Most Christmas movies are either in-the-pocket about Christmas ( “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Story,” anything about the actual birth of Jesus) or are movies about something very much other than comfort and joy and just set at Christmas. We covered those here:
But then there are Christmas movies that are actively scary or scary-goofy. Here are five, essentially unranked except for the No. 1.
5. “Silent Night Deadly Night.” A good 23 years’ removed from its release and in a era where every XXX thing is available all the time for free, it is tough to imagine just how much controversy this slasher generated simply by existing. After a somewhat unwise ad campaign that involved scary TV spots in the middle of prime time, “SNDN”, which concerns a man who becomes a spree killer dressed as Santa after an abusive childhood, was pulled from theaters after a week, became a cult film and spawned sequels.
The debate, which included moral-panic condemnation from Siskel and Ebert, serves as a reminder that people take Santa -- a concept that many non-Christian pals of mine have thought was creepy in its most innocent form -- very seriously indeed. And you gotta love that poster.
4. “Krampus.” Directed by “X-Men 2” writer Michael Dougherty, the horror-comedy “Krampus” is about what happens when you call up the Eastern European demon by losing the Christmas spirit. Stars Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, and Allison Tolman, all of whom look like they are having a blast.
3. “Gremlins.” Seen under the right conditions -- extreme youth or middle-aged adulthood -- “Gremlins” is pretty scary. Who wants to be the guy who buys the Christmas toy for his kid that ends up wrecking havoc in the neighborhood?
2. “Santa’s Slay.” This one makes the cut if for no other reason that it is not someone dressed as Santa who is the killer, BUT ACTUALLY SANTA CLAUS. Turns out Santa is actually a demon who, after a thousand years of being good, is now free to kill again. Santa is played by the wrestler Goldberg.
1. “It’s a Wonderful Life.” By far the most terrifying movie on the list and, quite frankly, one of the scariest, darkest Really Famous Movies ever made. It is terrifying because it is extremely plausible. Show me an adult with a family who hasn’t been scared of being busted out financially through no fault of his or her own, and I will show you a very rich person indeed. Content warning for suicidal ideation, financial ruin, childhood trauma and the idea that life without you REALLY MIGHT BE AWESOME. (Pottersville looked kind of fun, let’s face it.)