on December 22, 2016 by Alexander S. Brown
Near the end of November, I posted on social media for a list of Christmas themed, family friendly horror movies. For the most part, I received adult related titles, which wasn’t what I was looking for.
For those who might feel uncertain as to what movies are classified as family friendly, I would consider nothing worse than a PG-13 rating. In a chestnut shell, movies that don’t exploit nudity/sex, gore, drugs, or explicit language.
Because of the misconception my post received, I’m going to knock out two turtle doves with one stone. Not only will I focus on suggesting horror themed Christmas movies, but I will categorize ‘Family Friendly’ and ‘Adult Only’ titles.
Family Friendly (PG or PG-13):
For starters, it’s not Christmas without ‘Gremlins’. The reasons I love ‘Gremlins’ is because the creators (Chris Columbus, Joe Dante, and Steven Spielberg) were not afraid to deliver chills and laughs throughout.
In a tongue and cheek style, they apply suggestive humor to intense scenes, which creates a deeper level of fear. The most superb example of this tactic is the attic scene when Mrs. Peltzer first realizes something is wrong. As the house grows silent, a feeling of suspense captivates the audience. Although expecting a scream to jolt us from our seats, the downstairs record player starts blaring ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ when it was in an off position. This scene is the perfect example of timing, humor, irony, and dread all rolled into one. To this day, I can’t listen to the Johnny Mathis classic without thinking about this iconic movie.
- At first, ‘Gremlins’ pushed an R rating with its original script. This included Mrs. Peltzer getting beheaded and the gremlins murdering the family dog. Due to wanting to keep the movie tame, these scenes were rewritten.
- At first, Stripe didn’t exist. Gizmo was supposed to become evil and lead the pack, but, Spielberg felt that keeping Gizmo cuddly would be the wiser choice.
‘Krampus’ is a contemporary classic bound to stand the test of time. While staying true to German folklore, it provides enough originality that it becomes a cornucopia of horrors. Similar to Michael Dougherty’s prior movie ‘Trick R’ Treat’, where Dougherty provides almost all holiday subjects screen time. Villains include: snowmen, gingerbread men, killer toys, and Krampus himself. While full of intense moments, there is enough comedy to relieve the tension.
With jumps and humor aside, ‘Krampus’ presents a contemporary Dickens morality, and a wholesome conclusion for the family black sheep. Overall, by the character development, pacing, and plot, ‘Krampus’ is a movie that isn’t afraid to gift a stocking full of humor, horror, and heart with its overall message.
The final design of Krampus was inspired by various illustrations and postcards depicting the iconic Christmas devil.
‘Scrooged’ is a dark comedy with horror elements. Examples of these elements can be seen in characters such as Lew Hayward and the Ghost of Christmas Future. Even the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) has his own devilish persona in this modern day take. To top it off, Bill Murray endures a live cremation.
Despite the horror elements, ‘Scrooged’ has a certain wholesome, yet humorous, charisma that only director Richard Donner can provide. Overall, it feels like the holiday answer to the original Ghostbusters in regards to its combination of horror and humor, as Carol Kane, Bill Murray, and Bobcat Goldthwait deliver comedic one liners throughout.
Bill Murray complained to Roger Ebert about ‘Scrooged’. Murray insinuated that he and Donner didn’t get along, and Donner dismissed almost all of Murray’s suggestions for the movie.
I remember when ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ was released and its controversy. Back then, my hometown theater didn’t receive it in their auditorium and quite a few audiences called it ‘sacrilegious’. Although I missed the opportunity to enjoy it in on the big screen, my mom was cool enough to let me rent it on VHS.
From this list, this is perhaps the only title suitable for preteens. However, the love for this holiday mash up, which has sparked arguments between if it’s a Halloween movie, a Christmas movie, or both, is enjoyable for all ages.
In 2006, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ was re-released in theaters in a 3D format. For the first time, it was under the Walt Disney banner, instead of the Touchstone Pictures banner, where it lived since 1993.
Assuming everyone has seen this fairytale about star crossed lovers, I won’t go into plot detail. But, I will say, if the opportunity presents itself for you to see the 3D version in theaters, do not pass it by. The experience returns adults to their childhood, and it gives newcomers something to “talk about for years to come”.
To complete this movie, it took three years and a group of around 100 people. Just for a second of footage, up to 12 stop motion movements had to be performed.
‘Curse of the Cat People’ isn’t a full-on Christmas movie, yet a good portion of it does surround Christmas. Despite ‘Curse’ being suitable for all ages, it is complex in a psychological sense by symbolism and verbiage. So, although the feature is safe for preteens, they might not understand its subject matter. To give an example of the movie’s depth, it has been noted that in the past, psychology professors have shown ‘Curse’ to their students.
For those unfamiliar with ‘Curse’ it is a sequel to the famous ‘Cat People’, directed by visionary master Val Lewton. Although ‘Cat People’ isn’t Christmas based, it provides important character development that is somewhat crucial for viewers entering the sequel.
‘Curse of the Cat People’ takes place years later after its predecessor. Our subject in this installment is Oliver’s young, friendless daughter, Amy. Over the passing of autumn turning to winter, we get the impression that Amy is teetering on the edge of sanity. During this time, she befriends a retired actress and a ghost. By meeting these two characters, Amy receives solace and transforms into a stronger person. Although ‘Curse’ presents spooky elements, it is technically a fantasy movie that focuses on maturing, forgiving, and acceptance.
The poem quoted by Miss Callahan in ‘Curse’ is ‘The Unseen Playmate’ by Robert Louis Stevenson from ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’. For me, this poem sets the mood for the entire movie.
Adults Only (R Rated):
As we advance into the ‘Adults Only’ category, I have decided to begin with the star upon the tree, ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’. This is an infamous cult classic that stirred such controversy by poster art, and prime time advertising, that TriStar Pictures dropped it. Going a step further, Siskel and Ebert took a moment to list those involved with SNDN’s production, saying, “Shame,” after speaking each name.
For those unaware of this hidden gem, you might be interested to know that it spawned 4 sequels. Unlike the Halloween franchise, which wanted to expand into an anthology series, the SNDN films achieve the anthology expansion.
The subject of Pt 1 is Billy, who at younger age saw his parents murdered by a criminal dressed as Santa. Later, he and his younger sibling, Ricky, are thrown into an orphanage. Here, an abusive Mother Superior warps Billy through a decade of psychological and physical torment. After snapping, Billy goes on a killing spree, where he uses a variety of weapons, which include: Christmas lights, a boxcutter, an axe, a bow and arrow, and my personal favorite, reindeer antlers.
Pt 2 continues a decade after the first movie. Ricky has grown into an adult and has picked up the ‘slay’ reins his brother dropped. For those who missed Pt 1, don’t worry, the sequel recaps its predecessor in flashbacks.
As a follow up, this installment doesn’t present anything new. Although, it does make a stronger comment on PTSD, and it comes off feeling like a warning movie for those who have yet to receive the therapeutic help they require.
When mentioning Pt 2, the psychological aspects of PTSD are never discussed. Yet, the spree killing scene dubbed as “Garbage Day”, has captivated cult audiences for decades.
In Pt 3, the series starts to trail away from the killer Santa scenario. Even though this sequel’s villain is Ricky, he isn’t the primary focus. Instead, our subject is a blind woman who has undergone a series of testing for her psychic abilities. Although the acting in Pt 3 is better than Pt 2, Ricky now sports a dome top, which looks cool, but in addition becomes problematic. My gripe was, other characters acted so nonchalant to his headgear, it felt bizarre and out of place. Had the dome top not been a part of Ricky’s character, I probably would have enjoyed this installment more.
From the sequels, Pt 4 is my favorite. Directed and co-written by Brian Yuzna, who created cult hits such as: Society, Bride of Re-Animator, Necronomicon, The Dentist, and Return of the Living Dead 3, this installment is slimy and grotesque.
With a deeper plot than the prior two sequels, Pt 4 is full of occultism, mutated bugs and worms, and a bizarre sex scene featuring Clint Howard. Also, here’s a fun side note, Clint Howard’s character name is Ricky. Perhaps he is the Ricky from the prior films who has now joined a coven?
Pt 5 is creative, but it was also when the creators realized, the reindeer are dead, let’s stop beating them. The final chapter, focuses on a Pinocchio themed horror where a toy maker, Joe Petto and his son Pino, create murderous toys. The only reason why anyone would want to see this installment is due to the blood and gore that is created by the toys.
- Lilyan Chauvin, who played Mother Superior in Pt 1, admitted it was a mistake for the film’s publicity campaign to center around Santa. She further explained, the advertising should have focused on Billy’s mental stability.
- Robert Brian Wilson, who played Billy at 18, said he felt so ashamed by the controversy he told friends and family not to see the film.
- Mickey Rooney, who had protested the release of SNDN 1, starred in SNDN 5 as the toymaker. Originally, the movie was called ‘The Toy Maker’, and it wasn’t associated with the franchise until its release.
Although ‘Black Christmas’ never franchised out, it is perhaps the most well-known movie on the ‘Adults Only’ list. Despite the reimagining’s negativity from audiences and critics, I liked the remake and the original, but for different reasons.
The original is creepy because the killer is never seen, we have no backstory on him, and the plot is simplistic and realistic. I think one of the many reasons why ‘Black Christmas’ is so effective is because there is no reason why these murders are happening. The movie is nothing more than a maniac living in the girl’s sorority house attic. He harasses them by phone, then kills them one by one.
The reimaging, follows the same scenario, but it develops a background on the killer and why he is hiding in the sorority house. Also, this version is more grotesque and explicit than its original, but, its comedic charm isn’t as strong.
Bob Clark, who directed the 1974 original, and later brought us ‘A Christmas Story’ and ‘Porkey’s’, provided what horror fans consider to be the pioneering slasher film. ‘Black Christmas’ predates all similar movies like: Halloween, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, When a Stranger Calls, etc.
‘P2’ is a guilty pleasure of mine that is nothing more than an hour and a half’s worth of cat and mouse. Written by Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur, and Franck Khalfoun, ‘P2’ stars Wes Bently and Rachel Nichols. The concept is a business woman gets trapped inside of a parking garage on Christmas Eve and is held captive by an obsessive security guard.
This is the kind of movie where the viewer can leave their brain at the door. Not much thought is needed for the movie to progress, as it lacks any deep subplot or twist. Still, the acting is fairly solid, there aren’t any plot holes, and the fast pacing kept my eyes glued to the screen.
‘P2’ was shot in two months, at night, at a working Toronto parking garage.
‘Christmas Evil’ centers around a boy named Harry, who becomes disenchanted upon seeing his mom and dad kissing. Although, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, his dad is dressed like Santa. By seeing this, Harry’s childlike wonder completely shatters.
Decades later, Harry is still unable to overcome his childhood shock, and has developed an unhealthy infatuation with Christmas and Santa. During the day, he works in a toy factory, which is suitable due to his holiday obsession. During his free time, his hobbies include spying on the neighborhood children, and categorizing them into a personal list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Even though red flags indicate he is a few goodies short of a full stocking, nothing physically harmful has happened… yet.
At a Christmas Eve party, he learns of a children’s home that might not have enough presents for everyone. When no one else will provide toys to the unwanted children, he runs home, and suits up as Santa. All seems harmless, until he takes on the persona of Saint Nicholas.
As simple as what the concept sounds, ‘Christmas Evil’ is intriguing from a psychological aspect. Such as Angela Bettis in ‘May’, Harry descends a similar Milky Way of madness as we witness his sanity deteriorate. While not overusing the slasher aspect, ‘Christmas Evil’ has only two murder scenes. But I assure you, the lack of blood doesn’t make this any less of a horror movie.
Fun Facts: (SPOILER)
At the end, Harry doesn’t fly away. Actually, the conclusion is nothing more than Harry imagining a more pleasant scenario as he commits suicide.
‘Silent Night, Bloody Night’ is perhaps the most underrated movie on this list. Even though it is full of mystery, horror, and suspense, I believe its style of underground filmmaking is what sucked me in. Because of its old-school fashion, SNBN feels like a Grindhouse movie, and it provides a gritty piece of holiday horror that causes the skin to crawl.
The movie opens when a homeowner returns to his property, and finds his house has been transformed into an insane asylum. Without explanation, he is murdered. Decades later, a lawyer and his secretary take refuge at the same property for an affair. For a good portion of their onscreen time, their backgrounds allow us to identify with them as the lead characters. While danger and isolation closes in on the unsuspecting couple, we have a good idea of what is instore. But, things take a quick Hitchcockian turn.
Due to multiple spoilers, I can’t go into further detail. All I can say is SNBN is filmed in the style of a good, old fashioned, whodunit with a plethora red herrings. Near the end, the puzzle pieces fall into place through sepia toned flashbacks of incest, incarceration, and a vengeful grudge that can only be satisfied by bloodshed.
SNBN fell into public domain after it left the drive-in circuit. Until it appeared on Elvira’s Movie Macabre, it had been obscure. But, it slowly gained a cult following, which increased upon video rental.
As I close on what is perhaps the lengthiest blog I have ever written, I hope everyone has enjoyed the read and now has a better understanding between adult and young adult related material. There were quite a few additional hidden gems that I wanted to include on this “Naughy or Nice” list, but I will save those for 2017.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Alexander S. Brown
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