bloody gentlemen

God Rest Ye, Bloody Gentlemen

With the festive season upon us, what better way to celebrate than with MJ Simpson's curated selection of British Christmas horror? There's one each for the 12 days of Christmas, so plenty to add to your yuletide watchlist...

British horror has touched on Christmas themes over the years, notably in the anthologies Dead of Night and Tales from the Crypt. But it’s only in recent years that full-blown festive fright-films have become a regular part of the British horror scene, with at least 30 Yuletide horror features produced since 2000. Here are ten of the best, plus a couple of excellent shorts, for you to check out.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

Salvage (2008)

On Christmas Eve, while a single mum and her teenage daughter are arguing, special ops soldiers suddenly take over the street, barking orders and shooting a neighbour. A shipping container washed up nearby contained an unspecified, barely glimpsed military bio-weapon, now on the loose. The taut script by Hollyoaks writer Colin O’Donnell combines with top-notch direction by Doctor Who helmer Lawrence Gough and a good cast to create an excellent slice of suburban sci-fi horror. The pace rarely lets up and the blood and gore are plentiful but the characters, motivations and relationships are spot-on. Filmed in the same Liverpool close as 1980s Chanel Four soap Brookside.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

X-Mass (2005)

When his young, widowed aunt comes to stay for Christmas with her slimy new boyfriend, a teenage goth seeking to resurrect his dead dog accidentally brings his late uncle back to life instead. The interplay of his dysfunctional family struggling to cope with their new zombie relative is wonderful in this fantastically ambitious half-hour NFTS short directed by Scott Flockhart. With somewhat Burtonesque non-specific retro decade production design and wonderful stop-motion effects, there’s much to enjoy here. Sadly a flashback showing how the uncle died in a tragic Elvis impersonation accident was too expensive to shoot.

Watch X-Mass below…

On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

The Ghost of Greville Lodge (2002)

Teenage orphan James goes to stay with his great-uncle in a massive 17th-century house. In dreams, and increasingly while awake, he finds himself reliving the memories of a boy who lived there 60 years earlier. The two parallel stories build to a shared deadly climax when a fire breaks out during a Christmas party. Prunella Scales and George Cole lead a solid cast in Niall Johnson’s family-friendly supernatural time-travel drama which is reminiscent of Tom’s Midnight Garden and Moondial and contains some surprisingly spooky moments.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

Merry Z-Day (2012)

Two loser geeks try to have a proper Chrimbo in defiance of the zombie apocalypse which hit on Christmas Eve while they were drunk. Lily Jenkins directed this endearing, enthusiastic, student-made comedy horror with some genuinely funny sequences, based on writer/producer Ben Steele’s 2009 short I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus. It’s a bit too talkie and a smidge too long but the winning performances save the day. Shot in summer 2011, hence the very un-Christmas-y exteriors!

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

The Demonic Tapes (2017)

A terrifically scary ghost story in the M.R. James tradition from husband-and-husband duo Mansfield Dark. A young man staying in a large, Victorian townhouse over Christmas while his housemates are away finds a box of microcassettes and a Dictaphone in the cellar; recordings of a medium communicating with spirits. Milking the set-up for every ounce of creepiness, the film still allows the central character a couple of trips into central London to escape his oppressive situation. Shot as Fright Christmas, this was briefly retitled House of Christmas Evil.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

Tradition (2015)

Almost a perfect short film, this hilarious six-minute two-hander from director Markus Meedt is a study in festive blasé fortitude. Jenny and Ben met just before the zombie apocalypse happened, have been stuck together since then – and are now doing their best to celebrate their first Christmas as a couple. Peering out through their barricaded window, they comment on the final dregs of humanity going down the drain, while trying to maintain some seasonal cheer.

Watch Tradition below…

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

The Lodge (2019)

You’re a couple of little kids. Your father leaves your mother for a younger woman, so Mom kills herself. You get to spend Christmas in Dad’s isolated cabin with him and Stepmom-to-be. But Dad can’t make it through the blizzard so you’re cut off with… this woman. And she – the sole survivor of her own father’s death cult – is cut off with these kids, plus assorted Catholic icons and lots of photos of Dead Mom. Awk-ward. This claustrophobic snowbound horror, directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, was Hammer’s first production for five years. It’s a bit heavy on the religious symbolism but is streets ahead of much of their post-2000 output.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

The Children (2008)

Two families get together in a big, isolated house for Christmas and New Year. Over the course of one day, the little kids get sick – and become murderous tykes. The adults struggle to deal with this, or even to accept it is happening, seeking only to protect the little poppets from danger and initially blaming the group’s only adolescent. Gripping, dramatic and scary, The Children is a fine film which explores personal and societal attitudes to children without going down the hoodie horror route. It started life as a zombie script called Miria written by The Cottage director Paul Andrew Williams, which was picked up and reworked by WAZ helmer Tom Shankland.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

Stalled (2013)

It’s Christmas Eve and the office staff are partying but building engineer WC is still at work, fixing something in the ladies toilet. When the zombie apocalypse hits, he’s stuck in a cubicle with a steadily increasing number of living dead between him and the door, many in festive fancy dress. The second feature from the Freak Out team of Christian James and Dan Palmer is an inventive and genuinely hilarious zom-com which constantly heaps new ideas onto its simple premise. Cleverly constructed and adroitly directed given the restrictive location, this has a good mixture of hope, frustration, desperation and pathos among the sight gags.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

Once Upon a Time at Christmas (2017)

Enjoyable festive slasher set in a small town in New York State where a disgruntled psycho in a Santa suit is committing murder on a daily basis, assisted by an insane girl-woman obviously modelled on Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn. You’ll work out what’s happening about halfway through, after which it becomes increasingly unbelievable that the cops haven’t. But that level of unbelievability is part of the fun of a good slasher, along with some cheesy coincidences, and Paul Tanter’s film walks that fine line commendably. A sequel, The Nights Before Christmas, was released in 2020.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

Await Further Instructions (2018)

The second and final feature from Johnny Kevorkian, who died in 2020, is a compelling suburban sci-fi nightmare. A dysfunctional family (son’s new Indian girlfriend, racist grandad, ready-to-pop pregnant daughter etc.) awake on Christmas morning to find their house completely surrounded by impenetrable black metal, with no phone or internet, and a television delivering unexplained messages which may be Government emergency information. The authoritarian father insists on following the increasingly grim instructions, causing familial breakdown, until a third act twist that was spoilered completely on the German DVD sleeve!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)

You absolutely must see this brilliant Scottish Christmas zombie musical, in which a group of teenagers battle the undead as they make their way to their school, pausing occasionally to belt out great songs. It started life in 2010 as Zombie Musical, an 18-minute short (which you can watch below) directed by Ryan McHenry, who died in 2015 aged just 27. John McPhail picked up the reins and created arguably the most joyous, hilarious, toe-tapping, life-affirming Christmas horror of all time. The enthusiastic young cast are delightful and Paul Kaye provides brilliant name value as the bitter headmaster. All together now: “There’s no such thing as a Hollywood ending!”

Have a great Christmas folks!

MJ Simpson

MJ Simpson

Writing rubbish for 25+ years. Was Douglas Adams expert. Now modern UK horror expert. Sang 'Africa' on "worst TV show ever made". Adores tapirs. Loves cheese.

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