What do horror film fans watch for Christmas? Of course I can’t speak for all of us, but with the festive season upon us, if you haven’t yet decided on the final few movies to ensure you have an appropriately-terrifying holiday period, the Bloodstained Balcony is here to make a few suggestions.
Bing Crosby may be singing about a White Christmas, but if it’s snow-based horror you’re after, might I suggest a double bill of The Thing (2011) followed by The Thing (1982). The new version has been met with unqualified hatred by some, who refuse to sully the name of Carpenter’s ‘original’ (which of course it isn’t as it’s a remake of the Christian Nyby / Howard Hawks 1951 film The Thing From Another World) by watching it. The Thing (2011) actually isn’t bad at all, and in a modern marketplace flooded with remakes featuring impossibly hip, trendy and often unpleasant teenagers, one has to wonder how director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr and his team managed to avoid this pitfall and get a bunch of hairy Norwegians, diluted only by pretty Mary Elizabeth Winstead, past the studio execs. It’s definitely the B-feature, though, and seeing as it’s actually a prequel, watching the Carpenter film after it is like eating prime organically grown turkey after munching on a bit of a Bernard Matthews pate for starters.
If Santa Claus is more your thing, then there are plenty of horrors to pick from, both supernatural and otherwise. I encountered a different sort of horror queueing outside the cinema to see Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street back in the Christmas of 1985, and being asked if I was there to see Jeannot Szwarc’s Santa Claus – The Movie. Yes, multiplex-goers, in those days often the only place to wait to see a film was outside in the rain, (and in the case of Tobe Hooper’s LifeForce the fog and snow as well, but my goodness it was worth it) and how I welcome the toasty interior of today’s modern aircraft hangers.
But back to Santa Claus. If you aren’t bothered by subtitles (as no discerning horror fan should be) then 2010’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale should be number one on your list. Possibly the most widely-distributed Finnish film in British cinemas that year (or indeed any year), it’s a film that dares to suggest that, rather than being a cuddly old man on a Coke can Santa is in fact a sixty foot tall Lovecraftian demon who has been buried in the ice for centuries (perhaps Santa is The Thing) and delights in tearing naughty children to pieces. Santa’s elves are horrible Jamesian creations, and the heroes are a bunch of hairy reindeer hunters – who look like rejects from a Metallica tribute band – and a nine year old boy with cardboard taped across his bottom. The sentiment of the movie is pure horror fan Christmas: peace on earth and goodwill to all men or Santa will tear your face off. Watch this if you don’t watch anything else.
If you do have time and inclination for another subtitled Santa horror, then go for Dick Maas’ Saint. Maas is the Dutch director of The Lift and the fantastic slasher thriller Amsterdamned (recently re-released on DVD by Shameless). A hit at last year’s London FrightFest, here we have another version of Santa as supernatural monster. In the Middle Ages, the evil St Nicholas murders his way across the country before being burned to death in his ship on the fifth of December. Thereafter whenever there is a full moon, on that date he rises from the dead to go on a killing spree. Like Maas’ other films, Amsterdam is the setting for this one, which includes a memorable rooftop chase on horseback that predictably ends in disaster.
Santa as a non-supernatural sadistic slasher can be found in 1984s Silent Night, Deadly Night which has been re-released on DVD by the tireless Arrow films with one of the best and most tasteless DVD covers I’ve seen in a long time. Apparently this film caused a huge controversy in the US when it was released because of the image it presented of poor old Santa (it certainly didn’t here in the UK as we were all too busy trying to see The Evil Dead uncut before copies got withdrawn). The murders all have a Christmas or winter theme, including Linnea Quigley being impaled on antlers, and the film was successful enough to warrant four sequels (Part 5 came out in 1991). I haven’t seen any of those, nor the recent remake by Stephen C Miller, who made the very good The Aggression Scale. The 2012 version is apparently only a very loose remake and stars Malcolm McDowell on the hunt for a murderer in a Santa suit.
If you must watch one slasher at this time of year, though, it has to be Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (and not the awful remake of a few years ago). Pretty much setting the template for the modern slasher film, Clark’s 1974 pic has all the elements you could wish for as sorority sisters are murdered in their house during the Christmas break. Unlike many of the movies which followed this one it has a very weird ending which is one of the many reasons its reputation has grown over the years. Black Christmas is definitely worth a watch if you’re yet to see it.
When deciding what classics to watch, I often turn to the horrors the BBC used to show at Christmas and which have therefore become inextricably linked to the season for me. Favourites include Hammer’s Hands of the Ripper, Cushing and Lee in crazy Spanish favourite Horror Express, and, best of all, Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers. The comedy in the latter may not be to everyone’s taste, and much of it is too broad for me, but I don’t care. Given a budget ten times that of a Hammer film of the time, Polanski’s movie boasts superb production design by Wilfred Shingleton and lovely photography by Douglas Slocombe. Krzysztof Komeda’s music score is weird and unsettling, and could only have been written in the late 1960s. It’s worth noting that the final dance of the vampires sequence is a wonderful mix of horror and comedy that gets it just right.
To finish, if you’re in a less charitable mood at this time of year, you could do what we’ve done and watch the Saw films – the modern day horror equivalent of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. What’s great about all seven of these movies is that unpleasant people get to see the errors of their ways and then die anyway in a variety of outrageously bloody and needlessly complicated Heath Robinson constructs that resemble the game Mousetrap we were all given for Christmas when we were kids, probably along with a jigsaw.
Anyone ready for New Year’s Evil yet?
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
If you enjoyed John Llewellyn Probert’s column, please consider clicking through to our Amazon Affiliate links and buying some of his fiction. If you do you’ll help keep the This Is Horror ship afloat with some very welcome remuneration.