You Better Watch Out for These Classic Holiday Horrors
With his all-seeing omniscience and ability to sneak into houses at night, Santa can be one scary dude. Most horror fans are doubtlessly familiar with semi-recent movies like Krampus (2015), Rare Exports (2010), and Santa’s Slay (2005), all of which reimagine Santa Satanic. But before every singer had a holiday album and every movie wormed its way into being a “holiday classic,” Christmas movies were every so often oddities. Horror Christmas movies were nearly nonexistent.
As the Christmas season descends on us and, no doubt, another few evil Santa movies enter the fray, let’s revisit some older films that pushed boundaries, turning Christmas dark.
Black Christmas (1974) is one of those few movies moving into slasher flick territory a few years before Halloween and Friday the 13th blew the genre open.
Sorority sisters are planning their Christmas break when anonymous phone calls and a sister’s disappearance make them nervous, so they bring in the police. Who done it?
This is a movie with a well-planned plot; superior acting from Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and John Saxon; and an ending that will keep you on edge for days.
You would expect a horror thriller set in a sorority house to be an over-the-top T&A fest. Black Christmas avoids this completely, with believable women reasonably dressed. Yes, this is a plus.
No, I didn’t see, and have no plans to see, the 2006 remake.
This is not just another slasher film, it is the slasher film few others come close to matching in quality. Yes, see 1974’s Black Christmas.
I generally avoid made-for-TV movies, those fillers for ‘70s television that, especially in the horror genre, deliver very little. I was pleasantly surprised by Home for the Holidays (1972).
The excellent cast includes Sally Field, Jessica Walter, Eleanor Parker, Walter Brennan… the list goes on. The writer is Joseph Stefano, who scripted Psycho (1960), The Kindred (1987), several “Outer Limits” episodes, and more.
A crotchety old father who claims his current wife is trying to poison him sends for his four daughters over Christmas.
This is Spelling-Goldberg Productions, the company that produced much-loved but often vacuous television in the ’70s, so catty conversation, infidelity, and dysfunctional family interactions, the usual ’70s TV tropes, are in abundance. Picture a Giallo thriller without the edge.
Surprisingly, the ominous mood builds pretty well once characters begin disappearing, due to John Moxey’s directing. I’m a fan of seeing what directors can do with limited sets and budget. Moxey directed one of my favorite ‘60s witchcraft movies, The City of the Dead. He has even less to work with here, building tension with little more than actors’ tense expressions.
A low-budget, cult favorite, Christmas Evil (1980) follows a warped and creepy, but surprisingly sympathetic, toy factory executive who snaps and turns into a killer Santa.
Horror lovers I’ve met who discover this movie overwhelmingly love it. Written and directed (always a good sign) by Lewis Jackson, Christmas Evil (originally titled You Better Watch Out) hits an already holiday-warped guy with all of the disillusions of modern Christmas. Who among us doesn’t feel anger at commercialism, hypocrisy, and naughty kids?
Brandon Maggart excels as the bad Santa. He underplays his role as the poor, picked on schmuck who always brightens when facing holiday traditions. The cynical people around him simply don’t live up to the holiday spirit.
I’m always interested in movies, horror or otherwise, that have something to say beyond plot. It’s called “theme,” and more filmmakers should look into it. Christmas Evil explores how far modern society has moved away from goodwill toward men and what responsibility individuals have to restore those ideals. Heavy, right? Don’t worry, the theme doesn’t get in the way of enjoying this movie.
With inventive editing, unique music, and a sense of humor, Christmas Evil is a perennial favorite for me. It may become one of your eerie holiday traditions.
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974) is thought to be a holiday movie by some, but I’ve already included it on my list of ’70s “mental unhealth” movies recently so I won’t include it here. You may note, though, that when a movie crosses over to different lists, it may be worth your time.
So, you better watch out for these three classic horrors! Acclaim to those moviemakers who create something different for us horror fans to enjoy, even during the holidays. Pour some eggnog, and sit back for fun. ’Tis the season for fright!
Gary Scott Beatty’s graphic novel Wounds is available on Amazon and Comixology. Is madness a way to survive the zombie apocalypse? The strangest zombie story ever written, Wounds throws us into a world where nothing is beyond doubt, except a father’s concern for his wife and daughter. If you enjoy that “What th-?” factor in graphic novels, you’ll enjoy Wounds. For more from Gary Scott Beatty, visit him on Twitter and Facebook.