Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Top 5 Christmas-Themed Horror Movies of All-Time!

Tis the watch kick-ass horror flicks with a frightful (yet festive) holiday hook!

Some movies are essential holiday viewing: "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "Ernest Saves Christmas," and if you're really feeling esoteric, maybe some "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," too. But what to do when you get tired of "White Christmas," and "The Santa Clause," and, uh, the first "Die Hard?" And furthermore, where do you turn when you want something darker than "Batman Returns," yet something still seasonally appropriate?

Well, I'm glad you asked, fellas, because I recently compiled a brief list of what I consider to be the finest Christmas-themed horror films ever. Yeah, a lot of these are really obvious, and you'll probably have no problem guessing at least two-thirds of the list just by the title alone, but as an abbreviated resource guide, I figure it'll do you in a pinch.

In the mood for some ho-ho-horror this Christmas, or just looking to add a little bit of creepiness to your Hanukkah or Kwanza festivities? Well, you're in luck, amigo: here are five flicks guaranteed to scare the jingle hell out of you this holiday season...

Number Five:
“Jack Frost” (1997)

“Jack Frost” -- not to be confused with the awful Michael Keaton family-friendly film released a year later -- is a really stupid movie, but it’s an endearingly stupid movie, made with at least a modicum of professionalism by people who at least attempted to craft a somewhat respectable film.

The storyline here is pretty simple. There’s this serial killer who is about to get executed around Christmastime, but wouldn’t you know it, the bus taking him to Old Sparky overturns and he gets melted in this weird-ass chemical mishap -- think, that one dude’s death in “Robocop,” had it been made with really primitive, shitty-looking CGI and sans that whole part about being run over by Red Foreman.

Of course, since this is a late 1990s straight-to-video horror film (complete with bitching lentacular VHS box art!), the serial killer dude isn’t really dead, he just had has evilness absorbed into a mound of snow, which in turn allows him to get revenge, a la Freddy Krueger and Chucky, via some abstract supernatural gobbledygook.

Yeah, it’s a mostly dumb horror-comedy (think “Leprechaun” here), with all of the predictably awful snowman puns you’d imagine a film of the like to contain. However, the cinematography is pretty good and as gimmicky as the premise it, the flick does manage to have a few decent scenes -- namely, the part where Shannon Elizabeth gets raped by a carrot. Alas, it’s a dumb movie (did I already tell you guys it’s a dumb movie?) but it’s an enjoyable dumb movie, at least. Unlike a lot of Christmas-themed horror films released since -- like the Bill Goldberg vehicle “Santa’s Slay” and especially those atrocious “Gingerdead Man” movies -- it’s not just snarky, po-mo, self-reflexive “let’s laugh at the inherent goofiness of the work as a whole” half-hearted cinema here. They gave the old collegiate try with this one, and as such? It’s probably worth a viewing this Yuletide season, especially if it’s a choice between this or something like “Santa with Muscles” or “Elves,” most certainly.

Number Four:
“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010)

A shockingly well-made Finnish film, “Rare Exports” is pretty much the best Christmas-themed, family-friendly horror-comedy ever made. Yeah, that’s right, “Gremlins” can go fuck itself compared to this one.

The film is very, very simplistic: a bunch of reindeer herders out in Scandinavia-land start wondering why their flock keeps dying, and then some scientist folks want to open up this giant burial ground nearby, and the tomb of this mysterious demon thing is unearthed and…well, I reckon you can figure out what happens from there, already.

Unlike most horror films with Santa as the villain, this time around, the evil Kris Kringle we’re dealing with isn’t just some standard wacko in a red outfit -- he’s an actual, honest-to-goodness Nordic demon or some shit, and he’s out to kidnap as many local children as he can. The acting in this flick is really, really good, and the direction is definitely sure-handed. And although it probably only cost a couple of dollars to make, it looks WAY better than a good 90 percent of the horror movies made stateside over the last ten or so years.

If you’re looking for a smart, creative and mostly suitable for children Noel-Horror flick, you’re unlikely to do better than “Rare Exports.” It’s inventive without being self-deriding, and enjoyable without being needlessly jubilant -- it’s a rare mix indeed, and probably a cinematic trail mix worth your time this holiday season.

Number Three:
“Christmas Evil” (1980)

Also known as “You’d Better Watch Out!” and “Terror in Toyland,” this early ‘80s slasher flick is usually considered the odd duck of the Triple Threat of Santa-themed splatter movies (which, as fate would have it, make up our top three selections on this countdown.) Whereas the other two Kringlesploitation films were more about the gore and nudity, this one is probably the most atmospheric of the trifecta; it’s certainly the most suspenseful, and in many ways, the most psychologically rich as well.

The film is very straightforward. This one kid watches his mama get felt up by his daddy (wearing full Santa garb, of course), so he develops this weird obsession with St. Nick as an adult. He works at a toy factory, and walks around his apartment -- in the full red and white costume -- and spies on neighborhood children, writing their names down on “naughty lists.” So yeah, we’re already dealing with all sorts of discomforting thematic, even BEFORE we get to the stabbing and slashing bits.

So, one day, the toy factory worker just snaps, and he decides to don his gayest regalia, steal a whole bunch of toys from work and deliver them to mentally handicapped children at a state home. And then, the wrong ruffians decide to give him a hard time, and from there? I suppose it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next.

As before, this is problem the least-exploitative of the big three Santa slashers, and it definitely has some damn fine moments -- especially the “dance scene” at the Christmas party, which is a work of post- Herschel Gordon Lewis psychedelic genius. And of course, you really can’t talk about the film without talking about the film’s finale, which is probably one of the top ten most brilliant endings in film history -- best steer clear from the Wikipedia until you’ve seen this one for yourself, lest you want to spoil one of the best “twist” endings this side of the first “Sleepaway Camp” movie, folks.

Number Two:
"Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984)

Of all the Christmas-themed horror films, none have been as controversial as “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” a mid-80s slasher film that drew protests and extremely sharp criticism from Siskel and Ebert -- who went as far as to urging their viewers and readers to write angry letters to the film’s distributor!

This is probably my personal favorite of the five listed on the countdown, and one of my all-time favorite slasher flicks ever. It actually has a fairly strong plot for the subgenre, and the acting -- while inescapably hammy -- is actually WAY better than your typical “Friday the 13th” style film.

The film concerns a young boy, who watches his ma and pa get butchered by a convenience store robbing Santa while his little brother cries in the backseat -- this, after getting a stern lecture about the “horrors” of Christmas from his supposedly catatonic grandpa a few minutes earlier. So, the kid gets sent to a Catholic school, where all the nuns beat him and tell him sex is evil, and eventually, he grows up to be all muscular and stuff so they give him a job at a local toy store. Of course, they make him put on the Santa garb, and at the company Christmas party, he finally snaps; after that, we’ve got rapists being strangled with Christmas lights, Linnea Quigley being impaled on moose antlers, a morbidly hilarious sled-related beheading and quite possibly one of the finest final acts of any slasher flick from the era.

I utterly adore this movie, and try to find an excuse to watch it every holiday season -- or at least, find an excuse to play the cheesy “Warm Side of the Door” montage song at as many get-togethers as possible. It’s a genuinely enjoyable film and something of B-movie mini-masterpiece, on par with something like “The Curse” or “Driller Killer.” Whatever you do though, just avoid the sequels, which range from comically horrible to gloriously inept to downright shit-tastic.

Number One:
“Black Christmas” (1974)

Of course, what else could possibly take the top spot? It’s pretty much the definitive Christmas-themed horror flick, and on top of that, one of the greatest slasher flicks of all time. What "It's A Wonderful Life" is to traditional X-Mas movies, this one is to degenerate X-Mas movies.

"Black Christmas," structurally, is your basic slasher narrative, which is pretty fitting since its arguably the first true North American slasher -- the Canadian opus, mind you, was released a good half decade before John Carpenter's "Halloween" allegedly "invented" the modern dead teenager flick.

So, there's this sorority, right? Well, some of the co-eds (among them, a pre-"Superman" Margot Kidder!) decide to stay on campus during Christmas break, and wouldn't you know it, some mouth-breathing pervert decides to start crank-calling them with obscene messages. And while the house mother is getting sloshed on liquor she keeps hidden in various medicine cabinets, some diabolical soul has actually snuck into the dorms, and whoever he or she maybe, this much is clear: he/she sure is creative with the cutting implements. And the strangulation devices. And quite a few other things as well, but I don't want to ruin the surprise for you.

It's a truly outstanding little horror film that feels a bit more real than most films of the type. For once, the townsfolk actually act like real human begins would act, and the police actually try to help the victims instead of laughing them off. Yeah, they made a "remake" a couple years back, but it's a piece of shit: if I were you, I'd definitely stick with original, and maybe even pair it with a back-to-back screening of "A Christmas Story." Yeah, it sounds like an odd combination -- that is, until you realize arguably the most iconic Yuletide film of them all was also directed by the same guy that made this one!


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