Our staff selects 12 of the best Christmas-themed episodes from horror/sci fi TV series — from standalone specials to well integrated storylines.
While we gleefully celebrate 25 Days of Holiday Horror this December with our favorite holiday horror films new and old, our incredible writing staff wanted to bring you another gift of Christmas cheer and fear. So, without further ado, we bring you this list of twelve very special holiday episodes of our favorite horror and sci-fi television series — from decades old classics to those of recent years, from the masters of horror to modern essentials.
We hope you enjoy this lovingly cultivated list. And, from our Morbidly Beautiful family to yours, may your holidays be merry, scary, and bright!
1. Supernatural: A Very Supernatural Christmas (Season 3, Ep. 8, Air Date: 12/13/2007)
Supernatural has become a fan favorite, clocking in at 13 seasons, with a 14th currently airing on the CW. And rightfully so. It’s chock full of likable characters, taboo subjects, and silliness — as well as its main message about the importance of family. The one and only Christmas themed episode, A Very Supernatural Christmas, is episode eight of the third season.
In usual Supernatural fashion, A Very Supernatural Christmas has Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) whisked away to a small town in need. In this episode, fathers are disappearing and the rumor is they’re being pulled up the chimney like Santa Claus. Kids are watching their dads being carted away in Santa’s sack. But is it Santa?
Alternating between present day, and Christmas Eve 1991, we are reminded of the Winchester’s childhood, and why Sam may be ‘the boy who hates Christmas,’ as Dean jokingly calls him.
What I have always liked about Supernatural is the consistency, in not only keeping my attention, and keeping the flow and feel of the show the same throughout 14 seasons, but also because of the rock and roll soundtrack — and creepiness that slowly settles in. And the Christmas episode is no different. There’s blood, demons, death…and that’s just the beginning. ‘Tis the season! (Tiffany Blem)
2. American Horror Story – Asylum: Unholy Night (Season 2, Ep. 8, Air Date: 12/5/2012)
Although this Christmas-themed episode of American Horror Story: Asylum brings as much Christmas cheer as you’d expect, it’s still a terrifying time.
The episode consists of several classic Christmas elements such as the beloved tree. However, this is American Horror Story, so the ornaments are made out of asylum patients’ hair and teeth. The normally cheerful Christmas carols turn into dark and heavy hymns that show there is a very thin line between a classic Christmas song and creepy background music. On top of that, the extravagant Christmas lights are what draw Santa Claus to his victims.
Ian McShane makes a guest appearance as the dreaded Santa Claus. He manages to be terrifying, yet maintains a charming demeanor similar to that of the classic Hannibal Lecter. Throughout the episode, he portrays a steel calmness and occasional philosophical disposition, yet he can flip into a rage of violence when suited – as we learned at the previous Christmas Party at Briarcliff Asylum.
What makes Santa so intriguing is that his backstory is somewhat understandable – putting on the suit and commanding its power helps him strip away his past trauma and victimhood. Although he is far from a purely sympathetic character. as he has killed eighteen people from five separate families on the (Christmas) night of his murder spree.
The episode itself is a clear achievement as it keeps true to the show’s overarching tone and story. Rather than taking a break from the season’s storyline, it integrates the plot points from this episode seamlessly into the greater narrative. Thus, it’s not purely a ‘Christmas episode’ but an episode that takes place over Christmas. (Claire Smith)
3. South Park: Woodland Critter Christmas (Season 8, Ep. 14, Air Date: 12/15/2004)
By far, my favorite take on Christmas horror from an episodic television program is South Park’s Woodland Critter Christmas. Narrated in the style of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and so many other holiday specials from our childhood, it is a wonderful and completely fucked-up spoof on children’s specials.
Stan is in the woods outside of South Park when he stumbles upon some adorable woodland creatures (like Skunky the Skunk and Beary the Bear) who are decorating their Christmas tree but don’t have a star. Stan is recruited to help make the star. Later that night, the critters show up in his room and explain that Porcupiney the Porcupine is about to give birth to their savior and they need Stan to build a manger.
Stan reluctantly agrees only to get get pulled further and further into their story when he must kill a mountain lion that always kills the virgin mother before she can give birth. Stan then learns that while, yes, the woodland critters are expecting a virgin birth, they are all satanic worshipers expecting the antichrist, and it is up to Stan and three mountain lion cubs to stop them.
Now imagine abortions, Kyle as an unbaptized human host, and a shotgun-wielding Santa to round out the story — all told through the mind of Eric Cartman.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker have created the ultimate Christmas special in Woodland Critter Christmas, combining elements of classic horror, social commentary, and crude humor into a little bit of perfection. Now in its 22nd season and the second longest running animated series (behind the Simpsons), you can find Woodland Critter Christmas and the other episodes of South Park streaming on Hulu or on southpark.cc.com. (Todd Reed)
4. Tales From the Crypt: And All Through the House (Season 1, Ep. 12, Air Date: 6/10/1989)
The second episode of the premier season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt was the Christmas-themed story, “And All Through The House.” Like many of the episodes from that first season, “And All Through The House” quickly became a classic episode of the series.
With a screenplay by Fred Dekker and directed by Robert Zemekis, “And All Through The House” is filled with black humor, plenty of blood, and murder. Elizabeth (Mary Ellen Trainor) murders her husband Joseph on Christmas Eve. She has some troubles getting rid of the body, but conveniently for her, a criminally insane and violent prisoner dressed in a Santa Claus suit (Larry Drake) has escaped a local asylum. Elizabeth plans to pin the murder on the escaped lunatic, but he has other plans. While the grim cat and mouse game plays out between Elizabeth and psycho Santa, Elizabeth’s daughter is eagerly waiting for Santa to arrive.
Christmas has plenty of go-to movies for fans of the holiday. Films like ELF, MIRACLE on 34TH STREET, and A CHRISTMAS STORY are in heavy rotation on TV channels during the month of December. For me, my Christmas viewings don’t really start until I watch “And All Through The House.”
The episode is filled with the kind of black humor I enjoy. Mary Ellen Trainor plays Elizabeth with a balanced mix of slasher final girl survivor, plotting murderess, and bumbling criminal. Larry Drake, who was best known for playing the mentally challenged Benny on the TV show L.A. Law, does an incredible and convincing portrayal of the murderous Santa. If you haven’t seen this episode of Tales From The Crypt, ‘tis the season to check out this classic story to get in the Christmas fear mood. (Patrick Krause)
5. Black Mirror: White Christmas (Season 2, Ep. 4, Air Date: 12/16/2014)
In the vein of the greatest genre anthology series like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Channel 4 in the United Kingdom debuted the Charlie Brooker created series, Black Mirror in 2011. After two seasons (3 episodes each) and this holiday special, Netflix purchased the rights to the episodes and have thus far created two six episode seasons (with a fifth season supposedly coming very soon).
If you haven’t watched the series in its entirety, I highly recommend you do so, but since it’s the holiday season, we’re focusing on the episode White Christmas —three interconnected stories that are nothing short of brilliant.
The episode opens with Matt (Jon Hamm) fixing a Christmas dinner for himself and his co-worker Joe (Rafe Spall) who have been stationed at a remote outpost for the past five years. Matt tries to get Joe to open up about his past, saying they’ve hardly spoken the entire time they’ve been there. Matt then proceeds to tell the story of what got him sent there.
Matt ran a side business of helping hapless losers pick up women (think of him as a high-tech Hitch). Using the Z-Eye (imagine if everyone had Google Glass implanted in their head), he (and a group of online pervs) helps Harry (Rasmus Hardiker) woo the quiet outsider. There’s reason “It’s always the quiet ones” is an expression. This leads Matt’s wife to block him with her Z-Eye which essentially erases her from his life — all he can see (even in pictures) is a blurred white noise image.
In the next story, Matt talks about his day job where he makes digital clones that are used to organize and manage people’s lives. Joe equates this to slavery, but it leads him to finally open up about his past.
Joe tells Matt about a relationship gone wrong after he finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant. After a fight, she blocks him, which means he can’t see her or the child. He becomes obsessed with seeing them, even in the white noise form, and follows them to her father’s cabin every Christmas just for that glimpse. When his ex dies and the block is lifted, he discovers a secret that she had been hiding.
The end sequence featuring Jon Hamm’s Matt is too good to give anything away, but it ties the whole episode together brilliantly. This season, don’t miss “White Christmas”. It is streaming on Netflix. (Todd Reed)
6. Tales From the Darkside: Seasons of Belief (Season 3, Ep. 11, Air Date: 12/29/1986)
If you have been around kids, you know there’s few things more fun than making up stories to entertain them and yourself. I have been known to come up with a few tall tales for my son from time to time.
In the Tales From The Darkside episode, “Seasons of Belief,” a mother and father played by Margaret Klenck and E.G. Marshall have two children who are at that age where they start to question everything, even the existence of Santa Claus. The kids are determined to watch Christmas movies on Christmas Eve night, but mom has different ideas and wants to have a classic family Christmas Eve. The children aren’t thrilled by this idea and admit they don’t believe in Santa anymore.
Mother and Father warn the children about being naughty, and start to come up with a story about a Krampus-like figure they call The Grither. Father tells the kids that the worst thing anyone can do is attract attention of this fearsome creature is to say its name, so he writes it down on a pad. Of course, the children begin to say “Grither” much to the feigned shock of the parents.
As the night goes on and the story continues, the children become more and more enthralled by the tale, forgetting that they wanted to watch TV and open their presents. As you might imagine, this being Tales From The Darkside, the family soon learns that they are doing a little more than reciting a made-up Christmas tale.
“Seasons Of Belief” is a solid, quirky Christmas fable. Being a syndicated cable show, Tales From The Darkside lacks violence and gore, but makes up for that with solid stories and well-cast episodes. If you can find this episode, it’s well worth making it part of your Christmas horror rotation and pairs well with KRAMPUS. (Patrick Krause)
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Amends (Season 3, Ep. 10, Air Date: 12/15/1998)
Vindication, forgiveness, and atonement aren’t common Christmas themes. They are, however, essential themes in the overall philosophy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A great tradition of network television shows is the yearly “Christmas episode”. In its seven seasons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer only really had one. And unlike other shows, it wasn’t a standalone episode. It was imbued with several character developments essential to the complete 144-episode story arc.
The central focus of the episode is on the vampire Angel and the sudden guilt he is assaulted with on Christmas Eve. Angel was once, long ago, the cruelest and most vicious vampire. After killing a member of the Clan Kalderash, they cursed him by returning to him his soul. That leaves him an immortal vampire, but with goodness and conscience, doomed to anguish forever over the terrible things he has done.
In “Amends” he is haunted by violent visions of his past victims, who tell him he will always be evil, can never truly be redeemed, and should kill himself. Overwhelmed with the sudden extreme guilt that is being forced upon him, he decides that not only does he deserve to die, but that all who he loves will be better off for it.
He stands at the tip of Kingman’s Bluff, just before the dawn of Christmas, awaiting the sun and intent on committing suicide. His former lover, Buffy, catches up to him and begs him to come back indoors. Panicked, tear-soaked, and desperate, she begs him to be brave and face his conscience, and his love for her. We get a generous helping of Joss Whedon’s raw and passionate dialogue:
ANGEL: I want you so badly! I want to take comfort in you and I know it will cost me my soul and part of me doesn’t care. Am I a thing worth saving? Am I a righteous man? The world needs me gone.
BUFFY: What about me? I love you so much. And I try to make you go away. I killed you (season two) and it didn’t help. And I hate it. I hate that it’s so hard. And that you can hurt me so much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. I wish that I wished you dead. But I don’t. I can’t. If I can’t convince you that you belong in this world, then I don’t know what can. But do not expect me to watch, and don’t expect me to mourn for you because…
And with that, it begins to snow, clouding up the sky, and Angel is spared. We learn that the cause of his visions was, in fact, The First Evil (future season seven big-bad). But even though there is a supernatural cause-and-effect at play here, true feelings of righteousness and love prevail in the story.
“Amends” reduced me to tears, serious ugly-cry, twice, and this wasn’t even one of the most devastatingly emotional episodes. Those have been responsible for so many sopping-wet t-shirts and pillows.
ALERT: we need a cleanup crew, there’s heartbreak in the Christmas section of aisle three.
This an example of the countless moments of pure humanity and feeling in the series. On the surface there may not be a special Christmas lesson, but like so many things in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, complex and endearing emotions add layers of tremendous importance to the story. (Jamie Marino)
8. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Back for Christmas (Season 1, Ep. 23, Air Date: 3/4/1956)
When I was growing up, my mom worked evenings and would not get home until very late. One of my favorite guilty pleasures was staying up late and watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents reruns after the news ended (we only had four stations in the pre-cable/VCR days). I loved seeing the mythological director bookend some of the best mini-stories this side of The Twilight Zone.
In its first season (1956), Alfred Hitchcock himself directed “Back for Christmas”. (He only directed seventeen of the 267 episodes.) John Williams and Isobel Elsom star as Herbert and Hermione Carpenter, a married English couple who are traveling to America for an extended vacation. Herbert is the stereotypical hen-pecked husband, only he has a darker side that we discover when he plans to murder his wife before they leave and bury her in the cellar. The episode opens with Herbert digging a hole in their cellar as he is planning on building a wine cellar.
In true Hitchcockian fashion, the story is superbly set up. Elsom is given time to to set up her character, but masterfully balances her character so not to come off as completely hateful. Williams does the same, creating sympathy despite his villainous intentions.
During a farewell dinner party with friends, Herbert drops hints that they may be staying in America, despite Hermione’s protestations that they will be back for Christmas. After they leave, Herbert lures Hermione into the cellar where he carries out his plan.
By today’s standards, the story isn’t the most original (though it has a lovely twist ending), it is based on a 1939 story by John Collier, a prolific storyteller whose works inspired several Alfred Hitchcock episodes and even wrote Green Thoughts, the story that would inspire Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors. Back for Christmas was also remade in the 1970s for Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. You can stream this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and others on Hulu. (Todd Reed)
9. The X-Files: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (Season 6, Ep. 6, Air Date: 12/13/1998)
“The X-Files” is one of the most revered and classic shows in the history of network television. Influenced by shows like “The Night Stalker” and “The Prisoner,” creator Chris Carter’s show mixed horror, sci-fi, and conspiracy stories that captivated audiences over 12 seasons. But over all those seasons, the show didn’t really do many holiday themed episodes. But in season six, Chris Carter wrote and directed the Christmas-themed How The Ghosts Stole Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, Mulder (David Duchovny) convinces Scully (Gillian Anderson) to meet him at an abandoned house in Maryland. Mulder explains that the house is purported to be haunted and tells Scully the story of two lovers who made a lovers’ pact to die together on Christmas. Now the ghosts of those lovers haunt the house on Christmas Eve. Mulder wants to investigate the haunting, and Scully just wants to go home and finish her Christmas wrapping. Guess who wins out.
Once inside the house, Mulder and Scully meet an elderly couple: Maurice (Ed Asner) and Lydia (Lily Tomlin). Maurice and Lydia are ghosts, and they have the ability to alter the perception of reality. Their ultimate plan is to trick Mulder and Scully into killing each other before Christmas morning.
How The Ghosts Stole Christmas is a stand-alone, monster-of-the-week episode of “The X-Files,” meaning it doesn’t pertain to the show’s overall alien/government conspiracy mythology. Fans, I think, would agree that these stand-alone episodes are the strength of the show, and this Christmas-themed episode is no different. The episode has astounding performances from guest stars Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner. Their performance is so strong that the couple outshine the show’s stars, Mulder and Scully.
How The Ghosts Stole Christmas is a worthy addition to your Christmas watch rotation. It’s one of the strongest episodes of season six of “The X-Files.” It doesn’t advance the mythology, but the episode is held together by superb performances by the guest stars and the strong chemistry of Mulder and Scully. (Patrick Krause)
10. The Addams Family: Christmas With the Addams Family (Season 2, Ep. 15, Air Date: 12/24/1965)
One of the true joys of growing up in the 60s for any horror fan was The Addams Family. Most of you reading this are too young to have watched all the original episodes. You probably enjoyed the equally creepy and wonderful Addams Family films.
Despite the dorky laugh track though, the original Addams Family started my love for horror. I wanted to live in their house so bad!
The family belief system was diverse, and they had no boundaries in their acceptance of the supernatural, witches, or monsters — those were all members of their immediate family! So, Christmas? Well, in Season Two they tackled the big ho, ho, holiday…and pulled it off well.
Always a strange yet loving family, Gomez and Morticia want to assure that little Wednesday and Pugsley get a visit from Santa. Working together, they do their creepy comic best to preserve the children’s hearts and not let them be disappointed by Santa being a no show at their house. Santa is the one fairy tale they weren’t sure really existed.
It is a good episode, and I fell in love with the whole Addams clan all over again. You will too! If you want to enjoy this special holiday episode of everyone’s favorite creepy and kooky family, I was able to find and watch it on YouTube. You can also find a wonderful tribute to series creator Charles Addams’ original cartoons celebrating the season with the Addams Family. Check it out below. (Vicki Woods)
11. The Munsters: The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas (Made for TV Movie, Air Date: 12/17/1996)
I went into The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas with very low expectations, which is probably why I enjoyed it. The original Munsters show, which aired from 1964 to 1966, is iconic mainly because of its cast. Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo, Al Lewis, Butch Patrick and to an extent, Pat Priest and Beverley Owen, defined who the Munsters were. Unfortunately they defined them so well that it’s nearly impossible to recreate (or is that resurrect) The Munsters without them.
Thankfully The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas does not have this problem, and even if it did such a criticism would be moot. My only criticism for The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas is…well… it’s bad. In a good way! But bad.
Horror fans have long understood and (for the most part) embraced the so bad it’s good. From Birdemic: Shock and Terror to Plan 9 from Outer Space the horror genre is filled to the brim with clunkers that still manage to work on some level (even if it’s a very low level).
In The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas Eddie Munster is miserable. He’s homesick for Transylvania, he’s being bullied, and he just can’t get into the Christmas spirit. Herman, Lily and the rest of the Munster Family do their very best to lift Eddie’s spirits, but to no avail. At least not until a high Grandpa accidentally summons Santa and two of his pervy elves (you heard correctly).
What follows is a softly raunchy Munsters adventure that sees Santa getting transformed into a sentient fruit cake (or was that plum pudding?), bikers pulling Santa’s sleigh, and poor Marilyn finally finding love (what???). It’s all here folks! You can check IMDB, but Andy Milligan had already been gone for five years by the time this festive fiasco premiered. (Glenn Tolle)
12. The Twilight Zone: Night of the Meek (Season 2, Ep. 11, Air Date: 12/23/1960)
Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year! Tell that to the downtrodden, the have-nots, and the meek. That’s who this story was always about, in true Rod Serling fashion. This late season 2 episode of The Twilight Zone is one of those few Serling episode written outings that leave a smile on your face as opposed to the usual bleak offerings.
We’re introduced to Mr. Henry Corwin (who you may recognize as the Honeymooner’s Art Carney) dressed as Santa Clause. He is filling his Holiday with the liquid kind of spirits. He stumbles into the street, where he is greeted by some sad poor children who think he’s the real Santa and begin to go over their Christmas list: “a job for daddy” says a little girl, “a great big turkey dinner” says another little boy.
This makes Henry openly weep. He heads back to his vocation as a department store Santa. When he hilariously falls onto a pile of presents as a child is going over his Christmas wish list, the inebriated Saint Nick faces swift and immediate termination.
On his way out, Henry admits to his berating boss that he is in fact a drunk — but confesses that he drinks because, as of late, he is having difficulty in expressing emotions. As a result, he only has two clear choices in life: he can either drink or he can weep. Drinking being the subtler choice. He goes on to express that Christmas is not about rushing through department stores like consumerism-driven maniacs. Rather, it’s about charity and compassion.
Henry confesses that he is a relic of an old time living in a tiny old tenement filled with hungry shabby people. He concludes his glorious exit speech by reminding himself and his now ex boss that he also drinks so that when he walks down his dark and poverty-stricken tenements, he feels like those poor starving children are elves and he’s Santa sent to bring them a sliver of holiday happiness.
“To see the hopeless ones, the dreamless ones, the meek inherit the Earth!” That’s why he drinks, and why he weeps. This speech was so masterfully executed by Carney, and it is worth another watch for this alone.
We see Corwin back out stumbling through the tenements when he hears the all too familiar sound of jingle Bells coming from above. He then finds a sack filled to the brim with gifts in a nearby alley. He immediately begins handing out gifts when we discover that the bag conjures up whatever you desire. He hands out gifts until the bag is void of contents.
Mr. Corwin sits exhausted when a man walks out and states that he gave everyone a gift but himself. Henry jovially tells the man that he doesn’t mind one bit and that the greatest gift would be to be able to do this every year. With that, he makes his exit and steps into the same alley where he found the magic bag. But this time, he finds a sled with some familiar looking reindeer. Out pops an elf who informs him that they have a lot of preparations in order for next year, and he flies away christened the new Santa Claus.
This turned out to not be as horror filled as I remembered growing up. But I’m sure there are many of us horror fans reading this who are on the fringes of society. Facing the holidays yet another year, wishing for some holiday magic.
What better way to end this then with Serling’s closing statements: “A word to the wise, to all the children of the 20th century. Whether their concerns be pediatrics, or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers, or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas, and there’s a special power reserved for the little people; in short there’s nothing mightier than the meek, and a merry Christmas to each and all!!!” (Joe Quinones)