“The Holidays” can certainly be a joyous time for many. The flip side is it can also be a nightmare that happens annually. It’s that time of year when lots of folks may think about the “Ghosts of Christmas” - past, present, and future. This is thanks to Charles Dickens, no matter what holiday you celebrate or if you don’t celebrate any at all.
Going into December and the New Year is a cause for reflection - of one’s own psyche. “The holiday season” can be a time of high stress for many- spending time with unsavory relatives, travel plans going haywire, weather being your foe. Like all things, the “holiday season” ends and a fresh year takes its place.
The Haunted Hangouts Crew is back to tell you what kinds of holiday horrors go through our minds, but with movies--
I love wrapping myself up in a warm, fuzzy blanket and watching horror movies this time of year and. Though not technically “holiday” horror movies, I seem to watch horror movies that have snow in them because for some reason it makes it feel like a holiday horror movie. For example, every Christmas season I watch Rob Reiner’s Misery (based on the book by Stephen King). Annie Wilkes is a villain far scarier than any monster because someone like her could actually be living next door. Oddly enough, I will sit down and work on one of my scripts the day after watching Misery. As a writer, this movie hits on so many levels. The idea of being trapped and forced to write something you purposefully “killed off” in order to buy time for your survival knowing that the person who is taking care of you is also planning to kill you is so freaky to me… and I love it!
Another movie I love to watch this time of year is Let the Right One In, the Swedish vampire film by Tomas Alfredson based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I really think this film was so beautifully done and did a great job of establishing the world of Oskar who is bullied and finds friendship and acceptance in the mysterious Eli. I love child vampires in movies; I think it’s because children are supposed to be so innocent so full of the possibilities of life, but being a vampire turns all of that upside down. And Eli makes a wonderful vampire who is both vulnerable and powerful. As someone from the desert, seeing the snowy landscape in Let the Right One In just amplifies everything that happens in the movie. Can’t wait to dig into this movie again here soon.
So go grab some hot cocoa and sit down to the warm glow of your TV screen as you tune into some amazing horror films. We’ll be there in spirit!
I think back to my childhood more during the holidays; therefore, I instantly think of my first really scary cult favorite, The Watcher in the Woods from 1980! There’s something eerie about travels to a foreign realm, cold, dilapidated mansions, high winds that move the shutters, falling into or through chilly lakes, the crisp leaves that make every pursuer find you, and that definite fear that some spirit or creep will spell out something evil in the mist, fog or haze of a mirror or glass-like “red rum” or “Karen”! If it’s scary children, even better! Bette Davis was already frightening enough, looking like an old witchy crone obsessed with her long-lost daughter. Bette Davis is her own tour de force of scary, but this setting and tone makes me think she would fit gleefully into any Edgar Allan Poe story! It keeps that dark, gothic, creepy, “where is this going next?” feel. It became a cult Disney film they told kids not to see - which, of course, dared them to see it, but the dark tone is so perfect for the dead and bleak winter nights!
For a change of pace or to cleanse the palate, if you should enjoy that for a holiday viewing, be sure to follow it up with something completely campy like Gremlins! I saw both films at too young an age in the 80s, but Gremlins fulfills about every check mark-weird, funny, gross, with fang-like, clawing monsters but enough of a cute fur-ball looking Ewok reject to make you think it’ll all be okay. And it takes place as they rock around the Christmas tree! So all the fear and dread and morbidity of The Watcher is instantly brightened by dancing little demon monsters just wanting to eat things, and that’s perfect after a week of Christmas feasts with all sides of your family, the ones you like and the rascals you probably think of like green beastly trash goblins you can’t wait to get out of your house. An early Stephen Spielberg classic of holiday creepy joy!
My favorite Christmas horror is Rare Exports, released in 2010 from Finland. It starts out with an archaeological dig where the original pagan Santa, evil and dangerous, trapped in rock and ice deep underground has been unearthed and set free. Now children are disappearing. The young boy, Pietari, figures out what’s going on before the adults believe it. He’s a darling kid with a sweet face, running around in the snow in his underwear and a big sweater. His father in the film is his actual father by the way, and their relationship is so sweet and loving. The whole film has a dark, almost “Indiana Jones adventure” kind of feeling to it. It’s filmed in Norway, and the beauty of the landscape and the sky within the Arctic Circle is absolutely breathtaking. It’s such a unique combination of creepy, sweet, and funny altogether. Jalmari Helander, the writer/director also did the production design, which is gorgeous. It definitely puts me in the Christmas spirit.
I’m gonna go off the rails and break the rules to talk about how much I love looking up holiday episodes of TV shows at Christmas time. One of my favorites is Season 3 Episode 8 of Supernatural: A Very Supernatural Christmas, which is a Krampus story. It starts out as a perfect Christmas night and then becomes gruesome quickly. It’s just such a delicious scene. It’s a fun take on the Krampus story that’s actually a pretty tense and scary episode with some good laughs mixed in. My birthday is Krampusnacht so I’m particularly fond of Krampus!
The Holidays have always been this odd mix of warmth and togetherness juxtaposed with desolation. The Earth - life - goes dormant, which is both beautiful and unsettling. The film that best captures that feeling of isolation and unease is that eternal holiday classic, The Thing.
Nothing reminds me of winter holidays spent with my family more than a bunch of unshowered, paranoid people stuck in a freezing room together trying to figure out who the real monster is (aunt Debbie) before they all kill each other. And if you really have an appetite for holiday horror, make it a Kurt Russell double feature and watch The Christmas Chronicles. His singing voice alone will give you night terrors through the new year.
When I think of a Christmas holiday horror movie, a blast from the past immediately comes to mind, Gremlins!
A father finds a unique Christmas gift for his son. The shopkeeper, Mr. Wing, who sells the special gift “a mogwai,” warns the father not to expose the mogwai to bright light and water and never, ever, feed him after midnight.
Does the son, Billy, follow these rules? Well, at first, he does, but then he thinks, what’s the worst that can happen? Suddenly the mogwai, cutely named Gizmo, is accidentally exposed to water and sprouts new mogwai. These mogwais are different. More devious and sneaky. Totally different from the kind and sweet Gizmo. The leader of these new mogwais is named Stripe.
When you see how scared the sweet and kind Gizmo is of Stripe, you already know this new spawned group will be up to no good. Stripe and his buddies trick Billy into feeding them after midnight. They form cocoons, and when they re-hatch, they emerge as reptilian monsters known as “Gremlins.”
Soon the tiny suburban town is turned on its head, as a gang of Gremlins wreaks havoc on Christmas Eve. The Gremlins rampage through the small town and kill many people. Bill and his girlfriend find that all the Gremlins have gathered at the local movie theater to watch “Snow White and Seven Dwarfs” (my favorite scene of the movie), and they devise a plan to set off an explosion. They kill all the Gremlins, all except that damn Stripe, who gets away and tries to produce more Gremlins by jumping into a water fountain. Gizmo saves the day by opening a skylight and frying Stripe.
Mr. Wing returns to retrieve Gizmo, correctly stating that the Western Society is not ready for the responsibility of the mogwai.
The Gremlins movie was released in 1984. It was a sick, twisted, funny, gory ride. Even though I didn’t get to see it until a few years later on a VHS tape that my cousin snuck from his parent's “adult movie’s stash” as we were told we were WAY too young to watch such a scary film. And they were right! I had nightmares about Stripe for weeks after watching it! But I still think it ranks high on the list for Christmas horror movies.
The “holidays” are about shedding one’s demons and starting afresh with the new year, turning a corner, if you will. When you think everything’s dead, a whole new world comes alive during the winter. I find horror movies to also fit these themes- purging, catharsis, getting rid of the old and in with the new, a refreshing of one’s personal timeline, using death and decay to fertilize the next creation. I also think of winter as a great time of keeping to oneself indoors- and you know- having fewer excuses not to write, hibernation, dark thoughts, trekking in desolate places and metamorphosis- where anything can happen!
There are a few horror films that remind me of the coldest time of year, of that good old yuletide and beyond- way into that season of my birth. 30 Days of Night makes me think of the holidays-- the snow, the bloodsuckers, the feeling of being isolated and trapped and looking forward to another time, of more light and of the big thaw.
The Shining is a fun one to watch during the holiday season. I find Jack to be very Scrooge-esque. Ones who have a “shining” have a gift, so yes- gifts, mental psychic gifts are better than material ones for me!
Krampus is a hilarious holiday movie, I find. It reminds us of the darker side of “making merriment” and that one’s actions have consequences beyond “getting a lump of coal in your stocking”. All kinds of things in that movie can come back and bite you - including anthropomorphic holiday goodies that you usually sink your teeth into. I will say no more in an attempt not to spoil it.
Yo ho ho and have fun wondering if those are reindeer or some sort of demon on your roof!