Deck the Bloody Halls: Top 10 Underrated Christmas Horror Movies
I love Elf. I love The Grinch. I really, really do. I’m no Scrooge, cross my heart– promise. Christmas, though, just doesn’t seem like their season. Hard as it might seem to believe, the Christmas season seems tailor-made for slasher movies. The season is on par with Halloween in that it’s the perfect time of the year for spooks, scares, and screams.
So, as my gift to all this year, I’ve compiled t10 underseen Christmas slashers (that aren’t Black Christmas) for you and yours to check out this year. These movies are guaranteed to put you in a jolly good mood, and while some have more of a chilly, wintry mood than an outright, stocking in the face Christmas one, they’re festive (and sinister) enough to count.
Home for the Holidays (1972)
Home for the Holidays has an absolute unit of a cast list. Sally Field? Yes. Jessica Walter? You bet. Julie Harris? Better than most gifts. Eleanor Parker? I wouldn’t have it any other way. The cast is summoned to their childhood home at the request of their father who suspects his new wife is trying to poison him. Soon enough, though, the four women find that they’re the ones being targeted as a hooded killer in a yellow coat begins knocking them off one by one. Made for TV, John Llewyn Moxey’s movie is a sublime slasher, with great kills and the best kind of suspense you could hope to unwrap this holiday season.
Dead of Winter (1987)
Dead of Winter, like Home for the Holidays, saves the best for last. Like a parent hiding the best Christmas present until they can milk your anticipation for all its worth, Dead of Winter plays out as bone-chilling Hitchcock homage until a third act pivot into unbridled slasher territory. Mary Steenburgen stars as an actress who travels to a remote mansion (in the dead of winter, naturally) for a screen-test and soon finds herself held prisoner, embroiled in the middle of a blackmail plot she claims to know nothing about. Red herrings abound, blood is spilled, and the audience is left breathless.
Cold Prey and Cold Prey 2 (2006 and 2008)
Cold Prey 2 is strikingly close to Halloween 2’s playbook. It’s the equivalent of asking for one gift, getting something similar but not quite what you asked for, and finding that– despite your initial reservations, it does the job just as well. As a direct follow-up, it feels fair to pair these two bone-chilling Norwegian slashers together. Helmed by Roar Uthaug and Mats Stenberg respectively, Cold Prey follows Ingrid Berdal as contemporary (and phenomenal) final girl Jannicke after she and her friends seek shelter in an abandoned hotel after a skiing accident, only to find that one occupant remains, and they’re not too keen on guests. Cold Prey 2 is a direct follow-up tracking the survivors to a local hospital where, to no one’s surprise, the killer reappears. Both movies are absolutely savage slasher movies, striking the perfect balance between violence and tension without feeling overtly sadistic or graphic. In terms of modern slashers, Cold Prey and Cold Prey 2 do little to reinvent the wheel, but when the homage is this striking and fun, you’ll be too frightened to notice.
Kristy is more Thanksgiving turkey than Christmas tree, but modern culture has all but combined the two seasons as it is– the colloquial “holidays” now run from November through January, with little distinction in-between. In November, then, it’s perfectly fine to start streaming Christmas music, and even better, it’s okay to watch Olly Blackburn’s absolutely relentless cat-and-mouse slasher. Haley Bennett stars as a co-ed left alone on campus over Thanksgiving weekend who, after an incident at a local gas station, finds herself targeted by a group of outcasts. The set pieces are divine– one stalk-and-slash inside a campus pool is gut-wrenchingly tense– and Bennett is a capable final girl. The turkey might have spoiled, but even six years later, Kristy still feels fresh.
The Children (2008)
The worst part of the holidays is children. They’re loud, they’re demanding, and like little Gremlins, they seem to multiply by an unfathomable degree. I don’t know where they go the rest of the year, but during the holidays, they seem to be everywhere. It’s fitting, then, that The Children tackles both parental anxieties and the innate frustration of children simply being children by imagining what might happen if, while on Christmas vacation, children were infected with unknown toxins and soon started to exhibit homicidal tendencies. The “children strike back” slasher genre, like kids themselves, are hit-or-miss, with some exhibiting more artistry and creativity than others. As silly as the plot summary might sound, The Children is genuinely tense and terrifying, an assuming package that stuns and more than delivers once it lays its cards bare.
Produced by Alexandre Aja and directed by Franck Khalfoun, P2 follows Rachel Nichols as Angela, a white-collar businesswoman who finds herself mercilessly stalked by a psychopath (Wes Bentley) after she’s locked in her office parking garage overnight on Christmas Eve. Without service or help on account of the Christmas break, she must summon her inner fighter if she hopes to survive the night. P2 is considerably more restrained than most mid-2000s slashers, only dipping into the ostensible “torture porn” well at the beginning before shifting into more Hitchcockian, predator vs. prey territory. Khalfoun subverts the standard levity and cheer of most holiday fare with an unbearably tense Christmas slasher.
Inside isn’t necessarily underseen. The first time I saw the movie available on Netflix (back in the days of DVD rentals) it took weeks for it to become available. Popular and well-regarded as it is, however, I still contend that it’s the perfect Christmas slasher. The holidays are a nightmare for some, and Inside is one particular woman’s nightmare manifest. On Christmas Eve, Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is targeted by a strange woman (Béatrice Dalle) who looks to surgically remove and steal her unborn baby after her own was killed in a crash several months prior. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s debut feature is arguably the apotheosis of the French Extreme movement, an unfathomably violent slasher that has to be seen to be believed. Like a night of caroling with the neighbors, however, know it’s not for the faint of heart.
Jonathan Stryker’s Curtains follows six young actresses summoned to a remote mansion in the middle of winter to audition for a highly sought-after role (women summoned to remote mansions seems to be a theme here). Unbeknownst to them, there’s a killer roaming the premises, and soon enough, the women find themselves fighting for their lives in hopes of nabbing the role of a lifetime. Curtains sports a fantastic setting– like Dead of Winter, the movie is set in an isolated manor surrounded by thick woods and frozen lakes. The killer’s mask– an old lady’s face– is nightmare-inducing, and several of the kills and chases rival most classic slasher movies. Curtains is bone-chilling. Grab some eggnog, snuggle by the fire, and prepare for the audition you’ll never forget.
Better Watch Out (2017)
Better Watch Out is the most recent entry on the list, a savagely mean-spirited slasher to belies expectations. Babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) finds herself defending her two charges (Levi Miller and Ed Oxenbould) from masked intruders after their home is broken into one December night. I won’t spoil the second-act twist here, but director Chris Peckover doesn’t pull any punches, subverting audience expectations at every turn for a seriously engaging and frightfully disturbing Christmas treat. Like hanging garland over the mantle, watching Better Watch Out is liable to become a classic Christmas tradition.
Super Dark Times (2017)
Super Dark Times is a super dark movie. Director Kevin Phillips’s movie, like Better Watch Out, starts out as one movie and soon morphs into an altogether different beast. A slow-burn psychological thriller in the vein of Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge, a third-act twist sends the movie spiraling to full-bore slasher territory. Super Dark Times is uncomfortably realistic, a slasher movie by way of Cinéma vérité. The movie’s setting is cold, but its heart is colder. This is probably the dourest movie on the list, a seriously depressing and upsetting slasher that commits itself fully to its central “how monsters are made” theme. It’s a hard watch, but it’s absolutely worth it for the chance to see one of 2017’s most striking horror features. It’s a gift you didn’t know you wanted but are beyond thrilled to have.
These 10 holiday slashers are just the tip of the holiday horror iceberg. Whatever your preference, I hope you all can make your holiday season merry, bright, and just a little scary.