Father Son Holy Gore’s Horrible Holiday List of Woe

It’s tough to come up with a new, fresh list of Christmas horror for readers to feast upon every year. There are only so many Christmas and holiday-related horror films. But, there are always some new ones each year or two, and there are always old ones that many folks still haven’t seen.
Not all the films on this list actually take place directly at Christmas, and some of them, though they are specifically set during Christmas, don’t even bother to really acknowledge the holiday season apart from a few wreaths and decorations littered throughout various shots. They remain great choices for a marathon or a week of movie-watching when Christmas is just around the bend.

Thus, once more, we’ve come to Father Son Holy Gore’s holiday horror film/television recommendations with a little something for everybody to indulge in over the festive season. Hopefully Santa Claus brings you all something proper frightening this year.

Hosts (2020)

HostsHosts came out of nowhere for me, as I saw no promotion of the film until a screener landed in my inbox a couple years ago, just a while prior to the holiday season. Now, it’s a title that I have a hard time leaving off my Christmas horror lists since it fuses typical holiday terrors with a sense of religion by including extraterrestrial demons in the holiday madness. The story involves a couple who are about to head over to a neighbour’s place for Christmas dinner, only to be possessed by a demonic alien entity. After that, the holidays go off the rails in terrifying fashion.

This has a bit of science fiction and a whole lot of horror. Hosts is a Christmas horror home invasion in a much different way than you’d expect if that description was all you knew about it. An uncomfortable and horrific ride through Christmas with the family and the neighbours unlike any other you’ll experience, unless you have murderous alien neighbours you invite over during late December.

Valkoinen peura a.k.a The White Reindeer (1952)

White ReindeerErik Blomberg’s The White Reindeer is a folkloric story set in the Finnish Lapland, following a woman called Pirita who meets a reindeer herder, Aslak, whom she comes to marry. When Aslak has to go away for work, Pirita visits a shaman because she’s lonely and doesn’t feel passionate in her marriage. The shaman then turns Pirita into a shapeshifting vampire reindeer. The men in Pirita’s village are drawn more and more to her, though when they attempt to do something about it they’re led to tragedy.

The White Reindeer doesn’t take place during Christmas, but it’s a snowbound horror film with roots in magic realism, and the fact that there are reindeer just makes it feel all the more Christmasy anyway. The film juxtaposes the beauty of snowy landscapes with the dark, shadowy terrors of a fairy tale, creating a compelling mix. Certain images in the film are unforgettable. It’s one of only a few films in existence that explores folklore of the Sámi people, still to this day.
Despite no Christmas, The White Reindeer is a fitting horror for any time during the holiday season, doubly so if it’s nice and snowy outside. Put this on, snuggle up while the weather outside is frightful, and let this haunting fairy tale crawl under your skin.

American Horror Story: Asylum
Episode 8: “Unholy Night” (2012)

AHS - Unholy NightThere are a bunch of murderous Santa Clauses in the horror genre across the years, and none of them are anywhere near as upsetting as Ian McShane’s Leigh Emerson—a violent mass murderer whose time in jail as a young man warped him beyond belief, and whose disappointed hatred of Christmas, particularly Santa Claus, sent him on a blood-soaked rampage during the holidays in 1962 when he murdered nearly 20 people in a single night (including a Salvation Army Santa).

In American Horror Story‘s second season, Asylum, the episode “Unholy Night” takes place during Christmas, as Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) returns to the asylum to confront Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who’s been possessed by Satan. Things go wrong for Sister Jude when Sister Mary decides to let Leigh out of his cell; Leigh has violent history with Sister Jude, having been tortured by her brutal whippings. It’s an intense episode, especially once Leigh and Jude wind up locked in a room together.
Creepy, bloody stuff!

Deadly Dreams (1988)

Deadly DreamsDeadly Dreams starts out years before the main narrative, as a young boy witnesses his family get murdered by a man with a shotgun wearing an animal mask. Years afterwards, the boy is grown, but he’s having strange dreams again about the vicious murder of his family. He finds that his dreams are merging with reality to the point he can’t tell them apart. His sanity is slipping. And worse, there are murders beginning to take place that are very, very real.

While Deadly Dreams isn’t anything to write home about it’s still a creepy little film with Christmas flair, beginning with an eerie sequence on Christmas Eve when the protagonist’s family gets gunned down. There’s some typical 1980s foolishness and cheese, as well as a few bits and pieces that never quite add up. But there’s an unsettling vibe throughout the film right from the start and it’s enough to give it one watch while the holidays are in full swing. If anything, the weird dreams combined with a traumatic Christmas past might creep you out.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Chapter Eleven: “A Midwinter’s Tale” (2018)

Sabrina - A Midwinter's TaleThe Church of Night is celebrating the Winter Solstice, as families gather by the Yule Fire singing pagan carols and telling Gothic holiday tales. Sabrina’s preparing for a seance to try contacting her mother. Unfortunately, Christmas for Sabrina this year brings unwelcome visitors, and none of the young witch’s holiday plans go as expected.

Nice to see Chilling Adventures of Sabrina dig into holiday horrors from around the globe, bringing us the Yule Lads and, my personal favourite, Gryla. We get so many Santa slashers that it’s refreshing when a Christmas horror film or TV episode takes a chance on something different, moving beyond the scope of America we find in a lot of horror (even sometimes when it’s not actually American). Other cultures have such rich histories of dark holiday stories and it’s nice to see them on the screen more. Sabrina’s Christmas troubles are a fun way to spend a night over the holidays. This episode has plenty of creeps for all.

The Day of the Beast (1995)

The Day of the BeastThe Day of the Beast follows a priest who intends to do as much evil as possible. Not just for the sake of it. See, the priest, through his studies, has discovered a secret code inside The Bible that says the Antichrist will be born on Christmas Eve at midnight. He plans to do evil, sell his soul to Satan, and be there when the Antichrist is born so he can kill it. An elaborate, intriguing plan. And so the priest sets out trying to do evil, but he needs some help, getting it from a Satanist and heavy metal aficionado. Except neither of them are prepared for just how incredibly insane things will get as they try to accomplish the priest’s task.

As someone who isn’t a lover of comedy-horror generally, I adore The Day of the Beast because it blends a Gothic eeriness with truly excellent pitch black humour. Álex de la Iglesia, right from his first film Acción mutante, has always had such a strong sense of what dark comedy truly is, and only in his second film here it’s very obvious he’s got a very specific brand of humour that weaves through the rest of his filmography, regardless of genre. The Day of the Beast is a perfect movie for any holiday watchlist or marathon, as we watch the priest doing his best to learn about evil in order to sell his soul to Satan while the holiday season surrounds him. The whole film is absolutely unhinged; it is glorious.

36.15 code Père Noël a.k.a Deadly Games (1989)

Game Over Pere Noel36.15 code Père Noël is probably not as well known as it should be, especially in terms of horror movies fit for Christmas, because it was released in 1990 when Home Alone came along with a somewhat similar premise, captivating the box office. And considering this is a French film, it’s probably not even on a lot of Americans’ radars.
The film’s premise involves a child named Thomas, who lives in a bougie mansion with his mother and helps look after his ageing, weakening grandfather. They’re left alone together on Christmas Eve, only to be attacked by a psychopath in a mall Santa suit and chased around their sprawling home. Thomas does everything possible to save himself and his grandpa, fighting back against the psycho Santa any way he can.

Part of what’s so excellent about this film is that there’s an interesting use of computer technology in 1989, pre-internet, as Thomas comes in contact with the deranged man pretending to be Santa Claus through a Minitel kiosk at the mall. Though there were computers and plenty of other tech in films before 1989, 35.16 code Père Noël remains an early genre film that uses computers and online technology before home computers and the advent of the internet as we know it now were a thing. Also, because Thomas has a computer at home in this day and age, it further shows just how bourgeois this kid and his family are, though it’s not exactly a secret given they live in a massive Victorian-era mansion.
On top of everything else, whereas Home Alone pits a child against a couple criminals, 36.15 code Père Noël has a child confronting a surrogate Santa Claus, violently shattering the traditional quiet, calm, and family-oriented Christmas holiday. Very fun, and occasionally very nasty, little film that deserves more international recognition. If you always wanted Home Alone to be more sadistic and horror-oriented, then 36.15 code Père Noël is great holiday horror for a dark December night.

Black Christmas (1974)

Black ChristmasThere will never be a holiday horror list from Father Son Holy Gore without the inclusion of Bob Clark’s Black Christmas—the best Christmas horror movie, and a horror that was way ahead of its time in a lot of ways for 1974, not the least of which being how it depicts a young pregnant woman asserting her desire not to be a mother.

The best part about Black Christmas is simply that it’s very creepy. No matter how many times you see it, the film retains its unsettling atmosphere. Plus, the killer will forever be one of the most disturbing in the horror genre. On top of it all there are a few great laughs amongst the horror, though that never takes away from the eerie gruesomeness going on around the terrorised sorority sisters at the heart of the story.

Deathouse a.k.a Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

DeathouseThere’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.

The Leech (2022)

The LeechAlthough The Leech is billed as horror-comedy, it’s a lot more psychological horror than comedy, even if the film definitely has very dark comedy running through it that makes the whole experience unnerving. The film centres on Father David (Graham Skipper), a priest in a struggling church who’s trying to reach out in any way he can to folks, whether it’s the two or three in his congregation or people online. During the Christmas season, Father David finds Terry (Jeremy Gardner) sleeping in his church. He discovers Terry’s been living rough, and eventually he decides to let the man stay at his house for the night. A night turns into a whole lot longer, especially after Terry’s girlfriend Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke) turns up needing a place to stay, too. Father David quickly finds his patience and faith tested. Then nasty things happen that drive the priest over the edge.

This film is a whole lot more horrific than funny. There are certainly funny moments, most of them awkward as hell. Largely, The Leech is relentless psychological terror. David’s eagerness to be the most hospitable host even when confronted with Terry’s galactic level of narcissism raises the tension gradually until it’s deeply uncomfortable. By the end, all Hell breaks loose. The finale is somehow unexpected after all the madness. Won’t be for everyone. Still, The Leech works hard to be a Christmas horror film uniquely its own, and it’ll pair well with other holiday horror films that really drag Christmas—and particularly the Christmas spirit—through the mudblood.

Juleblod a.k.a Christmas Blood (2017)

Christmas Blood 2017There’s a unique quality to 2017’s Christmas Blood because it’s like a Nordic noir-meets-classic American slasher film in a single package. The film tells the story of a serial killer who dressed as Santa and killed people over the course of 13 years, but was finally caught. After nearly 6 years of solitary confinement, the serial killer escapes to terrorise a small Norwegian town where a bunch of young folks are partying on Christmas Eve. All the while, the killer’s pursued by detectives desperate to put a stop to his terror.

One of Christmas Blood‘s best qualities is it builds up to its best bits of horror, rather than starting off too quickly and burning its premise out. The Nordic noir elements run along in parallel to the slasher film story, never quite crossing so much as colliding. A fun, reasonably-paced slasher that never wears out its welcome like certain other similar Killer Santa films do.

The X-Files
Season 6, Episode 6: “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (1998)

X FilesOn Christmas Eve, Mulder convinces a very reluctant Scully to go with him to a supposedly haunted house, where all the owners have come to meet tragic deaths. It doesn’t take long for Mulder and Scully to get the creeps, as they first find old cobwebbed corpses that look just like them, and then the house starts to play tricks. Naturally there are some ghosts, too. And these haunting spectres are hoping to show the two FBI agents exactly how lonely Christmas can be, particularly when you’re, y’know, dead.

The tenderness underpinning Mulder and Scully’s relationship is present here in this Christmas episode, as they try to reconcile their different ideas about how to spend the holidays. Not only that, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are joined in this episode by two legends: Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin play ghosts who existentially pull apart Mulder and Scully’s Christmas season, piece by piece. The holidays work so well with The X-Files and this is one of the more delightful episodes of genre Christmas television out there by a country mile. Shoutout to Lily Tomlin perfectly delivering the line: “I dont show my hole to just anyone.”

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

Whoever Slew Auntie RooThe brilliant Shelley Winters is perfect for Christmastime!
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? tells the story of Mrs. Forrest (Winters), known affectionately as Auntie Roo, who has a Christmas tradition of inviting orphans to her mansion for a holiday party. Problem is that ole Auntie Roo has a tragic, dark past; she isn’t what you’d call the picture of mental stability. She lost her husband and never got over her dead daughter. In fact, Roo keeps her daughter’s corpse in the house.
And that, inevitably, starts to cause problems.

Winters is an absolute legend of cinema, so a horror film with her as the lead is quite the lovely treat. As Auntie Roo, she takes cinematic insanity seriously, cementing Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? in the ‘psycho biddy’ sub-genre. Then there’s a kind of contemporary re-telling of the Grimm Brothers’ “Hansel and Gretel” with Roo becoming a witch-like figure to a couple of the children. A thoroughly creepy, underrated film. And it has Christmas constantly looming in the background, making the horror feel all the more unsettling, particularly with all the orphaned children hoping for a Merry Christmas while Roo has other ideas in mind.

Le calendrier a.k.a The Advent Calendar (2021)

The Advent CalendarWhile The Advent Calendar has its flaws it’s also a pretty inventive horror film, taking a familiar and innocuous chocolatey Christmas treat and turning it into something supernaturally terrifying. The film follows a young paraplegic woman named Eva (Eugénie Derouand) who receives an odd advent calendar for her birthday, however, it’s not filled with chocolates or candies, it contains little gifts that soon bring strange horrors to Eva’s life.

This one is a nasty piece of work, but in a good way. The woman who plays Eva is fantastic, and it’s a tense affair watching Eva navigate the new terrifying things happening in her life due to the advent calendar’s awful gifts. Again, this one is very original in comparison to most other Christmas horror, offering something different other than slashing Santas, small Christmas creatures, or scary festive legends from other parts of the world than America. The Advent Calendar is a nice dose of creepy and an innovative change of pace to add to your Christmas horror movie marathon this year.

Season 1, Episode 1: “The Shorter Way”

NOS4A2NOS4A2 follows Vic McQueen, who discovers a strange power inside her that allows her to unlock portals and find lost things. The more she learns about her power, the more she discovers, such as the fact that there are others who can ‘travel’ like she does. That’s when she meets the hideous, psychopathic Charlie Manx, an immortal vampire who feeds off children’s souls. The two become nemeses, as Vic tries to battle Charlie, not only to protect herself and her loved ones, but potentially to protect all children.

You could probably just watch the entirety of NOS4A2 Season 1 throughout the Christmas holidays because it all revolves around Christmas, and Manx’s dreaded, haunting Christmasland, where he takes all the children he’s stolen. Even Season 2 is a good romp for this time of year. But the very first episode of NOS4A2 works perfectly for some holiday cheer mixed with many more holiday scares.
Zachary Quinto is so unbelievably unsettling in the show as the villainous and vampiric Charlie Manx. Ashleigh Cummings works wonderfully as the dedicated, hilarious, if not often stubborn Vic McQueen. There are other excellent characters, too! The best part of NOS4A2 is that it never holds back on the heartbreak or the horror, turning Christmas and the holiday season in general into pure emotional terror.

Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)

Don't Open Till ChristmasAlthough Don’t Open Till Christmas is a formulaic Santa slasher flick, it’s worthy of being on this list because it knows exactly what it is and never tries to be anything more, delivering kill after kill until the holidays are utterly splattered in blood and gore. The film’s story is about a Scotland Yard inspector trying to track down a serial killer who’s been hunting down men dressed in Santa costumes and brutally murdering them.

There’s a reporter in the mix, so it almost has a giallo feel, as the Scotland Yard inspector and the reporter try to find out how to stop the man killing all those Santas, while the killer goes on slicing and slashing every jolly old St. Nick he finds. There’s a kill in a club with a spear. Another Santa is knifed at a peep show. One Santa tries to take a leak and has his dick sliced off. There’s even an explosion. What else are you looking for?

Tales from the Darkside
Season 4, Episode 7: “The Yattering and Jack” (1987)

Yattering and JackChristmas horror is not right without Clive Barker.
Tales from the Darkside‘s adaptation of Barker’s “The Yattering and Jack” (written for TV by Barker himself) is a delightful, twisted, and silly addition to the Christmas horror-subgenre. The film sees an endlessly agreeable man, Jack Polo (Antony Carbone), being haunted by a demon, the Yattering (Phil Fondacaro). The problem is, the Yattering can’t do ANYTHING to drive Jack crazy. The demon tries everything and nothing seems to work. So, the Yattering has to find some kind of solution to this dilemma, particularly because the demon pact states that a demon can’t touch a human, or else that demon becomes the human’s slave.

Barker crashes demonic horror and Christmas together in this little tale that’s a lot more funny/fun than it is horrific. It shows the versatility of horror, as well as Barker, in that the genre can graft itself onto any other genre. The juxtaposition of comedy and horror is, admittedly, not one of my favourites, though someone like Barker is able to do it in such a way that it remains interesting. Here, there’s an almost reversal of positions with the demon becoming tormented by the fact he can’t seem to torment a human, and the Christmas setting elevates it into something great. Shoutout to the Yattering and Beelzebub both looking like they walked out of a gay 1980s leather bar; bless Clive’s heart!

The Lodge (2020)

The LodgeNo need to recount much of The Lodge‘s plot, because part of it needs to remain a terrible surprise. Just know the overall story involves a couple kids whose mother committed suicide due to the father moving on with another woman, and the kids are now forced to spend a Christmas vacation isolated in a cabin in the woods with dad’s girlfriend. What begins as an uncomfortable family situation eventually starts spiralling into gaslighting that leads to madness and, eventually, murder.

The Lodge is a deeply depressing and terrifying film. Another film that’s elevated to new awful heights because of the Christmas setting. The plot and story of The Lodge already entail a big slice of religious pie, so Christmas becomes a scoop of horrible (yet delicious) ice cream on the top, taking an already scary, tragic tale and making it all the more upsetting. This one will shake you to the core if you have any human emotions.

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

Maniac Cop 2Maniac Cop as a whole deals with sacrilege to the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant way of life by making a cop into a brutal, unfeeling psychopath who murders and uses the badge to get it done, though the rest of us know it’s not far off the mark. Of course it’s a slasher-style film, but still: cops are the worst. Maniac Cop 2 picks up where the first film left off with the eponymous cop continuing his murder spree across New York City. This time, he’s killing during the holiday season, blaspheming everything and everyone in his path.

This is a wild sequel, upping the ante in every sense. For a B-movie, this is something else! William Lustig brings the heat, especially leading up to the bonkers climax. And the cast is great: Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Bruce Campbell, Clarence Williams III, Charles Napier, Danny Trejo, and Sam Raimi.
Maniac Cop 2 is another horror on this list where the additional atmosphere of Christmastime makes things all the more horrific. The maniac cop, Matt Cordell, rips through wreaths and other Christmas imagery like he would flesh. This film is over-the-top in the best sense of the phrase. Do yourself a favour, even if you haven’t seen the first film, and throw this one on during the holidays.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)

PA - Ghost DimensionParanormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is, in my opinion, unfairly criticised and hated on, and it’s an underrated entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise. This film brings in the use of a special camera that picks up the presence of spiritual entities. The camera then leads the family at the centre of the film to discover more about their daughter’s new imaginary friend, Tobi. But, of course, like all Paranormal Activity films, interacting with spiritual beings, and worlds, never works out well.

One reason The Ghost Dimension is pummelled by fans is because it isn’t a typical Paranormal Activity film, right down to the fact there aren’t as many jump scares as the other entries in the franchise. This sequel/prequel/whatever is more of a slow-burning creepfest. Not only that, The Ghost Dimension does a lot of legwork for the overall mythology in the franchise, attempting to fill in spots and add to the lore, and that’s probably why I enjoy it so much. In a sense, this film works to expand the lore of Paranormal Activity further than any of the others.
And it just so happens to take place during the Christmas holidays!

Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022)

Christmas Bloody ChristmasChristmas Bloody Christmas takes about a half-hour or so to get going, which can be a slog—especially because the screenplay’s dialogue often sounds like it was written by a 20-year-old virgin—but then the Christmas horror really gets cooking with gas. It’s essentially a horror experiment that wonders what Arnold’s Terminator would be like if it were a mechanical Santa Claus instead of a futuristic robot killing machine. The mecha-Santa goes on an absolute rampage, providing plenty of holiday gore.

Generally I’m a big fan of Joe Begos, and his aesthetic is pure 1980s, adapted to the filming methods of today. Christmas Bloody Christmas is not at the top of my list when it comes to Begos’s best work. The film’s still a whole lot of fun, even after suffering for 30 minutes before the blood really starts to flow. This one is the perfect Christmas horror film if you have some friends hanging out, or even some family, and you’re all tired from the food/drink of it all: turn your brain off and watch Santa murder.

BBC’s A Christmas Carol (TV miniseries 2019)

A Christmas Carol 2019Without being too presumptuous, the BBC’s 2019 adaptation of A Christmas Carol is probably the closest to Charles Dickens’s Gothic vision of Scrooge during the holiday season that we’ve seen to date (even though the Muppets’ version remains my personal favourite). In this iteration, Scrooge (Guy Pearce) is meaner and nastier than ever, a truly awful capitalist making life horrible for everybody around him. This time we get more of Scrooge’s backstory, giving presence and life to the demons haunting him; it helps us understand why Scrooge hates Christmas so much. We also get just as much time with Jacob Marley (Stephen Graham), discovering more of his own backstory, along with his relationship to Scrooge, as he hurtles through a depressing afterlife scarred by his immoral decisions throughout life.

The beauty of A Christmas Carol is its willingness to be dark and dreary and grimy and ugly. Dickens’s own father was put in jail because of debt, so this particular story has always rang through with an unsettling understanding of how capital corrupts the human soul.
In this version of A Christmas Carol, though Scrooge is afforded more sympathy than ever, his misdeeds, along with those of Marley, are never forgotten. The Gothic journey on which Scrooge is carried by the ghosts is much more harrowing than any other film has offered. You won’t exactly get the feel-goods at the end because, again, this version keeps Scrooge accountable. Definitely A Christmas Carol for 2022 and beyond.

Alien Raiders (2008)

Alien RaidersThe plot of Alien Raiders is a tad convoluted, but the basics are that some people, presumably scientists, are hunting down aliens who continue to multiply by infecting people. Everything winds up going down in and around a small-town supermarket during the holiday season. There, a bunch of folks get trapped inside with gun-wielding men and out of control alien entities looking for new hosts.

Alien Raiders is a horror-science fiction mashup that, like a couple other films on this list, never really acknowledges Christmas much apart from visual indications looming in the background of the action. The Christmas lights and decorations in the grocery store provide a nice aesthetic backdrop to the gruesome alien horrors of the plot. Otherwise this is all aliens and horror on a low budget, yet it remains a good bit of fun. If you don’t necessarily need a whole lot of emphasis on Christmas in your Christmas horror/science fiction, then Alien Raiders is a good time.

Kitchen Nightmares
Season 6, Episode 16: “Amy’s Baking Company” (2013)

Kitchen Nightmares - Amy's Baking CompanyHorror is a subjective term; you can have very visceral horror and you can have psychological horror, among many other ways to divide horror into sub-genres. The Kitchen Nightmares episode in Season 6 when Gordon Ramsay visited Scottsdale, Arizona to try helping the owners of Amy’s Baking Company is one of the most psychologically horrific hours of television that has ever been. Gordon discovers good cleaning practices and proper food storage, unlike many other restaurants he visits. But he also finds two truly insane owners who’ve fired countless employees, who don’t give their wait staff the tips customers leave, and who cannot take a single second of criticism.

Amy herself is one of the most delusional people to have ever been captured on a reality television program, and her husband Samy is equally strange, not to mention potentially mob connected and perhaps dangerous. It’s almost surreal what happens after Gordon starts to discover the cracks in Amy’s Baking Company. He tries to do his usual shtick and attempts to get through to Amy, as well as Samy, but it escalates into shouting matches unlike Ramsay has ever had before, and more employees get fired, too. This episode is entertaining, but it’s far more unsettling than it is enjoyable, and it perfectly took place just a couple weeks prior to Christmas, giving it a place on this list of holiday horrors.

Home for the Holidays (TV Movie 1972)

Home for the Holidays 1972Although it’s not readily available everywhere, Home for the Holidays is still available on DVD in some places, so it’d actually make a great stocking stuffer for the horror fan in your life who has seen almost EVERYTHING. The TV movie is about an old man who calls his somewhat estranged four daughters back home for Christmas, then reveals that his second wife is trying to poison him to death and he wants the daughters to kill the wife. The daughters are obviously thrown for a loop. But soon they discover more about their stepmother: she was accused of killing her first husband. Even worse, they all start getting killed, one by one, at the hands of a murderer wearing a yellow rain slicker. Who could the killer be?

Fun to see a 26-year-old Sally Field in this, only ten years into her incredible career. There’s also Jessica Walter, who gets plenty of time to shine. The whole cast is pretty fantastic for a TV movie in the early 1970s, making what’s largely a run-of-the-mill story into something a bit more engaging. Good little TV movie. An underrated holiday horror offering, in spite of what other critics have written in the past.
The fact that this was made in 1972 is significant, too. The slasher formula hadn’t yet been entirely sketched out or set in stone at the time; the sub-genre was still running off the fumes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, both released in 1960 (fun note: the screenwriter of Psycho, Joseph Stefano, also wrote Home for the Holidays). Home for the Holidays came along before even Black Christmas and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as well as the later Halloween, all three of which had a huge impact on slashers. There’s even a potential influence from giallo films, many of which influenced American slashers in the 1970s and 1980s; the yellow rain slicker worn by the killer is straight out of a film by Mario Bava or Dario Argento. So even if you don’t love this TV movie, you have to admit it holds an interesting, special space in the realm of early slasher films.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 3, Episode 10: “Amends” (1998)

BuffyIn “Amends,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer sees Buffy and Angel at Christmastime. They try to plan a nice Christmas vacation together, but Angel’s being haunted by his demonic vampire past, when he was a menacing vampire who killed untold numbers of people. It really puts a wrench into the holidays. There’s an almost Christmas Carol quality to “Amends” with angel being plagued by the ghosts of his former self. Soon, he and Giles discover there’s an entity tormenting him called The First Evil, a force that predates men and demons alike, the personification of evil itself. And unfortunately, The First Evil can’t be killed. But Buffy’s able to kill the Harbingers of Death, terrifying henchmen in service of The First Evil, and this may prove to be a way for Angel to be set free.

For those who didn’t grow up while Buffy the Vampire Slayer was actually on television it’s hard to convey just how groundbreaking, beautiful, and horrific the show was, or how much people loved it at the time (and still do). Straight guys my age were head over heels in love with Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Willow, too. Gay guys and girls of all orientations my age wanted to BE Gellar, lusting after the likes of Angel and Spike.
One big reason why Buffy the Vampire Slayer was so beloved by many is it fused horror so well with the teenage and eventual young adult lives of its characters, offering all manners of supernatural horror while never forgetting the beautiful beating human heart of the characters, reflected in the engaging storylines and the intriguing development. This might be best seen in the Christmas episode, as Angel and Buffy deal with a lot of heavy stuff from his past that starts potentially coming to bear on the present. One of the show’s great episodes and a horrific yet heartwarming addition to your Christmas movie list any year.

The Apology (2022)

The ApologyThis Christmas season has brought out a couple new horror/thriller films set during the holidays, including The Apology. The film features Anna Gunn as a longtime recovering alcoholic named Darlene who’s getting ready to have a get-together with family for Christmas when her former brother-in-law Jack, played by Linus Roache, drops in unexpectedly bearing gifts and secrets. 20 years prior, Darlene’s daughter Sally went missing and there’s still no evidence to suggest she’s dead or alive. Over the course of Darlene and Jack’s visit they start to reminisce on the past, but this slowly starts to turn sour, not to mention dangerous.

Something intriguing about The Apology is that, at a certain point you know what Jack is going to tell Darlene, and yet it keeps you hanging on because you wonder what will happen on the other side of his revelation. A solid little Christmas film full of darkness. Essentially a chamber play, as Jack and Darlene work out their issues; we also get Janeane Garofalo as Darlene’s ‘close friend’ (or, more likely, lover), who plays a brief yet important part in things later. This one will fly under a lot of peoples’ radars. It’s a worthy holiday creeper that isn’t outright horror as many expect, but it’s absolutely a psychologically terrifying journey that doesn’t end exactly as you might expect after all the horrific revelations.

Trapped Alive (1988)

Trapped AliveTrapped Alive centres on several convicts who decide to make an escape from prison at Christmastime. They flee with two women as hostages, later encountering a sheriff’s deputy, but they all wind up crashing through an old mine shaft and getting trapped together. But the convicts are the least of anybody’s worry, once the hostages realise they’re also trapped beneath the earth with a cannibalistic mutant who is VERY HUNGRY.

This is another horror on the list that happens to take place at Christmas but doesn’t particularly dive into the holiday atmosphere. Christmastime is just a real convenient, busy time of year for a prisoner to make an escape. Trapped Alive is cheesy at times, and it’s certainly not winning any prizes for the special effects. Still, it’s a creepy little film with some unintentional 1980s horror laughs (I keep laughing at the play-on-words for one woman, as she talks about a mine shaft while working her way down to a man’s shaft) and a bit of gruesome death. The film has just enough of a holiday connection to be right at home here.

Adult Swim’s Yule Log / The Fireplace (2022)

Yule LogAdult Swim has done a great job over the past 21 years delivering weird, subversive, and occasionally totally surreal stories in one form or another via animated shows, and even live-action stuff from The Eric Andre Show to things like 2014’s “Too Many Cooks” or 2016’s “This House Has People in It.” Their 2022 Yule Log, which spins into a film called The Fireplace, might just take the cake for Adult Swim’s most disturbing, most horrific live-action programming to date.

What starts as a Yule Log screen with a bit of Christmas music quickly devolves into an act of absolutely disgusting (albeit nearly entirely off-screen) horror that kicks off the central plot of The Fireplace, as a couple arrive at a cozy Airbnb cabin to spend a romantic holiday weekend together. The couple are soon interrupted by news about a vicious murder in the area, along with a bunch of strange superstitious talk about a cursed tree. And it only gets weirder, not to mention creepier, spanning the sub-genres of horror from hillbilly horror, to the supernatural, to, obviously, Christmas-themed terror. Even though this brief description gives you a bit of an idea about the latest Adult Swim creation, there is absolutely no way to prepare yourself for what this Yule Log will deliver under your tree this year. You’ve been warned.

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