Admittedly, I was considering doing a top list of horror films around Thanksgiving, but there simply aren't enough around the holiday, let alone ones I've honestly watched. So instead I thought I'd extend the list to include all holidays.
The gimmick of holiday-themed films is an embarrassingly common cash grab, particularly within the romance, drama, comedy, and horror genres. Once a year there seems to be at least one star-studded intertwined tale that is merely named after the holiday it represents. The schlock is as vomit-inducing as the guts spilled from horror camp of the same vein. And as shameless as they are, some of them can be quite fun, if not staples of horror. So here is my list of top 8 holiday-themed horror movies.
Krampus - Christmas is the most popular holiday for horror films outside of Halloween, of course. Yet there have been few that have been able to break away from the cheese factor of the constant reference to the holiday they dwell within. Krampus is one such piece that embraced the campy atmosphere of the concept in a similar way to another film on this list, Gremlins. With a horror-comedy angle, Krampus lives off of its tainted Christmas toys and dark gags. The film commits to practical effects for a good portion of the film, which ads to the nostalgia of the production and the feel of the film's creature highlights. Which is why the poorly CGed gingerbread scene, which ends up consuming an unnecessary amount of action in the middle of the film, sticks out like a sore thumb amidst a movie with a lot of charm and creative, twisted Krampus minions. It's hardly perfect, but it is a pretty fun popcorn flick with memorable visuals and effects.
My Bloody Valentine - This film has long been a staple of the slasher genre and a boon for those less inclined towards the Valentine's holiday. Controversial at the time for its violence, My Bloody Valentine helped build on the slasher campaigns of the 80s and has long been considered a classic of the subgenre. While it doesn't top my list of holiday horror movies, it certainly deserves recognition.
Friday the 13th - Of the slasher icons, I have to admit that I am a Jason Voorhees guy. Objectively, Halloween has done more for the slasher genre and the bleached William Shatner mask became a more iconic mask than the oft-repeated hockey mask of Jason. But as interesting as Michael is as a psychiatrist fever dream of serial killers, Jason's zombie-like behavior, daunting presence, and the legendary double-twist of the first film really drives the franchise to rival any other slasher for me. So why isn't it higher on my list? Friday the 13th wasn't much of a recognized holiday before this franchise. While it's become more of a face for the holiday than any other holiday-themed horror movie, it also had the advantage of it being the "weakest holiday" available.
Gremlins - The pseudo-family-friendly, horror-comedy Gremlins is a staple of the Christmas season for horror fans. Its ability to transcend appreciation from a variety of movie patrons makes it a classic that the others on this list simply cannot match. The practical effects and puppetry give the film its charm, along with a self-awareness and score that keeps it lighthearted enough between truly terrifying and disturbing moments. It's a true classic revered as the gateway horror film for kids.
Rare Exports - This foreign film that tackles an evil, monstrous Santa and his elves concept is unlike any other movie, holiday-based or not. It is a truly unique story that deserves recognition for its cinematography, direction and performances. The plot feels a bit convoluted and awkward at times, but the concept is so original, it is required viewing for arthouse horror fans.
Trick 'r Treat - This horror anthology film around the holiday of, you guessed it, Halloween has grown quite a cult following, particularly around the demonic entity Sam that punishes those that don't follow the Halloween rules. Many have called for a solo film for the monstrous child, but an argument could be made that it could kill the mystique and appreciation we carry for the little guy in his relatively small role.
Halloween - Obviously, no holiday-themed horror list is complete without mentioning Michael and Halloween. I've already mentioned my feelings towards the Voorhees/Michael debate, but I do hold a deep respect for Michael. The cold, calculated, murderous nature of Michael does open a lot of philosophical doors in the hypothetical sociopathic realm. Plus, it is considered by many to be the cornerstone of the slasher genre.
Black Christmas - While Halloween is considered the cornerstone of the slasher genre, Black Christmas is quietly referred to as the father. While it came out around the same time as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas had a more duplicatable blueprint for slasher tropes that would be used for decades. The film is held in high regard for what it has done for horror, in particular the slasher genre, and that is the main reason it fell at number one on the list.
What are we thankful for? The plentiful flow of horror movies we get to watch. It's a true joy. Happy Thanksgiving!