One theme, five killer films. We get festive with five holiday horror gifts you may have missed, ranging from the truly magical to the awful(ly) fun.
Thanksgiving just ended, and the holiday shopping blitz has begun. That can only mean one thing for horror fans: time to break out those seasonal slashers and ho ho horror classics. And while there are plenty of genuine gems to fill your holiday watch wish list, we humbly recommend adding a few lesser known cinematic gifts this year. While we can’t promise each of the following five films is what you’d describe as elevated art, we can promise a pretty great time — especially if you embrace the insanity and let the ridiculousness warm your heart like a cozy Christmas fire.
If you’re looking for a little holiday cheer (with a side of fear and joyful jeers), consider cozying up with one of these five films.
1. Elves (1989)
What’s worse than an evil elf? An evil elf that is part of a Nazi world domination plot. That and more are in store for you when you watch Elves.
Around this time last year, I discovered what soon became one of my favorite low-budget Christmas-themed horror films of all time. Elves has one of the strangest plots I have ever encountered. An ancient evil is planned to be bred with an unknowing Nazi offspring, so that she may give birth to the superior race of elf/human hybrids. Also, Grizzly Adams (Dan Haggerty) is our protagonist.
Because I previously covered this film in depth for Morbidly Beautiful’s “50 Years of Holiday Horror” series, I’m going to keep this recommendation brief to avoid repeating myself. But let me just summarize by saying that Elves is one of the most entertaining holiday horror films you’ve likely never seen. It’s a seasonal viewing must — perfectly encapsulating whatever creative genius was stirring during the 80s era of horror filmmaking.
Since discovering this movie, I have watched it almost a half dozen times. Each time it gets better and more fun. Pair it with your favorite holiday cocktail, and you’ll see why I rank this a certified joy to the world. (4.5/5)
2. Ugly Sweater Party (2018)
A bizarre bloodbath befalls a Christian camp during what should be a fairly uneventful ugly sweater party. We follow the story of two idiot friends on their way to hopefully spread some holiday cheeks. Ugly Sweater Party is, at its core, a bro horror movie — chock full of sexual innuendos, dick and fart jokes, and over-the-top acting. You’ll know exactly what kind of movie you’re watching within the first five minutes.
The movie begins in a Christmas-themed interrogation room. Strapped to the chair is a demonic, Christmas Eve murdering psychopath donned in an evil ugly sweater. After his planned death, he possesses the sweater and drives anyone who wears it to commit acts of evil. That’s the entire plot. Sprinkle in some gay jokes and digs at Christian camps, then add a heaping of crude humor, and you’ve got Ugly Sweater Party.
Most of the story takes place at the questionable Camp Mandix, a therapy-based Christian camp. Born again Christians host an ugly sweater party in hopes of curing their herpes. Instead, it turns into a bloodbath that only a best-friend and a psychic/sensitive Goth girl can overcome. Oh, there is also a futuristic laser cannon created by the metal head ex-groundskeeper that is used to murder a few camp goers. The groundskeeper might also be possessed, but this time by shitty demonic metal music. That is never really fully explained, but it also never really needs to be — because the rest of the movie is such a mess.
While far from a masterpiece, it’s worth watching simply because of how bizarre it is. The gore is actually surprisingly good. Throw in cult horror icon Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) as a camp counselor, and you have the makings of a pretty good time. Just make sure to grab few drinks before joining this Party. (2.5/5)
3. Shelved (2016)
One of Santa’s recon elves goes crazy and terrorizes a family in Ohio. The elf is 100% just an elf on the shelf that the movie producers gave an angry face. Most of the elf’s movement is done by hand, so half its body is often not in shots. The very limited CGI is laughable, but not at all out of place.
The biggest problems with this film are sound mixing and set lighting. The audio often sounds like it was recorded with a phone and then played back and recorded again. There’s also distracting background noise and an echo at times. As for lighting, the entire film seems to be shot in low light or with a lower resolution camera. But if you can look past these technical issues, you may find the movie has enough heart to keep from being completely unwatchable.
The biggest strengths come from the honest acting and the filmmaker’s willingness to fully embrace the ridiculous premise. None of the actors will likely win any awards for this movie, but that doesn’t stop the viewer from being absorbed into their performances. It can be best described as cheesy commercial acting; good enough to get the job done but a little over the top at times.
Shelved is a Christmas movie, and it doesn’t let you forget that fact. Without the backdrop of the holiday, this movie doesn’t work. And, honestly, it shouldn’t work.
Somehow, there’s enough holiday magic and charm to keep this from feeling like a complete waste of time. I’d call it the perfect late night, “watch as you’re falling asleep” kind of film — just good enough to keep you entertained without thinking too much. (2.5/5)
4. Christmas Twister (2013)
Much like the dangerous weather phenomenon this film is named after, Christmas Twister sucks on an F5 level.
Christmas Twister is a movie that just happens to take place around Christmas. You could have this movie take place literally any time of the year, and it would make sense. So, right off the bat, it fails the Christmas movie litmus test. The climax takes place in a mall. If you tilt your head and squint hard enough, you might see a Santa Claus and some holiday shoppers. But viewers will likely be far too distracted by the gigantic CGI mess that is the aptly named Christmas Twister.
Seemingly random at times, the skies become filled with dark splotches from which a CGI affront to the eyes appears. But in this terrible CGI disaster lies the only reason this movie is continuously watchable. It is fucking hilarious. In fact, every time there were twisters on screen, I could barely contain my laughter.
Besides the visual catastrophe, the real holiday treat in this film is Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers) playing our hero, meteorologist Ethan. Ethan discovers the holiday-ruining supercell and tries to squash it like a bug. Actually, he warns some people who don’t listen and then saves his children at the mall. It was really fun getting to see him in action, as he brings the same smoldering intensity to every role he has.
To be honest, I’d tell most people to stay far away from Christmas Twister. So why is it on this list? Because fans of cheesy disaster movies will likely love this beautiful mess.
It’s endlessly entertaining, even if it is a pile of smoldering rubbish. If you go in knowing what to expect with the right frame of mind, you might have a lot of fun with this one. (2/5)
5. Silent Night (2012)
Silent Night (2012) was touted as a loose remake of the cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night. But Silent Night only borrows the killer Santa concept from the classic holiday horror, while giving the story a completely new spin. This approach rewards viewers with one of the Christmas goriest slasher films I know.
The premise is simple. A mysterious Santa clad killer mows down all those who are naughty. It’s an idea that has been explored many different ways within many different films. Often, these films fall flat and fade into oblivion. But Silent Night does just enough right to earn its place on your regular holiday watchlist.
Taking a more Fargo-like approach to the story, Silent Night shifts the focus to a winter clothing clad police force investigating the case of the killer Santa terrorizing their sleepy town. Silent Night is an almost perfect slasher/thriller that will satisfy fans of either movie style. Best of all, it fully immerses itself into the Christmas theme. While it never reaches Saw levels of gore, it does showcase some phenomenally executed holiday-themed kills.
From Christmas light electrocution to a scantily clad wood chipper bloodbath, Silent Night never holds back. Hell, they even kill a kid, something that’s often an unspoken taboo in horror films.