Nine Christmas horror films to watch during the dark, final weeks of 2020

A scene from Joe Dante's 1984 film 'Gremlins.'
(Warner Brothers, Getty Images)

Forget merriment, Coca Cola Santa and Norman Rockwell — Christmas this year is going to be goth as hell.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. After spending an entire year isolated in our homes — stressing about online schools, facing financial insecurity and reeling from devastating headlines — no one’s going to fault you for not sending a saccharine Christmas card. There will be no occasion to wear a corny Christmas sweater. Holiday office parties are cancelled because who remembers what an office is?

Of course, darkness has always thrived just beneath Christmas’s holly-jolly exterior. You don’t even have to squint to see the menace of man dressed in blood-red clothes barging his way into your home. And anyone who doesn’t shiver at the opening lines to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (You better watch out. You better not cry.) is being obtuse.

Considering the holiday’s dark undercurrent, it only makes sense that the greatest holiday-themed horror films are set during Christmas. Sorry, Halloween, you have one perfect film and a few good ones, but most of them just try too hard.

Here are the best Christmas horror films to watch this year.

Black Christmas(1974 and 2019): In many ways, the original “Black Christmas” set the stage for slasher films in the ‘80s. The film follows an unidentified killer as he picks off the members of a sorority house. Despite the seemingly bare-boned plot, “Black Christmas” brims with peripheral terror, red herrings and masterfully withholds a lot of exposition to leave you terrified long after the credits roll. You also won’t see a horror movie that looks so good (the yellows in this film are beautiful). There have been two remakes: one in 2006 (trash) and another in 2019 which is a smart critique of male toxicity, and also really fun.

Gremlins (1984): Everyone in the world has seen “Gremlins,” but that doesn’t make it any less great. This film bears annual viewing just for Phoebe Cates’ bizarre, grim monologue about her father dying in their chimney dressed as Santa Claus.

Batman Returns (1992): Christmas gets very dark for Gotham when The Penguin emerges from the sewer to run for mayor. Sounds like politics as usual, amirite? HEY-O! This is the most grotesque film in the “Batman” franchise, and also weirdly sexual. No better way to make your quarantined holiday weirder than it already is.

A scene from 1992's "Batman Returns"
(Warner Bros.)

Christmas Evil(1980): A man with a Santa fetish takes his obsession to a new extreme when he glues a beard to his face and dons a Santa suit to enact revenge on the evils of the world. “Christmas Evil” is a strangely affecting take on morality — sort of like if “Taxi Driver” was about Santa.

Dial Code Santa Claus (36.15 code Père Noël) (1989): Released 18 months before “Home Alone,” this French film follows a young, mulleted boy who defends his home and ailing grandpa against an invading madman dressed as Santa. This film is completely bonkers, fun and has the dreamy cinematography of a Kate Bush music video. But be warned: A dog dies pretty violently.

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987): If you’re the type to watch countdown videos of the worst (i.e. best) movie scenes ever, you might recognize the “GARBAGE DAY!” clip from this movie, and as someone who’s sat through it, I can assure you that that scene is not even the best/worst. The beauty with this film is that half of the footage is taken from the first “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” so you won’t be lost if you skip that movie entirely.

Jack Frost (1997): Not to be confused with the heart-warming Michael Keaton film of the same name, this one is B-movie schlock at its finest. While transporting serial killer Jack Frost to his execution during a snowy December night, the police transport collides with a genetic chemical truck (hell yeah), melting Frost and fusing his DNA with the snow. Now a homicidal wise-cracking snowman, Frost continues his murderin’. Good times.

Inside (2007): If I know one thing about French films, it’s when they go extreme, there are no holds barred. Four months after surviving a car crash that killed her husband, Sarah is terrorized by a mysterious woman who wants to get inside the house and take her unborn baby. Not for the squeamish — this film is so violent it’s easy to forget it’s set on Christmas Eve.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020): Not really a holiday movie, but Christmas-adjacent (I think you can hear “Deck the Halls” in the background of a scene). This is about a short-tempered, alcoholic police officer who tries to convince the town’s residents of the small mountain town and his own force that grisly murders are the work of a man, and not a werewolf. Simultaneously smart, emotional and very funny, “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” should be every Christmas ghoul’s new favorite holiday film.