A horror sub-genre of the Holiday Horror sub-genre is Killer Santa Movie sub-genre. From dark exploitation movies to lighter comedy-heavy gore fests to awkward foreign films featuring a hundred senior citizen penises, we’ve seen maybe ten or twelve Killer Santa movies over the years. For this article, I’m joined by local actress/singer/puppeteer Jennie Rhiner who can be seen in All Puppet Players’ Die Hard right now. We picked five Killer Santa movies to review so you don’t have to waste your time watching them:
Christmas Evil (1980)
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Santa’s Slay (2005)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Violent Night (2022)
Seriously, only one of these movies is good. Let’s start all the way back in 1980, when the first (?) Killer Santa movie hit the market…
written & directed by: Lewis Jackson
cast: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Peter Friedman, Patricia “Jill the Tool Wife Taylor” Richardson, Raymond J. Barry, Mark Margolis
runtime: 92 minutes (cut); 100 minutes (uncut)
release date: November 7, 1980
GREEN = MARGETIS; RED = JENNIE
I knew this early 80s Killer Santa picture was going to be terrible but I wasn’t prepared for how boring it would be. To be honest, this feels more like a Taxi Driver-inspired incel-gone-nanners drama than an actual horror movie, but it does fit the criteria of this article in having at least one killer Santa. Our killer Santa is Harry (Tony Nominee and Babes Guest Star Brandon Maggart), a middle-aged toy factory worker who’s a total fucking perv. When he isn’t working an assembling toys, he’s spying on every child in his neighborhood and recording all of their actions on a Naughty/Nice master doc. He’s peeping through their windows, watching them sleep or read porn, it’s very very icky. His successful younger brother (Walking Dead‘s Jeffrey DeMunn) thinks he’s a loser and is pissed he’s such an incompetent weirdo. When Harry announces he’s not coming over for Christmas, the younger brother gets even more upset, but Harry has other plans. Steal gifts from rich assholes in town and give them to orphanages (something nice) as well as murder and/or give “horrible gifts” to bad people (something naughty).
This movie takes forever to get to the action and when it does, its so inept at executing suspense or basic action filmmaking that it becomes even more boring than when we’re stuck in a green-painted bathroom watching Harry brush his teeth. Who the hell paints their bathroom dark green anyway? This guy’s house is uniquely disgusting. There’s creepy Santa faces everywhere, red and white walls, and a random toy soldier doll hanging from the ceiling, like it’s been court marshaled or something. Harry and his gross abode would be perfect candidates for a Queer Eye episode.
I should also mention the movie opens by showing why Harry is so fucked up and obsessed with Santa. One Christmas Eve, after leaving Santa bread and water instead of milk and cookies (?????), he witnesses Santa performing pseudo-cunnilingus on his mother. I say pseudo cause he’s like breathing on her covered crotch area while she breathes heavily. It’s really bizarre because you start to wonder why he’s not just like, you know, going down on her. The most obvious reason I can imagine is the director was trying to escape an X-rating or maybe trying not to offend violent Christians. Why not just have Santa making out with her or something, then? Also, you start to wonder if that was the real Santa, or their dad or maybe the mom’s BF who dressed up like Santa for the kids but left the suit on for some holiday hanky-panky with mom. And then you begin to wonder why they would serve Santa bread and water. Are the filmmakers trying to communicate the family is poor? If so, why not serve him a couple slices of Wonder Bread instead of the whole honkin’ loaf? They also serve him a dog bowl full of water cause apparently they don’t believe in cups. This family sucks, of course there’s a murderer in it.
But is he even that much of a murderer? In this “Killer Santa” movie, Killer Santa (Harry) only kills four or five people. LOL that’s a lot of people IRL, but in a Killer Santa movie that’s really slacking. My favorite kill, and I mean the only on-screen death I didn’t think was dumb, is when he stabs this dude in the eye with a sharpened toy soldier bayonet on the steps of a big New York church. Ouch. Besides that, there’s a terrible foot chase that turns into a terrible car chase, ending with Harry driving off a cliff. The audio we hear indicates a deadly crash but what we see is the car taking flight and flying across the moon like a sleigh. It’s pretty obvious this is to show the disparity between what actually happened and what a very sick sociopath imagined would happen. It’s never clever or nuanced in any way, and it feels like the result of someone watching Taxi Driver one night during the holidays and going, what if Travis Bicke was Santa Claus? Turns out it’s not that interesting, at least not to me anyway. Jennie, what were your thoughts?
Like Margetis, I knew going into this first selection that it wasn’t going to be a masterpiece…but this was the first killer Santa on our list and I was wanting soooooo much more gore to happen! There was so much exposition building up to the killing spree that I caught myself checking where I was at in the movie’s timeframe several times. The development of our killer Santa was entertaining for a little while… his origin watching him make shaving cream beards in his bathroom mirror did cause a small cackle. I also liked that we got to see Harry try to recreate the full Santa routine… besides donning his very own handmade suit, we get to see him delivering presents, building toys, and determining the naughty kids from the nice. By the end of the movie, I just found myself feeling more irritated than scared. The reality is that this man is this gross creep using “selfless acts” to enact a revenge plot on those wronged him. It’s pretty obvious that he’s an ordinary and insecure man, so why aren’t parents taking action when they see him? You would think they would immediately fetch for their kid the moment they see a stranger hand them a present. While I felt pity for him in the beginning, our first killer Santa left me rooting for everyone else by the end.
I do want to give credit to the visual and audio elements of Christmas Evil. For what it’s trying to achieve, the atmosphere is exactly what you expect it to be. The darkness and the decrepit, industrial buildings we see in reality makes a huge contrast from what the sparkly, cheery Christmastime our onscreen characters witness on television. It’s a nice parallel and foreshadowing seeing that separation. The graininess of the footage help to enhance this, making the Christmas lights in the streets appear blurry and eerie during the final sequence. Margetis did already touch on this, but I became VERY focused on the movie’s score and sound design while watching. I thought it did an excellent job of enhancing that blur between fantasy and reality. “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” acted like a ticking plot time bomb… while little details during the “killing” spree, like the crack of a whip during the driving transitions and the sound of bells ringing at the first snowfall, showed us how present he was in his fantasy. It matches up with Brandon Maggart’s performance nicely.
A Taxi Driver approach to Santa Claus was certainly worth trying, but it wasn’t something I was asking for. I doubt I’ll watch this one again.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
$3.99 RENTAL ON AMAZON
directed by: Charles E. Sellier, Jr.; written by: Michael Hickey
cast: Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Linnea Quigley, Alex Burton, Danny Wagner, Jonathan Best, Max Broadhead, Will Hare, Tara Buckman, Geoff Hansen, Charles Dierkop
runtime: 82 minutes (cut); 85 minutes (uncut)
release date: November 9, 1984
GREEN = MARGETIS; RED = JENNIE
Silent Night, Deadly Night presents itself as a classic slasher movie, but the only major character development we get this time is for its killer Santa, Billy Chapman. Thankfully, the exposition and the killing sequences were a little better distributed this time. We have a Santa donning the classic red suit again, this time wit some notable differences from our first one. We learn that since childhood, Billy has been slammed with trauma after trauma to deal with. He does eventually snap as an adult, but is a much more cleaner snap of insanity that happens with him. Billy donning the red suit and muttering Santa lingo is played to be as just a coincidence, as he just happens to be wearing the suit when he committed his first murder. It does manage to play a role in helping him reach that breaking point… turns out, he’s forced to wear it by his boss to greet kids.Having his motivation be punishing the “naughty” was a solid choice for me… it wrapped up all the unique elements of upbringing into a killer bow.
Robert Brian Wilson delivers a solid performance up until his break, but watching him go apeshit made this character less likeable for me. We’re gonna have all this exposition and take away his personality when he’s goes rogue? It’s a bit unfortunate. I wished they could at least done more to appear more insane… I wasn’t scared of him at all because there still so much calculating happening in his eyes.
I did experience more terror watching Silent Night than Christmas Evil, but overall this movie was pretty mediocre for me. The majority of the deaths in the film weren’t memorable apart from one or two creative kills (one by antler, one by sled…). I also found myself laughing at little plot things that weren’t supposed to be funny, like the twist they decide to throw in during the search for Santa. The funniest thing to me was the physical inconsistencies between all the actors portraying Billy… it was like they didn’t even try to make it look like they were younger and older versions of themselves. It stuck out like a sore thumb.
Silent Night, Deadly Night did leave the door wide open after its release for 4 more sequels to happen… I have never seen any of Silent Night’s sequels, but I honestly don’t have any interest. I have heard that not all of them are bad, though! Mayyyybe I can be convinced to rip the Band-Aid and crank them all out in a marathon? We’ll see! I’m sure Margetis has some comments to share about those… what did you think of the first Silent Night, Michael?
Jarringly mean-spirited Killer Santa movie and absolutely by design. It’s clear filmmaker Charles E. Sellier, Jr. was trying to make this as sleazy as possible. Why? I dunno, perhaps to have a Christmas movie be absolutely disgusting and nearly unpalatable. This was before the internet too, so people had to get their wild freak show somewhere. Most of the time, it was at the movies.
The ultra-simple plot of this is a child, Billy, visiting his insane grandfather in a nursing home where the old coot grabs the boy inappropriately and straight up terrorizes him into believing Santa is an evil man who is coming for him. In what has to be one of the biggest coincidences to ever happen in a horror movie, Billy and his parents get brutally attacked by a criminal dressed in a Santa suit on their way back home from the assisted living facility. The father is killed, the mother is raped and the kids are left for dead. It’s a sequence that isn’t done well enough to be taken seriously yet too tasteless and depressing to be so bad it’s funny.
The movie then sees Billy at a Catholic boarding school where nuns are total pieces of garbage obsessed with punishing kids who accidentally walk in on people having sex. Billy grows up and becomes a super disturbed adult. Forced to be Santa at his job, the grown up Billy goes crazy and starts murdering people dressed up as Santa. Starting with his co-workers then escalating to other people living in his town. He impales a topless Linnea Quigley on a set of mounted deer antlers and decapitates a kid in the middle of sledding. Some of the deaths deliver on the outrageous gore people look for in these grindhouse-y garbage 80s slasher flicks, but most are pretty forgettable. The ending is especially forgettable, where Billy revisits his orphanage to get revenge on the mean old nun that runs the place. Unfortunately, the police shoot him before he can decapitate the nun so that stinks. Would have been a hoot, she’s a real mean character, meaner than him.
Silent Night, Deadly Night was followed by four truly awful sequels. The first sequel is mostly comprised of footage from the first film, although it does give us one truly banger scene in GARBAAAAAGE DAY. It follows Ricky, Billy’s little brother, on a crime spree. The second sequel is also about Ricky, now in a coma, telepathically communicating with a woman. It stars two Twin Peaks actors (Richard Beymer, Eric Da Re) and features Bill Moseley as Ricky, whose brain is literally in a fish bowl. The third sequel is incredibly misogynistic and incoherent dumpster fire directed by Society director and Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna about a coven of feminists who impregnate a woman with bugs that make her spontaneously combust into flames so they can murder all men? Clint Howard is randomly in it as Ricky, the little brother, who is now a homeless male adult helping the coven. The final sequel, and maybe the least awful, follows Mickey Rooney as a robot Santa. They’re all garbage, not even enjoyable garbage.
$3.99 RENTAL ON AMAZON
written & directed by: David Steiman
cast: Bill Goldberg, Emilie de Ravin, Douglas Smith, Chris Kattan, Fran Drescher, James Caan, Robert Culp, Dave Thomas, Saul Rubinek, Rebecca Gayheart
runtime: 78 minutes
release date: December 20, 2005 (straight to DVD)
GREEN = MARGETIS; RED = JENNIE
I mean after the depressing sleaze of Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night, it was nice to watch something that wasn’t so goddamn mean-spirited. Which isn’t to say Santa’s Slay isn’t mean-spirited at all, but the edges are sanded off in the package of a goofy comedy. It’s a movie written and directed by a Jew, starring mostly Jews satirizing Santa Claus. That’s funny in and of itself.
Nothing is nuanced here and so many jokes don’t work, and yes, it’s not a good movie, but out of everything we’ve watched so far its hands down the most entertaining. It doesn’t make me feel grossed out or complicit in some obvious behind-the-scenes misogyny, and that’s the best holiday present of all! Wrestler Bill Goldberg plays Santa Claus, a demon who loses a game of ice corn hole and must lay dormant for 1,000 years. Then, a thousand years later in 2005, he comes back, free to kill and spread some YULETIDE FEAR again. The movie’s words, not mine. This whole thing is jam-packed full of really dumb one-liners as Santa goes from home to home in Hell Township (the name of the town).
Emilie de Ravin from Lost plays this nice girl that the lead, Douglas Smith (Bill Paxton’s oldest son from HBO’s Big Love), has a crush on. Together with their grandpa (Robert Culp – Debra’s dad from Everybody Loves Raymond) who knows all about the real story of Santa Claus and not the cover story evil corporations use to sell toys and nutmeg, they try to fend off Santa for good. There’s a lot of really good deaths in this, from setting Fran Drescher’s hair on fire to deep-throating James Caan to death with a turkey leg. He also kills a few people with a stripper pole, but the real piéce de résistance is blowing off two kids’ heads with explosive presents, prompting their grandma to very non-chalantly exclaim, “Fuck…” Biggest laugh of the movie, once you get past all the child exploding.
The movie culminates in Santa being gunned down by a rocket launcher by Emilie de Ravin’s dad who isn’t mentioned at all in the movie before and just shows up. Apparently, he’s a hunter and likes shooting things with rocket launchers with his buddies. Besides James Caan and Fran Drescher, the movie features SCTV‘s Dave Thomas, Saul “Donnie from Frasier” Rubinek, Chris Kattan and Rebecca Gayheart in smaller roles. It’s a really dumb movie that I enjoy watching more than It’s a Wonderful Life. Jennie, what did you think?
Ohhhhhh boy, the FACT that this movie EXISTS!
Santa’s Slay was a breath of fresh air compared to the first two films. I honestly don’t have a lot to talk about with this one, but I will say this…the movie was absolutely HILARIOUS. The performances were all decent and every single kill was fun to watch. The plot was not perfect, but I didn’t find that the movie was negatively affected by it. The first scene is not even related to the rest of the movie at all, but the star power and events that take place does a great job for setting up the audience and comedic bar. Having some disjointed elements near the end The origin of the movie’s events were cute, especially in the cute animation approach they took with it. There were a lot of great comedic moments, but near the end it just felt like we were getting body slammed by all the jokes they kept throwing at us. The end of the movie left me feeling comedically fatigued.
Now, let’s talk about our third Santa, who just happens to be played by Jewish WWE legend Bill Goldberg (yep, he’s Jewish!). There was a lot I liked about our first mythical Santa interpretation. I liked how the character’s red suit design was heavily “St. Nicholas” inspired and contained little comedic nods to Goldberg (for those who haven’t noticed… Santa uses a championship belt instead of a belt buckle). Our third killer Santa is just out here killing to kill… he displays zero remorse as he demolishes anything that stands in his path. His origin, chaotic killing methods, and bitter, DGAF attitude complimented the movie’s humor very well. He was by far the best part of the entire thing. His writing did end up contributing to the fatigue problem, though… at one point, we see him searching for our two leading kids while reciting a list of Christmas puns.
Santa’s Slay is not a perfect movie and it doesn’t have to be. I had a blast watching this one and I can’t wait to enjoy it all over again.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
written & directed by: Jamari Helander
cast: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Per Christian Ellefsen, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen, Ilmari Järvenpää, Peeter Jakobi, Jonathan Hutchings, Risto Salmi
runtime: 82 minutes
release date: December 3, 2010 (Finland)
GREEN = MARGETIS; RED = JENNIE
All the previous St. Nick’s on our list seemed like beatable adversaries… the Santa from Rare Exports? This final incarnation could probably eat Bill Goldberg for breakfast.
I have to admit, this Santa was my favorite. This film’s version, known in Finland by the name Joulupukki, appears as a giant half-man, half-goat creature (no red suit in sight!). The appearance of this one gives me MAJOR Krampus vibes. We never get the pleasure of seeing this one in action on screen (he is only seen either in pictures or in a melting, cloudy block of ice), but this fantasy action-horror film gives us a Santa that could easily cause an end-of-the-world scenario. His elves ALONE can cause some major damage. Violent, old naked men elves with super speed and stealth? I’d prefer to avoid that (though I can’t help but laugh at seeing all the manhoods flopping everywhere). What I liked most about this one was that Joulupukki is not killing for the sake of killing… he is a lawful evil kind of figure. Deaths only happen in this movie when people attempt to get in the way of Santa’s arrival or try to stop the elves from kidnapping naughty children. It only proves how unstoppable he is… these main characters have no other option available except preventing the creature from escaping. For all these reasons, this Santa is by far the worst out of all its predecessors.
Outside of the awesome twist on lore and creature design, the rest of the movie was a mixed bag for me. The good news is that the visuals for the movie’s climax exceeded my expectations. Watching a swarm of naked killer elves in snow running after a boy dangling from a helicopter rope was the image that stood out the most. However, it didn’t make up for all the plot holes left behind. I didn’t feel like some of the dialogue was properly reviewed… there was too much focus on plot points and characters that weren’t actually important to the story. They could have easily cut out the English-speaking research team…that holiday decorated leader of the research team, Riley, was such an irritating and unnecessary character because he literally just exists to move the plot forward. My wish for this movie would be to give us more reasons to like the heroes… I found myself not wanting to root for them all the time. I will give them credit for attempting to do a mistaken identity reveal when they captured the first elf, but I found playing with that idea in an epilogue scene unnecessary… still made me laugh though.
While some moments were entertaining, Rare Exports is an apocalyptic holiday twist with LOTS of room for improvement. What are your thoughts, Michael?
I was really expecting this to be better given the ridiculousness of it’s John Carpenter’s The Thing meets Killer Santa movie plot but this honestly seemed a bit dull. For a movie about excavating unknown organisms buried in the snow for thousands of years, there really wasn’t any urgency with anything. It needed to be funnier, maybe? The characters needed to be more likeable, that’s for sure, and honestly it could have benefited from being more violent or just action-packed. This is a talkative slow-burn and it really doesn’t have the necessary ingredients to be a talkative slow-burn. The filmmaking on display here is light years better than that of Silent Night Deadly Night, Christmas Evil and Santa’s Slay, so it’s all the more disheartening they didn’t do something more interesting than this.
Basically they uncovered these evil elves that serve a God Santa and they want to fuck up people on Earth. They’re all fully naked and north of 60-years-old, so we get a bunch of aggressive old man penis flopping around in the snow. Wide, expansive aerial shots of old men running around with their dicks flopping. It’s up this super resourceful little boy to save the day, and he does a really good job. The final 20 minutes or so of this is where it finally picks up and those scenes are done well. The ending is really weird but kinda clever, but more weird than clever.
directed by: Tommy Wirkola; written by: Pat Casey, Josh Miller
cast: David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Cam Gigandet, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Edi Patterson, Beverly D’Angelo
runtime: 101 minutes
release date: December 2, 2022
GREEN = MARGETIS; RED = JENNIE
Maybe it’s just because I was expecting this to be terrible, but I had an honest to goodness great time with Violent Night, a seriously fun Die Hard riff where Santa is John McClane and The Pest is Hans Gruber. The reason why that film worked so well is because McClane is woefully underprepared for what he must face and struggles to succeed the entire time. He isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger coming in and easily knocking off twelve terrorists in five seconds. Here, Santa, perfectly rendered by Stranger Things MVP David Harbour, is at a similar disadvantage. His magic only works within the context of Christmas lore, so overcoming dozens of military-trained burglars, led by John Leguizamo, attempting to steal $300 Million from a naughty rich family’s vault is quite the challenge. Why is Santa even there? Same as McClane – wrong place, wrong time. He just happened to be delivering presents to the only “nice” member of the whole family (a 10-year-old girl named Trudy) when motherfuckers started shooting.
Violent Night doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way but it does offer a fun spin on both dark holiday and Die Hard replica movies. Besides the wonderful David Harbour, the cast is comprised of some seriously talented character actors including Beverly D’Angelo and The Righteous Gemstones‘ Edi Patterson, who play up fairly one-dimensional roles. There’s a great little subplot involving the little girl, Trudy, that’s basically Home Alone directed by Tarantino, and while Leguizamo is pretty underwhelming as the chief villain, there’s enough laughs and bloodshed to appease most holiday movie cynics.
Now THIS one was a joy to watch! After watching several dark Santa movies in a row, Violent Night felt like a breath of fresh air. This film gave us our fair share of creative gore and chaos while reading like a family-friendly holiday classic…. I honestly kept forgetting that I was watching a rated-R movie (thankfully, the unhinged and hilarious mercenaries’ performances kept reeling me back in to reality. Shoutout to John Leguizamo!) The homage to films like Die Hard and Home Alone were obvious for me too, but there were some twists to the sequences that I grew to appreciate after seeing the film. For example, I didn’t realize the level of parody the lethal booby trap sequence had with Trudy Lightstone was until after I rewatched Home Alone… the traps that Joe Pesci or Daniel Stern fall for never caused any actual damage. Thanks for the fresh twist, Tommy Wirkola. More deaths by jaw nails, please!
Now, about our Santa…out of all the Santa’s on this list, Violent Night’s interpretation was my second favorite. This time, we have Stranger Things’ David Harbour donning the red suit. This time, our killer Santa is more heroic than murderous, fighting for the sake of saving a broken family from death and ruin. Harbour delivers and shows off his ability as an actor with ease, providing us a range of unexpected heart-filled moments that I wasn’t expecting to see. His magic and the tools he carries were not designed for fighting, so it allowed the battle to start on an even playing field. It created a nice journey for the character, watching him figure things out and get his groove back.You can tell how much fun he’s having during the battle sequences…his shed killing spree scene was by FAR one of the best moments! (Go see the movie and you’ll know what I mean.) Speaking of battle sequences, the deaths feel like an additional player in this movie… not only there was a nice progression of creativity, the timing of a few create some of the best comedic moments in the movie. I am a fan for killer timing…*wink*. I will definitely be adding this one to my holiday watch list.
GREEN = MARGETIS; RED = JENNIE
- Violent Night (7/10)
- Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (4.5/10)
- Santa’s Slay (4/10)
- Christmas Evil (3/10)
- Silent Night, Deadly Night (1/10)
Apparently, only one good Killer Santa movie exists – Violent Night. Everything else was mediocre to awful, though it does make me want to make one that doesn’t suck. Maybe I’ll write a screenplay about that, but probably not.
- Violent Night (7.5/10)
- Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (6/10)
- Santa’s Slay (5.5/10)
- Silent Night, Deadly Night (4/10)
- Christmas Evil (3/10)
Out of all of our movies, Violent Night came out on top for me too! Each of the other movies brought something unique to the table, but they either left me wanting more or wishing it didn’t happen. Here’s hoping we can see some fresh takes on these in the future!