Christmas Nightmares: All your favourite Christmas movies are horror films, and horror is the most Christmassy genre.

December 5, 2019

 

Well, 'tis the season and all that jazz. Yeah, that's right, Christmas is finally upon us once again, it's a time for laughter and joy, and special Kahlua based drinks in the evening. This year, however, I'm struggling a little to embrace the Christmas spirit, not least of all because, well, in less than a week it's possible the country is going to go to fuck.

 

Fear not, though, dear reader, for this is not a political post. Rather, as is the general rule here, this is a post all about movies, because if there's one thing I can rely on to help me get into the Christmas spirit and stop being such a Grinch, it's Christmas Movies! Finally we can start watching all those films it feels slightly weird watching any other time of the year. From It's A Wonderful Life through to A Christmas Story by way of Home Alone and Christmas Vacation, there's no shortage of fun, fuzzy, family friendly holiday-centric cinematic outings to choose from.

 

So, what makes a good Christmas film? Is it the snow falling outside, the Christmas tunes, and the fact that everyone learns their lesson at the end? Is it how Christmas always brings people together, and the movies remind us of good, old fashioned Christmas cheer? After all, sentimentality is key at Christmas, right? We all love seeing the Grinch's heart grow at the sound of Whoville singing Christmas Carols. We all love Tim Allen embracing his role as Father Christmas...

 

And yet, for me at least, not one of the films above will ever get me into that Christmas mindset quite as well as a solid, spooky, Christmas-set horror film. Whether it be the ghosts of M R James or the slasher stalking of Bob Clarke, a little bit of terror to go with the season is almost guaranteed to bring Christmas into my heart.

 

See, horror is the real key to a great Christmas story, whether you want to admit it or not. Horror is embedded within almost everything we know about Christmas. The cold is inherently Christmassy, and winter surroundings are inherently horror-esque. Dark nights, howling wind, you know the tropes. They're all present and correct come Christmas time.

 

But just what is it about Christmas that makes horror work so well?

 

Of course, we all know the tradition of a ghost story at Christmas. Manifested in the 70s and the iconic BBC television series, A Ghost Story For Christmas, telling spooky tales during the holiday season is a tradition almost as old as the holiday season itself.

 

Arguably the greatest, and most famous, Christmas story of all time is, to a certain degree, a horror after all. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol features many a spooky, unsettling element, from the dark, upsetting depiction of Victorian London through to the supernatural aspects, such as the door knocker that springs to life for a moment, the howling, chained spectre of Marley, or, indeed, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, A Christmas Carol is as much a story designed to frighten as it is about the meaning of Christmas or whatever.

 

And the best adaptation of Dickens' classic tale, The Muppet Christmas Carol (don't fight me on this one, it just is. It's the most accurate, captures the feel the best, Michael Caine is a superb choice for Scrooge, and it features Muppets... it's like the perfect movie!), understands this. Indeed, I remember very vividly, as a child, being absolutely horrified by its depiction of The Ghost of Christmas Future. And the moment Caine's Scrooge sees his own grave is... haunting, to say the least.

 

Meanwhile, we take a look at other such classic "non-horror" Christmas movies, such as the aforementioned It's A Wonderful Life, which sort of serves as a loose adaptation of A Christmas Carol anyway, or Home Alone, and we see elements of horror creeping in again. It's A Wonderful Life's dark alt universe is pure Twilight Zone, while Home Alone's Kevin has a pretty frightening furnace in his basement and lives next door to a serial killer (okay, he doesn't, but... you get the point).

 

Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. Die Hard is an action movie (although if you told that film from the point of view of the terrorists it would be a slasher...), and Love, Actually is a comedy, apparently... but it's hard not to at least acknowledge the influence, right?

 

Even kids classics like How The Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express of undeniably creepy moments. I mean, the Grinch is more or less a monster, and playing with that whole monster in the mountain trope is part of what makes the whole story work, while a magical train that whisks children away in the middle of the night is, er... nightmarish (and the less said about the dead eyed animation the better).

 

Jack Frost dies in a car crash and then comes back as ghost who inhabits a snowman (shift the tone of that movie and we've got some real nightmare fuel). And, we don't even have to mention Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas, do we...?

 

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have those Christmas films that lean gleefully into their horror elements. Joe Dante's Gremlins, for example, balances a very, very fine line between being fun for all the family and out and out monsters on a rampage horror/comedy, while Michael Dougherty's 2015 Christmas horror flick Krampus is more than content to give us the scares.

 

Whether it's the juxtaposition between what is supposed to be such a joyful time and the dark, meanness of horror, or whether it's simply that we just all secretly enjoy watching nice things get wrecked, it's hard to deny that horror is almost as key a part of Christmas time as a tree or mince pies.

 

Often times Christmas and horror work in tandem on multiple levels. The joy of being with family can often bring about the loss and grief of those no longer with us, this leads to ghosts. Those on their own at Christmas time may feel depressed or isolated, or even resentful of the period. Meanwhile, at least as far as the stereotypes go, the weather outside is frightful, and it's easy to feel spooked out by howling wind, snowy blizzards, the freezing cold and so on and so on. Dark red blood on pure white snow looks quite cool as well.

 

For me, Christmas is a time for some of my favourite spooky movies to come out. I look forward to watching this particular sub-genres offerings at this particular time of year. Nothing else feels quite so Christmassy.

 

Horror is built into the very fabric of what we know and recognise as so many classic Christmas films. Just because we don't consider a film to be an out and out horror doesn't mean we can't recognise that the genre has had an undeniable, immeasurable influence upon it. Secretly, we all love a good spooky story at Christmas. At least, that's what I believe. Christmas just wouldn't be the same without a good scare.

 

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© Alex Secker 2018