This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
When you think holiday horror movies the first film that probably enters your brain is Dick Maas’ Saint (2010). It’s understandable as the twisted, gory, and hilarious tale about the Netherlands’ own Saint Nick is a modern classic, but what if I asked you to consider only holidays other than Christmas? Panic sets in, right? Your mind goes blank as you realize you can’t think of a single holiday-set horror film that doesn’t take place on Christmas, and soon you’re clawing at your eyeballs and eating paste out of frustration.
Well lucky for you we’re here to offer up a list of ten great examples that fit the bill. From Easter to Independence Day, from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, pretty much any holiday is another opportunity for evil to take hold, monsters to take a bite, and murder to take a life. But hey, at least it’s probably a paid day off from work. So make a dish, grab a six-pack, and come join Chris Coffel, Valerie Ettenhofer, Kieran Fisher, Brad Gullickson, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell, Anna Swanson, and myself as we celebrate the best holiday horrors that aren’t centered around December 25th.
10. Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
Not every holiday horror movie has to expressly be about the holiday to count for gorehounds. Case in point: Critters 2: The Main Course. A sequel that arguably surpasses its predecessor, Critters 2 on the outset does not look like its about Easter at all. We start in space with our favorite intergalactic bounty hunters before hurtling back to Earth with no pastels in sight. But once you realize the films first act is a one big icky Easter Egg hunt, swapping plastic shells with Critter huevos, we’re treated to a moment of pure 80’s Grand Guignol goodiness. A hapless Easter Bunny, just trying to relieve himself, has his suit raided by freshly hatched Crites. As they presumably eat his family jewels, the bunny crashes through a stained glass window into a crowd of unsuspecting parishioners at an Easter Sunday service. It’s funny, bloody, and utterly ridiculously – the perfect representation of why the Critters franchise is so much fun. (Jacob Trussell)
9. Uncle Sam (1996)
The directorial talents of William Lustig and the wacky imagination of Larry Cohen joined forces for this entertaining slasher about an undead soldier who kills non-patriotic Americans on the Fourth of July. The premise sounds like an America First believer’s wet dream, and while the film might could be misinterpreted as an endorsement of those views by some, it’s really a comedic examination of twisted authority. Basically, Uncle Sam skewers military corruption like Maniac Cop did with law enforcement officers. (Kieran Fisher)
8. Intensity (1997)
Can you even imagine the nerve it takes to include a frikken television mini-series on a list of movies? A fair bit less than it takes to rip off said mini-series for your gory French slasher, eh High Tension (2003)? But that’s a conversation for another time… so for now let’s focus on this stellar Dean Koontz adaptation! It’s a Thanksgiving-set tale about a young woman who stays with her friend’s family for the holiday only to witness a madman invade the home and kill everyone but her. The opportunity for escape arises, but when the woman discovers the killer has a girl captive back at his home she decides to attempt a rescue. It’s a terrifically suspenseful watch with solid set-pieces and strong performances, particularly from John C. McGinley as the serial killer, and it ultimately ties into the holiday with the very simple concept of giving thanks for those willing to lend a hand in times of need. (Rob Hunter)
7. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Damn anyone who didn’t fork over the cash to see Halloween III in theaters when they had the chance. There is a fringe universe somewhere out there enjoying a wild and weird anthology series centered around our favorite spooky holiday featuring an eclectic collection of filmmakers rather than a drab parade of repetitive Michael Myers slashers. The third installment in the franchise may not be anything like the previous entry, but we should all bask in its beauty rather than moan about the lack of The Shape. Are you seriously trying to tell me that Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is better than Season of the Witch? No frickin’ way. Besides, they went ahead and erased the sequels from the timeline anyway. THEY NO LONGER EXIST. (Brad Gullickson)
6. My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Roses are red. Violets are blue. A box of chocolates is a good start. But a tastier treat is the human heart. Don’t go looking for sweets in the haunted mines of Valentine’s Bluff. The lover’s holiday was forever spoiled after a miner went mad for human flesh and cursed the town’s traditional dance with a smorgasbord of corpses. My Bloody Valentine is a nasty confection featuring a wide array of pick-ax themed killings. The revelation that bearing witness to violence traumatizes the soul and spreads like an infection through society is a fitting horror to hang on February 14th. Couples should rip their faces away from each other’s lips and take two seconds to consider the lonely around them. Wait, is this an incel tragedy slasher? Huh. (Brad Gullickson)
5. Blood Rage (1987)
Blood Rage is the greatest Thanksgiving horror film ever made, full stop. Sure, it may not have mutant turkeys, killer pilgrims, or a human-turned-bird as a Christian metaphor for sinful behavior, but what it lacks in holiday iconography, it makes up for in being an incredibly effective slasher film. It has a surprisingly strong story, remarkably gory death scenes, spectacular holiday related one-liners – like the oft-quoted “It’s not cranberry sauce!” – and a performance by Louise Lasser that rivals Susan Tyrell in Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker as the greatest performance in a film no one remembers. Blood Rage is a lost gem that we should all be thankful has been found. (Jacob Trussell)
4. Maniac Cop (1988)
Picture this: New York, 1988, The St. Patrick’s Day Parade. A celebration that is, at it’s best, loud, filthy, and aggressive. At it’s worst, it’s also the site of a brutal climax of violence that comes after a rogue cop begins terrorizing unsuspecting citizens and unprepared fellow officers. The film is an incisive portrayal of corruption and rampant violence while also scratching the genre itch for grindhouse fare. Maniac Cop is a seedy and brilliant take on 80s horror and there’s no better film to watch for St. Paddy’s Day. Others might delight in the beer being poured, but I’ll stick with watching the streets run red. (Anna Sampson)
3. Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
There’s an old saying that goes something like this, “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Writer/director Michael Dougherty is certainly familiar and he took the words to heart when he concocted his spectacularly spooky Halloween-centric anthology. This tasty little treat weaves together five stories that all take place on this ghostly night. Doughtery punches us in the face with Halloween spirit while delivering chills, laughs, and a dash of sexy-time. It’s the perfect film for the holiday and serves as a reminder to follow the rules and traditions because if you don’t Sam will kill you with his lollipop. (Chris Coffel)
2. Pontypool (2008)
Valentine’s Day rolls around during what I’m confident in saying is the least romantic time of the year as far as Canadian weather is concerned. February is disgusting: it’s dark, cold, and everything blurs into an all-encompassing grey mush. Which, appropriately enough, is the same kind of aphasiac muddling afflicting the small Ontario town at the center of Canadian horror flick Pontypool. It’s Valentine’s Day and everything is gross and things have stopped making sense. And so, the town is at risk of going down the same way as most relationships do: with a breakdown in communication, with people talking past one another, and with the frustrations and fixations of not being able to find the right words. But you never know, even when earworm zombies are battering away at your doorstep and all hope seems lost there may still be time for romance. Nothing more Canadian than finding glimmers of goodwill in a snowstorm. (Meg Shields)
1. Halloween (1978)
No matter how many sequels of varying quality we’re subjected to, we’ll always have the purity and horror of John Carpenter’s subgenre-kickstarting original to go back to. If you haven’t watched the movie that introduced babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), serial killer Michael Meyers (in the original, Nick Castle and Tony Moran), and actual crazy person Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) to the world in awhile, it’s worth revisiting. From the stylistically cool (those predator POV shots) to the thoroughly scary (young Michael, what are you doing?!) to the outright weird (does Michael Meyers… eat a dog?), Halloween is worth celebrating as a film that defined what horror as a whole would look like in the decades to come. Plus, Carpenter’s original score is still a bop. (Valerie Ettenhofer)