- Christmas horror movies combine festive cheer with terrifying subversions, infiltrating the familiar and safe spaces in viewers’ minds.
- Films like Christmas Evil and Better Watch Out twist traditional holiday tropes, subverting expectations and delivering dark humor alongside thrills.
- From Gremlins to A Christmas Horror Story, these movies offer a unique and unsettling experience, blending horror with holiday festivities and capturing the spirit of the season.
The best Christmas horror movies delight and terrify by combining the whimsical season with strong doses of fear. This combination has become so common that Christmas-themed horror films have risen to occupy their own cinematic subgenre. It’s a popular premise because a vast majority of audiences around the world are deeply familiar with the festive season and what it represents.
From the scariest Santa Clauses in horror movies to other terrifying subversions of the season’s icons, these films infiltrate the seemingly safe spaces in audiences’ minds. As the Christmas season is typically a setting which most viewers relate to festivity and joy, the sudden invasion of horrifying characters and events can be especially jarring. By cleverly using the iconography of the religious holiday, the best Christmas horror movies infect viewers’ nightmares with sinister subversions of their own childhood memories.
- Release Date: December 1980
- Director: Lewis Jackson
- Cast: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick
- Runtime: 100 minutes
The psychological horror film Christmas Evil revolves around Harry Stadling, a toy factory worker obsessed with Christmas. Due to the effects of a traumatic childhood experience, Harry becomes convinced that he is the real Santa Claus. As he increasingly identifies with the festive figure, Harry’s mental state deteriorates, leading him to embark on a disturbing and violent spree as he punishes those he deems naughty. Yet, like the real Santa, Harry also rewards those who’ve been nice. Christmas Evil has gained a cult following for blending holiday cheer with a macabre exploration of one man’s descent into bloody madness.
19 Better Watch Out (2017)
- Release Date: 2017-10-6
- Director: Chris Peckover
- Cast: Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge, Patrick Warburton
- Runtime: 89 minutes
Better Watch Out takes a sinister twist on the typical babysitter-in-peril narrative. Set during the Christmas season, the story follows Ashley, a babysitter tasked with looking after 12-year-old Luke. As the night unfolds, the seemingly routine babysitting job devolves into a night of terror when intruders threaten the house. However, the film takes unexpected turns, subverting traditional horror tropes and delivering dark humor alongside thrills. With its twists and the standout performances of its young cast, Better Watch Out surprises audiences with its fresh take on the home invasion horror subgenre, making it a notable addition to the holiday horror canon.
18 Dead End (2003)
- Release Date: 2003-12-12
- Director: Jean-Baptiste Andrea, Fabrice Canepa
- Cast: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Mick Cain, Alexandra Holden
- Runtime: 85 minutes
Dead End weaves a sinister tale around a family’s fateful Christmas Eve road trip, where they encounter unsettling events on a desolate road. The suspense builds as the family faces mysterious occurrences, beginning with encountering a woman and her baby amid the isolated and chilling atmosphere. Curiously, the road seems to be infinite, and any attempts to leave it only lead to the same endless highway. From how it leverages memories of long family road trips to Dead End‘s final twist, this film delivers a unique and truly unsettling Christmas-themed horror experience that stays with viewers.
17 Hosts (2020)
- Release Date: October 2, 2020
- Director: Adam Leader, Richard Oakes
- Cast: Neal Ward, Nadia Lamin, Frank Jakeman
- Runtime: 89 minutes
A family invites their neighbors – a young couple – over for Christmas dinner in Hosts. While the two guests seem normal at first, it soon becomes apparent that they’re possessed by some unknown entity, especially after they turn sadistically violent towards the others. In the cozy confines of its highly familiar setting, Hosts forces audiences to confront themes such as trust and the breakdown of social norms – to the tune of extreme gore and violence. Combined, the movie’s practical effects and sci-fi/fantasy twist on the home invasion subgenre make it distinct from other Christmas-themed slasher horror films.
16 Red Snow (2021)
- Release Date: 2021-12-28
- Director: Sean Nichols Lynch
- Cast: Dennice Cisneros, Nico Bellamy, Laura Kennon, Vernon Wells
- Runtime: 80 minutes
The horror dark comedy Red Snow centers around Olivia, a novelist renowned for her vampire stories. Olivia is spending the Christmas season alone in an isolated but homely cabin on Lake Tahoe, which belonged to her mother. There, Olivia encounters real vampires and a private investigator, who is later revealed to be a vampire hunter. Apart from combining holiday festivities with horror, Red Snow cleverly subverts and breathes new life into the vampire, home invasion, and romance genres. The movie also features just the right type and amount of humor keep its ridiculous and action-packed premise grounded in the blood-soaked snow.
15 Gremlins (1984)
- Release Date
- June 8, 1984
- Joe Dante
- Phoebe Cates , Corey Feldman , Zach Galligan , Hoyt Axton , Polly Holliday , Howie Mandel
- 106 minutes
An iconic Christmas horror-comedy, Gremlins revolves around a young man named Billy, who receives a unique pet from his father for Christmas. Billy names the pet Gizmo, a furry, docile, and adorable “mogwai” who proves to be the perfect companion. However, when Billy fails to follow the three rules for taking care of his strange new pet, the movie’s titular monsters emerge and wreak deadly comedic havoc on the entire town. A satire of small town life, consumerism, and the commercialization of Christmas, Gremlins is a classic ’80s dark comedy that both terrifies and captures the spirit of the season.
14 The Day of the Beast (1995)
- Release Date: 1995-9-29
- Director: Álex de la Iglesia
- Cast: Álex Angulo, Armando De Razza, Santiago Segura
- Runtime: 103 minutes
An absurd and transgressive exploration of human morality, The Day of the Beast is a fantastical horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
In The Day of the Beast, the priest Angel believes that he has decoded a secret code in the Bible, which reveals an apocalyptic event set to take place on Christmas Eve. To prevent this event from occurring, the priest must commit as many evil acts as he can before Christmas Eve – so he can sell his soul to the devil. An absurd and transgressive exploration of human morality, The Day of the Beast is a fantastical horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Though the movie is relatively unknown, it’s recognized as a cult classic for how it violently drags the Christmas season back to its religious roots.
13 A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
- Release Date: 2015-10-2
- Director: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
- Cast: William Shatner, George Buza, Rob Archer, Zoé De Grand Maison
- Runtime: 99 minutes
Anthology horror storytelling meets seasonal festivities in A Christmas Horror Story, which consists of four interconnected stories about Christmas Eve. The four cleverly interwoven stories combine traditional holiday themes with classic horror tropes, providing a mix of twists that set it apart in the Christmas horror subgenre. While the movie is filled with supernatural and psychological terrors, A Christmas Horror Story fully leverages the ironic and humorous tone common with horror anthologies. Decidedly one of the best Christmas horror movies to watch during the holidays, the stories are even narrated by William Shatner – the perfect companion for enjoying these festive nightmares.
12 The Retaliators (2021)
- Release Date
- September 14, 2022
- Samuel Gonzalez Jr. , Bridget Smith , Michael Lombardi
- Michael Lombardi , Marc Menchaca , Joseph Gatt , Katie Kelly , Jacoby Shaddix , Zoltan Bathory , Ivan Moody
- 110 minutes
After the pastor John Bishop allows his daughter to attend a Christmas party, it ends in her death. Later, Bishop grabs an opportunity to brutally get revenge on the man responsible. The Retaliators then unfolds as an even larger revenge tale when the man’s brother seeks vengeance on Bishop. In this Christmas-themed family drama, the horrific consequences of revenge are made plain and clear. As Bishop defends his new family from the men responsible for killing his daughter, The Retaliators‘ blood-soaked narrative poses crucial questions about modern laws, justice, and divine retribution.
11 Await Further Instructions (2018)
- Release Date: 2018-10-5
- Director: Johnny Kevorkian
- Cast: Sam Gittins, Neerja Naik, David Bradley
- Runtime: 91 minutes
Await Further Instructions unfolds on Christmas Day, when a family finds themselves trapped inside their home, surrounded by a mysterious black substance. The situation escalates when they receive ominous instructions through their TV, typically involving turning the family against each other. A one-of-a-kind sci-fi horror driven by paranoia and chaos, Await Further Instructions delves into themes of family dynamics, social conformity, and authority. Through its eerie blend of seemingly alien technology, body horror, and Christmas festivities, Await Further Instructions is a dark twist on the Milgram Experiment that will hit close to home for family-oriented viewers.
10 I Trapped The Devil (2019)
- Release Date: 2019-4-26
- Director: Josh Lobo
- Cast: AJ Bowen, Susan Burke, Scott Poythress
- Runtime: 82 minutes
I Trapped the Devil follows a man who believes that he has captured the Devil in his basement, and now grapples with whether to release or confront the malevolent force. The film masterfully builds suspense within the confines of a single location, relying on atmosphere and tension to tackle paranoia, belief, and unchecked obsession. With a minimalist approach, I Trapped the Devil captivates through psychological horror, which is further magnified by the festive Christmas setting. Though it’s a supernatural horror, the movie’s ambiguity about the trapped guest – and the ensuing paranoia – make it a terrifying deep dive into the human psyche.
9 Inside (2007)
- Release Date: 2008-4-23
- Director: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
- Cast: Alysson Paradis, Béatrice Dalle
- Runtime: 82 minutes
Inside is a Christmas horror film that takes the subgenre to intense new heights. Set on Christmas Eve, the movie revolves around a pregnant widow named Sarah, who is still grieving the death of her husband from a car accident months prior to the season. Sarah faces a night of terror when a mysterious woman intrudes into her home with sinister intentions – to take the baby that’s still in her belly. Part of the extreme films that comprise the new wave of French horror, Inside is a brutal body horror-driven suspense that is definitely not for the faint of heart.
8 The Advent Calendar (2020)
- Release Date: 2020-11-25
- Director: Patrick Ridremont
- Cast: Eugénie Derouand, Thierry Frémont, Patrick Ridremont
- Runtime: 102 minutes
The Advent Calendar centers around Eva, who is gifted with a traditional German advent calendar by her best friend for Christmas. Each of the 24 drawers on the mini curio cabinet contain pieces of chocolate, which bestows magical blessings, and must be eaten in sequence until Christmas Day. However, Eva soon finds out that the blessings also result in tragedy for those around her. She must weigh whether these exchanges are worth it, especially after the calendar hints that it can cure Eva’s paraplegia. Hinged around a familiar holiday tradition, The Advent Calendar is a decidedly unique supernatural folk horror that explores morality and paranoia with unexpected twists.
7 The Children (2008)
- Release Date: 2008-12-5
- Director: Tom Shankland
- Cast: Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield
- Runtime: 84 minutes
The Children begins with two families spending Christmas together in a remote countryside home. The holiday staycation takes a dark turn when a mysterious illness begins affecting the children, who exhibit strange behavior – before fully transforming into bloodthirsty murderers. The isolated setting amplifies the fear as the parents grapple with the horrifying reality of their own offspring turning against them. The Children invades the familiar setting of the Christmas family staycation while breathing fresh life into the creepy killer child horror trope. A gripping and disturbing holiday horror, The Children is a chilling exploration of lost innocence and the fragility of familial bonds.
6 Christmas Bloody Christmas (2022)
- Release Date: 2002-12-9
- Director: Joe Begos
- Cast: Riley Dandy, Sam Delich, Jonah Ray Rodrigues, Dora Madison
- Runtime: 87 minutes
Christmas Bloody Christmas is an action and science fiction-driven celebration of the evil Santa horror trope. The movie start with an advanced robotic Santa Claus model used in department stores getting recalled for malfunctioning. These robots are reverting to their original programming from the U.S. Department of Defense, and the movie follows the murderous rampage of one of these festive, state-of-the-art terminators. True to its name, Christmas Bloody Christmas delivers horrific kills throughout its runtime – but its soundtrack and fight/stunt choreography also make it a perfect action flick for the holidays.
5 Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
- Release Date: November 30, 2018
- Director: John McPhail
- Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire
- Runtime: 93 minutes
The comedic horror musical Anna and the Apocalypse is a genre-blending Christmas film that unravels a coming-of-age story amid the zombie apocalypse. Set on the night of the local high school’s Christmas show, the film follows Anna and her friends as they navigate teenage drama and a world overrun by the undead. The movie’s darker themes are well-balanced by the songs in Anna and the Apocalypse, which give the film a decidedly festive vibe despite the brutal and fast-paced action. From its cheerful tunes and bloody plot, to the movie’s surprisingly poignant narrative, Anna and the Apocalypse is the perfect Christmas comedy-horror movie in many ways.
4 The Lodge (2019)
- Release Date
- February 7, 2020
- Veronika Franz , Severin Fiala
- Jaeden Martell , Lia McHugh , Alicia Silverstone , Richard Armitage , Riley Keough
- 108 minutes
The Lodge is a psychological horror film centered on a Christmas family retreat gone awry. Grace, the stepmother, finds herself increasingly isolated from her two stepchildren in a remote lodge. Dark secrets from her past and the desolate setting exacerbate the already tense atmosphere, especially after Grace begins to believe that she and the children are stuck in purgatory. Exploring themes of grief, trauma, and religious fanaticism, The Lodge is a dark and compelling take on Christmas-themed family drama. Apart from its intense psychological horror, The Lodge is celebrated for its great twists.
3 Black Christmas (1974)
Black Christmas (1974)
- Release Date
- December 20, 1974
- Bob Clark
- Olivia Hussey , Keir Dullea , Margot Kidder , John Saxon , Andrea Martin , Marian Waldman
- 98 Minutes
One of the most iconic Christmas movies where the villain isn’t Santa Claus, Black Christmas famously gave rise to the slasher genre. Set during a university’s Christmas break, the movie centers on a sorority house which becomes the subject of a series of increasingly obscene and vulgar phone calls. As the holiday festivities unfold, the girls realize that they are being targeted by a sinister killer. The film is known for its suspenseful atmosphere, effective early use of point-of-view shots, and a groundbreaking narrative that practically established the slasher genre – during what is arguably the most pivotal decade in horror cinema.
2 Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
- Release Date: December 3, 2010
- Director: Jalmari Helander
- Cast: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela
- Runtime: 82 minutes
There are several reasons why Rare Exports is the ultimate Christmas horror movie. Set in the freezing Finnish Korvatunturi mountains, the film revolves around the discovery of a mysterious grave and the awakening of a dark Christmas secret. Deftly blending folklore with large doses of horror and black humor, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale challenges conventional notions of Santa Claus and his elves, introducing a darker and more ancient version of the familiar tale that parents tell their children. From its unique premise to its surprising twist ending, Rare Exports is a terrifying and action-packed critique on consumerism and capitalist culture.
1 The Ordeal/Calvaire (2004)
- Release Date: 2004-6-11
- Director: Fabrice Du Welz
- Cast: Laurent Lucas, Brigitte Lahaie, Gigi Coursigny
- Runtime: 88 minutes
Absurdist art house cinema meets Christmas horror in The Ordeal, also known as Calvaire. It centers on Marc, a struggling musician who is en route to perform at a Christmas gig, but instead gets stranded deep in the mountains. As Marc encounters increasingly bizarre characters, places, and events, the movie chronicles the man’s descent into madness. Acclaimed for its extremely unsettling atmosphere and clever uses of festive iconography, The Ordeal is a waking nightmare marked by absurd turns and deep insights into isolation and fears of the other. Though The Ordeal doesn’t have a large cult following, it remains one of the most compelling combinations of psychological and holiday-themed horror.