I enjoy Christmas, putting the tinsel up and popping a fairy on top of an over decorated tree are all part of the festive cheer, but there can be a bit too much saccharine this time of year. Should you find yourself reaching for the insulin when Sugar plum fairy shoves bucket loads of sweets down your throat while watching The Nutcracker, then it really is time to seek out an anti-Christmas alternatives and what better way then to order in some classic Christmas horror (and one ghost) films.
For me, there is nothing worse then settling down with some popcorn, chocolate and a glass of eggnog, only to find that the film you have your warm woollen mitts on is just so lame that you end up fast forwarding it knowing full well who or why ‘did it’ and instantly forget (or care) by the end of the credits. So, with this in mind, here are my ‘Top Five Classic Christmas Horror (and one ghost) Films’.
5) Black Christmas 1974 (1974).
This is one of my sister Dawn’s favourite 70’s horror films and one I remember her telling me all about the creative deaths! Way before the likes of lone stalker horror films like, Halloween and Friday the 13th came along, Black Christmas was setting up many of the tropes that would be exploited in the nod and wink, Scream series. The now familiar premise sees a group of ‘sorority girls’ getting ready to celebrate Christmas. The girls have been receiving anonymous phone calls from someone they call, The Moaner as he just breaths heavy down the phone.
After calling The Moaners bluff, he replies with the chilling threat that he will kill them all.
As with this slasher film and all the ones that would follow, it is the inventive way the killer bumps of his victims that stays with the audience. (Spoiler alert) The first death is particularly gruesome and will have you will be cling-filming that left over turkey in a very different way. For me, the most memorable murder comes when the killer (is it The Moaner?) bumps off the Housemother, Mrs Mac (a comical ‘fishwife’ character) who makes the classic Slasher film victim mistake by going up into the attic (The other ‘No, No,’ is to go down into the cellar or call out, “who’s there?” when going to investigate a noise outside). Anyway, back to Black Christmas, Mrs. Mac having no idea of the horror film rules pops up into the attic and sees the killers handy work of his cling-film victim. Mrs Mac is swiftly dispatched by a swinging hook and zipped up into the attic.
Black Christmas is a slow burner allowing plenty of time for the audience to get to like the characters and then in turn have an emotional connection with them, making the experience all the more terrifying. Their was a remake of Black Christmas (2006) which added more gore due to the success of gore-porn fest of films like Hostel. But where the likes Hostel and the original had a strong storyline, Black Christmas (2006) relied too much on splattering the screen with blood, so my advice, stick to watching the original. (Spoiler alert) What makes Black Christmas so good is it ambiguous ending; Although we think the killer is dead the phone starts to ring…
4) Gremlins: The worse Christmas ever…. (1984).
There are so many brilliant parts to Gremlins, from the dad getting a cute Mogwai creature for his son, Billy, Christmas present, to said Mogwai spitting fur balls that transform into the title of the film. However, for me, the favourite part of the film comes when Billy’s girlfriend tell’s Billy why she doesn’t like Christmas by retelling the classic Urban Legend (Although it has since gone on to happen in real life more then once!) of how her dad had dressed up as Santa with the intention of slipping down the chimney to surprise his family with gifts. Unbeknown to his wife and daughter they think he has gone missing and wait four or five days….it’s cold so his daughter lights a fire “It is then I recognised the smell” Fire men come, and find her dad has broken his neck and got stuck halfway done the chimney! eke!
This is another favourite of my sister and I’s, starring the Brilliant Joan Collins. Collins, Like Steve McQueen, started their careers in B-movies. While McQueen was seeing off The Blob, Collins was fighting Giant ants (Empire of the Ants). But it is Collins turn as a murderess wife in Tales from the Crypt that get’s her onto this list.
Based on the 1950’s comics of the same name, Collins bumps of her wealthy husband and then makes it look (quite unconvincingly if you ask me) like an accident along with the worse fake blood imaginable; all of which makes this chapter from Tales form the Crypt worth a look, but there is so much more! Borrowing once again from the Bumper Book of Urban Legends, the story unfolds with the radio announcing that a psychopath has escaped from the local asylum and is dressed as in a Santa outfit (as you do). The next ten minutes sees Collins world collapse as the Psycho Santa tries to break into her house. Unable to call the police (dead husband) Collin’s whizzers around the house locking all the windows, checking all the locks. But poor old Joan hadn’t banked on her excited young daughter spying Santa (who, it has to be said, looks pretty ropy) outside so she lets him in. Seriously though, If that scene was remade now both mother and daughter would quickly get weaponed up and kick that psycho Santa’s boney arse! Alas, poor Joan get’s her comeuppance as is the rule with this type of Horror.
Dawn, I think you’d like this film, not because it is one of the all time classic Christmas films of all time, but because it is so bad and because of that it is so good.
Okay, here’s the plot, Billy and his baby brother Ricky, along with their parents are off to see their granddad on Christmas Eve. Good old Grandad, who has not spoken in years, waits to get Billy on his own and speaks! but instead of sharing christmas cheer, he tells young Billy that Santa know’s he has been bad and will punish him! Eke, eke eke!!
On the way home a robber (dressed as Santa) kills Billy’s parents forcing Billy and Ricky into an Orphanage, run by stick nuns, twisting poor Billy even further.
Fast forward ten years, Billy is working in a toy shop and on Christmas Eve is forced to be father Christmas. Doh!
Poor Billy’s mind snaps, he goes on a killing spree and…well that would spoil the fun! The film was highly criticised upon its release by people who never saw the film by parents who didn’t think Santa should be depicted as a homicidal maniac. The publicity made the film a cult, which in turn spun four more sequels and a remake!
For me personally, the original is the best, although Micky Rooney in part 4 as a demonic toy makes that particular sequel well worth a look as it will surly banish all cutesy memories of him in any of the five films with Judy Garland a distant memory.
But back to SNDN1; it’s clear that the main part of the budget was spent on Billy’s Santa suit, It’s rich, it’s plush, it even has bells on! The special effects are a bit rubbish….really bad in fact, but that’s all part of it, it’s like watching a modern day Ed wood directed movie, what more of a recommendation do you need!
Based on one of my all time favourite ghost stories, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, which has been adapted into films, an opera and even a ballet is a truly unnerving experience. The premises is pretty simple; a young woman, Miss Giddens (the brilliant Deborah Kerr) with limited experience of the world becomes a governess to two perfect children, Flora and Miles who’s parents are both dead, leaving their uncle (Michael Redgrave) who has no desire to look after either of them except financially, by keeping Miles at a private school and for the new governess to home school Flora at his country estate in the middle of nowhere. Isolation is always a great setting for a horror film, but it isn’t just the setting that creates the isolation for the young governess, but the fact that the only other (living) adult is the cook, played by Megs Grose (people of a certain age will know her better as Mrs Bridges from Up Stairs Down stairs) who can not read or write, an important plot devise to create further uncertainty about Miss Giddens take on reality. Mrs Grose informs the governess about the previous Governess, Miss Jessel who had been influenced by the Uncle’s Valet the rough and ready, Quint; both of whom are now dead. As the story unfolds, the governess sees both Miss Giddens and Quint on numerous occasions and becomes convinced the evil pair have come back from the grave to takeover the bodies of the governesses young charges. What makes this film particularly creepy (and been particularly popular with New Criticism) is that as a viewer you are never too sure if there is really a unworldly presence, or if it is the governess who is seeing things. The innocents of the children and the lack of education from the cook only help to compound the feeling of what is going on. However, it is the ending that is truly shocking and makes this film a real must for a chilling Christmas treat.