Lists · Movies

The 10 Most Frightening Christmas Movies

Santa Claus The Movie
TriStar Pictures
By  · Published on December 26th, 2009

It’s that time of year again. A time to leer out your window suspiciously, a time to hear things that go bump in the night, a time to tremble with fear at the constant, piercing violin strings that follow you everywhere you go. It’s Christmas!

To get in the mood, why not check out these absolutely horrifying entries into the seasonal genre? It’s not like you’ll actually be spending time with your family or anything. You came for the presents and the free egg nog – not to be hassled about why you still don’t have a real job.

Turn off all the lights, grab the edge of your seat, and prepared to be horrified by the visions on the screen.

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

The Horror: Somewhere along the line, someone decided that it would be a great idea to turn Dudley Moore into an elf. This fearful image aside, the film itself shares a harrowing life story of a simple toymaker who almost loses his life in a blizzard, is separated from his home, and is forced by magical creatures to deliver toys tirelessly for the rest of his life.

As if indentured servitude wasn’t enough, overpopulation threatens to put him in the grave from exhaustion, and competition from a greedy toy manufacture forces Santa to murder his opponent by causing him to fly so high into the air unaided that when gravity finally wraps its icy hand around him, he becomes human sidewalk paint. Truly, truly grizzly.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

The Horror: The underlying theme of this movie is one of a number of unsupervised children (where are the parents?!) organizing and participating in what looks like a huge drug party. They dance with abandon to lustful jazz music yet don’t have enough money to buy a proper Christmas tree (a definite comment on poverty in the United States).

The underaged bacchanalian revel is augmented by the strong message of commercialism. At the end of the film, it doesn’t matter how naturally beautiful the tree Charlie Brown picks up is, the children (in their obvious drug stupor) adorn it with expensive ornamentation to make it “good enough,” while one of them speaks in tongues. As we all know, the film was later remade as Kids.

Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

The Horror: From the violent battle scene that opens the movie and the frantic hallucinations of Jefferson Jones, the film’s tone is set. From then on, it’s a study in the depravity of human nature – what people are willing to do if it means getting what they want. Every character tells elaborate lies including a terrifying moment in which a couple “borrows” a baby in order to pretend that it’s theirs.

The situation is brought to the peak of tension when Jones relays the tale of a bad experience he once had with a child – all the while calling into question whether the baby will survive to see another Christmas. This looms over the rest of the movie, even up until its shocking twist ending. Like most other horror films, it was remade (and directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger) and is set to be remade again.

Home Alone (1990)

The Horror: The home invasion has been a staple of horror whether used in slasher films or in exploitative explorations of the criminal mind in the pure, innocent bastions of the American middle class. Films like The Strangers and Funny Games owe a ton to Home Alone, even though the effect of having a lone child defend the house against greasy, rape-minded thieves is far more disturbing than either of those movies could muster.

This is due not only to the direct metaphor of innocence being bombarded, but (even though the thieves are thwarted through the use of torture porn), Kevin’s innocence is ultimately lost through parental neglect, dirty movies, and the rage he unleashes on the invaders.

Elf (2003)

The Horror: There are two entries on this list that feature insanity, and this may very well be the most shocking considering how lightly it’s dealt with. Will Ferrell plays a delusional psychopath with an intense case of arrested development and an obsession with little people. In a modern twist on the Psycho story, Buddy attempts so seriously to reconnect with his neglectful birth father that he begins hanging around his other son Michael’s school.

The film is told from Buddy’s perspective, so the insanity seems even more jarring, but the last scene shows a hopeful hint (through the white walls of his new “North Pole” home) that Buddy has at last been put into an insane asylum after attacking an old man in a park and strangling Michael while forcing him to sing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

White Christmas (1954)

The Horror: This celebration of fetishism features men dressing as women, glorifies boyfriend-sharing (through the haunting tune “Sisters”), and plays out as an old school thriller where everyone is playing everyone else. There’s always an angle.

Without ever knowing who is on whose side, the film builds an intrigue that sustains itself until the torturous last segment where Bing Crosby forces an old man to relive his past in shocking, full-orchestra detail that will turn your knuckles as white as the title.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The Horror: In the mid-60s, Rankin and Bass delivered a truly unsettling vision of Christmas that involved a caribou with a blinking red nose (an obvious symbol of alcoholism). In this nightmarish world, anyone who is different is ridiculed at best and, at worst, sent off to die of slow starvation on a frozen island.

The stark depression of the film becomes a creature feature with the introduction of the Abominable Snowman. Yet, even with the threat of him ripping his razor-sharp teeth into the loved ones of the anti-hero, the film delves into even more social taboo when they conquer the beast only to make it into their prisoner slave – tragically, ironically forced to help aid in the proliferation of the only thing it hates. The heroes become the monsters.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

The Horror: The second psychological thriller featured here, Miracle is a story in which a confused old man embeds himself into the lives of a single mother and her young daughter by convincing him that he’s Santa Claus. As he invades their lives, he wreaks havoc by slyly attempting to financially ruin the business Doris works for, and tricking them into taking care of his court costs once he gets thrown in jail for assault.

It is a stunning portrait of a maniac who works his way under the skin of a few unfortunate people and changes them forever. Just as they believe they’ve gotten rid of him and found love and the perfect house, the chilling last image is of his cane standing ominously in the corner of the room. He knows where they live. He’ll be coming for them. Fade to black.

A Christmas Story (1983)

The Horror: Sometimes, the most effective horror is the simplest. And while the red-blooded, two-fisted middle-class American Christmas is fairly simple, A Christmas Story also plays out as the backstory to how a young man violently loses his eyeball in a tragic accidental shooting.

It is a frustrating tale of how authority wields its power over the helpless – whether in forcing the helpless to dress in strange costumes for its amusement or by denying basic human needs. Of course, the most terrifying scene of the film is when the bullied becomes the bully, and a young man is forced to rip his own tongue out by way of a frozen pole. I don’t know about you, but I had to pause the film and take a deep breath after seeing that particular grotesquerie. Eli Roth, eat your heart out.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

The Horror: Suicide. Extortion. Drug Abuse. Violent, irrational behavior. Belief in the occult. Hallucinations. Gut-wrenching humanism. All of these elements combine to create probably the most heart-poundingly fear-inducing Christmas movie of all time.

With the classic sensibility of a “Twilight Zone” episode gone wrong, the film looks into the darkened part of a man’s life where every decision has the ability to affect everyone around him. George Bailey may avoid committing suicide, but the vision of the world presented in the film is one of child-murdering, slum-lords, and intense loneliness – neutering any good tidings the outcome might have demanded. The last spit in the face is the title of the film that blithely pokes fun at just how awful and destitute life really is with its biting sarcasm.

Related Topics:

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.