November 1st is always the worst day of the year for horror fans. Fall is quickly hardening into winter, and the creepy goodness of Halloween becomes just a memory as the more feel good holidays turn those grand creepy store displays into ones of green and red jolliness.
I am not saying that horror fans don’t enjoy Christmas, because I know a good portion do. But for many horror fans, it is easy to see the macabre blueprint for terror in December 25th. Saint Nick himself can go from benevolent toy bringer to horrifying entity of evil with just a change of light.
So, if you are like me, you enjoy a little dark undercurrent to the cheery festivities. I have compiled a list of the top five dark Christmas films for the horror fan to enjoy and counter that syrupy goodness of December 25th.
And I am going to start with an Honorable Mention that is not a movie, but an episode of a television series:
Honorable Mention: The Aquabats! Super Show! Holiday Special
The Aquabats is a BRILLIANT kid’s show on the HUB network that centers around a rock band/superhero team and if you were a fan of the cool, off the wall freakiness of the late 60’s/early 70’s kid’s TV, you have to check this show out. I enjoy it as much as my six year-old, and he loves it. This episode makes the grade because of the smack down battle between Santa and his evil counterpart, Krampus!
No, not the Jim Carrey film. I am going back to the original 1966 animated special. Voiced by horror legend, Boris Karloff, the Grinch is a black-hearted monster out to destroy what he feels is the central fabric of Christmas. Of course, realizing that the holiday goes much deeper that the rampant consumerism associated with it, the Grinch’s tiny heart grows and he finally understands the true meaning of Christmas. For many children who grew up with this holiday classic, this is the first holiday special with a sinister air.
Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg’s outrageous creature feature that was the first film to earn the PG-13 rating for its cartoon-ish violence. Filmed in 1984, Gremlins is a black comedy set near Christmas that concerns a young man receiving a strange pet from his never around father. Gizmo, the adorable Gremlin, is given to Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) with a specific set of rules. Of course, all are broken and in no time several evil reproductions of Gizmo run amok.
Bob Clark’s extremely effective and moody 1974 chiller hits number three on my list. A sorority house is targeted by a psychopath who makes threatening phone calls and then begins murdering the sorority sisters. This film features an early performance by Margot Kidder and genre favorite John Saxon stars as well. Black Christmas is considered one of the earliest works to feature two horror film conventions: one, the slasher, and two, the killer calling from inside the house.
If you notice, this is the only psycho Santa film featured on this list, and that is because I consider it to be the most memorable of Christmas/Santa slasher films. I am not saying it is a masterpiece, but for holiday horror fans, it is as necessary as mistletoe. Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s cheap B-movie tells the story of Billy, a troubled teenager who witnessed the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of a psycho in a Santa suit (played by one of my favorite character actors, Charles Dierkop). Billy of course eventually dons the red and white suit and begins creating his own naughty list. Linnea Quigley appears in a very memorable death scene involving antlers.
Okay, it is not a horror film, but nothing speaks to the horror fan around Christmas time like this classic Tim Burton animated film. It is a love letter to those of us who die a little inside every time we hear a Christmas song before Thanksgiving. You can take me to task over declaring Jack Skellington’s attempt to reshape Christmas for the lovers of the macabre as my number one pick, but I will insist that nothing warms my black heart as much as this classic.