Christmas and horror have been an unlikely (but winning) combination for decades. Now, scary movies set during the holidays are a thriving subgenre. Here are 10 of the best Christmas horror movies you can check out to add some fear to your holidays.
Anna and the Apocalypse
Definitely the world’s only zombie Christmas musical-comedy, this resourceful, low-budget Scottish production is like Glee meets Shaun of the Dead. The plot follows a group of teenage outcasts who must fend off the undead the day before Christmas break.
The teen characters are appealing and relatable, even before they’re being chased by zombies. The movie also creatively incorporates the Christmas setting (it turns out a giant candy cane is great for crushing zombie skulls). Plus, the soundtrack is full of Broadway-caliber songs, staged in full-on musical numbers that continue throughout all the killing.
Better Watch Out
What starts as a misguided teen romance turns delightfully demented in this twisty thriller, which is sort of a horror version of Home Alone. Levi Miller stars as a seemingly sweet 12-year-old who has a crush on his slightly older babysitter (Olivia DeJonge). He attempts to protect her during a Yuletide home invasion.
However, the dynamic shifts in the first of several plot reversals, and the kid’s innocent crush is revealed to be something much more sinister. The filmmakers make familiar, feel-good holiday comedy elements quite grotesque.
Bob Clark’s 1974 horror movie about a killer stalking the residents of a sorority house over Christmas break is one of the earliest slasher movies. It’s also one of the first to be set during Christmas, making it a genre trailblazer twice over.
It’s eerie and unsettling, with strong performances from Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Andrea Martin as the main sorority sisters. There was a forgettable remake in 2006, but the 2019 version, directed by Sophia Takal, smartly updates the story with themes about toxic masculinity and college rape culture.
A bunch of unruly kids in the house for Christmas might sound great, until they’re all running around causing chaos. It’s also bad if those children are infected with a mysterious substance that makes them homicidal, which is what happens in this slow-burn British horror movie.
The children’s behavior starts to degrade within the believable bounds of immaturity. Gradually, though, it becomes more dangerous until it’s far too late for the adults to escape. The filmmakers throw in some surprisingly effective adult drama along with the pint-sized killers, which creates more emotional investment for the audience.
A deranged killer who dresses as Santa Claus is the plot of plenty of bargain-basement Christmas slasher movies, but Christmas Evil is more of a psychological thriller. It pays uncommon attention to the underlying trauma of its main character (Brandon Maggart).
A sort of tragic figure, driven by his extreme, childlike love of Christmas, he only resorts to violence when he meets any resistance to spreading good cheer. There’s grit and pathos in this story that carries through to its bizarrely hopeful, magical-realist ending.
Dangerously cute little monsters terrorize a small town on Christmas Eve in this enduring favorite. It’s somehow become a go-to family movie, despite all the murder and mayhem. It’s hard to get mad at the raucous green gremlins, who get just as excited about watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as they when destroying property and killing people.
Director Joe Dante drew on his love of B-movie creature features to create the gremlin invasion that wreaks havoc on a charming, sleepy little hamlet that usually embodies Christmas coziness.
There’s been a glut of low-budget horror movies in recent years involving Krampus, the demonic counterpart to Santa Claus popular in some European countries. Michael Dougherty’s darkly comedic take is easily the best of them. He manages to turn family togetherness into a sort of eternal purgatory.
Krampus is loosed on an extended family, and the squabbling members must then band together to fight the evil presence. There are strong performances from Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, and David Koechner, along with some eerie atmosphere.
Micro-budget Christmas horror movies have cluttered streaming services in recent years. However, Ryan Nelson’s scrappy production rises above the pack with likable performances and a cheerfully gruesome tone.
This film enthusiastically embraces alternative main course options for Christmas dinner. When a lonely office drone is invited to the home of his pretty coworker, he soon discovers he might be more than just a guest.
The pun in the title is indicative of the ridiculousness in store in this exuberantly campy movie. Santa Claus (former pro wrestler Bill Goldberg) is the son of Satan. He’s finally been released from a 1,000-year curse that bound him to bring joy and gifts instead of murder and death every Christmas.
Now Santa’s finally free to go on a killing spree and deliver silly one-liners, like a Christmas Freddy Krueger. Set in Canada, the movie culminates in a major showdown that involves curling. It also features mutant reindeer and exploding Christmas presents. The filmmakers know just how cartoonish it all is and have a blast with the absurdity.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
This 1984 slasher launched what’s probably the only enduring Christmas-horror franchise (there have been four sequels and a reboot, thus far). Due to a series of Christmas-related traumas during his rough childhood, Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) finally snaps while working at a toy store at Christmas.
Donning a Santa suit, he starts picking off random victims. The movie’s unapologetic nastiness (including a violent finale at an orphanage) inspired protests at the time of release. Now, it just feels like a typical slasher movie with some extra humbug.