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The best Christmas monsters, ranked

The Christmas monsters are running loose.
The Christmas monsters are running loose. (Image credit: Future)

The “12 Days Of Christmas” tune has gotten plenty of radio attention over the decades. How about this year, it’s the “12 Holiday Monsters Of Christmas?” That’s the kind of festive indulgence I spread each winter: Santa’s slaying, Rudolph’s rampaging, and Frosty’s impaling victims with his carrot-dagger nose. Before you ask, yes I had a compassionate, wonderfully “normal” upbringing. Sometimes you just want to see all the consumerism and dysfunction of the holiday season represented by the horror genre, is all. Keep your Christmases with princes and wuvey-dovey Lifetime Originals: I’ll be over here decking my halls with the most ho-ho-horrific details.

12. Pino (Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker)

Ah, yes. The creation of disgraced children’s toymaker Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney). In this gone-wild sequel that is lightyears away from the original Silent Night, Deadly Night, Pino (Brian Bremer) reveals himself to be some humanoid, robotic Ken doll with a smoothed genital region. How do we confirm such a reveal? Because in the climactic battle between Sarah (Jane Higginson), her son Derek, and Pino, the neglected animatronic confesses his plot to kill Derek using boobytrapped playthings so Sarah can be his mother. 

Then he starts thrusting his smooth rubber region against Sarah while screaming, “I love you mommy,” and Sarah spikes him in the cerebral processor with a screw. Wish you weren’t so awkward, bud.

11. The Devil (The Day Of The Beast)

The devil emerges.

(Image credit: Canal+ España)

If you Google Image search “The Devil,” “Lucifer,” or any other name for Hell’s overlord, chances are you’ll glimpse the same red-skinned demon holding a pitchfork. That’s why I cherish Álex de la Iglesia’s elongated-animal vision of El Diablo in The Day Of The Beast. Its goat-horse face elongated like Salvador Dali influenced the concept art, standing upright on its back hooves with an upturned tail sticking out the back. It’s an image that stands apart from equal characterizations and makes quite the maleficent holiday doombringer.

10. Santa Claus (Rare Exports)

Finland’s Joulupukki folklore helped shape the Santa Claus we know today, plump and rosy-cheeked, but Rare Exports showcases a different monster. One encased in ice, towering in size, and horned. Legend has it that Santa boils misbehaving boys and girls in a cauldron, and in this film, he’s aided by a horde of naked “elves” depicted as old men with gangly features. Hence why we leave sleeping legends alone, lest we awaken a behemoth snatcher of younglings who loves making kiddie stew. A Santa Claus this size is worth an X-mas fright.

9. Samurai Ghost (Blood Beat)

Ok, so, stay with me. In Blood Beat, a Wisconsin family is haunted by a Japanese samurai warrior's ghost that paranormally connects itself to a female host who climaxes every time the swordsman kills another victim. "Wait, Matt." No. I will not be taking questions at this time. Still, I can assure you Blood Beat is a very real movie with a gonzo concept that is, hilariously, somewhat enjoyable as a B-Movie slasher: telekinetic battles, outdated possession special effects, venison meat and all.

8. Krampus (A Christmas Horror Story)

I specifically call out the Krampus in A Christmas Horror Story because, like the movie Krampus itself, we’ve seen multiple iterations of the same Krampus form. Either some hooded mongrel of a gift-bringer or the typical beastly animorphs. This specific shredded Krampus ponders what it'd look like if the WWE staged a Christmas pay-per-view event that pitted Santa against his yin-to-yang foe. Krampus now this jacked-out, pale white hulkster who menacingly swings a chain, complete with a frosted-over colorization and magnificent horns that could overpower an entire NFL squad’s offensive line.

7. Elf (Elves)

I’m not convinced the emotionless puppet used in Elves was created explicitly for Elves. In a movie about Nazis and inbreeding and elf-human master races, a single goblin-esque creature is shown. The bald little pervert stalks a virgin, pure-blood girl and barely manages more than three expressions while pursuing its prey. Yet, this is part of the creature’s hilarity? Especially when wearing a Santa hat while “jumping” into frame, or threatening drunk Dan Haggerty. More vampire imp than elf, which makes the production ever-more baffling. The 80s. Weird times.

6. Evergreens (Treevenge)

Jason Eisner’s Treevenge short will always be a December tradition in the Donato household. Eisner somehow personifies Christmas trees, imbues a sense of civilization in the arbor oddities, and enacts gruesome revenge on all those who dare saw their trunks. I can still hear the shrill squeals of pain in my head as serrated blades chew their bark. Proof that the silliest of concepts can work gangbusters with the right commitment and ambition, especially when skulls are “stomped” by thick, ringed trunks.

5. Gingerdead Man (The Gingerdead Man)

When Child’s Play came out in 1988, the door was opened for celebrities to voice any horror villain representation. The concept had been done before, no doubt, but Chucky’s iconic rise only assured the inevitable: Gary Busey would voice a gingerbread cookie possessed by serial killer Millard Findlemeyer’s soul. You see, Findlemeyer’s witch of a mother cuts the murderer’s cremated ashes with gingerbread mix, which is delivered to a local bakery owned by Findlemeyer’s surviving victims. From here, it’s all Gary Busey cackles, doughboy one-liners, and every ounce of comedic intent you’d expect from a Charles Band production with a free-roaming, psychopath edible.

4. Santa Jaws (Santa Jaws)

Santa Jaws has all the makings of a dumfounding Asylum disaster that plays SYFY at 3AM, but this is why we don’t judge books by their covers. Even comic books. The idea here is a lonely child receives a magic writing tool from his grandfather that can bring doodles to life. One such creature is “Santa Jaws,” a Great White with a peppermint horn, green-and-red teeth, blinking light accents, and a Santa’s cap on its fin. Once again, I understand how easily one might laugh themselves away from any such appreciation. That said, the film is excessively fun and hammers-home the care put into crafting Santa Jaws itself. Life is full of ferocious, man-eating Christmas surprises.

3. Jack Frost (Jack Frost)

Here we have another Chucky knockoff. This one a snowman possessed by the spirit of maniac slasher Jack Frost after an accident fuses the prisoner’s body with a genetic chemical that seeps into the snow. Up shoots Jack Frost, now made of compacted flakes, coal buttons, and a scarf. The people of Snowmonton—including actress Shannon Elizabeth—fall victim to his zany winter-wonderland zingers and deadly crimes. Jack Frost gets up-close and personal with Ms. Elizabeth while she’s taking a shower, in what can only be described as ridiculous freeze-fighting beyond words. Still, voice actor Scott MacDonald owns the role and proves he’s learned from the best (Brad Dourif).

2. Krampus’ Toys (Krampus)

The level of detail put into Michael Dougherty’s Krampus minions, in my opinion, is the greatest triumph of Krampus. The gingerbread assassins; The fanged, razor-clawed teddy bear; Mr. Jack-In-The-Box-Aconda that devours children whole... This triumvirate of terrifying toys does what all Christmas Horror films should - take signature yuletide innocence and bastardize it beyond recognition. Maybe it's cheating to correlate these precarious presents into one selection, but all deserve acknowledgment. I favor the gingerbread hit squad, but don’t tell Terrible Teddy or the other one with unhinged Predator-reminiscent mandibles.

1. Gremlins (Gremlins)

If you’re like me, you have the Gremlins theme song frolicking through your head by now. These reptilian Christmas nuisances are my source of joy every December 25th, when I watch them create total anarchy in Kingston Falls—chugging beer out of bar taps, tossing popcorn around a movie theater, even harassing Dick Miller. Joe Dante’s practical puppets and operators behind the camera show why CGI will never measure against the real thing, unleashing giddy gremlins for absurdly charming bouts of mischief. Mogwais win on cuteness factors, but the gremlins snatch the crown when it comes to attitude. Monsters we love, monsters who entertain, and most importantly, monsters who know a thing or two about holiday spirit. What other baddies on this list go caroling?

Matt Donato
Matt Donato

Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.