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The Twelve Frights of Christmas: A Dozen Deadly Holiday Horror Films

Do you prefer to fill your stockings with severed feet? Picture Santa as a voyeuristic psychopath? If you prefer your eggnog with a splash of blood, then check out these Twelve Frights of Christmas -- and, if your appetite for yuletide carnage is sufficiently whetted, you can check them out at the Brattle Theatre's "Ho-ho-horrors!" film line-up this week.

12. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Playing at the Brattle Theatre on Saturday, December 12 at 10 pm

First: This movie has one of the best movie posters ever, promising so many great Christmas terrors. The concept for this film is so awesomely offensive that angry parents picketed and got it yanked from theaters. So it's got to be great, right? You'd imagine that Silent Night, Deadly Night would be full of mayhem and more severed limbs than Santa's sack can hold. And you'd be half right. Unfortunately the movie takes forever to get going. It starts off well, and then we get 40 minutes of build-up showing why the killer is about to go apeshit and axe-happy. Establishing motive is great and all, but this gets tedious and boring, and it cuts into the slaughterin' time. When the kills finally get going, they're pretty cool, and the ending is great, but the whole thing is less than the sum of its body parts.

11. Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater: Vol. 3 (2006)

Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater: Vol. 3 is an anthology horror film, and its first tale, The Present, features a college Christmas party terrorized by a sadistic St. Nick. There is dancing, there are familiar Christmas icons, and there are tons and tons of gore. The plot is pretty standard slasher stuff, and the whole thing is kind of dull and difficult to follow. But if you are just in it for the blood and guts, hang this one under your tree.

10. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

OK, so the body count in this movie is zero, the gore is nonexistent, it isn't really scary, and -- at this point -- it's well-trodden ground. This is still a great Christmas horror film. Kidnapping St. Nick, man-eating presents, a skeletal St. Nick in flames, canceling Christmas -- this is has yuletide terror written all over it. On second thought, if you are young enough, The Nightmare Before Christmas will probably fuck you up a bit. But so will Wall-E. Bring it on!

9. Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
Playing at the Brattle Theatre on Sunday, December 13 at 10 pm

A twist on the standard Christmas slasher: this time, someone hates Santa and kills anyone dressed like St. Nick. This film has some of the most amazing kills in any Christmas horror film. Santas get killed by (in no particular order): a spear through the face, a point-blank gunshot to the mouth (with massive exit wound), face roasting on an open fire, and many more. The body count in this one is quite high - I stopped counting the dead Santas at 11. One unlucky Santa even gets castrated. Finally, genital mutilation in a christmas film, and this yuletide penis chopping is everything you could hope for.

The same can't be said for the story. The script and storytelling in this movie are bafflingly bad. It's a whodunit, but the only thing that keeps the audience from guessing the killer's identity is the lackluster narrative. Unfortunately this bogs down many points of the story, so at times this film becomes an endurance test. But if you can sit through the slow parts, Don't Open Till Christmas really delivers.

8. Futurama: "Xmas Story" (1999)

In the future, Christmas has been replaced with "Xmas," and celebration has been replaced by pure terror. Robot Santa Claus (voiced by John Goodman) malfunctions and judges everyone naughty, spreading death and destruction on his annual killing spree, while violating every Asimovian robot rule in the book -- he'll "tear off your skin like wrapping paper, and deck the halls with your guts." The episode culminates with everyone singing "Santa Claus is Gunning You Down," a catchy tune if I ever heard one. It might not be the goriest entry on this list, but "Xmas Story" delivers a twisted take on the holiday. And isn't that what the Christmas horror movie spirit is all about?

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Yes, this movie airs on ABC Family and made has made a gazillion dollars, but it's still creepy as hell. First off, this film is is conceptually horrific: Dr. Seuss's original story is about the unimportance of Christmas consumerism, and this movie was a merchandising shitstorm. But even if that doesn't bother you, the makeup and costumes are downright terrifying. I can't watch more than five minutes of this without recoiling in pure horror.

6. Treevenge (2008)

Have you ever wondered what Christmas trees think of the holiday season? For them, Christmas is already a horror movie. They have been abused, hacked limb from limb, and humiliated for years, and they're not going to take it anymore. Treevenge is a short that's played at a ton of film festivals, won a bunch of awards, and became an all-around festival favorite. It's easy to see why -- from the Cannibal Holocaust-ish music to one of the most unsavory (and absurd) eyeball-goring scenes in recent memory, this is high-quality holiday horror. This film features some incredible bloodletting, including a great twist on the typical "people killed during sex" scene. Treevenge does feel a bit unbalanced, but overall it really delivers the goods.

5. Christmas Evil (1980)

John Waters called this his favorite Christmas film, and if it's good enough for John Waters, then it's good enough for the rest of us. Christmas Evil is a shocking, brooding slasher -- think Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer with nutcrackers and tinsel. It plumbs the depths of Christmas depravity and Santa madness that Silent Night, Deadly Night strove for but never achieved. This genius of Christmas Evil is that it takes all the staples of Santa's mythology and emphasizes their inherent creepiness. "He knows when you've been sleeping" is much more sinister when the guy watching has a pair of binoculars and is about to go off the deep end.

4. Tales From the Crypt: "And All Through the House"

Based on the "Vault of Horror" comic book, "And All Through the House" is an incredible story. A woman kills her husband on Christmas Eve, and thinks she's committed the perfect crime ... until an escaped mental patient dressed like St Nick shows up and ruins her plans. This tale has been done twice: in the feature film Tales From the Crypt (1972) and on the HBO series (1989). The story is airtight and inherently creepy, so either one delivers the scares, but the HBO version is far superior in many ways: The camerawork is creepier, thanks to cinematographer Dean Cundey, the genius who filmed Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing; and the makeup is first-rate (the blood in the 1972 movie version looks suspiciously like house paint). But what really separates the HBO version from its lesser predecessor is the tension: screenwriter Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps) and director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) milk the situation for every last juicy bit of horror, drawing out the tension and delivering on the scares. An all-around great story.

3. Santa's Slay (2005)
If you want zany, over-the-top Santa violence, then look no further. Imagine, if you will: Chris Kattan, Fran Drescher, and James Caan sit down to a Christmas feast. They all bitch at each other and act like assholes. Then Santa Claus bursts through the chimney and starts kicking ass. Oh yeah, and he's played by former WWE superstar Bill Goldberg. This is truly one of the best Santa killing scenes in film history, and they manage to pull it off with style and humor. And that's just the opening -- the movie only gets better from there.

2. Jack Frost (1996)

No, not the unintentionally disturbing Jack Frost about Michael Keaton's spirit stuck in that friendly dad-snowman. This Jack Frost is a snowman who is inhabited by the spirit of a psycho killer. This is the ultimate killer snowman movie (a short list, to be sure). Equal parts over-the-top humor and creative violence, it has it all -- death by tree-trimming, terrible puns, and Mr. Frost raping Shannon Elizabeth to death. The story's paced beautifully, keeping the plot moving and the kills coming. Stylistically, it draws a lot from Evil Dead 2, which is always a good thing. Sure, the snowball suit looks ridiculous, and it's obvious they filmed it in the summertime, but the cheesy production values only add to the fun.

1. Black Christmas (1974)
Screening at the Brattle Theatre, Saturday December 12 at midnight

One of the best horror films ever made, Christmas or otherwise. Black Christmas was directed by Bob Clark, famous for a very different Christmas classic: A Christmas Story. (Clearly, this guy had some serious Christmas issues -- "You'll put your eye out," indeed.) Black Christmas is one of the gory granddadies of the American slasher film, and helped to solidify the formula along with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. Very tense, creepy, and suspenseful, Black Christmas tells the tale of sorority girls stalked by a shadowy madman. This film was the first slasher to use the "killer cam" technique made famous by Halloween, and does a masterful job of it -- the use of an ultra-wide angle lens, a rarity in killer-cam films, adds a unique tone. Creepy phone calls, death by plastic bag, and murder with a glass unicorn are just some of the treats shoved in the Black Christmas stocking. The story is ballsy and well-written, the acting is great, and the ending is ... well, just awesome. An incredible yuletide terror tale full of tension and suspense.

--Michael Neel

Michael Neel is the director and co-creator of
Drive-In Horrorshow, an anthology horror film comprised of five terrifying tales. Drive-In Horrorshow is playing for free on Saturday, December 12, at 7 pm at The Video Underground in Jamaica Plain. For more info on DIHS and a filmmaker's blog, visit

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