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Krampus reaches for an old woman's face in this image from Legendary Pictures.
Naughty children — and sometimes adults — get a visit from the Krampus. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

For many, the close of October marks the end of spooky season and the shockingly abrupt start of Christmastime. But don’t be fooled by the dazzle of lights and glittering decorations — the veil is still thin during this time of year, making it completely appropriate to indulge in some seasonal horror flicks.

While we may think of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as the original Christmas ghost story, this holiday has a darker and more twisted history hidden beneath all that shiny gift wrapping. The modern, commercialized traditions surrounding Christmas that we’re familiar with are fairly new — they didn’t pop up in the U.S. until the 19th century, meaning that those cute and cozy characters that we grew up with are the somewhat new kids on the block. Now, the older ones … you don’t want them to see you when you’re sleeping.

The Christmas holiday is rooted in pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, creating a snowy, chilly canvas for an array of genuinely scary mythological figures. Germany’s Frau Perchta will disembowel you and replace your organs with rocks and straw, and Iceland’s Jolakotturinn, a giant cat, will eat you if you don’t receive new clothes. There’s a decorated, skeletal horse in Wales called Mari Lwyd that will challenge you for food and drink, an Anatolian demon named Karakoncolos that will kill you if you answer a riddle incorrectly, and France’s Père Fouettard deals out coal and whippings to naughty children — and that’s just to name a few.

With sinister creatures and lore like this, it’s no wonder why this time of year can have an underlying twinge of mischief and fright. If your version of holiday horror has been limited to too much family time and re-watching the same claymation specials (which are nightmarish in their own right) year after year, these movies may be a welcome and entertaining way to switch up your personal traditions.

Before the cocoa gets cold, here are 12 days of Christmas horror films ranked from nicest to naughtiest, starting from slightly spooky to movies that chilled me to the bone.

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‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993) — 😇

Jack Skellington talks with Santa Claus in this image from Touchstone Pictures.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is creepy, but the musical score lightens up the movie’s tone. (Image: Touchstone Pictures)

What better way to kick off this list than with Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas?” While there are plenty of spooky folkloric beings known for kidnapping naughty children, this movie features the opposite: naughty children kidnapping “Sandy Claws.”

It’s a beloved classic for a reason — this whimsical and fantastical gateway to Christmas horror movies is perfect for any age, making it a great option for some family-friendly bonding time this season.

Watch “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Disney Plus.

‘Gremlins’ (1984) — 😇

A young man fights off a Gremlin with a chain saw in this image from Warner Bros.
Some argue that “Gremlins” is 100 percent a Christmas movie. (Image: Warner Bros.)

Another film that lives on both sides of the “Is it a Halloween or a Christmas movie?” coin is “Gremlins,” an ‘80s classic that’s a not-so-inconspicuous metaphor for the dangers of commercialism during Christmas (and maybe the hazards of late-night snacking).

While I’ll never be against the quest of finding your loved one that perfect gift, something has gone very wrong if that quest involves the mysterious purchase of a creature you’ve never heard of before.

Stream “Gremlins” with a Max subscription.

‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ (2017) — 😇

 A young woman surrounded by zombies in this image from Blazing Griffin.
The easiest way to turn something into horror is a zombie apocalypse. (Image: Blazing Griffin)

When a zombie apocalypse threatens the quiet town of Little Haven at Christmastime, Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends must strike a few chords (and the undead) for survival.

I have to agree with Alex Billington from First Showing: The best way to describe this movie is as if “Shaun of the Dead” and “La La Land” had a sick and twisted love child. Is it gory? Yes. Is it goofy? Yes. Is it surprising I could enjoy a zombie Christmas musical this much? Absolutely.

Watch “Anna and the Apocalypse” with an AMC Plus subscription, or rent or buy it on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’ (2010) — 🙂

A man and a boy look into a trap with spikes in this image from Cinet.
For a foreign Christmas horror film, “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” is worth the watch. (Image: Cinet)

After a secret mountain drilling project takes place, a nearby town is plagued with slaughtered reindeer and disappearing children, two of whom believe that a monstrous, evil Santa is the perpetrator.

This Finnish film touches on the creepy side of holiday lore, hearkening back to the ancient warnings of kidnappings and other bad fortune. It’s merry, it’s morbid, and its tongue-in-cheek humor makes it worth the watch.

Watch “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” on Peacock.

‘A Christmas Horror Story’ (2015) — 🙂

 A bearded man with a cut across his face in this image from Copperheart Entertainment.
There’s more to Santa than meets the eye in this anthology-style movie. (Image: Copperheart Entertainment)

Some of us dream of a Christmas that’s merry and bright, and then there are the residents of Bailey Downs, who hope they’ll just make it through the night. With malevolent spirits and beings lurking around every corner of this small town, it might take a Christmas miracle.

This anthology-style film is a fun watch for those who love their horror movies with a gory side of slapstick — and true fans of the genre will recognize the town name from another piece of supernatural Canadian cinema.

Watch “A Christmas Horror Story” on Tubi.

‘Krampus’ (2015) — 🙂

 A boy looks up at Krampus in this image from Legendary Pictures.
According to legend, Krampus is half-goat, half-devil, and 100 percent something you don’t want after you. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

If Toni Collette is in a movie, particularly a scary one, I’m going to give it a watch, and as usual, I wasn’t disappointed by that choice. In “Krampus,” she plays Sarah, an exhausted mom and wife in the midst of hosting family for Christmas, along with a few other unexpected guests mistakenly summoned by her son.

If you need a break from your own chaotic family this season and get a few laughs from some evil gingerbread cookies, I recommend adding this one to your watchlist.

“Krampus” is available to watch on Hulu.

‘Better Watch Out’ (2016) — 😬

A teen boy and teen girl hide from intruders in this image from Storm Vision Entertainment.
As far as holiday horror goes, a home invasion is a pretty standard plot, but this one has some unexpected turns. (Image: Storm Vision Entertainment)

If you liked the “Home Alone” franchise, then you’ll love “Better Watch Out.” During a baby-sitting gig gone wrong, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) and Luke (Levi Miller) must defend themselves and the house from intruders.

In the mood for a festive horror comedy? Pour yourself some hot cocoa and put on this hilariously morbid film. It’s definitely not the most believable plot, but — hey — that’s nothing some holiday spirit can’t fix.

Watch “Better Watch Out” on Peacock.

‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ (2020) — 😬

Two people stand in the snow next to a car in this image from Likely Story.
You might want to skip this one if you’re meeting the parents this season. (Image: Likely Story)

While this one isn’t explicitly Christmas, I’m adding this fever dream of a film here for being holiday adjacent (and it’s not just because it’s another Toni Collette film, I promise). Although nothing too on-the-nose scary happens in this movie, its surreal and unsettling nature is amplified by the relatable discomfort of meeting the parents.

As I said before, this movie will put a confused look on your face for nearly two hours, so I’d advise bringing an open mind to it — don’t let that scare you away though, it’s one of my favorites on this list!

Watch “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” on Netflix.

‘Black Christmas’ (1974) — 😬

 A young woman opens the front door with a wreath of red lights on it in this image from Film Funding Ltd.
Black Christmas is considered to be one of the first slasher films. (Image: Film Funding Ltd.)

As one of the most famous horror films of all time, “Black Christmas” has easily earned its place on the naughty list. Watch iconic final girl Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) as she fights to survive a psychotic stalker who’s picking off members of her sorority one by one.

The intelligence behind this classic slasher film leaves the audience feeling a roller coaster of highs and lows … and a need to double-check the locks before heading to bed.

Watch “Black Christmas” on Peacock.

‘The Advent Calendar’ (2021) — 😈

A woman holds a chocolate from the advent calendar in this image from Sombrero Films.
While this movie was produced in France, the advent calendar tradition originated in Germany. (Image: Sombrero Films)

After her friend gives her a strange advent calendar, Eva (Eugénie Derouand) finds that this calendar isn’t filled with the traditional sweets. Instead, they’re treats that become increasingly terrifying and bloody.

Adding to the growing success of French filmmakers, “The Advent Calendar” has moments of familiarity as well as surprise, further tying the audience to the gruesome and twisted storyline.

Watch “The Advent Calendar” on Amazon Prime Video.

‘The Lodge’ (2019) — 😈

A boy comforts a crying girl in this image from Hammer Films.
If you spend the year watching true crime documentaries and dramas, this movie will make you feel right at home for the holidays. (Image: Hammer Films)

With themes of seclusion and a loosening grip on reality that echoes Stanley Kubrick’sThe Shining,” “The Lodge” is a chilling thriller-horror film that follows Grace (Riley Keough) and her future stepchildren as a blizzard traps them in a remote cabin with demons from her extreme, religious past.

It’s as unsettling and suspenseful as it is disturbing and terrifying, making it a movie that fans of the true crime and psychological horror genres can unite over.

Watch “The Lodge” on Max.

‘The Retaliators’ (2021) — 😈

A man with a bloodied face in this image from Better Noise Films.
Aside from playing the protagonist, Michael Lombardi also directed this gory holiday horror flick. (Image: Better Noise Films)

For those with a strong stomach, “The Retaliators” is as much of a vengeance movie as it is a total gore-fest. Fueled by his mission to avenge his daughter’s horrific murder, an upstanding pastor uncovers a dark, disturbing underworld.

Unlike other Christmas action movies, “The Retaliators” takes violence to a seriously dark, gross level, and while it’s not always entirely believable, director and lead actor Michael Lombardi has shared that the writers were inspired by a true story of family tragedy and used the extreme, high-octane nature of the movie as a means of processing their own desires for vengeance.

Watch “The Retaliators” on Amazon Prime Video.

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