Most people who celebrate Christmas have a favorite Christmas movie. For a long time, mine was Home Alone — a classic, can’t go wrong with it. Home Alone and its sequel, Lost in New York, are both still very watchable today. However, movies don’t have to be saccharine family affairs in order to get us in the holiday spirit. For Christmas 2014, Black Mirror’s “White Christmas” dropped on Netflix, and that became my go-to holiday viewing. I rewatch it every year. Starring Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, and Oona Chaplin, the bleak holiday tale warns of technology’s dangers in a devastating way. And that one episode made me realize, while Lifetime movies and Christmas rom-coms certainly have their place, I really love to watch holiday horror movies, or dark Christmas thrillers, in the days leading up to the holiday. Here are a few of my favorites.
Seven Christmas Horror Movies to Stream and Scream
Better Watch Out (2016)
Better Watch Out went largely under the radar after its release, but it’s a really solid Christmas horror movie. A teenage girl, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), is babysitting Luke (a very creepy Levi Miller) while his parents are out at a Christmas party. While 12-year-old Luke probably doesn’t really need a babysitter, he’s happy about it because he’s got a massive crush on Ashley.
What initially seems like it will be a home invasion thriller pulls some big plot twists. You might be able to guess the twist right away — I did — but I still really enjoy this constantly escalating and violent ride. It’s an absolutely infuriating movie, with one of the least likable main characters I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. If that sounds like a bad review, it’s not. This one’s a fun, updated twist on classic Home Alone trickery.
Better Watch Out is currently available to stream on Tubi, Shudder, and other platforms.
Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) (1980)
Christmas Evil is one of the most outwardly Christmas-y films to make it on this list. (There are a few here that mostly just use Christmas as set dressing — but they count!) It also might be the scariest, if you can get past a little bit of ‘80s cheese.
After being traumatized one Christmas as a child, Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart — Fiona Apple’s dad!) spends the rest of his life obsessed with Christmas. He works at a toy factory, and he’s got a really creepy obsession for cataloging the local children into his “nice” or “naughty” lists. After being belittled at work, Harry becomes even more unhinged. He eventually becomes completely convinced that he is Santa Claus, and his deluded state becomes violent. While this sounds like the beginnings of a slasher, Christmas Evil is meditative and thoughtful, an excellent example of psychological horror. It’s Maggart’s performance of Harry’s descent into deranged Santa that is darkly comedic, sad, and actually pretty horrifying.
Christmas Evil can be streamed on Tubi, Shudder, and other platforms.
The 2000s are, without a doubt, my favorite era in horror films. If you’re feeling like watching a very 2007 Christmas horror movie this holiday season, look no further than P2. Angela (Rachel Nichols) stays late at her fancy Park Avenue office on Christmas Eve, only to realize that her car battery has died. The garage security guard, Thomas (Wes Bentley), tries to help her… but it turns out he has an ulterior motive.
Angela spends her Christmas Eve trying to get away from Tom the Incel. Wes Bentley has always had a knack for playing handsome creeps, and he really shines here as this white knight gone way too far. It’s also refreshing to see a (very well done) single-set horror film from long before COVID; most of the film takes place in a parking garage. It’s tight and tense, with a bit of camp and plenty of gruesome, squirm-worthy moments. Just what you need this holiday season.
P2 is available to stream on Tubi and other platforms.
ATM is another overlooked Christmas chiller. I just love a movie that starts out with a jaunty Christmas jingle before diving into murder. A couple of finance bros (Josh Peck and Brian Geraghty) leave their work Christmas party with their coworker Emily (Alice Eve) and stop at an ATM. They end up trapped in the ATM vestibule… because there’s a scary man in a big parka outside.
While the premise isn’t very solid, and this movie is definitely more in the so-bad-it’s-good camp, I thoroughly enjoy it. If you can embrace how truly silly this is, it’s a fun cat-and-mouse thriller with a fair bit of gore and not a shred of holiday joy.
ATM can currently be streamed on AMC+ and DirecTV.
“A Nasty Piece of Work” (2019)
“A Nasty Piece of Work” is a fun, gory, and darkly comedic late-stage capitalism Christmas thriller. A mid-level corporate employee is denied an expected Christmas bonus; when he’s invited to his boss’s house for Christmas, he’s surprised to find that he’s up for a promotion — but there’s a catch. He’s got to play some pretty twisted games against his coworker and competition in order to win over his boss.
Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology series of holiday-driven horror has some gems hidden among its 24 episodes, which are mostly entertaining but nothing special. 2018’s Christmas installment, Pooka, is fun but forgettable — A Nasty Piece of Work is a really enjoyable, sometimes goofy take on a holiday dinner party gone awry. The self-aware, over-the-top performances make this one of the best episodes of Into the Dark and one of the best Yuletide thrillers around.
“A Nasty Piece of Work” is available on Hulu.
The Children (2008)
Two families — sisters, their husbands, and their children — get together at a gorgeous estate in the English countryside to spend the holidays together. It should be a beautiful holiday, but one of the children falls ill. The mysterious illness spreads through each of the kids until they are all sick. They’re not just sick though; whatever they’ve caught makes them violent. Out of control, unpredictable children are a great horror trope and one of the more effective. The Children pushes this trope to its extreme.
The kids’ behavior starts out as just a little unnerving; they misbehave and push buttons. They’re very believable and just the right amount of annoying. As their behavior escalates and they become downright murderous, they somehow maintain their believability. The Children goes from a little unsettling to genuinely surprising. Teenage Casey (Hannah Tointon) is the unexpected hero of this story, giving a grounded performance as the built-in-babysitter and the one you’d expect to be the wildcard. If you were a teenager in this era, you will especially appreciate her true-to-life performance.
At just under 90 minutes long, The Children is a perfectly paced thriller and one I watch every year. It’s weird and creepy and much more nightmarish than any Christmas dinner you had planned.
The Children is available on Tubi and other platforms.
There have been a whole bunch of Krampus movies in the last decade or so — you can find most of them on Tubi, like Krampus: The Reckoning and Mother Krampus (and their sequels). Those are… watchable. But 2015’s Krampus, starring Toni Collette and Adam Scott, is actually pretty good. Krampus begins with the sort of family gathering reminiscent of the first Home Alone family dinner party, but updated for the 2010s (with plenty of semi-annoying socio-political commentary).
Instead of being left all alone, though, poor little Max (Emjay Anthony) accidentally summons a Christmas Demon. The family has to try to band together to save themselves from the horrors that have been unleashed by their lack of Christmas spirit. If you’re looking for a Christmas horror movie with a dash of comedy, as well as plenty of action and great creatures, Krampus is the way to go.
Krampus can currently be streamed on Peacock.
If none of these movies really do the trick for you, there are more than a few new holiday films to look forward to that won’t be airing on Hallmark. I’m really looking forward to The Christmas Tapes, a horror comedy anthology film similar to the V/H/S franchise, which will be available on VOD by the time you read this. The Mean One, a brutally bloody and funny unauthorized Grinch parody starring David Howard Thornton (Terrifier), came to theaters on December 8.
In other new Christmas horror offerings, The Nutcracker Massacre was just recently added to Tubi, and The Killing Tree looks like another new addition to the bad-Christmas-horror movies this year (on VOD). Christmas Bloody Christmas is also streaming on Shudder as of December 9. There is really an overwhelming amount of Christmas horror content coming out this year alone, but I’ll be sticking mostly with the classics listed above — which really just scratches the surface of Christmas horror movies.