Christmas has its own horror sub-genre at this point (got a fun list for ya right here all about it, in fact), while Hulu’s current Into the Dark anthology series is exploring the relationship between scary movies and red-letter days on a month-by-month basis. But with Thanksgiving upon us, we wanted to look back at some of our most unusual and overlooked winter-holiday favorites.
1) Blood Rage (1987)
Blood Freak is obviously a go-to this time of year, but if you’re looking to switch it up with a Thanksgiving flick involving a psychotic killer that isn’t a mutated turkey, add Blood Rage into your rotation. (Or do a double-feature; Blood Freak and Blood Rage go together even better than yams and marshmallows.) Also sometimes listed under the title Nightmare at Shadow Woods or simply as Slasher, Blood Rage slaps several genre tropes together into a single film: good twin vs. evil twin; an escape from an insane asylum; some very intense mommy issues; a few delightfully random casting choices (Louise Lasser plays the twins’ troubled mother, while Ted Raimi has a brief but instantly recognizable cameo as a teenager hawking condoms in a movie-theater bathroom); and some amazingly tacky 1980s fashions and decor. And, of course, there’s the holiday connection. The movie’s main killing spree—which contains some awesomely gross (if not particularly realistic) special effects—begins after a very triggering Thanksgiving feast. (Available on Amazon Prime)
2) Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
As we mentioned, the Christmas season has become an alarmingly popular horror-movie setting. Silent Night, Bloody Night—not to be confused with the cult-beloved Silent Night, Deadly Night series—is actually one of the very first holiday-themed horror movies, and it set the tone for many that followed (including Blood Rage). It takes place in and around a mansion that hides a dark family secret—and a tragedy that only the adjacent small town’s oldest generation has any knowledge of. And, of course, it’s the setting for a series of hideous crimes that crop up around Christmas.
Silent Night, Bloody Night was pretty obviously made on a shoestring budget and is now in the public domain, though the print that’s readily available to watch clearly shows the ravages of time (on a film that truthfully wasn’t all that cinematic to begin with). But it’s an oddball curiosity that’s elevated for a few reasons, including the fact that it predates the best-known early examples of holiday horror (like Black Christmas, which mirrors its plot point of a crank-calling crackpot). There’s also its notable cast, which is filled with Andy Warhol associates: Mary Wononov has the biggest part, but you can also catch sight of Ondine, Candy Darling, Jack Smith, and others. Weirdly, noted acting-family patriarch John Carradine also has a supporting role, and a pre-Troma Entertainment Lloyd Kaufman is one of its co-producers. (Available on Amazon Prime)
3) Terror Train (1980)
It’s incredibly easy to follow the, ahem, train of thought behind Terror Train. Get Jamie Lee Curtis, cinema’s reigning scream queen after Halloween (another of her slasher entries, Prom Night, was also released in 1980). Pick a holiday that isn’t Halloween, but throw costumes into the mix so that it kind of feels like Halloween, and gives the killer a plausible reason to wear a series of disguises. How about...a New Year’s Eve costume party? And then, set the entire thing on a moving train, for added claustrophobia and Agatha Christie flair! Terror Train dutifully follows the classic slasher formula, with a cruel mishap in the past providing motive for the present-day pursuit of gory revenge.
Curtis, who’d already perfected the final-girl character years earlier with Laurie Strode, brings depth to a role that otherwise requires a lot of shrieking and hiding. And, like any good vintage slasher flick, Terror Train has some very random, before-they-were-famous names in the cast: future Prince protégée Vanity (whose real name is Denise Matthews, though she’s billed as “D.D. Winters”), and future Las Vegas stage magician David Copperfield (as “The Magician”). There’s also an aging acting legend: Oscar winner Ben Johnson (The Last Picture Show), who plays the train’s heroic conductor. (Available on iTunes)
4) New Year’s Evil (1980)
We’ve done an entire post singing the praises of New Year’s Evil, but here’s a friendly reminder about one of the most gruesome yet sparkly exploitation movies ever made. It’s about a famous rock ‘n’ roll TV host named Diane (played by Roz Kelly, a.k.a. Happy Days’ Pinky Tuscadero) who’s menaced by a prank caller while she’s emceeing the live broadcast of a New Year’s Eve concert. The voice-disguised caller not-so-subtly IDs himself as “EVIL,” and he proves to be exactly that as he slices and dices his way through the movie, each time calling Diane—who conveniently has a bunch of phones as part of her stage set—to cackle about his misogynistic misdeeds and remind her that she’s on his kill list. Is there a twist ending? Yes! Is there an array of pleasingly time-wasting musical performances, including the title track? Yes! Should you make annual viewings of New Year’s Evil part of your holiday tradition? Hell yes! (Available on Amazon Prime)
5) X-Ray (1982)
With a few alternate titles to confuse you with (including the unfortunate Hospital Massacre and the “why didn’t they just stick with this?” Be My Valentine, or Else...), X-Ray is another Golan-Globus project—the same producers behind New Year’s Evil, as well as Breakin’, The Apple, and a ton of sleazy action movies starring Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, and ninjas. As you might’ve guessed, it’s a horror movie with a Valentine’s Day theme, set in a creepily underlit hospital with some serious security issues. It also features the glamorous Barbi Benton, a longtime girlfriend of Hugh Hefner who graced multiple Playboy covers in her heyday. She plays Susan, who we first see in flashback as a little girl, rejecting a pint-sized suitor’s construction-paper Valentine. The kid immediately kills Susan’s friend, then bides his time for two decades, only to unleash body horrors galore (decapitations, faces-dunked-in-acid, etc.) when Susan turns up at the aforementioned hospital for an appointment. He also sabotages Susan’s medical test results, subjecting her to invasive prodding—including a gratuitous exam that’s so skin-crawlingly awful it attracts a Peeping Tom—which might be the most horrifying crime of all. Though the whole Valentine’s Day theme kind of becomes an afterthought once random people start getting attacked by bone saws, there is a very bleak “steal your heart” joke at the end to bring it all home. (Available on Amazon Prime)
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