring

The Christmas horror anthology has made its mark, especially over the last decade or so. All the Creatures Were Stirring is one of the standouts, mostly because of its all-star cast. The Yuletide mashup stars Constance Wu, Jocelin Donahue, Graham Skipper, and Amanda Fuller, along with many other familiar faces from the horror genre. Written and directed by Rebekah & David Ian McKendry, each story takes a Christmas tradition and gleefully subverts it. Office parties turn dark, last-minute shopping goes horribly awry, witches pick the wrong night for a conjuring spell, and demons come out to cause havoc. Trick ‘r Treat remains the gold standard, but anthologies like All the Creatures are clear standouts as well.

The Children

I wouldn’t call the 2008 British thriller The Children a cautionary tale. Although it does make a compelling case to never have kids and to never gather together around the holidays. Directed by Tom Shankland, The Children is a more serious take on Cooties where a mysterious virus only affects kids. Slowly, every child starts to cough up black bile and turn deadly. At first, the adult murders look like tragic accidents until the parents finally realize their own spawn has turned against them. If you ever wanted a more stylish, disturbing remake of Devil Times Five, this is it.

The Advent Calendar

Eva (Eugénie Derouand) has been living a solitary life since a tragic accident left her confined to a wheelchair. She receives a mysterious advent calendar on her birthday that dispenses dreadful wishes instead of delectable candies. Eva becomes seduced by the ancient box, opening a new tiny door every night until something is unleashed that can’t be contained. Derouand’s quietly commanding performance is the centerpiece of Patrick Ridremont’s film, and The Advent Calendar wouldn’t have the same impact if she wasn’t in the lead role. The advent calendar itself would also be a fun prop to try and recreate instead of making another gingerbread house this year.


Yes, Diehard is a Christmas movie. Rambo: First Blood is also a Christmas movie, albeit not quite as obvious. It’s also not a stretch to call the French shocker Inside a Christmas movie either, even though it’s largely forgotten during the holiday season. Pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is still reeling four months after surviving a terrible car accident that killed her husband. On Christmas Eve, a mysterious woman (the incredible Beatrice Dalle) invades Sarah’s home hellbent on extracting her unborn baby, by any means necessary. Armed with a pair of scissors, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury‘s traumatizing horror film becomes a nail-biting, claustrophobic chase film. Inside may be too intense for some viewers, honestly. Still, it’s a hallmark of the French Extremity horror movies along with Martyrs and High Tension.

Anna and the Apocalypse

For a lot of us, Anna and the Apocalypse has already made its way into the annual rotation of Christmas horror. Also set on Christmas Eve, a zombie apocalypse overtakes the small town of Little Haven right in the middle of a high school holiday bash. The kids must band together and put aside their differences to fight (and sing) their way through the horde. High emotional stakes and genuinely catchy musical numbers make Anna and the Apocalypse a sort of instant classic for an audience looking for a little seasonal gateway horror.

The Day of the Beast

You either dig Álex de la Iglesia or you don’t. The famed Spanish writer/director has a style all his own, choosing to make outlandish mashups like The Last Circus and Witching and Bitching. But it was The Day of the Beast that announced his arrival on the international horror scene. To avoid the apocalypse, a rebellious priest partners up with a metalhead working in a record store and a lame psychic to try and prevent the end times. The twist is they have to summon Satan in order to do it. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve re-watched Iglesia’s mad masterpiece, and I suddenly can’t wait to revisit it.

Dead End

In another story set on Christmas Eve, Dead End takes a simple premise and runs wild with it. Genre stalwarts Ray Wise and Lin Shaye have outstanding chemistry as dysfunctional couple Frank and Laura Harrington. On the way home one night, they find themselves on an endless road that starts to chip away at their relationship and their own sanity. The standout performances of Wise and Shaye beg for more projects featuring them both together, and they keep Dead End from veering off into overly heady sci-fi territory. There’s a fair amount of pure psychological horror that takes full advantage of Wise’s turn as Laura Palmer’s father in Twin Peaks. The less said about this one, the better.

The Legend of Hell House

The Legend of Hell House is one of the original templates for the haunted house genre for a reason. It’s dripping in atmosphere and beaming with psychic energy. Adapted from Richard Matheson’s book, The Legend of Hell House is the perfect Christmas ghost story. Generally, the first half of haunted house movies is the most fun to watch because the usually strange cast of characters is introduced and strange things start to slowly ramp things up. Then, the ending comes and is generally underwhelming. Thankfully, that’s not the case with The Legend of Hell House. I recommend this one when your Dad sits down on the couch and asks you what to watch next.

To All a Goodnight

Right on the cusp of the slasher genre, the 1980 slasher To All a Goodnight feels more like 1970s grindhouse. Star David Hess (The Last House on the Left) is certainly a big reason why. The pacing doesn’t have the clip that Friday the 13th does, but there are a few moments that sneak up at just the right time. A killer Santa stalks a group of teens, and honestly seems to have no desire to speed up the proceedings. For a slow holiday burn, To All a Goodnight could be the right late-night holiday horror to program just when the CBD-infused eggnog is kicking in. Actor Jennifer Runyon should also get some attention here for being an underrated final girl.

Red Christmas

Dee Wallace comes back to the horror genre as the mother of a special needs child stalked by a mysterious stranger on Christmas Day. Directed by Craig Anderson, Red Christmas wants to work as a message movie and a slasher at the same time to very mixed results. There’s a political undertext with a convoluted pro-life stance that overshadows any tension. This is not the movie to watch if you aren’t prepared to strike up some potentially awkward confrontations with the conservatives in your family. Still, I’m recommending as a fan of seeing Wallace return to the genre even if the killer’s reveal is intensely problematic.



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