With every new generation of filmmakers creating horror there’s hope for the holiday season slasher to have a big second life—particularly due to the fact many horror directors and writers right now have great reverence for the heyday of the 1980s slasher, when a good majority of the most well-known Christmas horror came to life. As of now, most Christmas horror lists wind up being a lot of the same titles, which is why Father Son Holy Gore hasn’t done one every single year (though there has been a list several years off-and-on since the site began).
There’s also always time to reevaluate old films, or to continue enjoying some of the best Christmas horror films there are, or even to reconsider what constitutes a Christmas film. And so here is Father Son Holy Gore‘s 2021 Christmas horror list, hopefully with more than a couple solid recommendations for you and yours to enjoy on a chilly holiday evening this year, as we look at a few new-to-the-site but old holiday choices, a few familiar ones, and some of the slightly unexpected.
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
There’s a lot to love about the disturbing slasher Silent Night, Bloody Night, also known as Deathouse. First, it was filmed in 1970, not released until 1972. Even in ’72 this film would’ve been one of the earliest American slashers, but the fact it was filmed in ’70—a year before pivotal slasher influence A Bay of Blood was released—makes it all the more compelling. This is one of a couple films on the list that came out when slasher films weren’t yet the films we know today. The slasher formula hadn’t been codified entirely at this point until films like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) came along, so Silent Night, Bloody Night and later films in the decade like Rituals (1977) were helping lay the foundation of the sub-genre, despite not being as popular as the bigger titles that came along later.
Silent Night, Bloody Night tells a shocking, horrific story about a house with a Gothic history of terrors. Many of its elements are the same elements repeated in later slashers, like the escaped asylum patient scenario or numerous red herrings to keep the audience guessing at the killer’s identity. Best of all is the way the film does a bit of blasphemy to make this a potent piece of Christmas horror, attacking the modern Christianity involved in the holiday to extreme lengths. Buckle up for this one; a family affair in the worst, most rotten of ways.
Black Christmas (1974)
One of the best slashers ever made is also one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, Christmas horror film of all time: Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. This film came along when the slasher sub-genre of horror hadn’t been fully formed; not all the ‘rules’ were laid out, neither was Carol Clover’s Final Girl a wholly constituted figure as of yet, at least not articulated in terms of a critical theory about horror.
Black Christmas is special for a number of reasons, one of which being that it brought social and political issues into the foreground of the horror genre, long before writers would make ‘social horror’ an oversaturated term. The whole thing’s about women’s rights, from sexual freedom to reproductive rights, and a whole lot more. Plus, it’s goddamn scary, no matter how many times you watch it every holiday season.
Blood Beat (1983)
Blood Beat just may be the strangest Christmas horror movie out there, all about a family, with more than a few big secrets, gathering for Christmas in rural Wisconsin, where they get attacked by the resurrected spirit of a vengeful samurai warrior; yeah, you read that right. A dash of holiday horror, a sprinkle of cultural appropriation, and a whole heaping portion of Christian slut shaming, and you’ve got one wild ride of a holiday horror flick. There’s honestly a lot more going on in this film than most give it credit for, though it doesn’t mean it’s all well executed; there’s a use of effects at times that makes no sense, even if I love every second of it, which could prove distracting.
I’ll stand by the idea that there’s a statement in this film, intentional or not, about the oppressive forces of Christianity and how they come to bear on women, non-white cultures, and on the family unit itself.
Who the fuck am I kidding? Might as well face reality: what you’re really going to walk away from Blood Beat with is an unsettled fascination with all the psychosexual energy produced in a sequence that cuts back and forth from a woman lustily thrusting the air in bed to an undead samurai penetrating a victim with his blade. Sold?
Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)
The 1980s was full of slasher horror, and it was just as full of Santa Clauses with mommy or daddy issues, from the infamous Silent Night, Deadly Night and the likes of Christmas Evil, to this dastardly piece of exploitation, 1984’s Don’t Open Till Christmas. This slasher has everything: horny Santas, castrated Santas, bare breasts, good ole fashioned Thatcher era homophobia, an ambiguous non-ending, a mysterious plot. There’s much to say in this film about how heterosexuality and homosexuality are treated, as one character seems repulsed by queer folk and another is on a mission to stamp out heterosexuality, albeit heterosexuality connected to Santa Claus. There’s just a lot of dead Santas in this one, and for that it must be on the list, as it strikes at the heart of Christmas by slashing, slicing, and dicing the jolly old fart himself.
(P.S. I’m convinced this film, above any of the other Santa horror, was a major influence on American Horror Story‘s Santa killer character in Season 2, played by the wondrous Ian McShane. A girl can dream.)
Black X-Mas (2006)
While I consider Black X-Mas a shameless, gratuitous piece of horror and a near blasphemous remake of the original 1974 film, I also feel it’s a delightfully unhinged piece of Christmas horror that subverts a Christian holiday’s iconography and celebrations into blood, guts, and yuletide terror. This remake/sequel(?) is a whole bunch of gore and disturbing story, which has its place for many horror lovers. What’s really so good about this not-so-good film is that Black X-Mas—like the best Christmas horror and like so many of the films on this list—attacks Christian Christmas. The screenplay goes so far as to literally include a scene where a few of the sorority sisters talk about Christian Christmas v. its pagan origins; a great scene, if not a bit a clunky. There’s another excellent scene that doubles as a reference to the original Black Christmas and simultaneously acts as a stab (pun intended) at Christianity, when a crystal unicorn’s gifted because the gifter knows her sorority sister is “into the Bible and stuff“; and, like in the original, the unicorn’s horn winds up as a weapon used to impale a victim.
There was a time I loathed Black X-Mas.
It’s still trash, now I just find it enjoyable and compelling trash.
Silent Night (2012)
I do dig the original Silent Night, Deadly Night, especially because of how much it was protested and hated by a number of Christian groups, not to mention Mickey Rooney (who hilariously turned up later in one of the many sequels). However, 2012’s remake, Silent Night, is a better film that doesn’t give a fuck about terrorising the holidays and turning Christmas upside down. Not much to say about this one other than that it’s a brutal, no-holds-barred Christmas horror. Nobody’s safe from this Silent Night‘s Santa Claus: hide ya wife, hide ya kids, and hide ya husband! This remake doesn’t bother with all the psychological elements from the original, and it’s all the better for it, focusing rather on the carnage a killer Santa carves across a quaint Wisconsin town throughout Christmas; easy peasy.
What if the Bible was wrong and a lot of the nice stuff really turned out to be just awful and violent? Well, that’s somewhat the terrain of Hosts, at least according to the essay I wrote about the film last year. The story follows a young couple who are invited to the neighbour’s house for Christmas dinner. Except before the couple can go they get visited by strange things from the sky; aliens, or demons? They still make it to dinner, where they take the family hostage, and the holiday horror begins.
What I love about Hosts is that it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s a nasty little flick, and underneath everything there’s more of what I love in a Christmas horror film: a subversion of Christian nonsense. I won’t spoil any more than I have; go, watch, be frightened. This film came out of nowhere for me, and I’m pleased to have caught it. I never miss a chance to recommend it, any time of year, though especially around the holidays.
While the holidays don’t play a central role in Relic they’re present, considerably so at the start where we see vivid shots of the Christmas tree juxtaposed with an older woman naked and confused, as well as an urn on the mantle in the midst of Christmas decorations. The whole film doesn’t tackle the holidays, but the presence of Christmas is important.
Relic uses the holiday setting at the start—the holidays, a traditionally family time—to break into a story about a family with lots of deep, hidden trauma. Instead of the film being about people getting together to celebrate it’s more about people coming together to face the dark and festering shadows along with the skeletons in the family closet. The traditions we see in Relic are not holiday traditions, they’re the traditions of withholding secrets that have rotted a family thoroughly to its core, threatening to continue on through future generations if the wound isn’t cauterised. One of 2020’s best films, horror or otherwise, and a holiday film for those who find Christmas depressing but would like to be infinitely more depressing.
A full, non-Christmas-related essay here.
Lamb is a lot of things. Most importantly, the film’s an eco-horror folk tale packaged in a very Christmasy story that takes the Christian moniker Lamb of God literally, using it to explore the sins of our modern world. Noomi Rapace plays a mother who once lost a child but now she and her husband find themselves gifted with an odd present: a baby lamb that’s half lamb, half human child. Anybody else might contact scientists; not this couple. This lady and her husband decide to take the lamb-child in as their own and raise it like a human. This causes issues when the husband’s brother turns up. But it’s even worse when a mysterious figure keeps lurking around the couple’s home, determined to draw, or take, the little lamb-child back.
What emerges from such a peculiar film is a low-key Christmas horror story that attempts to confront our relationship with animals. Lamb is a tale of animal rights, but it’s just as much one about the hubris of human beings and how we believe we own everything in the world, wrapped up in a Jesus-like allegory.
Silent Night (2021)
I’d gladly welcome a film like 2021’s Silent Night in any given year, but heading into 2022 with new rises in COVID-19 numbers all across the world just as Christmas is knocking on the door, this is a horror-comedy that’s more than welcome for an unsure holiday season. Silent Night is about a bunch of bourgeois folks getting together to celebrate a special Christmas, because this year everyone’s got suicide pills and they’re ready to end it all, what with an impending gas cloud that could kill everybody at any minute. Sounds cheerful, right? Silent Night, like some of the other films on this list, is yet another instance of a horror movie that refuses to sentimentalise the holidays, instead offering a unique look at how the holidays compound everything going in our lives, good or bad, making the Christmas stress and chaos all the more intense.
I might not want to watch Silent Night every single time Christmas rolls around—it’s highly depressing and cynical, though in the smartest of ways—but it’s one of my favourite horrors of 2021, fit for a watch while you chew your fingernails over facing a potentially virus-infested holiday dinner with a family, usually peppered by a few cunts (family or not), this year.