Each week on Terror Cult, we examine a specific niche of the horror genre and dissect its most relevant examples. This week, in honor of the encroachment of Christmas, we focus our attention on movies that take place during the holiday season – from mutant killer elves, to serial killers who believe they’re Santa Claus.
The holiday season is upon us, and those unfortunate enough to feel duty bound to participate are gritting our teeth and settling into our separate, private coping mechanisms. For the average observer, Christmas means dropping boatloads of cash on mountains of trivial gifts for friends, random acquaintances, and family members who will probably never truly understand or appreciate the raw hell you went through just to make an obligatory gesture of token acknowledgment toward them and their pathetic existence. For the less ambitious, Christmas is a time of crushing boredom, vague malaise, forced interaction with annoying people you normally try to avoid, and extreme overindulgence in cookies, spiced rum, and ham.
We all secretly hate and fear the holidays. Fortunately, the tenderhearted philanthropists occupying the seediest annals of the entertainment industry have got our rumps covered. They understand the need, rooted deeply in the heart of each and every Christmas celebrant, to be purged of the holiday’s saccharine commercialism, its false promises of universal brotherhood, goodwill toward man, and sexy yet reasonably priced electronic devices that will revolutionize your whole entire existence.
For those desirous to vicariously expel some pent-up rage this holiday season, the following is a list of movies that accurately depict Christmas as the whirlwind of craziness, bloodshed, deformity, and secret genetic experiments perpetrated by Nazis that it truly is – at least in the deepest, most rancorous depths of all our hearts.
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
One of the earliest examples of holiday-themed horror, Silent Night Bloody Night was co-produced by future Troma Studios founder Lloyd Kaufman, and bizarrely features a cornucopia of former Warhol superstars – including Mary Woronov, Ondine, Candy Darling, fine artist Susan Rothenberg, and scandalous underground filmmaker Jack Smith – in both leading and supporting roles. Aside from its inexplicably genteel credentials, Silent Night is an off-kilter but relatively standard grindhouse slasher about people getting murdered on the anniversary of a Christmas-themed insane asylum bloodbath decades earlier, full of grainy Psychotronia and musty ‘70s atmosphere.
Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by Bob Clark, the same guy who would later bless the world with A Christmas Story, Black Christmas stars Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey as sorority girls being terrorized by an obscene caller who decides to step up his game and begin violently offing people. Black Christmas was one of the earliest installments in the first wave of Golden Age Slashers and its strong cast, strong pacing, and creepy twist ending make it one of the most enduring and entertaining.
Christmas Evil (1980)
A kitsch favorite of filmmaker and weirdo cultural pioneer John Waters, Christmas Evil languished in obscurity for many years before being ironically reclaimed by B-movie aficionados. It’s a bizarre, Z-grade journey into the deteriorating mind of a violent psychopath who believes he’s Santa Claus, and that his job is to punish people who have been naughty. The movie is mostly silly, but it’s still fun to watch.
An ‘80s monstrosity of cheap latex appliances and half-baked conspiracy theory melded with slasher movie clichés, Elves has a plot too bugnuts, convoluted, and inappropriately un-PC to fully elaborate here, but it involves genetic engineering, Nazis, precognition, ancient magical crystals, and a roughneck played by Dan Haggerty who may or may not secretly be the real, actual Santa Claus. No other Christmas movie has ever been, or will ever be, as weird as this one. Don’t deprive yourself.
This Joe Dante classic, like most of the director’s work, pays homage to monster movies of the 1950s and ‘60s, as well as sending up the crass commercialism of the holiday season, and alluding to the potential dangers of unchecked modern technological advancement. Following a series of careless accidents, a cute, moppet-like furball ganked from an obscure Chinese curiosity shop spawns a host of rapidly replicating, two-foot-tall reptilian monsters bent on murder and destruction. It’s up to a couple of hapless high school students to stem the floodtide in time to salvage the holiday. Also, Corey Feldman is in it.
To All a Good Night (1980)
Another fairly standard ‘80s slasher, To All a Good Night is basically watchable, but its most notable feature is the way it pretty much completely steals the exact same twist ending from the original Friday the 13th, which was released earlier the same year. The murders in this film are not incredibly bloody, but it holds its own otherwise, despite the noted lack of originality.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
The strongest entry in the “killers dressed like Santa Claus” mini-canon, Deadly Night was reviled upon its initial release for supposedly being insensitive to small children, whom its critics believed would see the movie’s trailers and TV promos and become terrified of Santa Claus. (One of the movie’s most vocal critics was the actor Mickey Rooney, who would hilariously go on to appear in one of its many sequels several years later.) Silent Night, Deadly Night features genre favorite Linnea Quigley, who dies especially creatively, and an explosive climactic sequence involving nuns and orphans. It also has a really creepy theme song, guaranteed to be stuck in your head for weeks, months, or possibly for the rest of your life.
Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)
Another take on the evil killer Santa microsubgenre, Don’t Open Till Christmas flips the usual formula on its head, chronicling the attempts of London police detectives to capture a killer whose victims are all professional Santa Claus impersonators. The movie is occasionally slow, but it gets in a few pretty good scenes, including a murder in a peep show booth, and other assorted ‘80s campiness.
Rare Exports (2010)
Leave it to the Finnish to serve up a late-breaking, totally unique installment in a niche horror subgenre and actually take it semi-seriously enough to end up with something halfway effective. Rare Exports tells the story of an army of ancient mutant Santas wreaking havoc on a remote enclave of reindeer herders, and those herders’ attempts to recoup their losses and achieve vengeance. Despite its weird story and occasional touches of humor, Rare Exports is actually kind of a legit horror movie, and will probably actually scare you a little bit if you give it the opportunity.
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Devon Ashby is a featured contributor on CraveOnline. Follow her on Twitter at @DevAshby.