Dominic Saxl is one of the directors and producers of DREAD’s upcoming horror anthology Deathcember! The topic of his Dread X list is fitting; his counting down his Top 10 Christmas-themed horror movies! Give them a look-see below the film’s synopsis! (You can also give the trailer for Deathcember a spin at the top of the article.)
A collection of 24 films that take a look at the dark side of the festive season. 24 international directors with the most diverse ideas and styles; linked by short animated segments that deal with the Advent calendar itself.
I know there are a lot of people who will only watch Christmas horror movies during the 12 days of Christmas and won’t touch the genre once they’re done with the holidays. Not me, I live and breathe X-mas horror – basically every day of the year. I‘m always on the lookout for new films that feature blood-drenched snow, psycho Santas, family blood-feasts, deadly presents, a Krampus running amuck… They make me feel right at home.
I guess it’s because I‘ve always loved the quiet time at the end of the year, and at the same time, seeing how false hopes of harmony and peace are torn to pieces by a grim reaper wearing a cloak the color of love… and blood. The ultimate clash of life and death. That’s probably why I came up with Deathcember: There’s nothing more satisfying than disturbing false beliefs… and breaking up lazy fake routines. While indulging in all the shiny glitter our romantic hearts ache for.
So, yes, the Christmas season may be over. But to me, the season of festive frights never ends. These films stand the test of time – Ho-Ho-Horror forever!
10. Jack Frost (1997)
Mostly harmless fun, yes, but it’s a boat-load of fun. The premise alone is weird and wild enough to make you party: A serial killer is miraculously turned into a snowman – and keeps killing. He’s also quite dedicated to his job. Hilarious situations ensue, and still, the atmosphere is more grim than ridiculous. Forget about the sequel though.
9. All Through the House (2015)
This one was a pleasant surprise, an 80s-style slasher that knows how to pull the tricks and deliver the goods. Brutal, good pacing, nice kills. If you love the genre and its classics, you‘ll love this film.
8. Secret Santa (2018)
Another new film that’s better than it has any right to be. A strained family get-together for the holidays, turned into a nightmare of hate, disgust and bloodshed because someone has spiced the Christmas punch with a secret ingredient … Black-humored fun, chaos and death ensue. Imagine an expertly-made mix of CLIMAX and the DEATHCEMBER segment “Family Feast“ by Rémi Fréchette and you‘re close.
7. I Trapped the Devil (2019)
A film most people missed because it didn’t get a lot of exposure, but one of my favorite films in 2019. A completely different take on Christmas horror. AJ Bowen is once again amazing, playing a guy who visits his brother for the holidays and has to realize that he‘s completely lost his mind – or has he? Could it be true that he has actually trapped the Devil in his basement? Christmas atmosphere has never been utilized in such a deeply unsettling, disturbing way before.
6. Better Watch Out (2016)
I remember first seeing this film when it made its rounds on the festival circuit, still named “Safe Neighborhood“ by then. It took it crazy long to get a proper release, but I‘ve watched it five times since then. It does everything exactly right, it’s the perfect blend of bloodshed, dark comedy and oh so many surprises: full of twists and turns, this is HOME ALONE for the bloodthirsty Christmas horror afficionado. Someone give director Chris Peckover another movie to make please, sarcastic genre fun doesn’t get much better than this.
5. Krampus (2015)
Everyone knows this film, and quite a few genre fans complain it‘s too “mainstream“. To me, it’s the ultimate “Heaven 17 go horror movie“ experience: be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, give the broader audiences something that seems harmless enough for them to swallow, but hide a poison pill in the form of a subversive message underneath. Krampus is a vicious attack on Western consumerism, false family values and Christmas hypocrisy; it dismantles outdated morale and wrong ideals – and it does so by means of a truly terrifying, demonic, nihilistic horror tale, brought to life through excellent effects and a marvelous production design. Impressive. Then again, it’s a film made by Michael Dougherty, so it‘s no surprise it’s incredibly good.
4. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Let’s be honest, the original Silent Night is pretty much basic slasher fare, and the sequels are mostly sub-standard. Still, this film earns a place this high on the list – simply because it’s responsible for setting the definite framework; it is THE ”Psycho Santa killer on the loose, stalking through the snow, wielding an axe, senselessly slaying people, ho-ho-horrifying the world” movie number one. It more or less single-handedly established the iconography everyone associates with the genre. You can’t help but admire that. Therefore, essential viewing. Punish!
3. El Dia la Bestia (1995)
I’m not quite sure how well-known director Álex de la Iglesia is in the U.S., though I think that The Oxford Murders with Elijah Wood and John Hurt has brought him some recognition. In Europe, however, he‘s been one of the staples of intelligent, black-humored genre cinema since the early 1990s, and The Day of the Beast is widely regarded as one of his masterpieces. Though not too Christmassy in its general atmosphere, this wildly blasphemous, outrageous apocalypse film about a priest trying to stop the birth of Jesus Christ from happening in modern-day Madrid because it would trigger the world‘s end is just too crazy to believe, unless you‘ve seen it… and trust me, you‘ll never look at a cross inside a church the same way again.
2. Dead End (2003)
Being a big Twilight Zone fan, this quietly unnerving film is right up my alley. A family whose members hate each other with a passion is on their way to visit the in-laws for the holidays, and for the first time in 20 years, the husband and father (Ray Wise giving one of his best performances) chooses to take a shortcut… that takes the hapless family onto a road straight to hell. Weirdly enough, the two French directors never made their big break, but at least they made one of the most unique Christmas horror films of all time. A little bit Twin Peaks, a lot of spooky, and a very ethereous Lin Shaye: Even though the end twist is of the lame and generic variety, the experience as a whole is something not to miss out on.
1. Black Christmas (1974)
This should come as no surprise. Black Christmas is one of the first slasher films ever, and it‘s certainly the one film that managed to combine what we love about the genre in the most perfect way: A wonderful holiday atmosphere, complete with lights, decorations, carols, and a gruesome story that is told in an intelligent way; containing enough humor and creepiness to keep you glued to the screen at all times. Considering that it‘s from 1974, it can still be regarded as surprisingly progressive, stylistically (great use of first-person POV) as well as narratively (keeping us in the dark about certain things till the very end), and it has a strong feminist undertone as well as generally taking a stance against useless traditions and authoritarian structures. Plus, it’s suspenseful as hell! The 2006 remake isn’t very remarkable, and I haven’t seen the 2019 one yet, but the original is a timeless classic. The one Christmas horror film you truly need to see. Every year.