For those that celebrate it, the Christmas season is supposed to be merry and bright. Holiday-themed movies and TV episodes are, by extension, usually designed to offer up many (marketable) tidings that are equal parts joy and comfort. Oftentimes, movies like A Miracle on 34th Street or TV shows like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer center around — or at least feature — the jolly man himself, Santa Claus. He’s fat, old, and rosy-cheeked, and he exists solely to make our Christmas wishes come true.
Sometimes, though, they show us Santa’s darker side. Either he’s disturbingly dysfunctional, or downright terrifying. Instead of bringing happiness and festive cheer, he brings horror and trauma, and a lot of times, that’s half the fun. Whether intentionally frightening or not, these Santas make us think twice about letting a stranger come down our chimney in the dark of night. Here are the 15 Creepiest Movie And TV Santas Of All Time.
What happens to you when you lose your Christmas spirit? If you believe the legend in Krampus, you get a visit from the “shadow” of Saint Nicholas. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize that the dark figure in question is actually a demonic horned beast.
Not only is Krampus, the monster in question, capable of stalking bah-humbuggers and disposing of them in truly horrific ways; it’s able to awaken other evil spirits to do its bidding, too. That horrible fate befalls the Engels, who struggle to keep their family traditions alive and end up at each other’s throats while they try to go through the motions. That negative energy ends up awakening the beast, and they spend most of Krampus trying to fight their way through a blizzard to escape the horrible monster. While Krampus isn’t exactly Santa Claus, it is, in many ways, a part of him. A sinister, dark manifestation, sure, but a part nonetheless.
14. Tales From the Crypt
It goes without saying that anything from the Tales From the Crypt vault is going to be a little bit disturbing. The Christmas-themed vignette from the 1972 anthology film, though, was especially creepy, thanks to an appearance from a stoic, but unstable man dressed as Santa Claus. “All Through the House” tells the story of a sinister housewife who thinks she’ll get to spend Christmas Eve celebrating the fact that she just killed her husband. Instead, she has to contend with a recently escaped convict, who also enjoys murder, and who has decided that the best way to stay incognito is to wear Santa’s signature red and white suit.
There’s something particularly chilling about how this sinister Santa calmly and methodically stalks his victim — like he’s more than happy to take his time in delivering his gruesome gifts. While other Santas may be overtly scary due to the mayhem they inflict, this one definitely wins in the silent-but-deadly category.
13. Bad Santa
There’s horror movie disturbing, and then there’s watching a symbolic figure of childhood hope and innocence behave like, well, the exact opposite of anything hopeful or innocent. The latter is exactly what we got in Bad Santa, which follows Willie Soke, a sex-addicted thief who dresses up like a department store Kris Kringle each Christmas season so he can get easier access to inventory. He drinks. He smokes. He sleeps around. He basically has no redeeming qualities — and you definitely would want to think twice about letting a kid anywhere near him.
Unlike most other Christmas movies, Willie doesn’t really learn the error of his ways throughout the course of his journey. Instead, he barely manages to make it out alive, since he just can’t seem to get his crap together and figure out that he’s a terrible human being and a poor surrogate for the North Pole’s most popular resident.
12. Silent Night, Deadly Night
A child witnesses his parents being brutally murdered by a man dressed up as Santa Claus. So, naturally, he grows up to emulate that behavior, and goes on a killing spree of his own. That’s the premise behind Silent Night, Deadly Night, a controversial and fairly awful 1984 horror movie. Billy, the child-turned-adult-killer-in-question, tries really hard not to give in to his psychopathic urges. Unfortunately, the holiday season proves to be too much for him, and he totally loses it.
Unlike a lot of other holiday-themed slasher movies, Silent Night, Deadly Night at least tries to provide some element of psychological tension to its plot by showing us how truly traumatic it could be to watch Santa kill your parents. Plus, while it’s hardly a classic — unless you count the so-bad-its-good “garbage day” scene from the sequel — there is something genuinely unsettling about watching Billy-as-Santa go to town on a nun with an axe.
11. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Some people believe that Santa Claus is a friendly, eternal old fellow who lives and breathes to make little children smile on Christmas morning. Others, like the creators of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, think it’s more plausible that he’s actually a hellish menace who’s lived below ground for centuries and snacks on reindeer.
Yeah, we like the first version better, too, but we’ll still give this 2010 Finnish horror fantasy points for creativity. Rare Exports might as well be subtitled “Santa Goes Wild” — as in feral. Though all in all, the film doesn’t spend all that much time with the Santa-esque figure himself; most of the film is spent surveying the damage he does to the small town under which he was once buried. When the townsfolk do come face-to-face with the man — who sports a gnarly pair of teeth, a sinister grin, and a blood-caked beard — they realize the extent of just how evil he is.
10. Santa’s Slay
All things considered, there aren’t a lot of Santa Claus origin stories out there. Santa’s Slay is one of them, but given how gnarly it is, we can’t say that we’re all that inspired to go and seek out any others. The movie follows the Christmas icon — played by professional wrestler Bill Goldberg — as he terrorizes a small village called Hell Township (subtle). Part dark comedy, part ridiculously over-the-top horror fest, it tells us the story of Santa’s sinister creation.
It turns out that he’s Satan’s son, and that because he’s an evil progeny, he’s prone to bouts of mass murder. An unfortunate loss in a curling match against an angel (seriously) meant that Santa couldn’t participate in his beloved “Day of Slaying” for 100 years. Of course, when we meet him, his non-killing days have just come to an end, so he rides around town in his sleigh, driven by “hell deer,” impaling his victims with icicles, stabbing them with menorahs, and more or less creating total mayhem for the small town’s unsuspecting victims. Santa’s Slay is wickedly campy on purpose, but that doesn’t make its version of Kris Kringle any less crappy.
9. Doctor Who
Doctor Who and Christmas go together like tinsel and trees, and the holiday-themed episode of one of England’s best TV imports is always a big event. They’ve introduced new Time Lords and companions, instigated major storylines, and introduced the creeptastic roboform. These foes were hell-bent on trying to syphon the Doctor’s powers of regeneration. They tracked him down during Christmas, and were savvy enough to disguise themselves as Santa robots so they could blend into the background and better hone in on their prey.
In both 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion” and 2006’s “The Runaway Bride,” the wide-eyed, stiff-bearded, brass instrument-wielding fiends came after Ten and made his already terrible Christmases considerably worse by trying to murder him. All told, the robot Santas did a lot less damage than many of the other characters on this list, but that doesn’t mean we’d want to be anywhere near them when the holidays roll around.
8. All Through the House
A missing child. A town with a macabre secret. A Santa Claus that leaves behind dead bodies instead of gifts under the tree. And All Through the House definitely isn’t your typical Christmas movie, even if it does tap into the popular “crazy killer dressed as Santa” sub-genre.
This iteration of the murderer is notable for the metallic mask he wears underneath his Santa suit — it leaves him faceless and especially ghoulish. There’s also the part where he takes pleasure in castrating and using gardening sheers on his victims. We eventually learn that his killing spree is anything but random, and that he’s tied to the yuletide festivities that once led to a young girl’s disappearance in the seemingly idyllic town. And All Through the House‘s Santa is the strong, silent type — he’s prone to pop up out of nowhere and quietly stalk his victims until he has them exactly where he wants them.
7. Silent Night
Everyone knows that Santa is supposed to monitor our behavior throughout the year and decide if we belong on the good list or the bad list. What if he punished the naughty ones with something other than coal, though?
That’s the premise behind Silent Night, an action-packed take on the psycho Santa motif. It has all the makings of your average horror movie: an urban legend that turns out to be real, a vengeful murderer looking to slay as many people as he can find, and a hardworking team of people who will stop at nothing to take him down. Though it’s technically supposed to be a remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night, it ups the ante on murder and mayhem considerably. The Santa at the center of Silent Night isn’t satisfied simply donning the standard red suit and beard; he wears it, sure, but he also gets really creative when it comes to killing his victims. He tasers them. He axes them. And then he pulls out a flamethrower. What’s most disturbing about this 2012 fright fest is that it’s loosely based on a true story.
6. Hardrock, Coco and Joe
The 1950s stop-motion animation short Hardrock, Coco and Joe is obviously designed to be a lighthearted holiday tale for kids of all ages. There’s just one problem: the puppets at the center of the film are kind-of terrifying. It tells the story of Santa’s helpers, who load up his sleigh on Christmas Eve and help him navigate around the globe. Santa plays a supporting role, as we only see him a couple of times throughout the cartoon’s three minutes.
The sentiment of the cartoon is really pretty sweet, all things considered, but there’s something downright unnerving about the early-phase stop-motion animation, and it gives the whole thing a bit of a nightmarish quality. Santa’s never-ending wide smile is just a little bit too friendly, and the fiendish elves tasked with helping him are pretty creepy themselves. This cartoon has become a staple in Chicago, and still airs on cable TV every Christmas. While it undoubtedly fills some with pangs of joyful nostalgia, we’re sure it’s also done its fair share of traumatizing children over the years, too.
5. American Horror Story: Asylum
If there’s anything American Horror Story is good at, it’s messing with our idea of what normal is. In a second season Christmas-themed episode, “Unholy Night,” it introduced Leigh Emerson, who creates a version of the beloved Saint Nicholas that is entirely unsavory. He’s a petty thief who suffered immense sexual trauma while in prison and ended up becoming a much more dangerous type of criminal as a result. The guards who raped him were wearing Santa costumes, so of course, that was his outfit of choice when he murdered 18 people in a single night.
He spends most of his time in the AHS asylum in the hole, until the possessed Sister Eunice invites him to partake in the facility’s festivities. Ian McShane brings a legitimate gravitas to the role; he’s downright scary when he tells one of the Asylum’s nuns that he knows “who deserves to live and who deserves to die, who’s naughty and who’s nice.” When he decides to chew a guard’s face off, that’s pretty scary, too.
4. A Christmas Story
Mall Santas — the ones that smell funny, that wear detachable beards, and that stare blankly at hopeful kids as they share their most cherished Christmas wishes — are already the bottom of the barrel when it comes to having an authentic holiday experience. The St. Nick from A Christmas Story, though, is about as bad as they come.
From his droning “Ho, ho, ho,” to his jarringly red nose, to his general impatience with the children around him, it’s no wonder that most of the kids in his lap end up screaming and clamoring to get away. When he sticks his shiny black boot in young Ralphie’s face and shoves him down the “fun” slide, he sets the bar for any and all future on-screen bad Santas. His time in A Christmas Story is brief, but unforgettable, because he’s not just terrible at his job, he’s disturbingly un-Santa-like.
In the Netherlands, Santa goes by another name: Sinterklaas. And in the 2010 comedy-horror Sint (a.k.a. Saint), he’s not exactly the warm-and-fuzzy Christmas spirit we know and love. Instead, he’s a former gang leader who was killed by villagers many years ago, but whose spirit comes back on December 5th to wreak havoc. It’s a legend, of course — until it turns out to be totally true, and the small village that was once home to Sinterklaas has to try to stop his ghostly, malevolent rampage.
Sint is creepy enough on his own, with his gaunt face and decidedly un-merry behavior. Once he’s been burned, though, his visage becomes unforgettably ghoulish. Of all the Santa-is-actually-a-mass-murderer movies out there, this one is especially fun because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Still, the actual image of a face-melted, murderous Santa isn’t necessarily something you want burned into your brain. So while the Dutch are great at a lot of things, creating holiday stories that won’t give you nightmares definitely isn’t their strong suit.
Futurama rarely offered up a hopeful outlook for humanity, but their take on Christmas was especially grim. In the year 3000, the holiday is called Xmas, and it’s not exactly big on the tidings of joy or comfort. Santa is, predictably, a robot, and his theme song boasts of “gunning you down” instead of “coming to town.” Robot Santa still has his sleigh, but he uses it to fly around and knock unsuspecting victims out with a candy cane.
There’s something especially maniacal about this evil incarnation of Santa, because he takes genuine pleasure in making people miserable. People are so used to Santa’s violent take on holiday spirit that they wear bulletproof vests and bake explosive fruitcakes just to try to fend him off. In true Futurama fashion, the evil robot version of Santa is undoubtedly entertaining, but we’d still prefer a visit from the pudgy, jolly, non-uzi-carrying version all the same.
1. Christmas Cruelty
Sure, most of the Santas on this list have been murderers, but there was still some tongue-in-cheek fun to be derived from the movies and TV shows they came from. That’s definitely not the case with the Santa that stars in Christmas Cruelty. In fact, his behavior is so disturbing that it’s not really even entertaining in the slightest.
This Norwegian horror movie doesn’t even attempt to explain why its serial killing Santa is up to his antics. Instead, it introduces us to groups of smiling, happy, unsuspecting people who are then senselessly butchered by a deranged office worker in a Santa suit. It’s basically two hours of holly, jolly torture porn. We’re talking stabbing, decapitation, the severing with limbs, and a baby being killed with a chainsaw. In no way is Christmas Cruelty for the faint of heart, but it’s about as gory as you can get for the holidays, and it certainly lives up to its name.
Did we miss your favorite creep-tastic Santa? Let us know in the comments!