Holiday Horror

Favorite Things: Christmas Horror Films

Horror isn’t just for Halloween. Over the years there have been a number of great Christmas horror films to come out. Apparently Santa and his counterparts can be just as terrifying as any witch, ghost, vampire, or werewolf. When you really take the time to look at holiday horror there is to offer this time of year you may be surprised at the wide selection available to you. Keeping that in mind, I have decided to come up with my five favorite Christmas horror films. They are in no particular order, but all are beloved for their own reasons.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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Anyone who has read my site or looked at my social media knows that I count kid horror ever chance I get. It deserves as much attention as the scariest movies. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a classic film from my youth that not only encompasses both Halloween and Christmas, but it’s a great way to get younger audiences into horror. All Jack Skellington wants to do is get to the true meaning of Christmas and we as the audience get to watch things go wrong in the funniest ways. This is the perfect family Christmas horror film for all ages to enjoy.

Gremlins (1984)

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This is another great holiday horror flick that appeals to people of different ages. It is equal parts adorable, creepy, funny, and festive. While you may think this is another kid horror movie, keep in mind that there are actually a couple fairly gory scenes and many people die horrible (albeit funny) deaths. It’s hard not to love the fuzzy little creatures that multiply and become scaly green monsters that wreak havoc on the poor little town. Just try watching this film without wishing you had your own mogwai.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

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This is one of the most iconic Christmas horror films out there. I just saw it for the first time earlier this month and it is already one of my favorites. After seeing his family brutally murdered a boy grows to be a teen before witnessing another crime that makes him snap. This leads to an often times hilariously cheesy killing spree, all while wearing a Santa suit and telling his victims that they have been “naughty.” After one viewing, this film has already been added to my required holiday films that I will watch every year.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

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This Finnish film is not just a great holiday horror film, but an all around great movie. A group of workers accidentally unleashes the first Santa upon a small settlement in the countryside of Finland. The first Santa is not the fun-loving, present-giving Santa we have come to know and love. This one comes to punish bad children by whipping them and kidnapping them. Of course there is only one child that figures out what is going on, but it doesn’t take long for the adults to catch on. This film is exciting and creepy with a lot of dark humor thrown in. It also has one of the biggest “WTF” endings I have ever seen in a horror film, but it is an absolutely perfect way to end the story. One could argue that this is another film that could be watched with the family, but it all depends on your nudity comfort level (there are a lot of naked men, but the vast majority of nudity is in the shadows).

Krampus (2015)

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This film is probably the most frightening on my list, but this is also one I will likely show my kids as they grow up. It contains many of the same themes as A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life in that it is about a person (a young boy in this case) who loses his Christmas spirit and has to find it again. It can be terrifying at times, but there is also a lot of humor to it. I may be slightly biased about this film since it follows the German legend of Krampus, and much of my heritage is German, but it is still one of the best Christmas horror films out there. If you pay close attention you will also notice nods to other horror films, as well as other Christmas films. (Click here to read my full review for Krampus).

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD FRIGHT!

Fear, Inc.

A horror movie buff has his friends come in from out of town to celebrate Halloween. He wants to experience big scares, but finds the typical haunted houses and mazes predictable. A stranger tells him about a mysterious company called Fear, Inc. that will create terrifying scares catered to what he fears. Despite his friends warnings, the horror fan calls the company. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that he has made a grave mistake. He has put his friends and himself in peril as this dangerous company plays its wicked game.

What made this film stand out to me is that it strikes a cord with true horror fans. The discussions the friends have and the movies referenced are all parts of conversations we have had with other horror fans. There are also quite a few hidden gems throughout the film. They are almost like little inside jokes for genre fans to notice. An example of this is when the two lead males dress up as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees for Halloween. The reason this is hilarious is because one of those two actors was in the movie Freddy vs. Jason. I almost died laughing when I saw them in costume and made the connection.

In terms of the overall story, this film reminded me a bit of The Houses October Built. Both feature characters that are disillusioned by what Halloween haunted houses and corn mazes have to offer in terms of scares. As a result, they look for something more intense and terrifying. This leads the characters down a path they wish they hadn’t gone down. It plays into the idea of people wanting bigger scares to get the adrenaline going, but how far should it really go?

Fear, Inc. did a great job of making sure the audience understood the company manufacturing scares was not on the up and up. They will do whatever it takes to scare the participants, even if that means by physical means. The lead character thinks it’s all fun and games, but when it clicks in his head that the gore might be real things take a turn. The film quickly goes from more of a comedic style to an intense thriller. The end of the film is what really makes Fear, Inc. shine through. The filmmakers managed to create an ending that felt familiar to horror fans, but it was also something new and exciting that kept the audience guessing. The only downfall to the plot that comes to mind is a few minor questions I have (I don’t necessarily want to call them plot holes) about how certain things were achieved.

This was a film that had an all-around great cast you could tell had fun making the film. Lucas Neff (Raising Hope, Glitch) was quite lovable as the lead, Joe. I used to watch Raising Hope, and I almost didn’t even recognize him in this film. Not only did he physically look different, but he plays such a laid-back character compared to how I was used to seeing him. I loved watching Neff portray Joe as this carefree guy that thinks everything is a game until things go too far, and then we get to see his more intense side. Caitlin Stasey (Reign, All Cheerleaders Die) was also delightful as Joe’s girlfriend, Lindsey. She stood out to me because of how she could change her character’s disposition at the flick of a switch, while still making it seem natural.

Since this is a horror film made to appease genre fans, there was of course a healthy amount of gore. The filmmakers were very clever about how they showed the blood and guts. Much of what we see looks better than a low budget horror film, but also not too realistic. It is this odd in-between area where it could possibly be real, but it could be fake as well. It helped us stay in the same mindset as Joe so the audience is never sure if what we are seeing is real or all part of an act. This helped us to try to figure things out along with Joe.

If I had to say one thing about this movie it’s that it is fun. This film was a perfect homage to the horror genre and the loyal fans. Fear, Inc. is a film that makes you laugh and gasp in turn, and it keeps you guessing from start to finish. It is a movie that will be added to my list of  must-watch films for Halloween. If you are a true fan of horror, this is not a film you should pass up on. It may not be scary, and there may be one or two things that could have used a bit more explaining, but it is the most fun I’ve had watching a horror movie in  while.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Krampus

These days, Christmas does not mean what it used to. Christmas used to be a time of giving, cheer, and holiday spirit. Now it’s about trampling each other to get to the best Black Friday deals and being forced to spend the holidays with relatives you hate. For young Max (Emjay Anthony) Christmas was once a magical time. This year, he has reached his breaking point. After losing his holiday spirit, Max unwittingly unleashes the wrath of the evil Krampus. Now, his family has to fight for their lives to survive this Christmas.

When I heard that writer/director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) was making another holiday horror film, I was very excited. I absolutely loved Trick ‘r Treat so I had very high expectations for Krampus, especially since I was already familiar with the folklore. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Krampus will definitely be added to the list of amazing Christmas-themed horror flicks. What I loved about this film was that it took a sinister character from ancient folk tales, and adapted the story to fit in with the modern world.

The visual effects in this film were excellent. The CGI primarily focused around the little helpers that Krampus used to infiltrate the family’s home. The helpers were created in such a way that they were pure evil without appearing over the top. These characters are my favorite aspect of the film because they are absolutely adorable and terrifying all at once. This is the kind of character that Dougherty excels at utilizing, like he did with Sam in Trick ‘r Treat.

The characters that did not require CGI were great as well. The elves were dressed in a very smart way so that they didn’t require a lot of practical effects makeup. They were mostly just shrouded in rags with horns on their heads and glowing eyes. Krampus was of course very well done. They made him this massive horned beast with cloven hooves wearing a large cloak and covered in chains. His silhouette was so striking, and it definitely had a frightening impact when you see it for the first time. His face was probably my favorite part though. They made his face look almost like a doll or mask version of old Saint Nick, but it was distorted into a face of anger with eyes that were deep-set and demonic looking. He really was a beautifully dark character.

While the acting in this film overall was fantastic, Emjay Anthony (Chef) definitely stood out for me. In horror films I tend to find child actors to be either creepy as hell or so annoying you just want them to die already. Anthony not only did a great acting job, but he also managed to to portray a kid I could truly empathize with and I cared about his well being. Of course Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) did an excellent job portraying their characters’ fear while also being hilarious. Another standout performance for me was Krista Stadler (Mobbing) as the wise Omi (which is German for grandma). I had never seen her in anything else before, but I loved that she brought more of the traditional German folklore aspect of Krampus and that she spoke virtually only in German the entire film.

I found this to be a very compelling tale that really dives into what is wrong with the holidays in modern times. What better way to solve those modern day problems than with an ancient evil? This film delves into the fact that Christmas has become this greedy, consumer and profit driven time of year. It is no longer about “good will toward men.” It really does seem appropriate to use a character like Krampus to teach a lesson to those who have lost what the true meaning of Christmas is. There were only a couple aspects of the story that I didn’t enjoy as much. The first being that there are a series of events at the climax of the film that seem much too rushed. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t have enough time to give the events more care so they just crammed them all together in quick succession. The other aspect is the ending, but it’s not what you think. Obviously, I’m not going to give too much away. When the end finally came I felt incredibly underwhelmed by it. Don’t worry though, the film redeems itself before the credits start rolling so much so that I can’t imagine it ending any other way.

Krampus is a film that will be added to my list of Christmas movies I have to watch every year. It ties in old traditions with how the holidays are today. It has a compelling cast of characters from young Max to Krampus himself. There really isn’t much I can say about this film that isn’t good. Plus, this film is humorous enough with cutesy evil characters that you could probably introduce it to younger audiences (especially if they still believe in Santa so you can show them what happens when they are naughty). Definitely go see this film for the holiday season with the whole family, then rewatch it every year for Christmas.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Favorite Things: Halloween Horror Movies

Halloween. It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. The change in leaves, the crisp air, the costumes, and of course the great horror movies. It only seemed fitting that for my blog’s first Halloween I do a list of some of my favorite horror movies that take place during Halloween. This list is in no particular order and range from classics to more recent favorites. Let’s begin…

Halloween (1978) 

This is probably the most obvious horror movie that takes place during Halloween, but it is also one of the best. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, some of my earliest horror movie memories are related to this film. It is a classic slasher flick that still sends chills down my spine, even though it’s been almost 40 years since its release. Jamie Lee Curtis really showed her acting abilities in this. She also has one of the best screams I have ever heard. She is by far one of my favorite “final girls.” Although I may be a bit biased because I think she and my mom look alike.

Honorable Mention: The 2007 Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is actually quite good. It stayed true to the original, while also adding quite a bit of back story on how Michael Myers became the iconic killer.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

This may be a slightly less popular choice, but this film definitely has a cult following. The Halloween movies were meant to be almost like an anthology series where each film focused on a different story taking place during the holiday. Many people likely went to the theater expecting to see another Michael Myers film. Because of this, the film did not do well at the box office. Since then it has become wildly popular with horror fans. I have to admit the first time I saw this movie I hated it. I have watched it a few times since then, and now it is definitely one of my favorite Halloween-themed films.

Trick r’ Treat

This is another film that has a huge cult following. I didn’t see this movie until several years after its release. When I finally watched it, I immediately fell in love. The film is done in an anthology style where all the stories are connected in some way. What makes this film so great is that it covers all the major themes you think of when you think of Halloween. The “main character” of the film, Sam, is great because he manages to be absolutely adorable and terrifying at the same time. This is very difficult to manage, and I still don’t understand how they did it. Trick r’ Treat really is a classic film that I now watch every year for Halloween.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps will forever be one of my favorite horror movies. The fact that it takes place during Halloween just adds the icing to the cake. I find the main characters, Ginger and Brigitte, to be fascinating and complex characters. It’s also amazing the actresses are able to portray this complexity while also having to be regular teenage girls. Their bond throughout the film also draws me in. I will warn the men who are interested in seeing this film that the entire movie could be seen as one giant metaphor for a girl going through puberty, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. There is a lot of fun gore and practical effects, plus the script for this film is absolutely incredible.

Idle Hands

I know this is probably the most cheesy movie that will appear on this list. You might say it’s a ridiculous choice. Well, I don’t care. This movie cracks me up and has fun with horror. Plus the young nineties girl in me will forever be in love with Devon Sawa. I have always loved this film because it is hilarious and has copious amounts of gore. It is a film you can watch for Halloween if you want a healthy dose of horror accompanied by a fun and light-hearted tone. Idle Hands is a great Halloween horror choice for watching with a group of friends, especially if there are some in your group that don’t necessarily want to watch a scary movie.

The Houses October Built

This film only came out last year, but it has already made quite a name for itself. The most endearing quality of this film is that it examines why people love to be scared. It also delves into how extreme some people will go with those scares. It’s a great concept, and the cast is really fantastic. I’m sure this film will only grow in popularity over the years, much in the way that some of the previous cult classics I mentioned have. My only recommendation is to watch this after you go to a haunted house. If you watch it before, you just might change your mind.

House of 1000 Corpses

This is another one of my favorite horror films, and the film that made me fall in love with Rob Zombie as a director. It’s a unique story that got me within the first few minutes. This film is intense, bloody, and filled with insane characters. What I love most about the film (and the sequel) is that Zombie manages to create characters that are truly despicable, yet there is something about them that you can’t help but love. That takes true talent, especially when you see what these crazies like to do for Halloween (and on ever other day of the year). Watching this makes me want to be a part of the Firefly family. After watching the film, you will understand that this is not the most sane way to look at that family.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!

The Houses October Built

Every October, various haunted houses and corn mazes open up all over the country. Their sole purpose is to scare the living hell out of you. In this film, a group of childhood friends decide to make a documentary about the scariest, most extreme haunts in the United States. Along their journey they hear humors about one specific haunt that is the most intense scare a person could ever have. As they journey to find this elusive haunt, things start to happen that lead them down a dark path they may not be able to come back from.

The main premise of the film is how back in the day, a basic haunted house where people jumped out at you and said “boo” was enough to scare the pants off most people. I myself am a total wimp. I went to the same haunted corn maze two Halloweens in a row and it scared me to death both times. These days people want the more extreme kind of haunt where the actors go past the point of what may be considered legal in most places. I have even heard stories of haunted houses where you have to sign some kind of waiver before you even go in so that if any physical or mental harm comes to you there can be no legal action taken. While I don’t know if places like this truly exist, it is the kind of place mentioned in the film that these people are dying to experience.

Intermixed within the film are interviews with supposedly real owners and actors at various haunts. The people being interviewed tell stories about extreme things that have happened at haunted houses, even murderers and sex offenders being hired as actors and using the job as a way to find new victims. While I have heard of plenty of crimes committed on Halloween, I’m not sure how valid the claims are that crimes are committed within haunted houses. This does bring up a fear that I believe many people have before entering a haunted house. You know the actors are technically not allowed to touch you, but what if a serial killer really was hired at a haunt and hid the remains of their victims within the sets.

The two aspects mentioned above give you the two extremes. On the one hand, people want something that is so outrageous and horrifying that they will never forget it. On the other hand, there is always the chance that the people in your friendly neighborhood haunted house are much worse than what they appear to be. In that way, this film makes sure that it covers all the potential fears a person may have before entering a haunt. They even show the different kinds of scares you get in various haunted houses and how it has evolved over the years. It starts with your more basic evil clowns and creepy dolls then moves into more shock horror with people being gruesomely tortured before your eyes, culminating in the ultimate scare where you are the victim of an all too real haunt.

Looking beyond the story alone, one of the aspects of this film that made is so believable was the acting. This group of people had such amazing chemistry and genuine reactions when they were going through the haunted houses that it made the entire story that much more believable. The few characters that you see from the haunted houses were great as well. Even the more silent ones, like the iconic porcelain doll, really know how to creep you out. The various masks and makeup that were used on the haunt actors was quite effective as well.

In my opinion, this film did not get as much credit as it deserved. While the ending was a bit lackluster, like so many horror movies, the overall storyline was very interesting. It seems likely that the kind of people that would appreciate this film the most are those that love Halloween and love to be scared. With excellent acting and a fairly unique topic for this fake documentary, it was hard for me to not enjoy the movie. It is the kind of movie that will be a favorite when Halloween comes around each year.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10