June Gloom Productions writer/director/producer/actor Michael Varrati recently directed a segment of Christmas horror anthology ‘Deathcember’ and knows all about this fast-growing sub-genre.
We caught up with Michael who shared his Top 5 Christmas Horror Films –
Tales from the Crypt (dir. Freddie Francis, 1972) – While the entirety of this legendary anthology film isn’t Christmas-oriented, the opening segment (aptly titled “…And All Through the House”) is such an adrenaline hit of festive fright, it solidified its place in the annals of seasonal scares forevermore. Concerning a vicious tale of the deliciously deligthful Joan Collins vs. a murderous maniac dressed as Old Saint Nick, Tales from the Crypt set the mold for all killer Santa stories to follow. Vibrantly realized through the lens of genre legend Freddie Francis, Tales from the Crypt is a must. Also, if you are looking for two blood-soaked holidays for the price of one, a later tale in the movie features Peter Cushing goring up Valentine’s Day.
Anna and the Apocalypse (dir. John McPhail, 2017) – A coming of age, zombie apocalypse, Christmas movie musical that somehow delivers on the promises of all of its collective subgenres, Anna and the Apocalypse immediately captured my heart upon my initial viewing. Knowingly reveling in the silliness its logline suggests, all the while giving true emotional weight to its characters, this story of a school girl who wakes to discover the undead have crashed the holidays is a deftly constructed allegory about the pains of growing up and moving on. Featuring an absolutely amazing set of extremely catchy songs (including a rap about penguins loving fish that I can’t shake from my head) and characters with whom you’ll emotionally bond before the end credits roll, Anna and the Apocalypse is a modern classic. If this is where holiday horror is headed, it’s definitely something to sing about.
Gremlins (dir. Joe Dante, 1984) – The quintessential Christmas creature feature, as well as a definitive moment in pop culture. Gremlins is such a frenetic ball of cinematic energy and watching those little monsters run loose against a holiday backdrop just adds to the fun. Plus, as far as I’m concerned, the monologue Phoebe Cates delivers about why she doesn’t like Christmas is downright Shakespearian and one of the greatest speeches ever committed to screen.
Christmas Evil (dir. Lewis Jackson, 1980) – Originally titled You Better Watch Out, Lewis Jackson’s psychological exploration of a man’s obsession with Christmas is simultaneously horrifying and heartbreaking. Often cheekily referred to as the “Taxi Driver of killer Santa movies,” Christmas Evil is a terrifying portrait of a man who feels like he has nothing left and his ill-founded hope that, if he can just embody the holidays, he can turn it around…no matter the cost. A brilliant overall piece, Christmas Evil leaves the audience a lot to consider. Also, it’s one of John Waters’s favorite Christmas movies, and that really should be all the endorsement you need.
Black Christmas (dir. Bob Clark, 1974)– The ultimate holiday horror film, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas set the stage for a generation of genre movies that would follow. Essentially a Canadian giallo and proto slasher, Black Christmas’s handling of atmosphere and growing unease is a master class in fright. Furthermore, the nuanced presentation of its characters, combined with Clark’s trademark dark humor, creates a layered winter nightmare that makes it impossible to turn your eyes away. From that first, frightfully disturbing phone call to the final chilling frame, Black Christmas is the holiday horror film that changed the game.
Honorable Mention: Though not traditionally a horror film, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t shout out The Silent Partner (dir. Daryl Duke, 1978), a tale of a holiday heist (complete with gun-toting Santa Claus) gone wrong. Starring Elliott Gould and delightfully deranged Christopher Plummer, this thriller is a cat & mouse game that leaves you guessing until the final frame. Plus, there’s a shocking scene of gore that caused a stir with the Canadian censors and served as a reminder that maybe you shouldn’t steal Santa’s loot.