The 6 best Christmas horror movies

These bloody good horror flicks put a dark spin on the holiday

Krampus
Emjay Anthony in 'Krampus'
(Image credit: Alamy / Universal Pictures)

Get ready to see Santa slay. For horror fans still in the Halloween mood this holiday season, look no further than the surprisingly long list of scary Christmas films. They all provide a blood-soaked viewing alternative to "Elf" or "Home Alone": 

'Better Watch Out' (2017)

"Better Watch Out" falls into the "Barbarian" category of movies best watched knowing little beforehand. The setup: A 17-year-old girl, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), is babysitting a young boy (Levi Miller) during the holidays when she must fight to survive a home invasion. Suffice to say, there's more going on than that premise implies, and this is far from your typical home invasion movie. It's a film that suggests there are few things more terrifying and dangerous than male entitlement. 

'Christmas Bloody Christmas' (2022)

A recent holiday horror delight is "Christmas Bloody Christmas," a 2022 film offering a twist on the killer Santa movie subgenre — which, yes, is very much a thing. In this one, the killer Santa is actually a robot that goes rogue after being developed using cutting-edge Defense Department technology to replace mall Santas. It's an absurd idea, but the movie has fun with it. The film's success rests on the shoulders of final girl Tori (Riley Dandy), who goes full Sarah Connor in a balls-to-the-wall, hugely enjoyable third act. 

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'Christmas Evil' (1980)

1980's "Christmas Evil" was marketed as being similar to "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th," but it has more in common with "Taxi Driver." Unlike a typical slasher, the film takes the perspective of the killer, a Travis Bickle-type obsessed with Santa after a childhood incident where he saw Santa (e.g. his father in a Santa suit) groping his mom. Also unlike a typical slasher, we somewhat sympathize with the murderer. "Christmas Evil" has become a cult favorite, and John Waters even declared it his favorite Christmas movie, claiming it's a "heartwarming" film "for the whole family." If you say so, John. We recommend leaving grandma out of this movie night. 

'Silent Night, Deadly Night' (1984)

"Silent Night, Deadly Night" is another killer Santa movie where the murderer is the main character. But this one is sort of like if a "Friday the 13th" film spent its first half as a character study of Jason Voorhees before the rampage begins. It follows a man, Billy, who was traumatized when a murderer dressed as Santa killed his parents, so years later, he begins killing people dressed as Santa himself. The first half is somewhat slow if you're just looking for cheesy slasher goodness, but a bonkers second half makes up for it. Though it has since become a cult film, "Silent Night, Deadly Night" was so controversial in 1984 that it was pulled from theaters after a week — but a scene in the sequel where a character screams "garbage day" has earned a place in the internet meme hall of fame. 

'Krampus' (2015)

Michael Dougherty is the king of holiday horror films. He delivered the best Halloween movie of all time with "Trick 'r Treat" and followed that with a great Christmas horror movie, "Krampus." It follows a family holiday gathering that's disrupted by a blizzard, only for the group to be terrorized by Krampus, the figure who is essentially an evil version of Santa. What’s great about "Krampus" is that unlike many other movies that put a dark spin on holiday films, it’s not cynical. It has the warm-hearted core of a normal Christmas movie, with the lead character, a young boy, harboring an idealistic view of the holiday right out of a Charlie Brown special. It also effectively captures the tension between family members who aren't psyched to be spending Christmas together — and features the best killer jack-in-the-box in film history. 

'Black Christmas' (1974)

"Black Christmas" isn't just a great Christmas horror movie. It's mandatory viewing for horror fans in general, as it was crucial to the development of the slasher genre. Indeed, the film, which follows a group of college girls terrorized by a murderer during Christmas, was one of the earliest slashers, predating "Halloween" by four years. Its killer point-of-view shots clearly influenced John Carpenter’s masterpiece, and director Bob Clark has even claimed he came up with the idea for "Halloween" as a proposed "Black Christmas" sequel. Wes Craven also surely had the movie's intimidating phone call scenes in mind while directing "Scream," and unlike many other Christmas horror films that aim for a silly tone, "Black Christmas" is genuinely scary. Bonus: Pointing out that the same director is responsible for both this movie and "A Christmas Story" never gets old. 

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