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‘Tis the Season for Xmas Horror Flicks
Tired of facing all those masses at the shopping malls? Tired of waiting in lines with all those screaming kids? Tired of giving all your hard-earned money to those bell-ringing Santas outside trolling for charities? Feel like you’d rather burn down a tree rather than decorate it? Feel like you’re gonna toss your cookies if you see just one more Christmas cartoon? Okay, Ebenezer, have I got some movies for you. Get ready to release your inner Grinch the safe way, as we bring you the all-time greatest Xmas horror flicks!
The Classic: Black Christmas (1974) - The granddaddy of all holiday horror flicks, “B.C.” beat “Halloween” to the punch by 4 years. That’s not all it pioneered. You know the infamous point-of-view-of-the-killer thing that everyone does now? Present and accounted for. How about the old the killer terrorizing the girls over the phone thing? Also starts here. Not to mention the whole “the calls are coming from…inside the house!” thing. Countless horror movies, from “When a Stranger Calls” to “Scream” owe a debt of gratitude to this, what many consider the forerunner of all modern slasher flicks.
Directed by Bob Clark, who went on to bigger success with the “Porky’s” series and an Xmas classic of a decidedly different stripe- the perennial fave “A Christmas Story”- this flick features a pre-”Superman” Margot Kidder, a post-”Romeo and Juliet” Olivia Hussey, as well as genre faves John Saxon (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Keir Dullea (“2001: A Space Odyssey”). It revolves around a whacko terrorizing a sorority house around the holidays, with a nifty twist ending (not just the killer is calling from inside the house thing).
The 2006 remake is way gorier, with a bigger-name to modern audiences cast, including Katie Cassidy (“Arrow”), Michelle Trachtenberg (“Buffy,” “Ice Princess,” to which there is a nod), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Death Proof”), Maxim cover girl Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five,” “Mean Girls”), and original star Andrea Martin, but it’s pretty scare-free and the script (by one of the guys behind the “Final Destination” franchise) is pretty anemic. Pretty girls do not a good film make, so stick with an original, unless you’re a die-hard fan of any of those ladies.
The Overlooked Cult Classic: Silent Night, Bloody Night (1973)- Preceding the previous entry by months, this gem also features a holiday theme, killer P.O.V. camera work, and freaky phone calls. However, while B.C. is more of a slasher flick; this is more of a murder mystery, with a genuinely bizarre feel to it that recalls the work of David Lynch. Understandable, since the film was directed by Andy Warhol protégée Theodore Gershuny, and features Factory members Mary Woronov (“Rock’n’Roll High School,” “Eating Raoul”) and Candy Darling (some of you might remember Stephen Dorff’s memorable portrayal of her in “I Shot Andy Warhol”), as well as genre regulars Patrick O’Neal (“The Stepford Wives”) and a scene-stealing John Carradine (too many to name, but most know him from “The Howling”). Great ending and love that bell! (You’ll just have to see for yourself).
The Illegitimate Spawn: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)- Far and away the most notorious holiday horror film, this one aroused protests and was outright banned after only two weeks of release! Thanks to DVD, you can judge for yourself, but really it’s tame by today’s standards. The story concerns a kid who witness his mother get killed and raped by a psycho dressed as Santa! Merry Xmas to you, too! Anyway, young Billy grows up reasonably well-adjusted until the store he works in forces him to dress as Santa for the holidays, and buried memories resurface. Next thing you know, the “naughty, naughty, very naughty” citizens are being taken out in Xmas-not-so-friendly ways, i.e. a sledder gets decapitated as he shoots down a hill, another is strangled with Xmas lights, and the film’s lone “name”, Scream Queen par-excellence Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”) is colorfully dispatched via reindeer antlers! Well, at least it’s inventive!
Believe it or not, 4 sequels followed, including one which is over-half made-up of footage from the 1st film! (Totally worth it for the infamous “Garbage Day!” scene.) Thankfully, both are on the same disc, so you won’t be duped like other buyers were on video. The 4th and 5th sequels have nothing to do with the first two, but all are pretty star-studded by genre standards. Featured players include: Part 3- Bill Moseley (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” “The Devil’s Rejects”), Laura Harring (“Willard,” “Mulholland Drive”), Richard Beymer and Eric DaRae, both from TV’s “Twin Peaks”; Part 4- Clint Howard (brother of Ron, “Ice Cream Man”), Reggie Bannister (“Phantasm”), Maud Adams (“Octopussy” herself); and, best of all, Part 5 features none other than Mickey Rooney (who infamously dissed the original, so I guess he adopted the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude when he was out of work), camping it up as “Joe Petto”- get it? All are entertaining enough, but don’t say you weren’t warned about part 2.
The Oddball Alternative Rock Connection: Christmas Evil (1980)- Aka “You Better Watch Out,” this entry features Brandon Maggart, who is none other than piano siren Fiona Apple’s dear old dad! Now we know where that bad attitude comes from! This one deals with the breakdown of Xmas fan Harry Stadling, who keeps a “Nice” and “Naughty” list of his own and decides to take matters into his own hands, dressed in, you guessed it, Santa garb. Also features a young Patricia Richardson, later of TV’s “Home Improvement”. It’s one of UAB visitor and trash aficionado John Waters’ favorites, and features an entertaining DVD commentary by Maggart and the director, Lewis Jackson.
The English Cousin: Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)- In this offering from England, Santa is the victim, not the killer. A psycho targets anyone dressed as Santa in not-so-jolly old London, this troubled production was reportedly tag team directed by 3 directors, and therefore feels somewhat disjointed as a result, veering from detective thriller to exploitation to slasher flick by turns. Despite this, it’s a fun watch, and includes a cameo by genre fave Caroline Munro (“Maniac,” “The Spy Who Loved Me”) as… herself!
Other Xmas Treats (and Tricks): Don’t forget the classic “Gremlins” (1984), written by then-unknown Chris Columbus, who would go onto much more holiday-related success with “Home Alone” and the first two “Harry Potter” films. It’s darker than you remember, with a particularly memorable Xmas-gone-horribly-awry tale by the babe-a-licious Phoebe Cates that almost didn’t make the cut.
The original movie version of “Tales From the Crypt” (1972) features a psycho Santa terrorizing a murderous Joan Collins (TV’s “Dynasty”) in the segment “All Through the House” (be sure and also watch the segment “Blind Alleys”, which was a big influence on the current “Saw” series), which was also remade for the HBO series of the same name. Both are available on DVD, with the latter on Season One of the series.
Co-writer of the original “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) John Russo took a stab at Xmas Horror with the amateurish “Santa Claws” (1996), featuring Troma regular and all-around hottie Debbie Rochon (“Terror Firmer,” “Tromeo and Juliet”). Despite an abundance of goodies we should all be lucky as to find under the mistletoe, if you know what I mean and I think that you do, the F/X and acting is terrible, despite a valiant effort from Rochon, who deserves better, even by her standards. The end result is more of a (tame) skin flick than a slasher, so buy it at your own risk, or better yet, rent. There’s also the glorified student film-type projects “Satan Claus” (1996), “Christmas Season Massacre” (2001), and “Psycho Santa” (2003), cheaply-made slasher flicks that somewhat deliver the goods, but are all pretty silly.
“Santa’s Slay” (2005), features the most impressive Xmas horror cast to date, including James Caan (a long way from “The Godfather”), Rebecca Gayheart (“Urban Legends”), Chris Kataan (“SNL”), Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”), Nicky Hilton (all in the first scene, mind you, but not the rest of the film), Dave Thomas (“SCTV”), Robert Culp (also in Part 4 of the “Silent Night” series), “Lost”-survivor Emilie DeRavin, and as the psycho Santa, wrestler Bill Goldberg, camping it up to the hilt. It’s pretty silly, despite impressive production values, but there’s nothing wrong with a little comedy in your horror, if it’s done right, and for the most part, it is.
Others in this vein, minus the star power are: the Dutch “Saint Nick” (2010), which is grounded in the actual legend of Saint Nicklaus himself, aka Krampus, with all the requisite politically incorrectness that you might expect for those who know their history; the Finnish “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010), which is surprisingly excellent, darkly humorous, and beautifully filmed, with some exquisite location-shooting; and for those already missing “The Walking Dead,” check out the zombie-themed “A Cadaver Christmas” (2011), which is self-explanatory and good silly, gory fun.
Finally, there’s the all-time camp classic, the self-explanatory “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964), featuring a young Pia Zadora (the original “Hairspray”), and just released as a combination book/DVD. Makes a perfect stocking stuffer! For those looking to carry on the horrific holidays into the new year, check out the terror trio “Terror Train” (with scream queen fave Jamie Lee Curtis and a pre-Prince Vanity), “New Year’s Evil” (both 1980) and “Bloody New Year” (1987), all set on New Year’s Eve. Well, that about covers it. Happy holidays, and remember, be good for goodness sake, because he knows when you’ve been bad…
For more Christmas movie madness, check out this article!