Christmas is just a week out. For obvious reasons, October is the biggest calendar month of the year for horror. While they’re fewer in number, Christmas-themed horror movies do pop up more than you might expect. Once considered to be particularly subversive, the Killer Santa of Silent Night, Deadly Night outraged critics and parent groups. It’s worth pointing out that Killer Santa’s popped up in a handful of horror movies before Silent Night, Deadly Night minus the controversy. And they’ve turned up in horror movies now and then since that mid-80s moral panic without drawing much attention. So as we count down the last days before Christmas morning, let’s take stock of the Killer Santa in horror movies over the years.
Tales from the Crypt (1973)
From Amicus Productions and the classic era of British anthology horror movies, Tales from the Crypt remains one of the best of its kind. Just the cast alone – which includes Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, and Ian Hendry – makes this one worth a look. Only the first segment, And All Through the House, features a Killer Santa. Here, Joan Collins spots an escaped homicidal maniac dressed as Old Saint Nick skulking outside her house. But she can’t call the police on account that she’s just murdered her husband. Though it’s tame by today’s standards, And All Through the House is exactly the kind of morality tale you’d expected from a British horror anthology.
To All A Good Night (1980)
This next Killer Santa movie is a pretty obscure entry from the early slasher era. Older horror fans will recognize the name of the director, David Hess. Arguably, Hess is most remembered for playing sleazeball villains in Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, Swamp Thing, and The House on the Edge of the Park. All the ingredients for a decent slasher movie were here in To All a Good Night. Young co-eds at an all-girls finishing school secretly stick around over the holidays to party with some boys. Pretty soon a homicidal maniac dressed as Santa Claus crashes the party. Could the murders have anything to do with the tragic accidental death of a student two years earlier? Probably, yes. Mostly dull and derivative, To All a Good Night does offer some unintentional laughs.
Christmas Evil (1980)
Between Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night, the latter is the clear winner of Grindhouse Christmas movies. Despite its subversive take on the festive holiday, Christmas Evil is a mostly dull, half-hearted slasher. As a psychological thriller, it’s laughable in all the wrong ways. Some Grindhouse hallmarks, including a creepy score, save this one from the waste bin. Bottom-line, it’s still a lump of coal. Much of the movie is spent mapping out Harry Stadling’s declining mental state. Too bad Christmas Evil lacks the material and talent to make it work. Don’t expect to find much substance here. Writer and director Lewis Jackson’s ‘childhood trauma’ is pretty limp stuff. As far as tragic slasher backstories go, it ranks pretty low. Throw in a lack of scares and kills, and Christmas Evil is the equivalent of getting socks for Christmas.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
While it’s not the first Killer Santa movie, it’s probably the one that immediately comes to mind for horror fans. Technically, Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t a ‘good’ movie on any objective standards. But that’s not the point. This is pure Grindhouse and ‘Midnight Movie’ trash that earns its cult status. Like other 70s and 80s Grindhouse thrillers The Driller Killer and Maniac, Silent Night, Deadly Night fancies itself to be something of a pseudo-psychological study of a killer. Stiff performances and a silly, heavy-handed story undermine that goal. What you’ll remember are the grimy production values and brutal kills. If that’s what you’re looking for, be sure to pick up the Scream Factory blu-ray with re-assembled old footage.
Deadly Games (1989)
Before Home Alone was a box phenomenon, there was this obscure French horror movie. Alternatively titled Game Over and Dial Code Santa Claus, Deadly Games pits a clever little boy against a depraved man who breaks into the family home dressed as Santa Claus. On one hand, Deadly Games finds a resourceful child crafting homemade weapons and traps to fend off the home invader. There’s also a bit of humor and holiday sentimentality. Unlike Home Alone, however, this is a horror movie boasting a disturbing Killer Santa. Our young hero is actually in danger, which leads to a handful of unsettling moments. If you’ve seen most Christmas horror movies, Deadly Games may be worth checking out on Shudder.
Santa’s Slay (2005)
Pro wrestler Bill Goldberg playing a demonic Santa Claus in a Canadian horror-comedy that mentions curling can’t be all bad. And Santa’s Slay has its moments. Nothing about this movie is meant to be taken seriously. All of the kills come courtesy of Christmas-loaded puns. SNL veteran Chris Kattan (House on Haunted Hill), Fran Drescher, Rebecca Gayheart (Urban Legend), and SCTV alum Dave Thomas turn up in supporting roles. Yet intentional or otherwise, the silliness quickly runs out of steam. Lovers of bad movies may enjoy this Killer Santa entry, everyone else may want to hold on to their gift receipt.
Rare Exports (2010)
Looking for a completely different take on the Santa Claus myth, you’ll want to check out this Finnish import. In a remote region of Finland, a foreign drilling team breaks ground in what locals believe to be an ancient burial mound locking in some past evil. Soon thereafter a local reindeer farmer finds his livestock slaughtered and children go missing. When a young boy, Pietari, sets a trap, he captures a naked, feral old man who just may the source of the Santa Claus myth. Not surprisingly, this Santa isn’t very jolly. Despite some iffy CGI effects here and there, Rare Exports is a dark mix of horror and fairy tale that also has some light moments. Of all the Killer Santa movies on this list, Rare Exports is arguably the most refreshingly inventive.
Christmas Slay (2015)
Rounding out this list of Killer Santa movies is the amateurish British slasher, Christmas Slay. There’s not really much to say about this bottom-of-the-barrel horror movie – there’s probably about half-dozen similar movies floating around on Tubi. A Santa-obsessed killer escapes and stumbles upon a group of college girlfriends camping in the Scottish Highlands. What follows is poorly paced and filled with poor acting and poor gore effects. This is the kind of movie that would have benefitted from some tongue-in-cheek humor. Instead, Christmas Slay takes itself far too seriously for over 90 minutes. Before it’s over, you may find yourself switching over to the Hallmark Channel. And that’s scarier than this movie.
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