Everybody loves a Christmas horror movie — and there are more than enough to fill up every night of December. For this list, we’re celebrating 11 of our all-time favourite holiday monsters as featured in some of those bone-chilling Yuletide classics: killer toys, killer treats, killer trees, monsters, and jolly demons galore.
Santa Claus, Various movies
Let’s just start with the big red guy, because he’s slaughtered so many. Across films like Silent Night, Deadly Night (and its sequels), Tales From the Crypt, Christmas Evil, and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, and TV shows like Futurama and American Horror Stories, jolly old Saint Nick has amassed a body count that would make the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees take notice. You know how it goes: he sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.
Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) directed and co-wrote maybe the first Christmas movie to contain this question: “What kind of goat walks on its hind legs?” The answer, of course, is Krampus, who’s inspired by European folklore but here is also given his own army of killer cookies and toys — including a terrifyingly toothy Jack-in-the-Box that practically rates its own entry on this list. With an outstanding cast led by Toni Collette and Adam Scott, Krampus teaches us the importance of not letting go of the holiday spirit, lest a hulking man-goat monster appear and drag you straight to hell.
When your new pet comes with a highly specific set of strict rules, it’s best not to break them. Of course, if Billy (Zach Galligan) had been more careful, we’d be denied the delightful mayhem that ensues when a pack of scheming, devious, ruthless, and hilariously accessorized critters takes over his picturesque hometown.
Oogie Boogie, The Nightmare Before Christmas
When Jack Skellington decides his ill-advised takeover of Christmas will require the kidnapping of Santa Claus, the little imps he gives the gig to don’t exactly follow the plan. Rather than bringing “Sandy Claws” to the relative safety of Halloween Town, he’s instead brought before Oogey Boogey, “the meanest guy around” in the form of a massive burlap sack stuffed with bugs, a nasty gambling habit, and some seriously bad vibes.
Santa Claus killer, Don’t Open Till Christmas
We already mentioned all the killer Santas. So how about a killer who specifically targets people dressed as Santa Claus? That’s the big bad of Don’t Open Till Christmas, a 1974 slasher directed by and starring Edmund Purdom. Armed with a keen loathing for the season (two words: childhood trauma) and a number of sharp weapons, the murderer targets a couple making out in their car, a Santa performing onstage at a party, and a Santa roasting chestnuts on an open fire… and that’s just in the movie’s first 10 minutes. When Scotland Yard takes the case, the plan involves cops going undercover in Santa suits, which goes about as blood-gushingly well as you’d expect. Merry Christmas!
Hulu and Blumhouse’s “Into the Dark” holiday-themed horror film series hit a high with the 2018 Christmas instalment Pooka!, director Nacho Vigalondo’s investigation of what might happen if the hottest toy of the season turned out to be a conduit of pure evil. Follow along as the struggling actor (Nyasha Hatendi) hired to don a Pooka suit realises exactly that as he plunges on a downward spiral of glassy-eyed, fur-covered terror.
The Gingerdead Man, Gingerdead Man
While not technically a Christmas movie, in what other season are you going to encounter a gingerbread man? This schlocky horror-comedy from B-movie legend Charles Band stars Gary Busey as a ruthless spree killer who, post-execution, is resurrected using a mixture of gingerbread spice and blood — and the power of black magic. Of course, while he’s still voiced by a cackling Busey, he’s not resurrected in human form; as it says on the tin, now he’s an utterly grotesque oversized cookie, hellbent on revenge and even more murderous in pastry form.
Demonic Nazi Elf, Elves (1989)
This one’s a bit darker in tone (though still ridiculous in concept and execution) than some of the others on this list. After accidentally summoning a creepy demonic elf as part of a “sisters of anti-Christmas” ritual with her friends, virginal teenager Kirsten (Julie Austin) becomes the focus of a plot first launched by Hitler to create a master race of human-elf hybrids. The luxuriously bearded Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty plays a down-on-his-luck former detective turned mall Santa who gets pulled into these high-concept, low-budget shenanigans, as the kill-crazy elf stalks Kirsten with the singular goal of impregnating her with a Nazi monster. Yep, you read all that right.
Killer Snowman, Jack Frost (1997)
Jack Frost, the horror movie that came out in 1997 — not Jack Frost, the heartwarming supernatural holiday tale starring Michael Keaton that came out in 1998 — is, like The Gingerdead Man, about a murderer who gets reincarnated in the guise of a seemingly non-threatening holiday icon. More comedy than horror (or “comedy,” considering the quality of the one-liners), Jack Frost still contains some gruesome kills, several involving icicles, as well as a bathtub murder so tasteless it’s actually kind of impressive.
Prank caller, Black Christmas (1974)
This seminal 1974 slasher is scary no matter what time of year you watch it. You know the story: sorority girls excitedly preparing for the festive season start receiving genuinely unsettling obscene phone calls… and then the bodies start piling up. And you also know the punch line: HE’S CALLING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!
Christmas trees, Treevenge
Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun) directed and co-wrote this short film that lays the gauntlet down by playing the theme from the notorious cult film Cannibal Holocaust over the opening credits. It doesn’t let up from there, as it segues into a startlingly violent (yet hilarious) depiction of what it’s like being chopped down from the POV of a Christmas tree, including subtitles translating the trees’ petrified shrieks. What comes next? Payback, baby! See: movie title… and add gallons of blood, eyeball-gouging, child-stomping, and a frenzy of other festive delights.