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Christmas horror movies give us a much-needed break from being merry all the time

Whether you're just seeking a twist on holiday entertainment or have a rightful need to say “bah humbug” to the season, creepy films are always a fun way to let off some steam.
From left, Allison Tolman, Adam Scott and Toni Collette in \"Krampus.\"
From left, Allison Tolman, Adam Scott and Toni Collette in "Krampus."Steve Unwin / Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

There’s a crass commercialization of the Yuletide season exemplified by the retail Christmas creep that starts in September. Many people obsessively play and sing holiday jingles for weeks. The Hallmark Channel unleashes two months of whitewashed Christmas flicks that evoke nostalgia for an era that, for a lot of us, never was.

While many of us certainly find comfort in family, friends and feasts during December — which is the true spirit of this month — there are those who feel isolated, dislike their insufferable in-laws or simply tire of the endless demands that we be merry.

Fear fans have a terrifying take on pretty much every holiday.

If you fall into the latter group and love to embrace your dark side, consider cueing up the Christmas horror films and shows.

Fear fans have a terrifying take on pretty much every holiday from 1981’s “My Bloody Valentine” to 1986’s “April Fool’s Day.” It’s all in good, bloody fun. They can be funny and cathartic, too.

If you think Christmas is the one holiday that should be left out of this, consider that for all its festivities, the season has a dark cloud that hovers close to it. For starters, two of its classic stories, “A Christmas Carol” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” follow two bitter, miserly characters who find redemption in embracing love, hope and humanity. The endings are bright, but their journeys are rocky.

Similarly, the annual heavy rock tours of the acclaimed Trans-Siberian Orchestra present emotionally wrenching tales of loss and redemption that bond audiences through heartache before their hopeful, heartwarming finales.

And yes, we know: “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie.

You know why it feels legit to serve up mischievousness to scrape against our entertainment merriment? Because, some wonderful charity aside, the holidays don’t truly cure the ills of the world, and oftentimes people who might mean well (or pretend to) during the season turn into their original apathetic or grinchy selves come January.

A scene from "Elves."
A scene from Netflix's "Elves."Henrik Ohsten / Netflix

So if you’re over jolly St. Nick, check out the various killer Kris Kringles in everything from 1980’s “Christmas Evil” to 2010’s “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” to the “And All Through the House” episode of the show “Tales From the Crypt” (also, the first story of the original 1972 anthology movie). And while “Futurama” falls under sci-fi, homicidal Robot Santa fits the bill.

If you’re done with cliché family coziness, check out the new Netflix series “Elves,” a Danish import about a small urban clan who vacation on a remote island only to face danger from the homicidal forest elves that the locals keep at bay with an electrified fence.

The series works on a couple of levels. First, it’s a decent monster tale for the holidays. Second, its messages of family bonding, unity and respect for others and the environment get undermined by the poor life choices made by its would-be hero Josefine. That’s an odd but interesting distinction and possibly not what the writers intended.

Keeping with the evil little creature theme, there’s 1984’s witty “Gremlins,” which deconstructs Norman Rockwell Americana (and “It’s a Wonderful Life”) when destructive, hard-partying critters take over the quaint town of Kingston Falls. At its core, the Joe Dante film mocks personal and corporate greed during a season when we should be free of it. It also features this zinger about those facing Yuletide solitude: “While everybody else is opening up their presents, they’re opening up their wrists.” That quoted character, Kate, learned there was no Santa Claus when her dad broke his neck trying to come down the chimney as St. Nick. Ouch.

GREMLINS, Zach Galligan, Gizmo, 1984, (c)Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection
Zach Galligan with "Gizmo" in the 1984 "Gremlins."Warner Bros via Everett Collection

For those wincing through those tumultuous high school years, or perhaps our pandemic divisiveness, check out the funny, gory 2017 musical “Anna and the Apocalypse.” It’s proof that even when you have to unite with classmates, peers or family you disdain to stop a holiday zombie takeover, you probably still won’t bury the hatchet.

Perhaps the ultimate statement on holiday family dysfunction is the hilarious horror romp that is 2015’s “Krampus,” which opens with consumers trampling each other to buy gifts. In the main story, a young boy curses Christmas after his family and in-laws ruin it with their squabbling, thus summoning the satanic presence of the title character. He knows who’s been naughty and lost the spirit of the season (pretty much everyone here), and he and his evil minions take them out one by one. In Alpine folklore, Krampus was the counterpart to St. Nicholas. The latter rewarded good children, and the former punished the bad and possibly dragged them to hell. In this movie, the Krampus crew goes on a violent rampage that is fiendishly fun. (Good news for fans: The R-rated “Naughty Cut” just arrived.)

To be fair, with all of the creepy holiday options out there, the twisted joy of making the season creepy has become a mini-industry that threatens to become a time-honored tradition. Gone are the days when (an admittedly subpar) flick like 1984's “Silent Night, Deadly Night” aroused controversy with its ax-wielding Santa ad campaign. What’s the fun if it all turns into another expected seasonal marketing gimmick? Then again, playing catch-up against all those Hallmark films, horrors in themselves, will take time.

Regardless, whether it’s just seeking a subversive twist on Yuletide entertainment or if one has a rightful need to say “bah humbug” to the holidays, Christmas horror movies and series are always a fun way to let off some steam. “Black Christmas,” anyone?