Want something to get your heart pumping as the frigid wind howls and scrapes against your windows? These horror movies will get you in the holiday spirit, if you dare.
The winter season conjures thoughts of cozy evenings by the fire, watching beloved holiday classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) or A Christmas Story (1983) while sipping mulled wine surrounded by presents, trees donned with tinsel and loved ones. However, every warm and happy moment can quickly turn from a cherished memory to something sinister and the winter holiday season is no different. While a snowstorm may be exciting, the forces of nature may also ensnare you, cutting your off from the world. Let us not forget that while Bob Clark gave us a beloved holiday comedy, he also gave us a lesson in the terror that lurks in the dark with Black Christmas (1974).
I’ve fallen in love with snowy, icy, creepy, scary winter movies, and I’m thrilled to share with you ten of my favorite holiday horror films to watch as you roast chestnuts by the fire.
The Horrors Of Winter
Mexican film director and master of dark fantasy films, Guillermo del Toro brought us a haunting gothic romance blanketed by blood red snow with Crimson Peak (2015). This ghost story follows the aftermath of a family tragedy where our lost and lonely heroine Edith, an aspiring author is whisked away by a mysterious outsider to a bleeding gothic mansion which acts as the ultimate winter set piece. Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing, who must unravel the ghastly mysteries surrounding her new husband Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), his cold sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) and the haunted house in which she now resides. Ghosts drip red with blood like melting candles, the rotting house creaks beneath the moonlight as snow softly falls through the dilapitated roof and spirits cry out in the darkness. Reminisinct of the films of Mario Bava, this haunted house film oozes atmosphere, much like the walls of the mansion.
Before James Caan put on his finest suit as Walter, the no-nonsense father of Buddy (Will Ferrell) in the beloved holiday-comedy Elf (2003), he was best-selling romance author Paul Sheldon in psychological-thriller Misery (1991) directed by Rob Reiner and adapted from the novel by Stephen King. Misery captures the claustrophic tension of being trapped and elevates it. Paul crashes his car during a snowstorm only to be rescued by a fan of his novels and soon finds himself injured, bed-bound, drugged, and in the care of Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Bates plays this role in the most delicious and delirious way. Paul comes to realize that the care he is receiving is only the beginning of a nightmare of captivity and abuse with no simple means of escape. Will Paul be able to find a way out or is he destined to write fan-fiction of his own novels for Annie for the rest of his life?
If you’re unaware of the plot of The Shining (1980), I urge you to stop what you're doing and watch the film. Based on the novel by Stephen King, this winter horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick follow the Torrance family who take residence in a shuttered mountain lodge and hotel for the winter. Ghosts and alcoholism get in the way of their would-be cozy retreat. Being completely isolated is something we've all experienced in recent years as the pandemic continues to loom over us. This is yet another film that uses isolation to mimic the fear and tension through it's claustrophobic atmosphere with the added flare of Jack's (Jack Nicholson) psychosis and the entities that lurk within the hotel. The film also stars Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers.
If you John Carpenter films, you've likely seen his science-fiction horror film and now cult classic, The Thing (1981). What is there to say about this masterwork that hasn’t already been said? In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists come under fire at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. After taking the dog in, it brutally attacks the other sled dogs and transforms itself into a mimic of the creatures. Pilot R. J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and the camp doctor lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the alien creature that can replicate itself into human form. The paranoiac feeling of someone not being who they say they are, a hidden entity silently making the rounds, a blizzard on the horizion as the team desperately fights to survive, it all adds up to create a chilly, gooey and unexpected thrill.
Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In (2008) directed by Tomas Alfredson has a somber, blue grey-toned, icy, tpne to it that lingers for hours, even days after the credits roll. The queer-coded story follows Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a little boy often tortured by bullies who meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a mysterious 12-year-old who only meets with Oskar at night. He soon discovers that Eli has a taste for human blood. While vampires can be frightening creatures, but they can also be forlorn and lonely, just like Eli who longs for companionship and a protection. It's a story of love and friendship, but it's at times gruesome horrors can't be denied.
The Holiday Horrors
A new dark horror dramedy released this year, but written and filmed pre-pandemic, Silent Night (2021) directed by Camille Griffin about the end of the world and an apocolyptic dinner party is both horrifyingly heart-warming and heart-breaking. Fellow horror fans have recommended viewing the film without knowing much about it and I whole-heartedly agree. Just know, you’ll never listen to “The Christmas Sweater” by Michael Bublé the same way again. The film boasts a fantastic cast including the star of Malignant (2021), Annabelle Wallis in a fantastic comedic performance alongside Lucy Punch, Sope Dirisu (His House), and Matthew Goode (Stoker, A Discovery Of Witches).
Many children of the 80s and 90s might consider this one of their first experiences with horror. That’s me, I’m a child of the 1980s. Horror-comedy Gremlins (1984) directed by Joe Dante lures you in with its Amblin-esque holiday feel and the impossibly cute Gizmo, but soon turns terrifying with exploding little green creatures in the microwave, adult humor that's tame enough for children and actual murder. It's simply the best!
A perfectly nasty 80s cult classic, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) directed by Charles Sellier, Jr. begins with a very disturbing situation and the film's mean streak continues throughout. A teen boy is severely traumatized and when he’s made to dress up as Santa at work, the killing spree begins. The film received substantial controversy over its promotional material and content, featuring a killer Santa Claus and was subsequently banned, being pulled from theatres just a week following its release. The film stars scream queen Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons, Return of the Living Dead). Since its release, the film has has become a series including four sequels and one loose remake.
Hear me out, while some may not consider Scrooged (1988) a horror film, you can’t tell me it isn’t scary. Directed by Richard Donnar and starring Bill Murray, the dark-comedy film is a modern retelling of Charles Dickens 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. It follows, Frank Cross a successful television executive whose ambition and bad-tempured nature has driven away the love of his life, Claire Phillips (Karen Allen). The waiter who catches fire, a frozen man in a sewer, the Ghost of Christmas Future, the cremation scene, these were all a bit traumatizing, but I really love this film.
Last, but certainly not least, the ultimate in holiday horror is Canadian horror film Black Christmas (1974) directed by Bob Clark. This slasher is often noted as the originator of the subgenre and whether you agree or not, it deserves to be recognized as the cult classic it is. The feminist narrative and giallo influence film gave us one of the most terrifying villains in "The Moaner" often referred to by fans as Billy. Those obscene phone calls still send shivers down my spine to this day. The film has that quality of being one where you'll discover something new each time you view it.