I was a sensitive, sheltered eight year old kid, and my older brother (the sick bastard) had tricked me into watching that classic first-season episode of Tales From the Crypt with the killer Santa. At the end of it I remember screaming my fucking lungs out and desperately trying to exit the room, only to have him bar my escape (god, he was an asshole). I’ll admit it was pretty scarring to witness the source of all my childhood Christmas merriment standing at the bottom of a staircase – wielding an axe and sporting some seriously diseased gums no less – all ready to hack up Mommy. Of course, like other cornball horror sub-genres (i.e. killer doll movies), for anyone over the age of 12 these films will undoubtedly come off more amusing than truly scary. Regardless, now is the perfect time to revisit some of these “classics” (in chronological order) to counter all the feel-good yuletide fare you’ll undoubtedly be forced to take in with your family as the last few days of the year draw to a close.
In no particular order:
Joan Collins is perfectly cast as a husband-murdering gold digger being stalked by a killer Santa Claus on Christmas Eve in this chapter from the classic `70s anthology. While it’s not all that scary today, it stands as the first time the wholesome image of Santa Claus was shit upon to serve the twisted needs of the horror genre. The karmic retribution visited upon Collins’ character in the climactic scene is as delicious as a plate of warm holiday cookies.
This first slasher version of the killer Santa tale involves a group of nubile sorority girls being stalked and murdered by a man dressed in a Santa costume (could he be linked in some way to an initiation stunt gone wrong, perhaps?). The movie boasts some creative murders in the vein of Friday the 13th (complete with ample nudity), so it’s all pretty much par for the course. Interesting bit of trivia: director David Hess portrayed the sociopathic “Krug” in the original Last House on the Left. Let’s just say there’s a reason he never directed another film after this.
Although it was cheesily re-titled Christmas Evil upon its re-release in 1983, You Better Watch Out isn’t a slasher so much as the profile of a man slowly going insane (think One Hour Photo). Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) is a low-level executive at a toy company who was royally fucked up as a child when he witnessed his mother preparing to do the nasty with ol’ St. Nick (actually his father) underneath the Christmas tree. Shit, I guess Christmas meant a lot to him. Note: fans of John Waters may want to check this one out, as the famed director un-ironically called it the “greatest Christmas movie ever made” in his commentary track for the 2006 Synapse version of the DVD.
The most famous of all stand-alone killer Santa movies, this film stirred up a ton of controversy upon its release in November 1984, drawing ire from folks as diverse as Siskel & Ebert to the PTA. Angry “family-values” crowds formed at theaters across the country in protest, eventually forcing Tristar Pictures to pull the film (it was re-released by an independent distributor for a short time in 1986). Thankfully, all those Reagan-era nut jobs ended up bringing even more attention to the film than it probably would have had otherwise, and subsequently it’s become a cult classic. Oh, the plot? Tortured dude with a dark past dons a Santa suit and starts axing a bunch of folk. Need I say more?
Rather than following the mold of the previous entries and having Santa play the killer, this film makes Santa the victim. Or rather, many Santas. Set in London, the film focuses on the search for a deranged serial killer (is there any other kind?) who’s lately been bringing a large number of shopping mall Santas to a brutal end. The film is pretty gory, featuring an endless parade of Santas being stabbed, burned, and castrated by the Christmas-crazed lunatic. I’d say if the crass commercialism of the holiday is getting you down, seeing St. Nick getting his dick lobbed off is probably a good antidote.
This notorious sequel, which relies heavily on re-edited footage from the first movie, is quite possibly one of the worst films ever made. It’s also unintentionally hilarious, with star Eric Freeman (playing the brother of the killer Santa from the first movie) spouting the now famous line, “Garbage Day!” before shooting and killing one of his victims. The clip has had over one million hits on YouTube, and you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7gIpuIVE3k.
My favorite killer Santa “film” of the bunch, this Robert Zemeckis-directed reimagining of the 1972 Joan Collins version is responsible for several fucked-up nightmares I suffered as a young child. It’s also quite a bit scarier than the Collins version, with Larry Drake (aka Dr. Giggles!) making a chilling appearance at the end of the episode as the murderous escaped mental patient dressed as dear Father Christmas. Love that final one-liner: “Naughty…or nice?” If I had it my way, this would replace It’s a Wonderful Life as required viewing every Christmas.
Horror vet Bill Moseley plays the Santa killer this time around. In this sequel, he’s been reanimated by a mad scientist and sent back out on a good ol’-fashioned murdering spree. The movie proceeds to follow in the mold of that time-honored classic Friday the 13th Part 7 in that it features a psychic teen (with a connection to the killer, no less!) being stalked by the psycho. At the very least this is a complete film – a feat the second installment can’t claim – but that’s about all that can be said for it considering what a piece of junk it is. But no matter; I can think of worse ways to pass the time following Christmas dinner. Just make sure you’ve added plenty of Bailey’s to your eggnog when you sit down to watch. Bonus: Mullholland Drive‘s Laura Elena Herring stars as one of the victims!
Mickey Rooney (I swear to God) stars as Joe Petto (hardy har), a sadistic toymaker that may not be all that he appears. The movie hews more closely to the “killer toy” sub-genre than anything, but Rooney actually does don a Santa outfit near the end, so this essentially qualifies. This entry is just as goofy as the rest of the series, and the plot twist at the end is insanely far-fetched, but whatever; its mindless good fun.
Night of the Living Dead screenwriter John Russo directed this film starring Troma pinup girl Debbie Rochon, who really stretches her acting muscles by portraying a B-movie scream queen being stalked by a garden-claw-wielding next-door neighbor wearing a Santa suit. The dude proceeds to plow through most of the cast and crew of her new film, but not before you get to see lots of T&A (which is really the only reason for the movie’s existence).
Santa is the son of the Devil in this comedic horror film, which is filmed sort of like one of those lame Friedberg/Seltzer spoof movies. The movie stars ex-WWE wrestling star Bill Goldberg as the killer Santa, who as a result of losing a bet with an angel 1,000 years ago was forced to become the jolly giver of gifts. As the film opens, the bet has just expired – and now he has his sights set on getting his jollies off in a decidedly less-healthy (for others) fashion. Pretty uninspired, but okay for a Christmas Eve diversion. Added bonus: Fran Drescher dies.