For so many, the Christmas season evokes memories of holiday cheer, the smells of cinnamon and peppermint, and the spirit of giving, evoked in Christmas movies since the dawn of cinema. But for every dozen wholesome, uplifting holiday flicks, fans of less festive silver-screen fare are treated to a darker take on the Christmas spirit - movies where yuletide joy is replaced with profound disappointment and the only gifts being given are in the form of vulgar insults, harsh beatings, and general misanthropic mayhem. Essentially, Christmas movies for jaded grown-ups instead of their precocious kids.
The holidays don't just come for kids learning lessons about friendship and faith or parents who are reconnecting with their kids - it's also for criminals looking to pull jobs on Christmas Eve, sinister monsters seeking children to eat, and drug-addled maniacs trying to have some fun by sowing chaos. From horror flicks to crime dramas to pitch-black comedies, here's a look at some great Christmas movies that are definitely on Santa's naughty list. Vote up your darkest Christmas favorites.
- 188 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol has been the basis for more holiday movies, TV shows, and stories than 99% of the works of literature ever produced. However, few adaptations have taken the story's many ghosts and made them quite so menacing as Scrooged. This modernized version of the tale follows Frank Cross (Bill Murray), a greedy, self-centered TV exec who - in the course of producing a TV adaption of A Christmas Carol for his network - is himself visited by multiple ghosts and magical spirits who eventually teach him the importance of being a good person.
However, the eventual emotional redemption doesn't come without a nightmarish and deeply surreal journey into madness featuring ghosts that exude genuine terror, which were brought to life by Tom Burman and Bari Dreiband-Burman, who earned an Oscar nomination for their efforts. The ghost of Lew Hayward (the film's analog for Jacob Marley) has strips of flesh falling off his decrepit skeleton, while the Ghost of Christmas Future appears as the Grim Reaper, but under his robes, his body is a writhing mass of deformed screaming faces. At one point, in a particularly dark vision, Frank is forced to experience being cremated alive. Sure, the movie's heartfelt and sentimental conclusion might bring a tear to your eye - just as long as you're not too traumatized to enjoy it.Dark Christmas fun?
- 2123 VOTESPhoto: Dimension Films
The 2003 dark Christmas comedy Bad Santa follows thieving con artist Willie Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton), who annually gets a job as a mall Santa, while his partner in crime Marcus (Tony Cox) gets a job as his elf. They use their positions to stake out the mall and eventually rob the stores at night. However, Willie's alcoholism, sex addiction, and general malignant apathy endanger their operation. Willie's mall Santa is the antithesis of what Santa usually represents - he's mean, vulgar, aggressive, suicidal, and he takes a lot more than he gives.
He reluctantly befriends a sad, lonely child named Thurman (Brett Kelly) who almost inadvertently gives him some sense of purpose and empathy. For a movie filled with criminality, gross-out dark humor, and general unpleasantness, it also has a surprisingly uplifting redemption arc as Willie learns to be a slightly better person through the influence of the sad, lonely child - albeit a redemption that's still pretty grim.Dark Christmas fun?
- 3107 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
One of the most iconic dark Christmas movies of all time, the 1984 horror comedy Gremlins has one of the most disturbing Christmas scenes you could imagine. The film is set during the festive holiday season, as a young man named Billy (Zach Galligan) gets an adorable and mysterious pet, known as a mogwai, as a gift. He names it Gizmo, and through a series of unfortunate mishaps, the sweet Gizmo inadvertently spawns several much more evil and sinister mogwai, who transform into reptilian gremlins and run amok in Billy's small town during the holidays, offing random people and generally causing chaos. Despite all the scenes of mayhem wrapped in Christmas cheer, this could still generally be considered a family film. That is, until, Billy's girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) explains to Billy exactly why she hates the holiday whenever it comes around:
The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn't home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That's when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He'd been climbing down the chimney... his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus.
So, yeah, that sort of splash of real-life horror instantly overshadows any of the goofy gremlin-based horror found in the rest of the timeless '80s classic.Dark Christmas fun?
- 484 VOTESPhoto: Universal Pictures
While the themes of learning the importance of believing in the spirit of the season is standard for Christmas flicks, it's usually by showing the joy that can come from embracing the holiday. The dark horror comedy Krampus goes the opposite direction, operating more like a PSA on the dangers of being grumpy, naughty, and cynical. A young boy named Max (Emjay Anthony) becomes disillusioned about Christmas when he has to spend it with his bickering, dysfunctional family. His sudden lack of faith attracts the Krampus, a giant, horned demon who hunts down and punishes those who have lost the Christmas spirit - like Max, his dad (Adam Scott), and the rest of his entire family.
The holiday soon becomes a fight for survival as a seemingly mystical blizzard envelops the small town and the freakish monster picks the family off, one by one, with the help of living gingerbread men and evil, anthropomorphic toys. The Krampus drags the family down into hell for their transgressions and, in doing so, delivers a powerful message about the importance of keeping Christmas close to your heart - so that it doesn't get ripped out by a savage Krampus.Dark Christmas fun?