The Best Christmas Horror and Adult Comedies for the Holidays – The A.V. Club

It’s Christmas time again, which means more marathons of the same old sappy, feel-good movies. But what if you’re sick of watching A Miracle On 34th Street for the gazillionth time? If you’re in the mood for something a little more adult, Violent Night hits theaters this Friday. And that’s just one of many options, because long before David Harbour dressed up as a killer Kris Kringle, Hollywood was cranking out R-rated holiday movies that are far more naughty than nice—and not just horror films, but risqué Christmas comedies, too.
So, tuck the little ones in for the night, spike some eggnog, and get ready for surly Santas, merry mayhem, and a lot of ho-ho-horror. The A.V. Club has rounded up some of the season’s naughtiest, most mean-spirited alternatives to give you a break from all the traditional family fare that hogs the spotlight every December.
2 / 22
The winning Bad Moms trio of Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, and Kristen Bell reunited for this holiday-themed sequel one year after the original film, and they brought along legends Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon, and Cheryl Hines to play their respective moms. The plot is relatively straightforward—all three moms try to make the perfect Christmas while facing impossible expectations and family dysfunction—but the execution is what makes it the kind of adult Christmas film you can watch over and over again. From Baranski’s superior ranting to Hahn fawning over Santa strippers, it’s exactly what you think it is, and that’s what makes it fun. [Matthew Jackson]
3 / 22
Even if you’re done with zombie movies, Anna And The Apocalypse is a charming Christmas horror flick that should win you over. After a Scottish town is overrun by the undead, a group of high school students representing clashing cliques has to work together to survive. Obviously, it becomes a bumpy ride, but the clever mix of gore and glee, plus fun musical numbers that are short ‘n’ sweet, keep things rolling along. It makes you wish someone on Broadway would stage something this cheeky and gory. [Bryan Reesman]
4 / 22
In Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton plays professional thief Willie T. Soke. Each Christmas season, Willie and his dwarf partner in crime get hired, respectively, as Santa and elf in a department store and then rob the place after hours. Willie is a misanthropic, foul-mouthed drunk who despises children, so it’s a Christmas miracle that he even lands the Santa gigs in the first place. The first movie features John Ritter, in his last live-action film performance, as an anxious store manager. Brett Kelly is hilarious as a hapless youth for whom Willie develops a soft spot. Kelly returns along with Thornton for the equally raunchy sequel, Bad Santa 2, the highlight of which is the addition of Kathy Bates as Willie’s crass and unscrupulous mama who is also a thief. If you’re looking for the opposite of It’s A Wonderful Life, your search is over! [Robert DeSalvo]
5 / 22
Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out is an interesting Christmas horror hybrid, a blending of dark comedy and honest suspense that plays like Home Alone, You’re Next, and The Strangers all fell into a blender. What initially feels like the story of a tween and his babysitter trying to survive the night as the house is beset by menacing criminals soon morphs into something else, and Better Watch Out ends up in a very different place than when it started. It’s funny, it’s creepy, and it’s full of well-placed Christmas cheer. [Matthew Jackson]
6 / 22
Arguably the ultimate expression of the Christmas horror film, Bob Clark’s 1974 classic is both a seasonal delight of macabre excellence and a vital ingredient in the formation of the slasher genre. The story of a group of sorority sisters who are menaced by a hidden killer over the Christmas holidays, it’s a wonderful juxtaposition of all-out terror and the kind of holiday warmth Clark would later apply to A Christmas Story. Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder are fantastic at the heart of a great ensemble cast, several of the kills are all-time classics, and if you find mystery phone calls creepy, you’ll definitely have a skin-crawling experience. [Matthew Jackson]
7 / 22
Glen Morgan faced a lot of flack for remaking Bob Clark’s classic, which was still relatively obscure at the time and thus “protected” by genre fans. But by taking Clark’s basic plot and infusing it with the tone and warped sensibilities of Silent Night, Deadly Night, he created something that can stand alongside the original as an annual watch. And to its credit: the production design alone makes it a must-see for holiday movie aficionados, as does Shirley Walker’s “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy’’-infused score. It’s probably not a good idea to watch with one’s own mother, however. [Brian Collins]
8 / 22
After Black Christmas got a more direct remake treatment in 2006, filmmakers Sophia Takal and April Wolfe decided to go a very different direction with their 2019 spin on the original classic. Black Christmas 2019 is still set at a college campus, and still follows members of a sorority as they’re stalked and picked off by a mystery killer, but the underpinnings of that basic structure go somewhere else entirely. Exactly what Takal and Wolfe are exploring is something you’ll have to see for yourself, but the end result is scary, provocative, and undeniably memorable. [Matthew Jackson]
9 / 22
When a remarried woman takes her new hubby and kids to visit her wealthy sister and their clan for Christmas, things unravel as marital and familial tensions emerge with an undercurrent of class warfare. To make matters worse, a strange illness is turning the young children into homicidal brats. (The lone teenager catches on fast.) Tom Shankland’s unsettling film manages to turn even acceptably eccentric kid behavior into something creepy. The Children can serve as an allegory for parents fearing obsolescence in the wake of a younger generation, or worse, the dangers of bad parenting unleashing monstrously bad behavior. [Bryan Reesman]
10 / 22
Kris Kringle killing sprees and Christmas carnage seem to be a big theme for 2022. First we had Violent Night, but the next offering is the appropriately titled Christmas Bloody Christmas—a yuletide terrorizer about a state-of-the-art animatronic Santa Claus that goes haywire, causing it to slaughter everyone in its path—even the wee ones. If that summary is any indication, Christmas Bloody Christmas is a love letter to horror films of the ’80s. Think Chopping Mall meets Silent Night, Deadly Night. This cyborg Santa slay ride is streaming exclusively on Shudder and playing in select theaters on December 9. [Gil Macias]
11 / 22
There’s no shortage of killer Santa movies to watch around the holidays, and they range from campy to creepy to outright cartoonish. If you want a killer Santa film that goes straight for the throat with a truly unhinged story and an unforgettable central performance, though, Christmas Evil is the movie for you. The story of a man traumatized by a childhood Santa encounter who believes himself to be the next Santa Claus, the film is anchored by Brandon Maggart’s chilling central performance, and features plenty of memorable ways to use children’s toys and Christmas decorations as instruments of murder. It’s not the most fun killer Santa film in the canon, but it is the one that will leave you most dreading what might come down your chimney. [Matthew Jackson]
12 / 22
Although Gremlins was rated PG upon its release in 1984, executive producer Steven Spielberg pushed the Motion Picture Association to create the PG-13 rating soon after due to its violent content. The chaotic horror-comedy directed by Joe Dante is about a cute “mogwai” named Gizmo that is gifted to a young man named Billy (Zach Galligan) for Christmas. Of course, the three rules (don’t feed a mogwai after midnight, don’t get it wet, and don’t expose it to bright light) are soon broken, and before long the whole town is overrun with mischievous, murderous gremlins. In addition, Phoebe Cates’ character recounts a dark story about her father—who accidentally died in a chimney while trying to surprise his family as Santa Claus—that will not fill anyone with Christmas cheer. Fans of untraditional holiday movies made Gremlins a huge blockbuster, which spawned a sequel and numerous rip-off movies featuring naughty killer critters. [Robert DeSalvo]
13 / 22
Trick ‘R Treat director Michael Dougherty tackled another holiday-themed horror movie with 2015’s Krampus, starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, and Emjay Anthony. The horror-comedy is about a family and their quarreling, visiting relatives who become trapped in their home during an unprecedented Christmas blizzard. The frightful weather is as good a time as any for grandma to recount the legend of Krampus, the terrifying creature from Austro-Bavarian folklore who punishes naughty children. Santa Claus is nowhere to be found as Krampus and his minions of killer gingerbread men, elves and demonic toys terrorize the family. It all plays out like a dark, cautionary fairy tale with a little boy realizing that even though his relatives are insufferable, he should be careful what he wishes for and dig deeper for some Christmas spirit. [Robert DeSalvo]
14 / 22
Jonathan Levine’s R-rated Christmas comedy follows three lifelong friends whose tradition of finding the best holiday party on Christmas Eve is coming to an end as their personal and work lives become increasingly busy. To commemorate the end of the era they seek out the greatest and most elusive party in NYC, The Nutcracker Ball. Naturally, chaos and celebrity cameos ensue. Despite boasting a large cast of well-liked and recognizable actors including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Mindy Kaling, Lizzy Caplan, Illana Glazer, Jillian Bell, and Michael Shannon, The Night Before still feels like something of a holiday hidden gem that hasn’t yet hit the cult status it originally felt destined for. There’s a good balance of naughty and nice, and a sincere message of friendship, that makes for a nice alternative to some of the more saccharine Christmas movies, while still maintaining the feeling of good cheer. [Richard Newby]
15 / 22
Looking for trippy Christmas fear? Try Rare Exports. An American and British drilling team discover find what they believe to be a frozen Santa Claus buried in the Earth. With greed in his heart, their wealthy patron wants to unearth his workshop, free him, and make a fortune. But after the old man gets thawed out, reindeer are slaughtered and kids disappear. Is this the revered Santa Claus or a more sinister version? Rare Exports is ho-ho-horrific fun with a twisted sense of humor that does not go where you expect it to. Points for originality. [Bryan Reesman]
16 / 22
It’s not hard to imagine writer/director Craig Anderson watching every other film on this list and thinking, “OK, how can I top these, offensively speaking?” This warped slasher featuring Dee Wallace as the matriarch of a very dysfunctional clan tackles several hot-button topics (including religion and infertility, and the killer is the result of an abortion mishap—a plot point that needs to be seen to be believed) without really choosing sides. But just their mere inclusion will send some viewers into a tizzy. For those who aren’t scared off, prepare yourself for 90 minutes of increasingly raised eyebrows. [Brian Collins]
17 / 22
The knives aren’t just carving the Christmas turkey in The Ref, a riotous dark comedy about an unhappy husband and wife whose non-stop venomous bickering is interrupted when they’re taken hostage by a cat burglar. Kevin Spacey and a fantastic Judy Davis are the hate-filled couple while a pre-Rescue Me Denis Leary is the increasingly exasperated thief forced to play therapist to the warring spouses. Co-written by The Fisher King’s Richard LaGravenese, The Ref is dipped in bitter sarcasm but manages to stay smart and likeable. Marriage counseling has never been so criminally funny. [Mark Keizer]
18 / 22
In this loose remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night, a small-town sheriff (Malcolm McDowell) and his deputy (Jaime King) are trying to solve a string of gruesome murders on Christmas Eve. As you may have guessed, the culprit is a crazed Santa Claus out for revenge. The only problem is the town’s gearing up for its big Christmas parade with many locals dressed as Saint Nick filling the streets, giving the killer the perfect crimson camouflage. This reimagining may only carry half the title of the 1984 original, but it makes up for that by upping the budget and the kill count. While the plot is standard and formulaic, it delivers some gory thrills, inventive kills, and a hammy performance by McDowell that make this a homicidal holiday treat that horror fans should be sure to unwrap. [Gil Macias]
19 / 22
It’s hard not to feel bad for Theodore Gershuny, as his film is not only in the public domain (meaning the late director likely never saw much income from it) but the title is so close to another holiday horror that it’s likely dismissed by folks who fail to notice the difference. However, those who seek it out will discover a creepy, somewhat sad Christmas-set tale of lonely, broken people who have been targeted by a madman. Fans of Black Christmas (1974) will be delighted (or annoyed) to learn this one beat it to the punch with the creepy phone calls. [Brian Collins]
20 / 22
The premise of Silent Night, Deadly Night is that after a young boy named Billy Chapman witnesses the murder of his parents by a criminal dressed as Santa Claus, he grows up resentful in a Catholic orphanage. He snaps as a teenager and goes on a killing spree after he is told to dress up as Santa Claus at the toy store where he lands his first job. The combination of anti-nun sentiment and a killer Claus caused an uproar during the Reagan era, forcing the distributor to pull the movie from theaters after only one week. Still, the seasonal slasher developed a cult following and spawned several sequels, including the notoriously bad Silent Night, Deadly 2, which is mostly comprised of flashbacks from the original. If you want to see Billy properly “punish” holiday revelers in the notorious 1984 movie, check out the more recent Shout! Factory Blu-ray featuring composite cuts from the bloodier, unrated original. [Robert DeSalvo]
21 / 22
First, Billy Bob Thornton brought us Bad Santa, now David Harbour is bringing us Violent Night, something that could’ve easily been called Badass Santa. In it, he plays the mythical Saint Nick—only this version is a cynical, tattooed brute who seems to have been some sort of viking warrior in his past. He’s also a milk-and-cookie connoisseur, and every Christmas night, he delivers presents with his magical sleigh and reindeer (while chugging a few beers along the way). But the night takes that violent turn when a wealthy family is held hostage by mercenaries. Concerned for the safety of a young girl, he goes full-on John McClane, crossing every merc off his naughty list in brutal fashion complete with candy cane shivs, icicles, ornaments, a sledgehammer, and more. For years, we’ve been debating whether or not Die Hard was a Christmas movie, but now, why bother? Here’s something that’s mixes that film with an R-rated Home Alone, resulting in a hyper violent action-thriller with lots of laughs that’s destined to be an anti-Christmas classic. [Gil Macias]
22 / 22


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