Holiday Film Viewing Guide: Ho Ho Horrifying!
By Brandon Engel
The stockings have been hung by the chimney with care, and it's time to relax before Santa shows up with chunks of coal for you and yours. What to do in the meantime? How about a nice, gory bloodbath with a vague connection to the Christmas holiday? If the hoards of shoppers at the mall and the insufferably cheerful carols have pushed you to the brink, it might be better to ignore It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th St and get down with the darker side of Kris Kringle. Debating which films to choose? Well look no further: pop some popcorn, dim the lights and lock your doors because these horrifying holiday classics are about to scare the long underwear off you and your Aunt Gladys, too.
Ah, Gremlins. A classic film from the eighties that provided with a few valuable instructions for handling a Mogwai: no bright lights, don't get it wet and never, I repeat, never feed them after midnight. This movie does an excellent job of sending up jabs at the conventions of cinema, like the perennial Wise Old Asian Man (or WOAM for short), the puppy for Christmas trope, and of course the cast of characters that look like they were culled from a first semester screen writers textbook. Now, it may seem as if I'm bashing the film somewhat, but these are all the qualities that make Gremlins an excellent choice. I mean, can you really go wrong with Steven Spielberg as executive producer? Back then, everything the man touched turned to gold! And if that's not enough, there's also a young Phoebe Cates giving an impassioned monologue about why she hates Christmas, which should make the film enjoyable for all the "Bah Humbug" types out there. Just trust me, give Gremlins a shot. You won't be disappointed.
4. Silent Night, Deadly Night
Clever title, no? If for some reason that alone isn't enough to lure you in, here's the plot: a young boy watches his parents get murdered on Christmas by a man in a Santa suit, grows up in an orphanage being tortured by nuns, and then loses his mind as an adult and goes on a killing spree. All while dressed as Santa Claus of course, as If I had to tell you. This film is a shining example of classic Eighties slashers, in which the logic doesn't really matter, the killings have have a layer of black humor, and maybe there's a message in there somewhere, but not even the director is trying too hard to find it. This movie stars…well, nobody really. A few of the actors went on to other roles, but if I told you their names I doubt they'd ring a bell. Shockingly enough, this movie opened on the same day as A Nightmare on Elm Street and outgrossed it at the box office. Hard to believe, I know, but I bet you're really curious now.
3. Rare Exports
The most recent film on our list, Rare Exports is a Christmas movie that's a bit hard to explain. It's Christmas Eve on a reindeer farm in the Arctic. There's a giant hill with Americans blowing up explosives. The locals have a legend that tells of monsters threatening the countryside until they were trapped in ice. Are you seeing where this is going yet? No? I didn't either, but stay with it and you'll be rewarded with a wild naked Santa. Yes, that's right, I said "a wild naked Santa." I'm pretty sure I don't have to say anything else about this movie.
2. Black Christmas
Coming from the frozen land of Canada, we've got a movie that is actually pretty good by most standards. Unlike most horror films that rely heavily on gore and violence, Black Christmas uses its music and atmosphere to build tension, something that can be difficult to do for some directors. Starring Margot Kidder of Lois Lane and Amityville Horror fame, Black Christmas centers around the mysterious "Billy" and his desire to kill the occupants of a Sorority house over the Christmas holiday. The film was remade in 2006 with 90's vixens Katie Cassidy and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Unfortunately ADT prices were apparently too high for the poor college students battling the irrepressible Billy. One of the things that I find truly interesting in this film is the way that the killer is portrayed – he's not your average slasher villain because you never actually see what he looks like. As such, audience members are forced to use their imagination to create their own image of him. We can all agree that fantasy is usually more terrifying that reality.
1. Santa's Slay
Another Christmas-themed slasher with a pun that makes you groan as audibly as a title, Santa's Slay is so cheesy that all its really missing is a bag of nacho chips. This movie is packed to the brim with well-known names such as Chris Kattan, Fran Drescher, and for reasons I'll never understand, James Caan. Ever wonder what Santa would look like if he was a steroid buff? This film is your chance, as Santa is played by none other than former WWC wrestler Bill Goldberg. This movie is one of those films that are so bad it's brilliant. The opening scene is a masterpiece of B-movie horror insanity, and the rest of the movie…well, it's the rest of the movie. It doesn't quite keep the action rolling, but it's just so bad that you'll have to watch the whole thing. If you like B-Grade horror, this film is definitely for you.
Well, there you go my horror loving holiday fans, a list that should keep you busy until the snow melts or Santa gets trapped in the chimney. Have a Ho Ho Horrifying holiday season!
Brandon Engel is a Chicago based blogger who writes about everything from old school comic books to gothic horror literature to environmental law. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonEngel2