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The best Christmas horror movies for holiday fright

As the holidays approach, every film fan has their own traditions, from settling in for a Christmas Story marathon to arguing over whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Let's sidestep all that in order to discuss another kind of Christmas movie — specifically the kind in which Santa leaves bodies behind instead of presents. 

That's right, we're talking about Christmas horror movies. We've all seen our share of traditional holiday classics like It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and Meet Me in St. Louis during the yuletide season. Why not add a few horror movies into the mix? There are a lot of these films out there — probably far more than you might think — and there are some real gems in the genre. 

The movies we've rounded up here contain everything from really bad Santas to giant goat demons ready to eat some naughty children, and everything in between. Ho, ho, how about we take a look at the best Christmas horror movies for holiday fright?

Black Christmas (1974)

O Canada, we thank you for this wonderful holiday horror blessing called Black Christmas. Made in 1974, this slasher (one of the earliest of the genre) was directed by Bob Clark. Yes, the same Bob Clark who gave us not only Porky's, but also one of the most beloved Christmas movies, A Christmas Story. Black Christmas is about a group of sorority sisters just trying to celebrate the season by having a party — which is interrupted by their pesky repeat obscene caller. Tired of this dude and his heavy breathing, one of the young women curses him out which, in turn, causes the caller to promise to kill her. This is the beginning of a series of events which finds the whole house at risk of a yuletide death.

The cast of Black Christmas includes Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), Margot Kidder (Superman), and John Saxon (Tenebre, Nightmare on Elm Street). Clark crafts a tight little slasher — one that went on to inspire of the most famous horror movies of all time, Halloween. In an interview before his death, Clark told Icons of Fright that he and Halloween director John Carpenter had a conversation about what a sequel to Black Christmas would look like, and Clark said he told Carpenter it would involve an escape from a mental institution on Halloween. Clark was quick to insist that Carpenter didn't borrow his idea, but was likely inspired by it.

Christmas Evil (1980)

What happens when a little boy sees his mom being groped by Santa Claus? Well, in Christmas Evil, it helps turn him into a Christmas-obsessed killer. Now an adult, Harry (Brandon Maggart) basically lives like Santa Claus, wearing a Santa suit and having his home decked out in Christmas decorations. He even spies on the neighborhood kids to see who's being naughty or nice. Harry's obsession turns deadly when he's finally pushed over the edge and he starts killing those who lack the appropriate Christmas spirit.

Christmas Evil isn't your typical slasher. Harry isn't out there murdering out of some sort of perceived vendetta against the world — he believes he's doing the right thing by ridding the world of people who are just paying lip service to peace, goodwill towards men, and everything else involved with the Christmas spirit. The movie might not be as gory and the kills might not be as numerous as in other Christmas horror films, but the movie more than makes up for it with its wit. Christmas Evil is also helped by the fact that Maggart (Dressed to Kill) is a great actor — a bit of a rarity in the genre. 

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

Silent Night, Bloody Night might be one of the more obscure movies in this genre, but it's definitely worth seeking out. A lawyer (Patrick O'Neal) and his lover/assistant (Mary Woronov) arrive on Christmas Eve to take care of the sale of a house for his client, who inherited the house from a grandfather who was killed there. Although it was ruled an accident, the residents of the town seem to know something about the death and are adamant the house be sold to them and not to any outsiders. At the same time, an escaped patient from a local mental hospital decides to head for the house, which adds to the ingredients for one messed-up Christmas.

Silent Night, Bloody Night is considered slow by some, and others think it's confusing, but it's still worth a watch. There are some moments of genuine dread, and Woronov and O'Neal are always a treat. Horror vet John Carradine also turns up and gives a performance only John Carradine can. If you look closely, you'll even see Ondine and Candy Darling, two of Andy Warhol's protégées. Woronov was also a part of the Warhol scene.  

Krampus (2015)

Although the legend of Krampus has been around for hundreds of years in Austria and Germany, it wasn't until the evil goat demon was put on some postcards in the late 1800s that Krampus was introduced to the rest of the world. The Christmas beast was still relatively unknown in the United States until the last couple of decades; today, there are many Krampus-inspired movies, but there will only ever be one Krampus.

Like a lot of families, the Engels come together to celebrate Christmas. Also, like a lot of families, they don't always get along. Young Max rips up his letter to Santa after being mocked by his cousins and throws the pieces out into the wind. Those pieces find their way to Krampus and so begins the Engels family's fight with the goat demon who sends people to Hell for not having the Christmas spirit. 

While the Krampus in this film is a more toned-down version of the monster than the actual legend describes, that doesn't lessen any enjoyment of the movie. Krampus includes some terrific performances from a cast led by Toni Collette (Hereditary, The Sixth Sense), Adam Scott (Parks and Rec), and Emjay Anthony (Chef). The movie is a fun and sometimes scary romp with great special effects.

To All a Goodnight (1980)

If you're familiar with the exploitation genre, the name David Hess should be well-known to you. He's an actor who has starred in genre classics like Last House on the Left and House on the Edge of the Park. What you might not know about Hess is, apart from also being a songwriter/composer, he also directed one movie: To All a Good Night.

At a remote finishing school over Christmas break, several girls not going home for vacation decide to invite their boyfriends to stay with them and have a party. Once the guys arrive, they lace the housemother's milk with sedatives and get to partying. Unbeknownst to the youngsters, there's someone else at the school — and they're set on avenging their daughter's death at the school a few years prior. To All a Good Night covers a lot of the same ground other slashers do. It's a quirky low-budget movie full of first-time actors, and it's clear that Hess might been over his head a little bit, but don't let that stop you from seeking this one out. It's got everything you'd expect in a Christmas horror film — albeit one that's wrapped up with a lopsided bow.

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

Set in London, Don't Open Till Christmas is another holiday slasher — but this time, instead of a killer Santa Claus, the killer in this movie is a major humbug who's running around the city killing people dressed as Santa. Imagine hating Christmas so much that you want nothing more than to murder anyone dressed as Father Christmas? Meanwhile, a couple of New Scotland Yard detectives are investigating all the Santacides happening around town hoping to stop the masked killer before they strike again.

Actor Edmund Purdum (Pieces) stars in and directs this nasty little Christmas horror outing. The body count is high, and the kills are pretty clever. You'll never think of the lyric "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" the same way after watching Don't Open Till Christmas. Fans of Caroline Munro will be happy to know she makes a brief appearance as herself. This movie is in the vein of Italian giallo films, with its style of killings and the lurid nature of the kills themselves. It's all more than a little bit sleazy, so it's definitely not one you'll want to gather the family around the telly to watch after Christmas dinner.

Tales from the Crypt: And All Through the House (1972)

The anthology movie Tales from the Crypt contains five separate stories based on the EC Comics, all linked together by a wraparound tale. The Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson) meets with five people in his lair, telling the story of how each of them will die. The first story, the subject of this entry, is titled ...And All Through the House. Joan Collins (Dynasty) stars as a Joanne, a woman who has just committed a terrible crime on Christmas Eve. The radio announces there is a killer dressed as Santa on the loose; Joanne hears the killer outside her house, but she can't call the police for fear of being found out herself.

Although ...And All Through the House is only one of five stories in Tales from the Crypt, as a bonus watch, there's a standalone television episode of ...And All Through the House from the HBO series Tales from the Crypt, which aired as the second episode of the first season. Written by Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad) and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future), the story of the main character in this version is slightly different, but the outcome the same.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night (not to be confused with Silent Night, Bloody Night) is another entry on the list of Christmas slasher films containing a murderous Santa Claus — and, oh what an entry it is. Billy is scarred for life after witnessing his parents being murdered one Christmas Eve by a man dressed as Santa. The trauma of that incident, compounded by the abuse he's endured at the Catholic orphanage he's been at since he was five, has made Billy one messed-up young man. Once he leaves the orphanage, it doesn't take much to trigger Billy and turn him into a Santa suit-wearing homicidal maniac. The body count in this one is high and the murders themselves are quite effective.

Before the movie's release, protests were sparked due to the poster's graphic imagery of Santa holding an axe, thanks to some who felt the images and the movie itself would be too traumatizing for children. The studio ended up changing the advertising and, soon thereafter, pulled the movie from theaters altogether. The movie is pretty graphic, but it certainly wasn't intended for children. 

Whoever it might have been for, the target audience certainly wasn't critics. Gene Siskel went as far as reading the names of people involved in making the movie on air, saying "Shame on you." Despite the outrage, the movie spawned four sequels. Intrigued yet? While Silent Night, Deadly Night might not be the best movie on this list, it is definitely one you'll want to put on your watchlist if only to see what all the fuss was about.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

A true hidden gem, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale definitely deserves a place among the movies you watch every year at Christmas. The story is set in Finland just before Christmas, where an archeological dig unearths what the crew originally think is Santa Claus. It quickly becomes clear this thing is more like Krampus than Claus when children of the nearby village start disappearing; meanwhile, a father and son who run a nearly bankrupt reindeer slaughterhouse set out to capture Santa so they can sell him to the company that originated the dig in the first place.

Rare Exports works as a straight horror film, but it's also full of coal-black humor as well as a lot of mythological elements. The movie is beautiful to look at, taking advantage of the gorgeous landscape. The performances are great, led by Onni Tommila who plays the son, Pietari. The movie is both wacky and spooky, with just the right amount of gore to make it something you can watch with the older kids in the family.

3615 Code Père Noël (1989)

3615 Code Père Noël (Dial Code Santa Claus) finds a young boy, Thomas, home alone in his family's high-tech mansion taking care of his elderly grandfather on Christmas Eve. A disgruntled store Santa, fired by Thomas' mother, breaks into the mansion intent on killing the boy. Thomas manages to evade the maniac by booby-trapping the house while believing that this Santa is the real deal, and mad at him for staying up late to see him. This movie (known also as Game Over) was released one year before another little movie about a kid alone at home trying to fend off intruders, but 3615 Code Père Noël goes to lengths that Home Alone could only dream of. For one, there's an actual body count, as well as a fair amount of suspense. There isn't a dull moment in this one; you're with it from the beginning. The boy, played by Alain Lalanne, is wonderful as the wise-beyond-his-nine-years Thomas. This year, instead of rewatching Home Alone, why not throw on 3615 Code Père Noël? You'll be glad you did.

The Dorm that Dripped Blood (1982)

Another entry in the students-staying-behind-on-campus-during-Christmas-break horror trope popular for a time, The Dorm That Dripped Blood follows four students who stay on campus during the holiday in order to clean up a dorm that is going to be renovated. Unfortunately, the four (along with others who show up on campus) are being killed off by an unknown assailant. Naturally, the students try to stay alive and figure out who's trying to kill them.

For a low-budget budget movie shot by film students at UCLA, The Dorm That Dripped Blood is better than one might think. Yes, the premise is well-worn, but the movie tries to make up for that with some great gory effects and a non-typical ending. The score is also noteworthy, as it's the first from composer Christopher Young, who went on to score dozens of movies including several horror titles, such as Sinister and Drag Me to Hell. The film also marks the debut of future Melrose Place star Daphne Zuniga.