It’s an age old story.
Everything’s blissfully quiet. You settle down for a long winter snooze after putting on your coziest winter jammies. Then… a clatter atop the roof! You jump out of bed and run to the window. To see Santa and his reindeer above you! And then…
Santa PULLS OUT HIS MACHETE/CHAINSAW/MACHINE GUN COMBINATION AND MURDERS YOU!
Oh… did I forget to mention that before going to sleep you were banging your teenage girlfriend like a kettle drum while your parents were away on business? And that both of you were smoking weed? And drunk? And probably were mean to the mousy girl who manages to be both quiet and a bit disliked, and spunky with a definite will to win?
Yeah, I musta forgot to mention that. Because if I had, you would have seen the Santa-murder thing from a mile away.
Now listen, I’ve already talked about the fact that Santa is a vaguely creepy guy, as well as possibly being a bigot. But what I haven’t talked about is (coincidentally) the very thing you were going to ask Santa this year when you go and sit on his lap*: the intersection between Santa and horror movies.
There are a lot of ’em. The fairly recent Silent Night, about a psycho Santa with a flamethrower. The older schlock-classic Silent Night, Deadly Night, about an abused child who grows up and dresses like Santa so he can murder some nuns (seriously). Silent Night, Zombie Night, about… well, you can probably guess that one.
And this year we have another entry: the horror-comedy Krampus, about Santa’s evil opposite.
All of them have one thing in common: they didn’t do that well in the box office.
Why? A lot of them are well-received by the horror community, many of them making people’s horror “top ten of the year” list. Many develop cult followings over the years.
So why don’t they make big bucks at the b.o.? Why the tiny splash instead of the surging tsunami that will inspire people to dress up as Bloody Santa, the Christmas Killer next year?
I think it boils down to this: most of us still hold some things as sacred.
Wait, don’t jump to conclusions. Lemme ‘splain.
Christmas brings a lot of things to mind: presents, family, friends, parties, and (if you’re religious, as I am) a baby in a manger. But one thing it doesn’t bring immediately to mind is memories. Not even specific ones, but more a vague remembrance of Christmases past, of good times tinged with the sepia tints of happy memory**. We remember, at least subconsciously, the times of our youth, when we didn’t really know or worry about bills, about relationships, about work, about the millions of cares that press out much of our hearts once devoted to joy.
And then a Christmas horror movie comes along and attacks those foundations. And most people don’t want that. Some can’t even handle it.
Horror is, when at its best, subversive and/or moralizing. You only have to look at Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, with its commentary on commercial America; or even the first Saw, which beneath a gory surface told a story of priorities — of the importance of cherishing what we have. But as dark as horror becomes, we shy away when it does violence to our foundations. It is all right to question society, to posit that we are not where we should be.
It is another thing entirely to say, “Where you came from isn’t safe. The memories you base happiness upon is a lie. Santa isn’t really real — because a constant of our mythology and our culture is his everlasting goodness, and that goodness can be perverted.”
And we just don’t like that. Sure, there are horror junkies who will watch anything “horror.”: torture porn, weird movies from Eastern European countries, Justin Bieber videos. Those are the ones who accept the stories right off. But then the movies generally drift into obscurity. Even cult classics tend to become such not because they are effective horror, but exactly the opposite: because they kinda suck. And those cult classics only garner their largest audiences when time has stripped away any horror the movie once had and allowed it to become a joke. Doing a shot every time Santa says, “You can guide my SLAY tonight” right before impaling someone with a reindeer horn.
There are those who will watch. Who can get past the damage the movie seeks to do to underlying assumptions and necessities of our reality.
But, for the rest, the movies just don’t work. Because even in a world grown more and more cynical, less and less sure of anything… it seems some things are still important, some things are still sacrosanct.
Some things are — dare I say? — still sacred.
Merry (scary) Christmas.
* This, by the way, is getting out of hand. It was one thing to do this when you were a kid. But now, as a grown-up, you’re making it weird. And the buttless chaps don’t help.
** If your memories aren’t sepia, then you just aren’t a good person. And no, your color blindness is NOT an excuse.