Time to Give Thanks: The Best Holiday Horror Films

Chủ nhật - 19/05/2024 21:51
With Eli Roth's Thanksgiving making November more slasher-y than usual, here are some other great horror movies set during popular holidays.
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2007’s Grindhouse unleashed a fiendish double feature on audiences – Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. It also included trailers for fake exploitation films, one of them being for Eli Roth’s holiday slasher spoof, Thanksgiving. Now, after over 15 years, an actual Thanksgiving movie based on that crowd-pleasing trailer is hitting theaters.

Yes, the holiday known for turkey, stuffing, and family gatherings now, finally, has its own maniac killer ready to carve up a fresh spread of victims. Of course, Thanksgiving is a winking callback to the 1980s holiday slasher boom. The first half of that decade wasn’t just overrun with slashers, but ones specifically tied to a special, celebratory day. John Carpenter’s beloved Halloween changed horror forever in 1978, with 1980’s hit Friday the 13th then solidifying the spark for holiday killers (despite Friday the 13th not being an actual holiday, per se).

With Thanksgiving – the movie and the holiday – here, we’ve compiled the best holiday horror films to watch this season. Not every one of them are slasher movies (though the brunt of them are), but from sinister Santas to malicious heart-stabbing miners to the impish spirit of Halloween itself, these movies are sure to satiate your desire to see people get hacked, slashed, or devoured in the name of our national holidays.

New Year’s Eve/Day

New Year’s Evil (1980)

One of the earliest holiday horror flicks, New Year’s Evil, involves a New Year’s slasher that taunts an LA nighttime radio DJ, threatening to kill someone when the clock strikes midnight in each timezone…promising that she’ll be the final victim. This is the perfect late night schlocky horror fix you’ll need while waiting for the Times Square ball to drop.

Watch on Prime Video

Valentine’s Day

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

There are a couple of other decent horror films set around the designated day for amore, but the highlight is 1981’s Canadian slasher classic, My Bloody Valentine, about a small mining town terrorized by a killer with a pickaxe that leaves his victims’ hearts in candy boxes. It’s definitely worth checking out. And so is, by the way, the 2009 remake, My Bloody Valentine 3D, which is one of the better re-dos to come out of the “remake every horror movie” aughts.

Watch on Prime Video (rent)

Saint Patrick’s Day

Leprechaun 2 (1994)

This one seems like a no-brainer, right? Saint Patrick’s Day? Just get one of the many silly and campy Leprechaun movies. But you see, it’s only Leprechaun 2 that has a specific focus on the famed Irish holiday. The last of the original Leprechaun movies to receive a theatrical release, Leprechaun 2 follows Warwick Davis’ titular monster as he tries to find his perfect bride on Saint Patrick’s Day after a thousand years of waiting.

Watch on Prime Video (Freevee)

April Fool’s Day

April Fool’s Day (1986)

April Fool’s Day arrived a bit later than the brunt of the ‘80s holiday slashers, in 1986, but it also stands apart a bit as more of a tongue-in-cheek take on the genre, as if it wanted to be meta but meta wasn’t quite a thing yet. Is there actually a killer on the loose or are these young adults just the victims of a rampant prankster? It’s a slasher for the person in your life who thinks they’ve seen every slasher, keeping you guessing until the very final scene.

Watch on Prime Video (Freevee)

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day (1980)

This grimy early entry into Holiday horror is exploitation-adjacent – harkening back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left – following three women on a camping trip who are attacked by two murderous young brothers and their crazy mother who enjoys watching her boys torture people. Though tinged with satire, Mother’s Day is one of the more brutal offerings here due to its depictions of rape and violence. It also happens to be a particular holiday horror favorite of Eli Roth, as he explained to us recently.

Watch on Prime Video (with AMC+)

Father’s Day

Creepshow (1982)

This is a bit of a cheat since there aren’t strong standouts when it comes to full-length Father’s Day horror films, but the “Father’s Day” segment of George Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow anthology movie is awesome. As is the whole movie, but we’re focusing on Daddy Day here and this spooky tale involves a miserable family discovering what happens when their murdered patriarch comes back for his cake.

Watch on Prime Video (rent)


The Blackening (2023)

A biting satire of horror tropes — and the most recent film on this list — Tim Story’s The Blackening finds meta-humor while exploring the stereotypes and ingrained prejudices of the genre as a group of Black friends try to fend off a masked killer while staying at a cabin in the woods on Juneteenth. Less scary, more silly, The Blackening finds the funny within the friend group itself as they try to solve the puzzle of how to survive a horror movie.

Watch on Starz


Midsommar (2019)

It will forever be impossible to top Ari Aster’s Midsommar for a horror film set in and around the Scandinavian midsummer solstice festival. And it’s also so rare, for horror in general, for so many disturbing things to happen in broad daylight. But that’s what’s in store for Florence Pugh’s grieving Dani as she makes the mistake of traveling to Sweden with her emotionally “over it” boyfriend and his pals for an ancient pagan celebration. Let the murderous cult activity begin!

Watch on Prime Video

Fourth of July

Jaws (1975)

Not only did Steven Spielberg accidentally invent the summer blockbuster with 1975’s classic Jaws, and not only did he perfect the monster movie, but he also gave American audiences the perfect Fourth of July film for those looking for jumps (and shark chomps) along the way. Amity Island’s summer is ruined when tourism dollars are threatened by a man-eating Great White terrorizing the local beach and it’s up to the local sheriff, a marine biologist, and a grizzled fisherman to put a stop to the beast.

Watch on Netflix

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

A huge winner in the post-Scream late-90s slasher heyday is I Know What You Did Last Summer, which follows a group of teens – Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. – being stalked by a hook-wielding killer one year after accidentally killing someone on the Fourth of July. It plays things straight while also paying homage to yesteryear slashers, with enough mirth to make for a fun, scary slice of cinema.

Watch on Peacock


Halloween (1978)

Halloween has many films to choose from, being an inherently spooky holiday. It’s one of the most convenient times of the year to set a scary story.

John Carpenter’s Halloween is the most obvious pick but it’s also one of the best, most influential horror films in existence. And one that one never tires of watching over and over. The masked stalking, slow-walking, unstoppable killer. The trail of teen bodies. The fighting virginal “final girl.” The borrowing from campfire tales/urban legends. It’s all here. And with a phenomenal, classic score. Now thirteen movies into one of horror’s biggest franchises – including reboots and multiple timelines – and Michael Myers is still a towering horror icon.

Watch on Prime Video (with AMC+)

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

A ghoulishly good Halloween night watch is 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat – a tight 82-minute anthology (following different, also connected, stories around the same Ohio town) from Michael Dougherty. It was an under-the-radar straight-to-DVD release fifteen years ago but it was almost instantly adopted into Spooky Season marathons everywhere, thanks in no small part to pint-size Sam, a mysterious trick-or-treating figure wearing pajamas and a burlap sack.

Dougherty, a huge fan of 1978’s Halloween, has said in interviews that he wanted to make a horror movie truly about Halloween, not just set during it, and succeeded admirably.

Watch on Max

Night of the Demons (1988)

Here’s an excellent sleeper offering for Halloween Horror: 1988’s Night of the Demons, a cult classic about teens who throw a party inside a funeral parlor on Halloween night and accidentally release a demon that begins to possess them one by one. A blend of slashers and zombie films, Night of the Demons is now seen as a definitive ‘80s horror film, embodying all the tricks and traits of the era (for better or worse).

Watch on Peacock


Thanksgiving (2023)

Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving isn’t the first horror movie centered around the holiday but it’s definitely the highest profile one. And one that fans have been clamoring for ever since the faux trailer appeared in 2007’s Grindhouse. Set in small town Plymouth, Massachusetts, Thanksgiving follows a mysterious serial killer, known only as “John Carver” (thanks to his mask of the real life Mayflower pilgrim), as he creates a Thanksgiving carving board out of the locals as revenge for a blood Black Friday incident.

Buy Tickets at Fandango


Black Christmas (1974)

Christmas, as a holiday, definitely comes in second place for holiday horror. Whereas Halloween is popular because it’s a scary time of year, Christmas is popular because it’s not. It works because of the juxtaposition. And indeed, before there was 1978’s Halloween there was Bob Clark’s Black Christmas in 1974 (funnily enough Clark would go on to also direct the far different, yet also beloved, A Christmas Story).

Black Christmas didn’t have the same instant impact as Halloween but it’s still looked back on as a quintessential starter for the slasher subgenre overall, and holiday slashers in particular, as a group of sorority girls receive threatening phone calls and are eventually bumped off by a killer during Christmastime.

Watch on Prime Video (Freevee)

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Black Christmas may not have had a maniac Santa as its killer, but Silent Night, Deadly Night sure as heck does! This gonzo, over-the-top slasher features some of the craziest formulaic elements of the era, going full tilt with a killer in a Kris Kringle costume (who once saw his parents killed by someone in the same garb). There was so much outrage over this movie and its ad campaign when it was released that it was pulled from theaters after one week. This didn’t stop it from making a profit though, as it became a VHS-era favorite and spawned multiple sequels.

Watch on Prime Video (rent)

Gremlins (1984)

A holiday classic all around, even though it contained enough mirthful nastiness to help create the PG-13 rating (and originally played in theaters in the summer), Gremlins is a unique blend of comedy, horror, and family fare. Sometimes it’s a cute tale of a young man and his adorable furry pet and at other times a macabre cautionary tale about mini-demons unleashed on a small town at what’s meant to be the most wonderful time of the year. For many ‘80s kids, Joe Dante’s Gremlins was gateway horror, and the creepiness and gloppy gore still hold up today.

Watch on Prime Video (rent)

Krampus (2015)

Trick ‘r Treat’s Michael Dougherty returned to holiday horror to tackle the Christmas spirit, or lack thereof, with Krampus, featuring a miserable family gathering that unleashes the wrath of Euro-folklore beast Krampus, who lays siege to the block with yuletide terrors. Both the theatrical and unrated versions are a hoot, though the unrated is only available via Shout Factory in a 4K and Blu-ray combo pack. Toni Collette, Adam Scott, David Koechner, and Allison Tolman star.

Watch on Peacock

(HONORARY MENTION) Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th (1980)

Some holidays are nationally observed “take time off work/school” days. Others are just notable days of specific revelry or reverence. And then Friday the 13th is… just whenever the 13th of the month lands on a Friday once or twice a year. It’s ever-changing. But it’s known to be unlucky and/or spooky. And that was enough to bring horror fans to the theater to catch the original Friday the 13th, a movie that truly opened the slasher floodgates for the next five years.

So while it’s not quite a “holiday” (though many sure celebrate it now), it needs to be included here since, as the first big Halloween-inspired horror hit, it would also lead to so many others included on this list. On top of that, it’s notable for what it did in making summer camp a go-to setting for horror forever more. Masked killer Jason Voorhees (who was born on a Friday the 13th) wouldn’t arrive fully until the sequels, but the first film is still a pivotal slasher-mystery.

Watch on Max

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