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10 Unsettling Pieces Of Holiday Horror
The fact that the horror-comedy Krampus opened at No. 2 at the box office clearly demonstrates that the public has a greater appetite for art that puts a bit of horror in the holidays. Not necessarily the grimmest, most nihilistic horror. Just something to counterbalance the excessive cheer that pop culture will traditionally shove down people’s throats at this time of year.
Most horror stories involving someone dressed like Santa just put a person with bad hygiene into a suit that’s poorly maintained. But Santa—from Greek sibling directors Dionysis and Manos Atzarakis—justifies the old conceit that children shouldn’t try to look at Santa Claus. This video also predates Krampus by one year.
In this story, two sisters awaken at night on Christmas Eve when they hear something downstairs. The older one sneaks down and immediately hides again after seeing that Santa is a tall, green, goblinish creature. She is quiet, but the creature senses her presence.
Soon, he is in the doorway to the room in which she is hiding. He is distracted only by the arrival of the younger sister. As the Santa monster goes for the younger one, the older sister is too frightened to do anything before he returns for her.
We recommend stopping the video at about the 1:38 mark. Some may find the way Santa moves during those last few seconds to be unnerving; others will likely find it stiff and silly.
9 Deathly Presents
In Deathly Presents, a family comes downstairs on Christmas Eve. They hear a banging sound upstairs, possibly on the roof. After a look around without any signs of an intruder, the parents decide to calm their son by letting him open one present. To their surprise, they find a new gift under the tree. It’s wrapped in sinister-looking, black-and-brown material.
The father unwraps the gift despite growling noises that come from it as the package shakes. Inside, he finds an ornate wooden box. In analyzing it, he puts his finger inside what seems like a large keyhole. As the box springs open, a little bit of black ooze hits him in the face while flies escape.
After the man wipes the ooze from his face and blames his wife for what he believes to be a cruel prank, the two adults look inside the box and see what appears to be a disembodied demon hand holding a folded note. The words “Open Me” are written on the paper.
Inside, the note says to look behind them. When they do, they see that their son is no longer sitting on the couch. When they look forward again, they see the goblin that has been leaving deathly presents. During the ending credits, someone at another house has found the same ominous present under their tree.
8 Secret Santa
Amalgam Studios is best known on the Internet for their humorous Weird Satanist Guy videos and for showcasing cosplay models. But they have also produced a horror video starring model Emily Rudd.
In Secret Santa, a woman finishes her shift at work and sees a small present on top of her car as the sound track plays Bing Crosby’s performance of “Jingle Bells.” She opens the present and sees a card with the beginning of a poem on it.
Then she goes to the gym to spend time on the elliptical trainer. When she returns to her car, there’s another present which continues the poem. She seems more charmed than surprised by these gifts, indicating that she thinks they’ve been placed by someone who would reasonably have a copy of her car keys.
She’s seemingly quite pleased when there’s another present on her front door stoop. Then she finds another gift under her tree. But when she opens this one, she sees that the poem ends with “For on this Christmas Eve, I am taking your head.”
Just as she finishes reading that frightening sentence, we see a person standing stock-still behind her. He’s wearing a Santa suit splattered with blood. The video ends before she can react, and the sound track seems to glitch into tinny noise.
7 ‘Footsteps In The Snow’
The author of “Footsteps in the Snow” is unknown, which is unfortunate because this tale is as sad as it is creepy and the author should be given credit for it.
In the story, an old man is walking home on Christmas Eve after evening Mass. Behind him, he hears footsteps that keep time with his own, including when he stops. After a while, he loses his nerve and runs the rest of the way home despite his age.
When he reaches his house, he realizes that the steps behind him have stopped. Looking back, he sees only one set of footprints. Although it had been snowing, he is completely dry when he gets inside, and his coat is free of snowflakes.
Before he can contemplate it further, his friend Andy comes to greet him. The two chat and have a nice dinner at the table. Then Andy retires to the guest room. On Christmas Day, Andy is gone, and the bed looks unused. In the dining room, Andy’s plate of food from the previous night is untouched.
His housekeeper insists that Andy wasn’t there the previous night. He can’t make sense of it and has a rather lousy dinner that Christmas because he is frustrated. The next day, he receives a letter that Andy had died in a distant city on Christmas Eve.
6 ‘I Don’t Believe In Santa Claus’
“I Don’t Believe in Santa Claus,” the winner of Samantha Tamayo’s short scary stories contest on reddit, is about a young girl who knew early on that Santa Claus wasn’t real. Still, she didn’t mind each year when she received an extra Christmas present labeled “From Santa” in her bedroom. By the end of high school, she thought the tradition was kind of silly but didn’t make a fuss or call her parents on it.
Eventually, she went to college and was away from home on Christmas. Suddenly, she received a call from her parents’ neighbors telling her to come home immediately. She arrived to see that her childhood home had become a crime scene. Barging inside, she saw the remains of her parents.
There was also a familiar present wrapped in gold and silver. On the wall was written “WHERE IS SHE” in blood. Although she didn’t know who was responsible for this, she still didn’t believe in Santa. But now she did believe in monsters.
5 Carol For Another Christmas
Carol for Another Christmas—from The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling—is a political, made-for-TV movie that was filmed to promote the United Nations in 1964. As such, critics bashed it back in the day, but it was still good enough to receive two Emmy nominations. The movie also features a number of impressively creepy moments.
In the movie, Daniel Grudge is a modern Ebenezer Scrooge. But instead of hoarding cash, Grudge uses his money to foster his belief that America should militarize itself while refusing to intervene in overseas conflicts. He adopted this worldview because he is mourning his son who died on Christmas Eve during World War II. At a local college where he is a big donor, Grudge demands that all foreign-related classes and cultural programs be canceled.
That night, he is visited by Christmas ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows him the horrors of World War I and the bombing of Hiroshima. As Grudge believes in nuclear proliferation, he’s willing to inflict this on the world. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the starvation of people in the Balkans while he gorges himself on an excessive banquet. Finally, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come shows a post-apocalyptic world where everyone only cares about himself, which is derived from Grudge’s apathy for the plights of other countries.
Among the more unsettling moments in this movie is a shot of a ship’s deck laden with numerous coffins. They are draped with the flags of many nations. The shot is accompanied by a period of silence, except for the sound of ocean waves. Then there are images of people stricken with radiation poisoning after a nuclear bombing.
Most memorable is Peter Sellers as a kind of dictator in the post-apocalyptic future. Although he played this sort of character for laughs in Dr. Strangelove, his performance in this movie comes across as dangerously insane. Some viewers will be turned off by all the preaching and the lack of graphic horror, but Carol for Another Christmas definitely taps into some of the same atmosphere and quality that made The Twilight Zone such an enduring classic.
4 ‘The Christmas Tree’
The online horror community is most familiar with Michael Whitehouse’s “Bedtime,” yet his story “The Christmas Tree” definitely has the same paranormal spirit.
In “The Christmas Tree,” Pete and Janet are a married couple who spend their Christmases with their daughter, Lana, in a cabin. That comes to an end one day when Janet goes out to chop down their Christmas tree. Pete begins to search for her after she is gone too long. Unfortunately, he discovers his wife’s body next to a perfect tree. She has died of a heart attack, an expression of sheer terror still frozen on her face.
Later, a bitter Pete is drinking heavily while he and Lana are still at their cabin. He goes out to visit the spot where he found his wife’s body and, in a rage, hacks down the perfect tree that is standing nearby. He brings the tree back to the cabin, sets it up as their Christmas tree, and strings lights on it.
Then he sees two yellow lights that are not part of the strings he’s wrapping around the tree. The indescribable tree creature has opened its eyes from inside the branches, and Pete quickly realizes that this is what scared his wife to death.
The creature comes out of the tree and menaces Pete, who is too afraid to resist or even to run. He feels a pain in his arm, the first symptom of a heart attack. Before the creature can strike or Pete can pass on, Lana calls for Pete, distracting the creature.
It stalks over to the petrified daughter, cupping her face in its front paws. Suddenly, we hear a loud crack as Pete strikes the creature in the back with his late wife’s axe. It’s enough to compel the creature to flee outside, leaving behind a family who will never consider getting another Christmas tree.
3 ‘Christmas Eve’
The author of “Christmas Eve” is also anonymous, but it’s likely not the same one who wrote “Footsteps in the Snow.”
In this story, a boy and his family are stuck in a ratty hotel on Christmas Eve because their flight was canceled. For a while, the kid is grumpy, but by bedtime, his father has cheered him up. Those happy feelings go away quickly when the kid wakes up hours later.
In his initial haze, the boy sees a silhouette of a large man and believes it might be Santa. Eventually realizing that the intruder is not Santa, the boy becomes so afraid that he pretends to be asleep.
After silently creeping for a bit, the man leaves. Not having the best judgment, the child decides to follow the man outside. He sees the man has spray-painted an “X” on their door and is now walking away through the lobby. The kid chases the man outside but quickly loses track of him.
The boy goes back inside because it’s cold. Returning to his room, he finds a note that says “I knew you were awake.” Long after he gets home, he continues to receive these notes.
2 A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol—Richard Williams’s 1971 animated short film—is creepier than Rod Serling’s adaptation because it’s more loyal to Dickens’s familiar novella. For example, few movie adaptations of the story include the phantom carriage that Scrooge sees as he climbs up his stairs.
Later, one of the more effective jump scares happens when Scrooge is confronted by the ghost of his old partner, Marley. When Scrooge claims that the phantom is just a harmless hallucination, Marley loosens a handkerchief around his jaw (used to keep the mouths of Victorian era corpses from gaping) and screams horribly with his eyes fixed upward.
At the end of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s visit, he brings two sickly, deformed children named Ignorance and Want with him. At 25 minutes long, the film moves briskly enough that there’s not much downtime between horrors.
Despite being made on a television budget, the movie won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1972. Reportedly, a television upstart winning a prestigious prize angered the members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. They changed their rules so that a movie couldn’t be shown on television and still be eligible for an Oscar. Not many horror cartoons are such literal game changers.
1 Winter Stalker
Winter Stalker, a 2009 video from the Zerofriends channel by Stephen Reedy, is perhaps the most viscerally uncomfortable Christmas movie because of its camera work, sound design, and editing. It features a heavyset old man giving a monologue in a threatening tone about a woman named Katie.
Inside his head, he tells her: “You . . . are . . . so nice.” During these scenes of him alone, we see close-ups where the graphite in a pencil shatters as he writes. He guzzles eggnog in a disgusting manner, spills some on a doll, and then rubs it off her face and licks it suggestively.
Everything is too loud, too intense, and too gritty—as if simulating the sensory overload of schizophrenia. We see the old man take a piece of twine and tie a noose around the doll’s neck. Then he goes into Katie’s room and stalks to her bed while thinking “Tonight’s a special night, Katie, and nothing is going to stop me.”
But Katie wakes up none the worse for wear and sees that she has been left a doll. It appears that Santa wasn’t tying a noose around its neck, just a string for a tag that says it’s from Santa. The present makes her smile.
When we next see Santa, he looks cleaned up, in costume, and like a traditionally jolly St. Nick. But the music continues to have a sinister note to it, and his inner monologue still has a threatening tone. It implies that Santa is being nice and presentable on the outside while having unbalanced, dark thoughts and feelings on the inside. It has a bit of a kick that the other stories of a stalker in a Santa costume just don’t have.
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