10 of the Scariest Christmas Films
We’ll all be getting our fill of festive films over the Christmas holidays, that’s for sure, but while feel-good films are an important part of any family Christmas, what if you fancy something altogether different from the usual, happy Christmas fare?
If you want something more Satan than Santa, we’ve got a selection of recommendations for anyone who feels like being scared out of their wits this Christmas. Below you can find our pick of the 10 scariest festive films you’re ever likely to see...
The Day of The Beast
This black comedy-horror from Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia provides more laughs than scares, but there is a lot of gory, gratuitous violence and it’s one of the better Christmas horror films you’re likely to see. The story revolves around three oddball characters; a death metal salesman, the host of a television show about the occult and a Catholic priest. The unlikely trio come together when the latter discovers that the Antichrist is due to be born on Christmas Day. Trouble is, it’s already Christmas Eve, and so the trio unite and hatch a bizarre plan to prevent his birth. Violent, dark and very, very funny, this is definitely a film worth watching if you fancy some grim festive laughter.
This isn’t the first time we’ve found ourselves recommending this disturbing festive gem around this time of year, but it bears repeating because this is one of our favourite Christmas films ever and there’s nothing else quite like it. Rare Exports takes its cue from a blend of the tradidtional Santa Claus and Krampus, the legendary figure originating from some parts of Europe who is an altogether less jolly character than the cuddly western version of Santa we’ve come to know. When efforts to dig into a nearby mountain uncover more than the drilling contractors had bargained for, a local community suddenly finds its cattle and animals being slaughtered in the night by some unknown creature. When they manage to catch the being responsible for the carnage, they believe they have captured Santa Claus, but the truth is far, far worse than they had imagined. Directed by Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander, this is not what you’d call traditional, but we can’t recommend it highly enough.
In the Netherlands, Christmas traditions are a little different and it’s December 5th that is designated as the day of giving presents, on what is known as Saint Nicholas’ Eve. It’s this idea that forms the basis for this Dutch horror film from director Dick Maas, but in this version Santa is a murderous ghost who arrives once every 32 years, when a full moon coincides with December 5th. When he does, lots of people end up dead. It’s more a black comedy than a straight-up horror, but there’s lots of gory violence in this low-budget fright-fest.
One of the more recent films on our list, this 2015 horror from Michael Dougherty centres around a young boy called Max who angrily renounces Christmas after the festive day with his dysfunctional family leaves him disillusioned, but his rage accidentally summons the evil sprit of Krampus, an ancient demon that offers another variation on the ‘evil Santa’ theme and awakens from his slumber to punish the non-believers. Worth a look if you fancy something newer to scare yourself silly this Christmas.
Last Stop on the Night Train
Alternatively known as Night Train Murders, Don’t Ride On Late Night Trains, The New House on the Left and Xmas Massacre, as well as many others, for reasons of translation this Italian horror has gone by almost as many different titles as it has actors in its cast, but that’s because it’s a bit of a cult classic that has worked its way around over the years. Directed by little-known Italian Aldo Lado, the film is based around two young students named Margaret and Lisa who are making their way home for Christmas on the long train ride from Munich to their parents’ homes in Italy. Their journey soon turns into a nightmare however when a series of murders reveal a killer in their midst. It does feel a little bit dated, but it is also pretty stylish and boasts an excellent soundtrack from none other than Ennio Morrricone.
This low-budget Christmas horror with a simple but effective plot is one of the scarier seasonal films you’ll find out there. Reaper’s Ray Wise stars as Frank Harrington, a man in the middle of a gruelling overnight Christmas Eve drive to his mother’s house for the big day with his wife and two children. It’s a journey he’s made many times, but this year he’s weary from the constant arguing between his teenage kids and decides to take a short cut, a route he hasn’t taken in 20 years, and one that proves to be deadly. Also starring Lin Shaye, Mick Cain and Alexandra Holden, this film by Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa is often witty and sharp, as well as containing some proper jump-out-of-your-skin moments. It’s a bit silly at times, but it’s good macabre festive fun.
The City of Lost Children
The first thing to say about The City of Lost Children is that it’s visually stunning. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the men responsible for Delicatessen, the Christmas connection here is little tenuous as it’s never specifically referred to by any of the film’s characters, but the film does begin with a nightmarish scene featuring lots of Santa Clauses and there’s a fairytale feel to the whole thing. Starring Ron Perlman alongside Jeunet regulars like Jean-Claude Dreyfuss and Dominique Pinon, the film tells the story of an insane scientist who is kidnapping children and using his inventions to steal their dreams in the hope it will slow his ageing process. Featuring a captivating storyline, arresting cinematography and a brilliant score by Angelo Badalamenti, this isn’t the scariest festive flick on our list, but it’s one of the darkest and most bewitching.
A Christmas Horror Story
This 2015 film from directors Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan is essentially an anthology of short and terrifying festive tales, strung together by a radio host played by William Shatner, who acts as a narrator. The stories take in a young woman haunted by the ghost of a woman killed by nuns, a police officer substituted by a changeling unbeknownst to his family and a brother and sister being hunted down by Krampus. Even Santa himself isn’t safe, discovering that his elves have become infected with a virus that transforms them into murderous monsters. Not as scary as some on our list, but still worth a look.
The Melancholy Fantastic
Not so much outright scary as deeply disturbing, The Melancholy Fantastic stars emerging talent Amy Crowdis alongside Gotham’s Robin Lord Taylor and tells the story of Melanie, a girl troubled by loneliness who keeps herself company with a sinister, life-size doll. When a young man named Dukken takes a shine to Melanie it seems she may finally have found a connection with someone, but the doll exerts a strange influence on her and seems to have taken a dislike to her new friend. While it has a holiday setting, it isn’t really very Christmassy, but it sure is unnerving and it’s very beautifully shot in places.
Although a re-imagined version of this film arrived fairly recently in 2012, for sheer, all-out terror we’d advise you to stick with the 1974 original from Canadian director Bob Clarke. The girls living in a sorority house begin receiving malicious phonecalls and they soon discover the tale of a disturbed killer who murdered his family in that very house. Now it appears he’s on the loose again and he’s looking to return home. A proper, grimy 1970s slasher film, this has become a bit of a cult favourite and it’s probably the scariest festive film we’ve ever laid eyes on.