IT’S NOT NAUGHTY, IT’S GUILTY: HOW SANTA CLAUS RUINS THE SCARES FOR CHRISTMAS HORROR
I hate Christmas. Call me Scrooged until you’re blue in the face, but I think the entire Christmas season can take a jolly ole sleigh ride fa-la-la-la-far the Hell away from me. Now that radio stations are playing Bing Crosby on repeat and we’re pretending to actually find joy in a weather change that causes people to magically forget how to operate a motor vehicle, horror fans have started clambering for movies that remain festive but can help wash the merry stench of fire roasting chestnuts off their palate.
Yuletide horror comes in two forms. We have horror that takes place on or around Christmas like GREMLINS and BLACK CHRISTMAS, and we have “Christmas Horror” films like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS, and SANTA’S SLAY. It would appear that these two different classifications have also created a divide in the way fans appreciate these films. Horror movies that just happen to take place on or around Christmas tend to be perceived as great films as a whole, regardless of the time of year the film is watched, while the more Christmas themed Horror films that often showcase Santa Claus as a villain tend to be at the top of the list for fans’ “guilty pleasures.” Put a villain in a Santa Claus suit and he’s a tongue-in-cheek murderer, but make him a demented kid in an attic and the film is an instant classic.
When SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT premiered in 1984, the film was met with a huge amount of criticism due to the psychotic killer donning a Santa Claus suit. Apparently, a fictional movie about a Santa Claus killer was more offensive than a real man in a Santa Claus suit letting small children sit three inches from his junk for 10 hours a day. The film has since gone on to develop a cult following and theaters all over the country play the film around the holiday season as a Midnight Movie. Maybe it was the sense of rebellion for enjoying a film that society deemed unacceptable, but SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT has since spawned four sequels. You can check out Rob G. & AJ Bowen’s fan commentary for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2 HERE!
That same year, another Christmas-y horror film hit the screens and taught fans everywhere why you shouldn’t buy foreign gifts for Christmas. GREMLINS was a smash hit and box-office success with the only complaints coming from the nervous audiences that didn’t realize GREMLINS was the bad influence cousin of ET: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and not it’s fuzzy younger brother. While GREMLINS took place around Christmas time (and gave the greatest “Why I hate Christmas” monologue of all time), GREMLINS could have taken place at any other time of the year as a birthday present. Don’t get me wrong, having this horrible event take place during “the most wonderful time of the year” is the cherry on top for this flick, but GREMLINS could make logical sense in the middle of the summer if wanted. Despite the fact GREMLINS is literally about your kid’s Christmas gifts trying to take over the world, the film wasn’t met with nearly as much outrage as SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. Hell, Gizmo and the rest of his pals became a franchise and skyrocketed Zach Galligan to superstar status.
The iconography of Santa Claus has been around for what seems like forever. In Western Cultures, Santa Claus is the patron saint of presents, cookies, and Coca-Cola. Overall, Santa Claus has always been a symbol of happiness, friendship, and joy. To take that image and turn him evil doesn’t seem to sit well with the average viewer. Seeing this happy man in a dark situation either inspires anger, or laughter. In the 1990s, ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE and MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 gave new life to the 1964 film SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS for many horror fans that had long since forgotten this gem even existed. While SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT spawned angry letters from uptight audiences, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS triggered laughter. Granted, the source material itself is ridiculous, but it inspired the idea that Santa Claus doing anything other than delivering presents to good little boys and girls or shoveling a metric ton of half-burnt cookies into his fat face was just too preposterous to believe. Santa Claus is bad? THAT’S HILARIOUS. Santa Claus is conquering aliens? THAT’S HYSTERICAL! From that moment on, Santa Claus in horror movies became less of a source of anger, and more of a source of hilarity. Santa Claus horror films are a lot like porn parodies. Sure, they’re meant to trigger a certain type of emotion, but everyone really watches them for a good laugh.
Ten years after SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS but ten years before GREMLINS and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, the master of Christmas movies himself, Bob Clark, gave us one of (if not) the original slasher films with BLACK CHRISTMAS. An iconic slasher film that many horror fans regard as a classic, BLACK CHRISTMAS is another holiday horror staple that is without a Kringle Killer. BLACK CHRISTMAS is in no way a perfect film, but I’ve never once heard it considered a guilty pleasure or a comedy from anyone. Sure, the film could have just as easily taken place over a spring break trip rather than a Christmas vacation, but the ridiculous circumstances of this film can be seen as laughable. However, when watching the film, no one is laughing. Had Billy been a Santa killer, would BLACK CHRISTMAS have been written off as another midnight movie? That’s something we’ll never know, but it can safely be assumed that if you make a Christmas themed horror movie, if there’s no Santa, there’s no problem. Unless of course you’re intentionally writing the ridiculousness that is something like SANTA’S SLAY or SANTA CLAWS. Holiday puns? Bah Humbug.