As has become something of a tradition in recent years, I tried to watch a few Christmas horror movies recently. Some people love classics like White Christmas. Some love comedies like Scrooged (I'll watch it soon...). Others mount complex legal arguments for and against the proposition that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Many delve into that vast vanilla land of Hallmark and its imitators.
But lately it has seemed to me that the perfect genre for the solstice-adjacent holiday season is horror.
It's not that I hate Christmas. Really, I don't. It's fine. It can be fun, although not as fun as Halloween. I like the quiet darkness of solstice time, but I find that we kind of just overdo the whole thing these days, at least here in the US.
I'm not sure the traditional Christmas story that forms the core of Christianity ever made much sense to me. And the rampant capitalist commercialization of the season, the pressure to have a perfect experience and spend money we don't have on gifts that few of us really need, cheesy versions of the same nine Christmas songs ... all of that really does horrify me, I guess.
So I think Christmas horror movies appeal to me as a way to deal with my conflicted feelings about this holiday season. See also Weird Al's magnificent, "The Night Santa Went Crazy" and "Christmas at Ground Zero."
Or maybe it's just fun and funny to mix a jolly holiday with some blood and guts?
Here's what was on my agenda this year: Violent Night, Christmas Bloody Christmas, Don't Open Till Christmas, Await Further Instructions, and A Nasty Piece of Work.
Violent Night (2022)
What if you could solve the is-Die Hard-a-Christmas-movie? debate by remaking Die Hard, only with David Harbour as a burnt-out Santa instead of John McClane and John Leguizamo at his Leguizamiest instead of Hans Gruber? That's kind of what happened here, only with a dash of Home Alone and plenty of delightful horror kills. I went to see this at the theater with a friend who appreciates over-the-top horror as much as I do. We were both entertained.
Violent Night may not win any Oscars, but I think it will be making a lot of present and future lists of bonkers fun Christmas horror movies.
Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022)
What if The Terminator were a Christmas movie? Okay, that's not exactly what's going on in this movie, but there is a robot Santa made from a repurposed military death bot. Our main character, Tori, is a record store owner who just wants to get drunk and meet up with her Tinder date on Christmas Eve, but her employee convinces her to hang out with him instead, which includes a visit to their friends' toy store, which has one of the Robo-Santas. And wouldn't you know it? Santa-tron 2000 goes on a homicidal rampage around the small town, leaving Tori to take up the mantle of Final Girl.
This is a fun one, too. I maybe got a bit more character background scenes than I wanted in a movie about a murderous Santa-bot, but once The Sant-inator shows up and the kills get more and more ridiculous, I was having a great time. I caught this one on Shudder.
Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
I saw this one on Shudder's Joe Bob's Ghoultide Get-Together, which is always an educational way to watch a movie like this. Although now I'm not sure what I mean by "like this"? Rambling movies about the seedy side of London with a serial killer murdering anyone in a Santa suit, one victim while patronizing a stripper booth?
It makes a little more sense when Joe Bob Briggs explains how this movie came about, but it's still the kind of thing where you have to just relax and enjoy some amusing horror nonsense.
Await Further Instructions (2018)
Another British entry on Shudder! But a really different kind. Whatever Don't Open Till Christmas may be, Await Further Instructions could easily be classified as science fiction horror, which is my favorite kind of horror! A somewhat miserable middle-class British family is meeting for Christmas. After some tension (including racist family members), the house is encased in a mysterious material with no possible escape. Then messages begin to appear on the TV screen, including, of course, "Await Further Instructions."
How far will the family go to follow the directions? What's going on? Along the way there are deeper themes about issues like xenophobia, toxic masculinity, and cycles of abuse. And an ending that I appreciated.
A Nasty Piece of Work (2019)
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