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By the time Halloween wraps up, most people have tucked away their pumpkins and spider webs in favour of colourful wreaths and Santa figurines. For horror fans, it means Krampus and blood covered snow now take centre stage. The holiday of Christmas naturally lends itself to the horror genre, spawning favourites that include Black Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Rare Exports, and more. However, many films are too gruesome for younger people to enjoy.
To let children in on the festive and frightful fun, here is a variety of age-appropriate Christmas horror film and television specials the entire family can enjoy.
Creeped Out: Splinta Claws (2019)
Season 2, Episode 10
“Everyone knows there are nice children as well as naughty. But are there good and bad Santas as well?” This question is posed in the opening of the “Splinta Claws” episode of the anthology series Creeped Out on Netflix, which originally released in the UK and Canada. Creators Bede Blake and Robert Butler aimed for an Amazing Stories meets The Twilight Zone for children, desiring the series to terrify, inspire and enchant. The story unfolds in a department store on Christmas, where young boys Lawrence (Taighen O’Callaghan) and Mikey (Alex Eastwood) must survive an evil Santa animatronic who gives mercy to the naughty, but hunts after the nice.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever (2023)
In the two weeks lead up to Christmas, middle schooler Greg (Wesley Kimmel) yearns for a Mega Station 9000, the latest and most sought-after video game console. However, as everything goes wrong, he fears his mishaps may land him on the “naughty list,” never to receive the gift this year. Writer Jeff Kinney intentionally added elements of horror into the story, stating, “Holiday stories usually are very heartwarming, and I wanted to tell a story that’s kind of a scary story. It’s bit of a thriller.” There are several homages to the genre such as Psycho and Frankenstein, but it’s not an outright scary film. The horror mostly arises from Greg’s anxiety that he may get caught red-handed.
A Scooby Doo! Christmas (2002)
A take on The Legend of Sleepy Hallow, Scooby and the gang embark on a journey to a Christmas condo vacation but run against complaints of a Headless Snowman wreaking havoc on the citizens of Winter Hallow. The Headless Snowman prevents anyone from celebrating the holiday for reasons that are unclear. The gang then learns about a centuries-old tale of Blackjack Brody, a highwayman who stole gold and hid inside of a snowman only to freeze to death. Whether or not it is his vengeful ghost is the mystery that must be solved, so the town can celebrate Christmas safely once again.
Tales from the Dark Side – Monsters in My Room (1985)
Season 2, Episode 12
Timmy (portrayed by a young Seth Green) wants to spend the holiday playing piano and completing homework, but his alcoholic stepfather (Greg Mullavey) keeps encouraging him to participate in activities that will “man him up.” During the night, monsters come out from Timmy’s closet and under his bed, while a giant buzz saw zooms towards him. Despite Timmy expressing his frustrations, his mother (Beth McDonald), insists his stepfather is a good man. In the end, Timmy must learn that he alone has to stand up for himself in more ways than one.
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy – Billy & Mandy Save Christmas (2005)
Season 5, Episode 7
This is another special that falls under the “Saving Christmas” trope, but stands out in its unique storyline: Santa Claus has been turned into a vampire. The young protagonists Billy and Mandy, alongside their best friend the Grim Reaper, investigate how to help Mrs. Claus (Carol Kane) transform her beloved Santa (Gilbert Gottfried) back to normal by confronting the Head Vampire, Baron Von Ghoulish (Malcolm McDowell). Creator Maxwell Atoms originally planned for a Krampus-centred episode, but decided against it due to Cartoon Network already having Satan in Cow & Chicken and The Powerpuff Girls, who looks too similar to the Christmas devil.
Tales from the Cryptkeeper: It’s For You (1999)
Season 3, Episode 11
In the animated children friendly version of Tales from the Crypt, Gary (David Deveau) receives his very own landline phone in his bedroom for Christmas, where his parents warn him not engage in pranks. Against their wishes, Gary still prank calls multiple people and disturbs a mother and children in the process. When he takes it too far, the Cryptkeeper intervenes and teaches him a lesson in manners. This episode does feel very much of its time. Today’s technology is too advanced for prank calls to fool anyone, though the moral lesson still rings timeless.
R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour – A Creature Was Stirring (2010)
Season 1, Episode 3
On Christmas morning, an excited Timmy (Thomas Robinson) opens presents with his family. While he loves his gift, his brother and sister vocalise how much they hate theirs. It adds more tension in the air because unknown to the children, the parents are planning to get a divorce. When the conversation ends in an argument with everyone leaving the room, a mysterious package under the tree wiggles. Timmy opens it to find a winged bat-like creature that begins terrorising the family, who plays a larger role in his Christmas wish than he could have ever anticipated.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Recently selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for its cultural, historic, and aesthetic importance, The Nightmare Before Christmas makes a delightful family watch for both Halloween and Christmas. Jack Skellington (the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town) finds the Hinterlands, a forest with doors to different holidays. When he enters Christmas Town, he is forever changed by the experience and decides to bring the spirit to Halloween Town. The film was inspired by a poem Tim Burton wrote in 1981, which was later recited by Christopher Lee in 2008.
No list would be complete without the children’s horror Christmas classic, Gremlins. When Billy (Zach Galligan) receives a Mogwai as a gift, he is given a set of rules to abide by: avoid exposing it to bright light, don’t get it wet, and never feed it after midnight. Naturally, these rules are broken which spawns the Gremlins to manifest and wildly execute their shenanigans all over town. Fun fact: thanks to Gremlins and Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom, the PG-13 rating was established. The films were deemed too intense for younger children, and previously there was nothing in-between PG and R.