The 12 Silent Nights of Horror Movie Christmas, Ranked
The Christmas season is all about tradition. This holds true even in the depraved world of horror cinema, where one tradition is respected above all others: If you are making a Christmas-themed horror movie, the title must be a play on the classic Christmas carol “Silent Night, Holy Night.” I don’t know why this is. There are plenty of well-known Christmas carols out there, and yet while there are no movies titled We Wish You a Scary Christmas, Deck the Hells or Bad King Wenceslas, there are twelve* feature films basically named Silent Night, [Scary Adjective] Night. Because I like horror movies and Christmas and committing to impractical ideas, I have watched and ranked all of them. Here they are, from worst to best.
*I’ve omitted two potentially eligible movies: 2006’s Silent Bloodnight, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with Christmas, and 2011’s Violent Night: The Movie, which doesn’t appear to be publicly available for viewing.
12. Silent Night, Dead Night: A New Christmas Carol (2016)
A Christmas Carol parody about a pimp who is visited by three ghosts who try to get him to change his ways while the “Jewish Mafia” plots to kill him. Goes out of its way to indulge in bad-taste humor, but what’s really offensive is that it has the production value you’d expect from some college kids looking to kill time on their weekends. Case in point: The sleazy Cratchit family analogue eats a dead cat for Christmas dinner, and said cat is represented by what is obviously a children’s toy stuffed tiger. John Waters had bad taste, but he would’ve gone out and found a real dead cat. The film also apes Grindhouse‘s meta-B-movie aesthetic, but without the self-awareness to realize that when you’re already shooting on cheap digital video, you don’t need to further shittify your visuals with a gritty film grain filter. C’mon, guys, just make the best of your own mean-spirited poverty instead of trying to recreate someone else’s.
11. Silent Night, Bloody Night 2: Revival (2016)
A cheapo sequel to the original 1972 proto-slasher (which you’ll see much higher up on this list), in which a brother and sister visit a small town around Christmas and discover its evil heritage. I believe the makers of 2 didn’t even have to buy rights, as the original fell into the public domain long ago. If they did, however, then they really made sure to get their money’s worth, as a huge chunk of this film is just scenes from SNBN repackaged as flashbacks. The actual new footage features some real awkward performances, especially from the brother, who speaks with an effeminate, supposedly Québécois accent that makes all his lines sound even more unnatural than they would have otherwise. Two positive notes: The killer is an evil Santa Claus whose costume is black with white trim instead of red, which is kind of a cool design idea, and unlike the next movie on this list, Revival has exterior shots that actually look like winter.
A contemporary remake rather than a sequel, once again about a series of murders in a town with a dark past. Does that annoying modern horror thing where they drop tons of references to other films in the genre, as when they name a medical examiner after the director of the original movie, or when they linger on a woman’s chest so you can’t miss that she’s wearing the “I Got Wood” shirt from Shaun of the Dead. They clearly don’t have the budget to make a lot of the actual scare sequences work, though, and, most damningly, they don’t even try to re-create the wintry atmosphere that made Silent Night, Bloody Night special. Less amateurish than Silent Night, Dead Night and has better acting than Revival, but that’s saying very little.
9. Silent Night, Zombie Night (2009)
Despite the goofy title (which obviously should’ve been Silent Night of the Living Dead), this is actually a pretty self-serious story about two cops and the woman they both love hiding out in an apartment during a zombie apocalypse that happens to start in mid-December. I was going to call this a cheap imitation of The Walking Dead but it actually came out before that show started airing, so I guess it’s really a cheap precursor. Either way, it’s melodramatic but actually executed pretty competently. The Christmas stuff is just window dressing, though.
8. Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989)
The Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise is known for its killer Santas, but this was the point at which they dropped that idea and became more of a supernatural anthology than a continuing story. The killer from Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, now equipped with ESP, escapes and goes on another Christmas killing spree (but without the Santa suit this time). Kind of dull for the most part, but a stylish opening dream sequence, a bonkers final shot and the fact that the killer’s brain is constantly visible through a transparent dome on his head give this one enough personality to be worth a look. More interesting than any of that, though, is the fact that director Monte Hellman (known for the 1971 cult film Two-Lane Blacktop) used the money he made from this gig to help finance Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. In that sense, this may be the most important movie on the whole list.
7. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990)
A Los Angeles journalist gets entangled with an evil cult that worships bugs and feminism. Also it’s Christmastime. Directed by Brian Yuzna, known for his collaborations with Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon, this was clearly a standalone idea that got (barely) revised to fit the SNDN franchise in order to secure financing. It’s a good time if you’re into kooky supernatural horror, though.
6. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)
A mom and her young son must figure out why the toys in their hometown have started attacking people. Reminiscent of a Goosebumps book, but with gratuitous sex and gore. Mickey Rooney plays the owner of the local toy store, which is notable since Rooney had apparently protested against the original Silent Night, Deadly Night. This is about on par with 4 quality -wise, but 5 gets bonus points for actually feeling like a Christmas movie. Directed by Martin Kitrosser, whom horror fans may recognize as the screenwriter of Friday the 13th Part 3.
5. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
The younger brother of the killer from Silent Night, Deadly Night grows up to go on his own Santa Claus-costumed killing spree. This movie is known for two things: First, about a third of it consists of flashbacks that are just scenes from the first film (an influence on Silent Night, Bloody Night 2, perhaps?), and second, it’s the source of the Internet’s famous “Garbage Day!” video. As crazy as that clip is, it’s actually an accurate representation of how insane Eric Freeman’s performance is throughout the entire movie. In terms of actual quality, this should be several spots further down the list, but if you’re looking to ironically view something weird/bad, they don’t get much more perversely entertaining than this.
4. Silent Night (2012)
We’re still in the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise with this one, which is sort of a remake of the 1984 original. And like the original, this is too repulsive for me to recommend (an early scene features a 14-year-old being electrocuted to death with a cattle prod), but it’s actually a pretty good remake in the sense that it captures the first film’s (hideous) spirit without aping its every move: Instead of following a traumatized antihero throughout his life, Silent Night focuses on a masked and anonymous killer Santa whose spree takes place over the course of one day. Also has some nice stylistic flourishes, like a climactic fight scene bathed entirely in red and green light. Again, though, if you don’t want to see a movie where Santa slowly feeds a woman into a wood chipper, stay away.
3. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
A young boy is traumatized by seeing his parents get murdered by a guy in a Santa Claus costume. He gets raised by a sadistic nun, then snaps and starts killing people while dressed as St. Nick. This movie provoked provoked protests and moral outrage when it was released, and it truly is as sick as my synopsis makes it sound, if not more so. Some of the movies on this list made me say “God, why am I doing this to myself?” because they were so bad; this one made me say that because of its soul-crushingly mean-spirited misanthropy. That’s definitely what they were going for, though, and they succeeded with flying colors. I’d rather watch almost any of the sequels, but I have to give SNDN credit for committing to its own twisted worldview and earning cultural notoriety in the process.
2. Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
And now for the two movies on this list I actually really like. Silent Night, Bloody Night has spent its entire existence wandering the haunts of bottom-of-the-barrel B-horror, starting out in drive-ins and moving on to late-night TV broadcasts, budget DVD packs and grungy revival screenings, falling into public domain status somewhere along the way. Its story is sort of a rural American giallo: A mysterious black-gloved killer bumps people off in a small New England town on Christmas Eve, on a mission that has something to do with a mansion that was formerly used as an insane asylum. It’s slow and convoluted at times, but what really makes it special is its mood of eerie, wintry gloom. A lot of Christmas horror movies subvert the holiday through aggressive cynicism; Silent Night, Bloody Night earnestly mines seasonal atmosphere for its own inherent menace in the neglected Yuletide tradition of fireside scary stories.
1. Silent Night, Evil Night a.k.a. Black Christmas (1974)
A truly great horror film, Black Christmas made use of many now-classic slasher movie tropes–a holiday focus, killer POV shots, the targeting of sexually active young people–four years before Halloween supposedly invented the genre. Historical significance aside, this story of a sorority stalked by an unseen killer at the outset of Christmas break remains gripping and unsettling to this day, which is even more impressive when you consider that director Bob Clark also helmed the family-friendly classic A Christmas Story. Discovering this movie makes this whole project worth the while, or it would if I hadn’t already seen Black Christmas long before I had this Silent Night idea. But if I convince any of you to check this movie out for the first time, then maybe that will be what makes this whole project worth the while? Yeah, let’s go with that. Sleep in heavenly peace, everyone!