This holiday season, we gift you with a list of more than twenty must-see Christmas horror films — from eerie essentials to hidden treasures.
It’s a very special bonus episode of the Untold Horrors podcast. Instead of mining the depths of Tubi for buried genre gifts like we usually do, we’re wrapping the year with a discussion of our favorite holiday horror films — from essential classics to hidden gems to modern must-see movies.
We take turns sharing the films we consider among the all-time best, those we love that we think not enough people have seen or know about (hopefully unearthing some buried treasure for you), and a bevy of bonus picks that we couldn’t neglect giving some love to.
Read on for a rundown of the films we discuss, which doubles as a great seasonal watch list — especially if there are films on this list you may have missed (we’re pretty sure there may be at least a few).
CHRISTMAS HORROR CLASSICS – STEPH’S PICKS
1. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
This Finnish, genre-bending, fantasy-action, horror-comedy Christmas film is such a wonderfully weird, magically delicious treat. It is about people living near a Finnish fell who discover a dark secret about Santa Claus while drilling in the area.
“It’s expertly crafted, daring, and wonderfully devious, in spite of also having a heartfelt Christmas spirit. It’s a beautiful blend of fairytale wonder and action movie thrills. Roger Ebert brilliantly summed it up as an R-rated Santa Claus origin story crossed with The Thing.”
2. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a 1984 slasher film directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr. It’s about a traumatized person who goes on a killing spree while dressed as Santa Claus.
“Bizarre, imaginative, and entertaining, it’s a cheesy good time with genuinely creepy scenes and visually striking shots. It’s a bleak treat with a great villain, a sadistic horror nun, and one of the best and most memorable kills in horror history featuring scream queen Linnea Quigley.”
3. SILENT NIGHT (2012)
1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night is an all-time classic, but 2012’s brisk reimagining, Silent Night, is a very close second. Directed by Steven C. Miller, it stars Malcolm McDowell and Jaime King, telling the twisted tale of a masked Santa killer who goes on a murder spree, killing those he considers naughty.
“It’s full of great gore, thrills, and dementedly dark humor, and it’s an effective blend of horror and comedy that’s a wicked little holiday splatterfest. A really underrated slasher surprise.”
4. Christmas Evil (1980)
This 1980 slasher film, written and directed by Louis Jackson, is a cult classic and a must-see for horror fans. It’s also a subversive critique of the holiday’s commodification. It follows a tormented man named Harry who is obsessed with Santa Claus. After suffering a series of indignations, he eventually goes on a murderous rampage dressed as Santa, slaying people who end up on the naughty list and those who exploit the magic of Christmas for selfish greed and profit.
“Despite it being a killer Santa film, it feels wonderfully unique due to its creative editing style, cinematography, music, pathos, and wicked sense of humor. The film isn’t afraid to take its time with Harry’s story, making us fully invest in his plight. The lead actor’s outstanding performance helps elevate this film into the stratosphere of a holiday classic.”
CHRISTMAS HORROR CLASSICS – JAMIE’S PICKS
1. BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006)
Taking place several days before Christmas, Black Christmas is a loose remake and reimagining of the 1974 film of the same name, and it tells the story of a group of sorority sisters who are stalked and murdered in their house during a winter storm.
“This film feels like Christmas. The actresses play well off of each other. The gore is just jaw-dropping. It has a great atmosphere and a great feeling, and it is my favorite Christmas horror movie.”
2. KRAMPUS (2015)
A modern classic from the brilliant mind of Trick ‘r Treat writer/director Michael Dougherty, Krampus is a 2015 Christmas horror comedy film with a stellar cast, including Toni Collette (Hereditary). In the film, a dysfunctional family squabbling causes a young boy to lose his festive spirit. Doing so unleashes the wrath of Krampus, a demonic beast in ancient European folklore who punishes naughty children at Christmas time.
“This is another one with a great Christmas vibe. It’s so beautiful, balletic, and operatic — and just epic. It’s the best kind of evil, which is the mischievous, youthful evil… not the cruel evil.”
3. A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015)
A Christmas Horror Story is a 2015 Canadian anthology horror film directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan. The film is a series of interwoven stories tied together by a framework story featuring William Shatner as a radio DJ.
“Ferociously fun, this one has a great ending with Santa Claus battling zombie elves and a hulking Krampus with the physique of a wrestler. It’s got this badass action movie fight scene that’s so memorable.”
HIDDEN GEMS – STEPH’S PICKS
1. ELVES (1989)
Jeffrey Mandel’s Elves is one of the nuttiest holiday treats to ever come down the chimney. It’s a crazy B movie with a nearly indecipherable plot involving three girls, a pagan ritual, Nazis, and a genetic experiment involving evil elf copulation. Yes, you did hear that right.
“There are more WTF moments than you can shake a candy cane stick at. This film is everything you want in a campy Christmas treat and one of the most bizarre, highly original, ridiculously bonkers films you will ever see.”
2. THE CHILDREN (2008)
The British horror film The Children, directed by Tom Shankland, is about a group of parents who take their kids to a fun, wintry retreat over the holidays. But a virus turns all the children into bloodthirsty monsters.
“There are a few things, in my humble opinion, that are creepier than evil kids. While this film may not be overly violent, it more than makes up for that by being genuinely unnerving and incredibly tense. It’s an absolutely savage gut punch.”
3. WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (1972)
This 1972 horror thriller film directed by Curtis Harrington is a fun psycho-bitty tale and a deliciously dark fairy tale very loosely inspired by Hansel and Gretel. It stars Shelley Winters as Auntie Roo, a rich widow haunted by the loss of her young daughter and husband. To alleviate her grief during the holiday season, she invites orphaned children to her large English manor. She becomes obsessed with and kidnaps a young orphan girl named Katie, who resembles her dead daughter.
“It is bonkers in the best possible way. Winters is utterly compelling, and there’s some really great performance work being done in this film. It’s not really scary, but it’s incredibly well executed and feels very unique and original.”
HIDDEN GEMS – JAMIE’S PICKS
1. INSIDE (2007)
Inside is a French extreme horror film directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo. Written by Bustillo, it was the first feature film from both directors. It concerns the attack and home invasion of a young pregnant widow by a mysterious woman who seeks to take her unborn baby.
“This is one of the greatest horror movies I’ve ever seen. It’s so raw and real, just breathtaking. This is one of those movies where I think every human being who likes movies needs to experience it. It deserves words that I don’t own.”
2. P2 (2007)
This horror thriller, directed by Franck Khalfoun in his directorial debut, was co-written by Khalfoun and producers Alexandre Aja (High Tension) and Grégory Levasseur. It stars Rachel Nichols and Wes Bentley. Its plot follows a young businesswoman who becomes trapped in an underground parking garage in midtown Manhattan on Christmas Eve, where she is pursued by a psychopathic security guard who is obsessed with her.
“Rather than a standard stalk and slash, it’s just two people that are at each other throughout the whole movie, and that makes it more intense. There’s a terrifying Rottweiler scene that really got to me. The brutality is stunning, and it’s a real nail-biter, a great Christmas movie.”
STOCKING STUFFERS (BONUS FILMS) – STEPH’S PICKS
1. SILENT NIGHT (2023)
Silent Night marks legendary director John Woo’s first American film in 20 years. It stars Joel Kinnaman and features no dialogue. It was marketed as silent, action-packed, Christmas-themed John Wick. However, it’s really a breathtaking and gut-wrenching exercise in grief and emotional anguish. It’s not a super fun popcorn flick, but it is another masterwork from a master filmmaker. Catch it in theaters.
2. Deadly Games/Dial Code Santa Claus (1989)
Deadly Games is a Christmas horror movie that definitely deserves its status as a cult classic. It was released a year before Home Alone, and it features a very similar plot of a child left home alone at Christmas, forced to face down peril on his own and fight back through ingenuity and resourcefulness. So, if you love Home Alone but you wish that it was more terrifying, brutal, and perfectly packaged for horror fans, then this is your film. Discover it on Shudder.
3. ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE (2017)
I will never stop singing the praises of this British Christmas zombie musical film. In Anna and the Apocalypse, zombies threaten the town of Little Haven at Christmas time, and it’s up to Anna and her friends to save the day. It is a clever, toe-tapping good time of a film that tries to do a whole lot and mostly succeeds on every front. It is a holiday-themed horror movie, a musical, a touching tale of friendship, and a love letter to several horror films — as well as several cult films and musical classics, including West Side Story and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Experience the magic on Shudder.
STOCKING STUFFERS (BONUS FILMS) – JAMIE’S PICKS
1. HOLIDAYS (2016)
I love this anthology movie. The Christmas entry starring Seth Green is great, but there are numerous other delightful shorts, with the Easter segment being an especially strong standout. Watch it on Shudder.
2. Tales From the Crypt: And All Through the House (1972)
This is another excellent anthology film with a great holiday horror segment. A terrible woman (Joan Collins) murders her husband. That same night, some criminally insane escaped madman arrives dressed as Santa Claus and wielding an axe. It’s very suspenseful, and I personally like it better than the reboot of this with Larry Drake. Watch it for free on Tubi.
Other picks worth checking out
These genre gems just missed making our holiday horror countdown, but they are well worth your time — especially if you’re looking for something different from the typical seasonal slasher offering. There’s much more here than sadistic Santas and killer Krampus to ensure your Christmas is merry and bright… as well as a bloody good time!