The 10 Best Dark and Scary Christmas Movies

The 2015 film Krampus ends with a family fighting for their lives against a hideous demon who is so relentless that he chases them through a blinding snowstorm, taking them out one by one (with some help from terrifying elves and evil toys). But the movie’s greatest horrors arrive much earlier. Directed by Michael Dougherty, Krampus opens with slow-motion images of Christmastime chaos as superstore customers play tug-of-war with hard-to-find items, kids cry in Santa’s lap, and zombie-like shoppers line up in unmoving checkout lines. A melee even breaks out in the living Nativity scene. All the while, Bing Crosby’s rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas” plays on the soundtrack.

It’s an ironic song choice, but only up to a point. Christmas can and often does look like this, even if Christmas movies don’t always tell the truth about the holidays. Sometimes it looks even worse. In subsequent scenes, Max (Emjay Anthony), the film’s young hero, grows so upset with his quarrelsome, harried family and their mockery of his belief in Santa that he tears up his letter to the beneficent patriarch. In the process he summons Krampus, the evil creature from Alpine folklore who punishes ill-behaved children and, here at least, those insufficiently filled with Christmas spirit.

The set-up works as an excuse for the film to introduce a scary-looking monster in a Santa suit, but also a potent metaphor for the pressure to get Christmas right and to be of good cheer—even when the experience of Christmas itself can involve familial conflict and reflection on everything that went wrong in the previous year. Who can stomach Love Actually or The Holiday in that frame of mind?

Fortunately, there’s a long if less-celebrated strand of Dark Christmas movies for those whose holiday disposition is closer to Ebeneezer Scrooge than Bob Cratchit—bad-mood films that sometimes find a way of capturing the spirit of the holiday anyway. That last element can’t really be found in Krampus, or in the many horror movies built around Christmastime, most of which are happy to deliver the cinematic equivalent of a lump of coal. But sometimes lumps of coal can be refreshing. Here are a few White Christmas and The Santa Clause alternatives for those in need of grimmer stocking stuffers.

Gremlins, 1984.Everett Collection / Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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