The exploitative sub-genre known as the slasher film is a very basic type of horror rarely challenging its audience. It relies purely on its unsophistication with familiar tropes to entertain, employing a simple chase-and-kill formula with often campy and cheesy results that is its charm. It is the ultimate in predictable fast food comfort horror – cheap thrills and nasty fun, entailing gory deaths and young attractive females getting their kit off.
One of the things slashers have often capitalized upon is the theme of public holidays for the dates of their settings… or any date on the calendar that has even the slightest bit of significance. It is only fitting then, during this Yuletide season, and being the admittedly unashamed slasher geek that I am, that I run down my Top 5 favorite Christmas slashers – an alternative list of festive themed bloody treats to curl up in front of the TV with as the log fire burns, as opposed to the traditional family fare.
I have thrown away the gluttony of the leftover turkeys and have streamlined a list of what I think are the best festive carve ‘em ups. A few into that “campy and cheesy” fluff category, but others I consider serious pieces of genre filmmaking that confront its viewers with genuine festive fear…
5. All Through the House (2016)
The newest release on this list will from now on be a regular viewing for me every Christmas. All Through the House is an effective little indie slasher that is nothing groundbreaking, but it does not try to be, as it ticks all the right boxes for a successful throwback to the sub-genre’s early ’80s Golden Age era. It is an affectionate homage to the slashers of yesterday year and even features references to those classics – festive and non-festive.
A five-year-old girl, Jamie, went missing fifteen years ago, and her mother, Mrs. Garrett, has become depressed and reclusive. Rachel, a young student, comes home for Christmas to see her foul-mouthed and wheelchair-bound grandmother in a neighboring house. Rachel was childhood friends with Jamie. A psycho killer then turns up dressed as Santa and wearing a Saint Nick mask, slicing up woman and castrating men. Rachel becomes caught up in the nightmare when she discovers the killer’s relation to the Garrett family and her own connection to their twisted legacy.
Weird, creepy, sleazy, humorous with intentional ham-fisted dialogue, and explicitly nasty, this retro Xmas slasher makes for top draw schlock. The characters are one-dimensional, but not annoyingly obnoxious. The acting is what you might expect of a small low-budget production of this nature, but the cast perform convincingly enough to achieve what this genre material asks of them. There is plenty of female nudity, the SFX work is exceptional, and director Todd Nunes does not shy away from showing us everything in lovingly graphic detail – this is indeed a Christmas present for all gorehounds.
4. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
The earliest film on this list, and the first of only two non-killer Santa flicks, Silent Night, Bloody Night (aka Night of the Dark Full Moon and Death House), was released to little exposure, and little praise, on the drive-in circuit and then quickly descended into obscurity. In 1978, it was revived with a showing on “Elvira’s Movie Macabre,” becoming a staple of late-night Christmas horror movies, and as a result garnered a small cult following. It has fallen into public domain and received multiple home releases from various companies. The best release to buy is the one I own – a high-definition restoration of the original master under the Death House print released by Code Red.
It tells the strange and convoluted tale of an abandoned house that was used as a mental asylum in a small town. It has remained empty for thirty-five years since the original owner died in horrific and mysterious circumstances on Christmas Eve. An escaped mental patient makes its way to town after receiving news of the house’s sale. A smooth realtor and his sexy young lover arrive to finalize the sale of the property to the four sullen elders of the town. They all receive creepy phone calls from a woman calling herself Marianne, which draws them to the house one at a time… to meet their grisly ends. The house’s present owner, the grandson of the original owner, turns up and forms a relationship with the daughter of one of the potential buyers, the mayor. Together they try to solve the mystery of what happened there all those years go.
The subject matter is dark, entailing incest and mental illness, and there is horrid blood-soaked imagery. The mystery may sound confusing, but it is satisfyingly wrapped up with a shocking revelation in the finale, featuring an unsettling flashback depicting frightening figures with blurred faces and employing the aesthetic of a sepia-toned picture that resembles the beginning of film. The entire proceedings are encapsulated in a cold and eerie atmosphere, due to being dankly lit and the isolated locations. Used to great effect is a truly chilling rendition of the traditional Christmas carol “Silent Night” sung by a little girl. This is an extremely effective low-budget slasher forerunner and a gem of a rarity.
3. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Easily the most mean-spirited entry on this list, Silent Night, Deadly Night is one sick puppy I got for Christmas that has stayed with me for life.
It is also the most controversial. Due to the marketing campaign by its original distributor, TriStar Pictures, with ads that emphasized the killer dressed up as Santa Claus, the PTA fought to have the film removed from general release, and angry parents gathered in protest outside the movie theatres where it was shown. Fueling the fire were typically pompous films critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, with their damning, over-the-top televised review, reading the production’s credits as naming and shaming. Losing their Christmas balls, TriStar withdrew all the ads six days after release, and shortly after pulled the film from distribution. However, this only gave it infamy, and it has since gone on to become a cult classic slasher, spawning four sequels. All this even when Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) had a similar premise, which was released four years earlier, although it went unnoticed and quickly sunk into obscurity.
It would also not make any best Christmas slashers list of mine, not for the reason of its quality, but because I do not consider it a slasher. It has minor elements of the sub-genre but is more of a bizarre, darkly comic, satirical character study laced with cynicism. While it is a generally well-made film with genuine artistry, its sluggish pacing makes for an insanely boring watch.
It’s disturbing, grim, darkly humorous, with a huge dollop of hilarious unintentional cheese that includes stare-inducing plot holes and some dodgy acting, but despite this and its uninspired flat direction, Silent Night, Deadly Night is still a very entertaining sleazefest. Its set-pieces do not disappoint when it comes to the gore factor, making for some highly memorable moments, including the infamous deer antlers impalement featuring topless scream queen Linnea Quigley in one of her best ever screen kills.
It also has a psychological aspect with a tragic, emotive, narrative arc for its killer, Billy, forcing us to sympathize with him; he is not only the villain but also the poor victim. Employing the basic plot set-up for a slasher antagonist’s future bloody rampage, Billy never had a chance from the beginning. A traumatic childhood incident one Christmas, witnessing the murders of his parents by a psychopath dressed up as Santa Claus, and the psychological and physical abuse inflicted upon him by a downright nasty Mother Superior Nun in an orphanage drive him over the edge into insanity with murderous consequences in the third act.
2. Silent Night (2012)
Prolific director Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night not only loses half of the title, but is also just a pseudo remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night. It does not have that much in common with its predecessor save for its killer Santa premise and scenes that are variations of its most famous moments as nodding references in homage although the infamous deer antlers kill is reused as one of the highlight set-pieces. It also takes plot points from the real life Covina massacre in 2008.
Sheriff James Cooper (Malcolm McDowell) and his deputy, Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King), are on a manhunt for a mass murderer Santa Claus who is slaughtering the citizens of a small Midwestern town. What with the town’s annual Christmas parade, their job is made even harder as there are Santas everywhere.
There is some solid character development for Aubrey, as she is dealing with the baggage of guilt for causing the tragic accidental death of her husband. This, coupled with King’s convincing turn as a nervous wreck forced into intense situations due to her character’s previous trauma but who eventually finds the courage to face her fears, makes for a flawed and endearing heroine.
McDowell is… well, McDowell… meaning always great. His turn provides some hilarious comedic relief with one of his usual over-the-top hammy performances as a pompous and irrational town sheriff. This suitably supplements the tongue-in-cheek and unpretentious approach to the material.
The supporting characters are downright despicable. There are other bad Santas, cheating lovers, drug dealers, a lecherous priest, porn filmmakers, thieves, etc. However, as the material is very aware of what it is, it purposely sets it up for us to cheer on the psycho Santa slayer as he ticks them off his naughty list one-by-one. One brutal kill, involving the prolonged graphic murder of a spoiled brat child, cleverly questions our morality in what we seek out for entertainment.
There some truly stand-out set-pieces, and the quality practical special make-up effects make for top-notch splatter, although there is just a little bit of poor CGI thrown in. It is a very good-looking film, with lighting techniques employing vivid color schemes throughout the course of the proceedings that make for an extremely attractive touch, and there are plenty of creative shots and angles.
Despite very little plot development, with the only expositional information given for the killer, lazily revealed in their flashback sequence in the finale, this is one of the better modern Christmas slashers.
1. Black Christmas (1974)
Not only is Bob Clark’s original 1974 version of Black Christmas the greatest Christmas slasher ever made, but it is also one of the greatest proto-slashers of all time. It is obvious it would take the number one spot. There is not much for me to say about the film, other than what has been said about it many times before…
It is a masterclass of filmmaking in tight, taut, suspense, and scenes of unadulterated terror. It is a bloodless affair, but what it lacks in the red stuff, it makes up for by being one of the creepiest horror films ever, all the way to its unsettling, ambiguous climax. It borrows the skin-crawling creepiness of the phone plot device from Silent Night, Bloody Night, as an unseen deranged lunatic stalks and bumps off one by one the young females in a sorority house at Christmastime.
It is a thematic and visual precursor to John Carpenter’s own 1978 template slasher masterpiece, Halloween. Thematically, it uses the same usually safe setting of a suburban environment, and visually, it also features a long fluid POV shot seen through the eyes of the killer, although here it often returns to the killer’s point-of-view throughout the course of the proceedings. It also has great performances from Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey.
It’s my favorite Christmas slasher and also one my Top 5 slashers of all time with Halloween (1978), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), My Bloody Valentine (1981), and Scream (1996).