I used to think once you knew one killer Santa, you knew them all. Not after reading Spectacular Optical’s Yuletide Terror. A book churning with more killer Santas than you’d ever want to meet in a lifetime (assuming you survived the encounters), every essay in Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television seems to swing back around to Santa, in the foyer, with an ax.  

It takes a book like Yuletide Terror to appreciate how diverse the genre can be. Edited by Paul Corupe and Kier-La Janisse, when it’s not killer Santas, it’s an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (Leslie Hatton takes a look at a slew of these films in her essay, “Terror and Transformation: The Enduring Legacy of A Christmas Carol”). You’d think there’d be only so much retreading these classics could take (and there’s a whole essay by David Bertrand on the European folklore most filmmakers are missing) but killer Santas are like snowflakes. No two St. Nicks are the same. Every time you think the market’s cornered and they’ve hit a wall, horror finds another way to turn Kris Kringle murderous.

Starting with pieces on two of Christmas horror’s most prominent films, Black Christmas (1974) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), Yuletide Terror covers everything, from madmen dressed as Santa to actual Santa monsters (Campfire Tales’ [1991] Satan Claus). Florent Christol’s essay and Amanda Reyes’ interview with director, Lewis Jackson, are well-matched to argue why 1980’s Christmas Evil is not your typical slasher,  while the controversy around young people discovering Santa’s a villain finds a loophole, later on, in the Krampus figure.

There are films where the Christmas setting is completely arbitrary (if you ever even realized Psycho [1960] was set around Christmastime, that’s to cover for a few shops having decorations in their windows) and children’s films, where the scariest thing about them is that they were intended to entertain children.

Not that the reason for this is primarily (or at all) to do with Christmas, but it’s remarkable how many of these productions are family affairs. Andrea Subissati, in “Won’t Someone Think of The Children?” questions the practice of continuing to lie to kids about Santa being real, while others consider Santa’s habit of committing home invasion (Andrew Nette makes one of my favorite observations, while discussing The Evil Touch episode, “Happy New Year, Aunt Carrie,” when he brings up how these stories are anti-witness, since Santa’s not supposed to come until you’re fast asleep).

One of the great powers of writing is being able to offer a different perspective, and some of Yuletide Terror’s most addicting reads have to do with films that meet with rejection before being given a chance. Hearing director, Robert Morin, talk to Ralph Elawani about his film “Petit Pow! Pow! Noël” (2005) is different to reading the synopsis, and the same is true of Alexandria West’s essay on P2 (2007). Once you get called things like ‘torture porn,’ it’s easy for the critics to go unchallenged.

Dedicated to Bob Clark (director of Black Christmas) and Lawrence Gordon Clark (who directed most of the Ghost Story for Christmas specials), Yuletide Terror ends with a compendium of every short, film and TV show that could carry the ‘yuletide terror’ label. This includes the films and TV shows the book discusses in-depth (like Play for Today’s “Robin Redbreast” [1970]) and a full-color section of movie posters, and comics by Rick Tremble. Each title border is designed with the essay’s subject in mind and, because the font size isn’t hard on the eyes, you can read Yuletide Terror by firelight, the appropriate lighting for this wintery tomb.