Are We Having a Holiday Horror Renaissance?

November is the beginning of winter in some parts of the world. The leaves have fallen, and the temperature has dropped even more. Holiday cheer begins to spread. All the ghosts and ghouls are left back in October, and it’s time to enjoy family, eggnog, and a Hallmark movie if your spouse is into that kind of thing. Or, you can just keep watching horror movies, especially those that take place during the holiday season.

This past month, there have been films like It’s a Wonderful Knife and Eli Roth’s blockbuster slasher, Thanksgiving, slashing their way in front of audiences. Thus showing us that horror, even at a merry time of year, can still hit the zeitgeist. With these two films out there now, and looking ahead to films like Terrifier 3, a movie that has Art the Clown in a Santa costume in its teaser trailer, and then looking back at holiday horror of the past, one might ask, Is it time for a renaissance of horror during the holiday season?

Past Success in Holiday Horror

Krampus 2015

This subgenre has been around for quite some time. Some of them are not necessarily big hits at the box office but receive cult-like success after their release. Every year, many websites either publish or repost a Best Christmas Horror Movie List or something similar to it. Some give you the obvious ones, like Black Christmas or 2015’s Krampus, and you can’t forget Silent Night, Deadly Night 1 and 2.

Some fail to forget about the cult classic, Blood Beat. A film about a girl who travels to rural Wisconsin to meet her boyfriend’s family during the holidays but is stalked by the ghost of a Japanese samurai. Yeah, you read that right. The point is that horror during the holidays has always been here; some of us just fail to seek it out. But with recent successes in the subgenre, can it go further and on a yearly basis?

Related: 10 Christmas Horror Movies That Will Make You Scream Through the Holidays

Eli Roth Got It Right

Tristar Pictures 

Eli Roth has championed horror cinema for pretty much all of his career. Thanksgiving may be his best creation yet. Just this past weekend, the slasher movie made another 10 million at the box office. If its success does anything, maybe it has executives looking into more horror centered around the holidays. But what Roth did absolutely correct is what all horror movies do in some fashion: put a mirror up to society and ask, “Why are we like this?”

The opening scene of Thanksgiving doesn’t give us an opening kill by masked murderer John Craver. It sets up what is to come with a funny Black Friday sequence that turns into bloodshed, and who is committing the heinous acts? It’s the locals of the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. And what is this a metaphor for? It’s all of us and how we act during the yearly event of amazing deals on televisions and waffle irons. We are awful to one another, so, of course, this is bound to turn deadly, and it does in the film. Then, after this brilliant take on society and how we all act towards one another during the most wonderful time of the year, it becomes a piece of popcorn-eating horror cinema by Eli Roth, who then places a slasher in the middle of all of this.

Related: How Thanksgiving Could Signal a Rebirth of the Slasher Genre

The Hallmark Movie Aesthetic

It's a Wonderful Knife star Jane Widdop
RLJE Films

It’s a Wonderful Knife is about to jump from theaters to Shudder soon. It’s a take on the old Frank Capra film, It’s a Wonderful Life. The tropes of most Christmas movies are on full display for all of us. But one thing director Tyler Macintyre does so well is give us an amazing first act that feels like it is pulled right out of a Hallmark original Christmas movie. Everything about the town it takes place in looks like one of those guilty pleasure made-for-television Christmas movies. But let’s be real: even in the world that those movies seem to take place in, there is always something sinister afoot, right? Those films are more fantasy than anything else. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

One thing It’s a Wonderful Knife did well was tap into mental health. Something we also see at times in other Christmas movies. The holidays are hard, and suicide rates go up this time of year. People feed their addictions a lot now, in the later months of the year. And that needs to be brought up more. We can still have a happy ending in these films (like It’s a Wonderful Knife does), but we have to go through some turbulence to get there, and it can’t be superficial. Lastly, this film also falls under the category of queer horror with its protagonist. Thus, it is a great blend of many things that make this subgenre great. It’s an inclusive tale centered around a Christian holiday.

Looking Ahead

Art the Clown in Terrifier 3.

In less than a year, Terrifier 3 is coming to big screens. Although the plot is a little unclear, the teaser trailer did give us Art the Clown in a Santa costume, so we may be in store for a snowy night of bloodshed from the new icon of slasher cinema. For Damien Leone to put his murderous clown on what seems like the holiest night of all means that the envelope is going to be pushed in terms of horror, gore, and, oddly, comedy. We shall see.

If anything, this year’s holiday horror releases could have broken down the wall of what studios and production companies can do with their horror scripts that are collecting dust or taking up hard drive space, whatever. And quite frankly, it feels like slashers are back. Art the Clown could be leading the charge. Maybe it’s time to put these kinds of stories into motion more often and only do them once a year because Christmas does come, but only once a year.

You could even expand on the horror of the holidays by making genre films centered around Hanukkah or even Kwanzaa. This gives it a bit more inclusivity in the subgenre. And one last thing: maybe make most of these films available for streaming; let those theater workers go home early or not have to work at all. They’ve dealt with us enough at the ticket booth this holiday season.

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