Christmas is celebrated as a major holiday all over the world, with each country bringing their own unique traditions and holiday folklore to the fold. For example, Santa Claus may be huge stateside, inspiring homicidal Santa Claus’ in horror stateside, but Central Europe scares its children into behaving with tales of Krampus, creating holiday horror of its own. Moreover, these unique holiday traditions are no longer residing solely within their originating region, inspiring new takes on old folklore. All of this to say that the sub-genre of holiday-themed horror is nowhere near as small as it was once upon a time, and it only seems to be growing momentum. If you’re tired of watching the same holiday horror films year after year, then these six bring new perspectives on yuletide terror from all over the world.
Dial Code Santa Claus
Also known as 36.15 code Père Noël and Deadly Games, this French horror film was doomed to obscurity as it was only available on hard to find bootleg VHS. Until now that is, thanks to a brand-new restoration by American Genre Film Archive. As for plot, it follows young computer loving Thomas, a boy stuck at home alone with his grandpa on Christmas Eve. It’s a quiet evening until a twisted, bloodthirsty Santa Claus crashes through the chimney. Released a year before Home Alone, there’s an eerie similarity in plot as Thomas booby traps his house to ward off the intruder. The key difference, though, is that Dial Code Santa Claus leans hard into horror, bringing the pain and bloodshed that Home Alone wouldn’t dare. If you happen to live near an Alamo Drafthouse cinema, look for special screenings of this one early December.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
This Finnish dark tale of holiday folklore revolves around the Joulupukki, a pagan tradition literally translated as Christmas goat. The Joulupukki is essentially the Scandinavian counterpart to Santa Claus, complete with red robes and reindeer, but this figure is far more frightening for children who misbehave. In Rare Exports, a research team unearths the long-buried Christmas figure, unleashing holiday filled horror for the nearby village. It’s up to young Pietari to save Christmas Eve from the horrors of Santa Claus. A darkly humorous, yet twisted take on a holiday fairy tale, Rare Exports brings a Christmas horror film the whole family can enjoy. If you’re not bothered by a lot of nude Santa’s helpers, that is.
Don’t Open till Christmas
For those that love Silent Night, Deadly Night, but need a change of pace, this slasher from the U.K. should be right up your alley. Instead of a homicidal maniac dressed as Santa, though, this slasher has its killer targeting those who dress as Santa. It’s up to the Scotland Yard to stop him before Christmas is ruined. Fans of gory ‘80s slashers will recognize lead actor Edmund Purdom, who also directed this feature, from his memorable role as the Dean in wacky slasher Pieces. While Don’t Open till Christmas never quite reaches the same level of gore and insanity, there are still plenty of inventive deaths to various Santa Clauses, like the poor soul who gets his chestnuts roasted over an open fire. In a sub-genre inundated with homicidal Santas, this slasher offers a pleasant change of pace.
Also known as Sint, this Dutch horror comedy focuses on Sinterklaas. Only this version isn’t the benevolent patron saint of children, but a ghost that kidnaps and murders children on the night of a full moon that coincides with his annual celebration. Saint is over the top in gore and silly humor; writer/director Dick Maas doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously here and delivers on a holiday horror film that aims to offend as well as entertain. Sinterklaas is a corpse-like entity atop a horse, and his Black Pete helpers are problematic in their own right. There’s not much depth here, just a fun sleigh ride full of carnage and mayhem.
The Day of the Beast
Alex de la Iglesia is a Spanish director whose genre work often defies easy categorization, and his underseen Christmas horror comedy is no exception. Set on Christmas Eve, a Catholic priest teams up with a metalhead and a television occult specialist to stop the birth of the Antichrist, which will trigger the apocalypse. The lengths the trio is willing to go to thwart the end of the world really brings the laughs, but the humor is equally matched by the horror, too. This film is so all over the place it shouldn’t work, but it really does. De la Iglesia will creep you out one moment and have you spit-taking your beverage in laughter the next. A sort of spiritual cousin to the earlier works of Sam Raimi but with de la Iglesia’s unique sense of humor, this should have a bigger audience than it does. The Day of the Beast also made evil goats trendy long before The Witch.
Anna and the Apocalypse
Arriving in limited theaters this week before expanding nationwide in the following weeks, Anna and the Apocalypse is Scottish holiday horror film that deftly blends the zombie apocalypse, comedy, and Christmas musical. Yes, musical. Trace reviewed this one favorably out of Fantastic Fest, saying it’s “Filled with solid performances, a fantastic score and buckets of blood, Anna and the Apocalypse is sure to find a sizable audience once it gets released.” I’d have to agree. This zombie musical isn’t afraid to let the blood flow, and it definitely doesn’t shy away from death. The bleakness of the zombie sub-genre intercuts well with the chipper cheer of holiday fare. It’s the holiday horror musical you didn’t think you needed.