Christmas is nearly upon us, and if you haven't finished your Christmas shopping, booked all of your plane tickets, arranged the guest room, remembered that certain family members require a certain diet, bought the especially expensive noble fir tree, decorated it, and arranged the 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights JUST SO, then you're clearly a failure as a human being, and you're going to be ostracized by all of your friends, your family, and your entire community for ruining Christmas, you commie. I mean, honestly. How dare you? Wallow in a pit of shame, you Christmas hater.
Sorry. Not to be too harsh, but I use my little bit of badgering to illustrate the enormous amount of stress most people feel this time of year. No matter what your holiday traditions, it's likely you're feeling pressured this time of year about something. And your stress and anxiety is only compounded by the media's ever-constant insistence that this is the most wonderful time of the year, and everything is treacly and happy and nothing could ever go wrong. Sometimes we feel so stressed out by holiday obligations, and so inundated by the peppermint-flavored sappiness in the air, that our only recourse is to hole up in our rooms with a holiday-themed movie, relax with a cup of tea, and watch Santa take someone's head clean off with an axe.
Yes, the market for Christmas- and holiday-themed violence is pretty prolific, and you'll find that most “best holiday movie” lists that ubiquitously populate the internet this time of the year often include at least one or two films like Die Hard, Gremlins, or Black Christmas to keep the bloodthirsty shopper just as sated as the joy junkie. I mean, we don't stop being horror fans just 'cause it's Christmastime, right? We don't stop thrilling to awesome explosions and horrific acts of violence just because we're eating gingersnaps, right?
As an antidote to any of the gooey, sentimental, positive, life-affirming TV movies you've been watching with your elderly aunt, I would like to count down the 12 Kills of Christmas; that is: The twelve best murders and deaths witnessed in holiday-themed movies. I am going to count down from the 12th best to the mostest awesomest. Let's get our Christmas bloodlust a-boiling, shall we?
“It Feels… COLD!”
from Jack Frost (dir. Michael Cooney, 1997)
Aside from the mysteriously missing carrot during the truly bizarre Shannon Elizabeth shower rape scene, this straight-to-video 1997 killer snowman cheapie only has one real notable moment: when the killer snowman realizes that he can't be killed. The premise of this oddball horror flick is as follows: A dangerous serial killer (Scott MacDonald) is being transported through a small snowy suburb when his vehicle collides with a chemical truck. The chemicals spill onto the killer, and his body somehow merges with the snow on the ground, turning him into a living snowman, hellbent on murder. We are then treated to about 70 minutes of killer snowman antics, including the aforementioned rape scene. Late in the film, Jack Frost is melted into water, only to find that he can reconstitute himself into snow on a whim. An amazed victim realizes that, being made of water, Jack cannot be killed. “How does it feel to be immortal?” the victim shakily asks. “It feels…” the snowman replies thoughtfully “…COLD!” As he declares this, the snowman eats his victim with icicle teeth. A goofy moment in a goofy movie.
Killer of Santas
from Don't Open Till Christmas (dir. Edmund Purdom, 1984)
This British horror flick remains largely unseen by anyone but the most dyed-in-the-wool horror fans, and it's not entirely notable for its gore or its filmmaking, really. Indeed, none of the singular kills are even that especially spectacular. Don't Open Till Christmas earns a spot on this list merely for its clever premise: A serial killer is stalking the streets of London, murdering anyone wearing a Santa suit. 1984 saw the release of Silent Night, Deadly Night, possibly the best of the “Killer Santa” movies, and it's nice that, in Don't Open Till Christmas, we have a cute inversion of what we think holiday horror to be. Take a slay ride.
“You Shouldn't Leave These Things Lying Around.”
from Child's Play (dir. Tom Holland, 1988)
People don't ordinarily think of Child's Play, the infamous killer doll movie, as a Christmas film, but series creator Don Mancini has openly revealed in interviews that Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), the central killer from the long-running franchise was intended to be a sharp satire of the rabid “toy of the season” mentality that runs high during Christmastime. Imagine if, say, Tickle-Me Elmo was not just a coveted widget, but actually a serial killer in disguise. A Furby of death. Child's Play was about a talking Good Guy doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer (thanks to a voodoo spell), who continued to wreak havoc in his new plastic body. The best kill from the film is probably when Chucky confronted his voodoo teacher, and proceeded to do bodily harm to him using a voodoo doll. Chucky eventually stabbed the voodoo doll with a large knife, and his victim suffered from a spontaneous wound. A spooky kill in an otherwise brutal movie.
Santa Hates Teenagers
from Silent Night (dir. Steven C. Miller, 2012)
This remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night, only recently in theaters, is a pretty typical serial killer police procedural which is punctuated by a few unexpectedly awesome kills. The topless model being fed into a wood-chipper is pretty amazing, but the most notable kill comes early in the film: an obnoxious teenaged girl, about 14 years old, is badgering her mother (Lisa Marie) to take her to the mall for some expensive telephone-related widget. Not just badgering, but screaming, browbeating, and insulting. She demands money, and displays open contempt for her mother. In about five seconds, Silent Night manages to establish this teenage girl as the most horrible person on the planet. Then there's a knock at the door. It's Santa Claus! Only we already know that this particular Santa is a serial killer. Santa wastes no time in wasting this teenage girl with a taser and a harpoon simultaneously. It's rare that kids that young are killed with such efficiency. It's a kill worth note.
It Really Was a Letter Bomb
from Jingle All the Way (dir. Brian Levant, 1996)
Another film that, like Child's Play, examines the notion of obsessive toy-of-the-season mentality, Jingle All the Way is a limp and often mocked Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sinbad Christmas comedy that is openly derided by critics and audiences for its blandness and un-comedy. The film was a success, but no one has ever claimed it's a good film. It does, however, contain one funny joke, which is also a fatal moment for some supporting character. Schwarzenegger plays a dippy dad (uh huh) seeking a rare "Turbo Man" action figure for his kid. Sinbad plays a mailman seeking the same action figure. Their across-town anticking in seeking the doll winds them in a post office, pursued by policemen. Sinbad, thinking fast, keeps the policemen at bay by grabbing a random letter, and claiming it is a letter bomb. The cops, not wanting him to detonate it, back off. Sinbad, thanks to his ploy, manages to slip out of the building. When he's clear, the police pick up the random letter and… guess what? It really was a letter bomb! It takes out an entire floor! It's the only funny moment in an otherwise stultifying film. Sadly, the film establishes that the cops live, but for a moment, it's one awesome kill.
“Who Taught You Math?”
from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (dir. Shane Black, 2005)
Shane Black's comedy noir is quickly becoming a regular Christmas classic in many homes, and I can't encourage you to watch it enough. Robert Downey. Jr. plays a thief who is masquerading as an L.A. Actor, and Val Kilmer plays the PI who is assigned to teach this “actor” about investigation. Of course, the investigation becomes way more complicated than either expected, and dead bodies are involved before too long. Eventually thugs begin appearing to Robert and Val, and guns are whipped out. I don't want to spoil too much, but late in the film, Robert has to interrogate a thug, and, taking a cue from movies, empties all but one bullet from a gun, spins it, and points it at the guy's head. The results aren't what he anticipated. He begins to calculate the odds, claiming that a bullet couldn't have possibly been in there. Val screams at him “Who taught you math!?” It's shocking, it's funny, and it's awesome.
From Gremlins (dir. Joe Dante, 1984)
Ah, Gremlins. Ruining young children since 1984. Between this film and Poltergeist, I think an entire generation of youngsters had to go through therapy. Gremlins is considered by some to be a delightful Christmas film, even though it's a monster picture through-and-through. We all know the rules. Fuzzy Furby critters multiply when wet, and pupate into slimy reptile beasts when they're fed after midnight (in their own time zone, I assume). The reptile beasts then kill and destroy for fun. In one of the movie's most disgusting scenes, a domestic mom (Belinda Balaski) manages to fight off some of the gremlins using her kitchen gadget. She manages to seize one gremlin and shove it head first into a blender. She then pushes the “frappé” button, and, voilà! Instant Gremlin paint. That spray of gooey green blood not only sticks to the walls, but it sticks in the memory.
The Sled Decapitation
from Silent Night, Deadly Night (dir. Charles E. Sellier, Jr., 1984)
1984 was a magical year for holiday horror, wasn't it? This film is, as I said above, often considered the best of the Killer Santa subgenre, as it not only has some awesome kills, but actually bothers to explain the psychology of a guy who would put on a Santa suit and go on a murder spree. Sure, the film is still plenty schlocky, but it's still fun to watch. In addition to watching a young Linnea Quigley being impaled, topless, on a pair of antlers, Silent Night, Deadly Night also features a fun aside wherein a midnight sledder is decapitated. Two teen boys are out in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, merrily sledding down their favorite sledding hill, unbeknownst to their parents. One boy starts at the top. Midway down the sledding run, our killer Santa (Robert Brian Wilson) lies waiting with an axe. His buddy waits at the bottom of the hill. All his buddy gets to see is the arrival of a sled, and his friend, sans head. The head follows a few moments after. Rolling human heads. That's what Christmas is all about.
From Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (dir. Lee Harry, 1987)
Evidently, the centerpiece of this limp 1987 sequel to Silent Night, Deadly Night (which reuses about 35 minutes of footage from the original!) is well known to many trawlers of YouTube. The killer of the film is Ricky (Eric Freeman), the younger brother of the killer from the first film. Already unstable, Ricky is dumped by his skittish girlfriend in the middle of the street in broad daylight. The gleefully violent Ricky responds by killing her, a nearby friend, and a cop. He steals the cop's gun, and proceeds to go on a daylight shooting rampage, murdering strangers and blowing up cars. A man taking out his trash is singled out. “Garbage Day!” Ricky shouts, and guns him down. The film is dumb and cheap, but the Garbage Day sequence is one of the most entertaining action sequences of any film of the 1980s.
From Die Hard (dir. John McTiernan, 1988)
Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. It's pretty much on all the lists every year. It takes place at a Christmas party, and the holiday iconography is a pertinent part of the mayhem. It's also one of the single best action movies ever made. No lie. If you're a screenwriter, watch this movie a lot. And while the film is chock full o' murders and shootings (a dead body is even painted with the phrase “Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho!”), the best kill has most definitely got to be the death of the film's villain, played by Alan Rickman. After several spectacular explosions, gunfights, and bloodshed, John McClane (Bruce Willis) finally gets the drop on the evil European who had taken the entire building hostage. John drops him off the building, and he falls – in slow-motion – to his death. The fall is scary and awesome, and the look on Rickman's face is priceless.
From Black Christmas (dir. Bob Clark, 1974)
Silent Night, Deadly Night may be the most famous killer Santa movie, but the best Christmas horror film is, for my money, Bob Clark's Black Christmas, often considered by horror fans to be the first of the slasher genre. The killer in the film remains largely unseen, and we only hear his/her voice over the telephone in increasingly terrifying prank phone calls. Many of the film's characters don't realize that their peers are being picked off in the shadows. The film ends with its most famous image, an image so iconographic, the publicity people put it right on the poster. The image of a young woman, dead, with plastic wrapped around her head, peeked at through a second story window, has become almost the central icon for all Christmas kills to come. Have to give props to the original and the best.
“They Make It So Easy, Don't They?”
From Invasion U.S.A. (dir. Joseph Zito, 1985)
This Chuck Norris vehicle is often considered his best, mostly for the sheer overpowering/ridiculous awesomeness of the action sequences. The film is about a Russian invasion of the U.S., and how only one lone hero (Norris) can stop them. The film's central villain is played by B-movie luminary Richard Lynch. It is Lynch who is the perpetrator of what ultimately amounts to be cinema's most awesome holiday-themed multiple murder. Lynch arrives on a suburban corner in the back of a pickup truck on a cold night during the Christmas season. Around him, he sees kids playing in the street, decorating trees, and enjoying the balmy happiness of the season. He turns to an associate and intones “They make it so easy, don't they?” He then extracts a bazooka, and, in an extended flurry of violence, proceeds to blow up about a half dozen suburban homes. Fire and splintering wood fill the air. People are reduced to shreds of carbon. It's such a gleefully senseless and violent scene, it's hard not to fall in love with it. Watch it online sometime, and you'll fall in love too. It's the best holiday kill in any movie ever.
Find out how Witney Seibold's list matches up with Shock Till You Drop's picks for the 10 Most Shocking Holiday Horror Movie Moments!
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film Schooland The Series Project, and follow him on Twitter at @WitneySeibold