[ZINE] THE TWELVE TERRORS OF CHRISTMAS

THE TWELVE TERRORS OF CHRISTMAS

As the Halloween season comes to an end, we slowly begin to turn our attention to the next holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, for some, it comes faster than for others. If you spend any time in stores, even before trick-or-treaters have made their rounds on Halloween night collecting their candies, displays and shelved items have switched. Out are the ghouls and goblins, candies and pumpkins, and costumes and fake blood. In are Christmas lights, Christmas wreaths, Christmas tree skirts, Christmas trees, and all kinds of other decorations. It shouldn’t come as a surprise as we love our holidays, and Christmas is no exception. But what is it about Christmas that seems to be extra special?

First and foremost, there’s family. Thanksgiving and Christmas are times when, and where possible, families set aside their busy schedules and gather in one location to be with their loved ones. It’s a time to laugh and to chat, and a time especially precious for children. Of course, it’s not always a perfect gathering, as so many people under one roof can lead to stressful situations and even arguments, if not fights. Yet, despite the long travel times and the stress, year after year, millions of people get together to celebrate.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas also come a number of traditions and habits that make the holiday special. To begin with, there are the decorations. Whether it’s lights enhancing the outdoor of the house or even the Christmas tree itself radiating in the living room, there’s a beautifying touch, nostalgic, even calming feeling added to the house. Then, there is also the food! Turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, apple pies, honey-glazed hams, among others, fill the dining table with intoxicating aromas wafting through the house. The quantity made and eaten is enough to drive us into food comas!

What would the holidays be without the television specials? Whether it’s Frosty the Snowman (1969), It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), or the Christmas special of Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Grey’s Anatomy, they invade our screens from the start of November to the end of December. And despite the fact they tend to create an almost unattainable romantic notion of what the perfect holiday should be, we tune in and watch, because it’s a tradition as we do with movies.

The Santa Clause (1994), It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), The Family Stone (2005) and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) are just a few of the traditional movies that light up our screens year in and year out. Like the television specials, these movies inundate our screens. Add on the classic songs like White Christmas, Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, and Santa Baby, and you have fuzzy-feeling-inducing and nostalgia-eliciting moments. But what about us horror fans? Where are our fuzzy, or rather, terror-inducing Christmas moments?

Christmas lovers will argue that we have Halloween, and that’s true. But we have families too who enjoy a good turkey and a good slice of pie as well. We don’t mind family gatherings, especially if they lead to mayhem. We like traditions, television shows, and movies. And like anyone, we enjoy music as well. Wouldn’t it be exquisite to turn on the radio and hear I’m Dreaming of a Killer Christmas, or Bodies Roasting on an Open Fire? Though horror lovers may feel as though they’ve been robbed of this pleasure, I’m here to set the record straight.

Most Christmas songs remain relatively unchanged. Some artists change the music genre and adapt it to theirs, like adding a rock or country feel. Others will take a song and actually alter the lyrics, as in the Twelve Days of Christmas. There’s a song that could be adapted for us lovers of all things horror. However, that kind of alteration isn’t even necessary. For the remainder of this article, I will show how each day of Christmas symbolizes the gifts a true love would give but is, in fact, a reminder that these gifts have horror DNA all over them. As Christmas enthusiasts think of the gifts given by their true love, horror fans can sit back and watch movies that better represent those gifts. Without further ado, here are the Twelve Horrors of Christmas.


Day 1 – On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.

Christmas fans think…

Alright, so the song is fairly old, some dating it back as far as the late 1700s. As a result, these gifts may not necessarily be all that attractive to us today. Let’s be honest, giving away a bunch of birds to people is odd at best. Nonetheless, the song is still being played, and the intent of the gifts is there. It is the symbolism of the gift that is important, hence their significance. For starters, as a first gift, the partridge isn’t a remarkable bird by any means and was fairly widespread in Europe. What’s remarkable about it is that it will fight to protect its young, even to the point of being foolhardy about it. It’s a plain bird, a plain gift, that starts the list of what our true love decides to give.

Horror fans know better…

The notion of fiercely protecting their young is common in the horror genre. One mother that does this with remarkable dedication is the queen in Aliens (1986). On LV-426, it’s made clear that she is the one laying all the eggs, awaiting whatever human hosts to allow the gestation and birth of her young. Cue the colonists who are more interested in profit than in trying to understand the potential danger they find themselves in. Mama alien is proud and happy of her brood until, that is, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) shows up.

When Ripley hints at burning the eggs, the queen quickly tells her children to step aside and let Ripley go. She wants her young to survive. But when Ripley does burn them, the queen is furious. Like any mother who just saw her offspring burned to a crisp, she goes after Ripley with lethal intent, driven by hatred and vengeance. But there isn’t a need to travel to another planet to find examples of protective, loving, even overbearing mothers who want to defend their young from the evil influences of the world. Remember the owners of Bates Motel (Psycho, 1960/Bates Motel, 2013)?

Norman (Anthony Perkins/Freddie Highmore) was lucky to have had a mother as caring as Norma (Vera Farmiga). She only wanted what was best for him, and even after her untimely death, she continued to ensure he remained on the straight path. If that doesn’t scream out “protective mother,” than I don’t know what does.


Day 2 – On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves…

Christmas fans think…

Christmas is a time when friendships and love are highlighted, whether through words, cards, or even a gift. And on this second day, our true love gives two turtle doves, birds that are often representative of love. As they come in pairs, you are meant to keep one and give the other to a special person. It doesn’t have to be live birds either, but simple representations like an ornament. As long as both holders of one bird keep it, the relationship will remain intact. But this idea of birds representing love isn’t exclusive to doves. Other birds symbolize the same, like lovebirds, for example. Whichever bird is used and gifted, the result is the same: love. A true Christmas sentiment. Or is it?

Horror fans know better…

The truth of the matter is that these birds are indicators of horrific events to come. When Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) gets her lovebirds in Bodega Bay, what follows is anything but signs of an endearing relationship. The Birds (1963) isn’t about love and friendship. It’s a cautionary tale about what could happen if animals, who number 40-60 for every human, decided to turn on us. Hitchcock was limited by CGI capabilities of the time, but there’s no denying the carnage they would be able to inflict, with bloody and violent intent. Pecking away at flesh and eyes, with no recourse but to try and hide, it’s perfect and absolutely horrific. Now that’s a true horror lover’s gift!


Day 3 – On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens…

Christmas fans think…

Notwithstanding the odd way to demonstrate how one loves another truly, on the third day, true love was moved to gift those three French hens – aka chickens. One might question the gifting of chickens for someone special, but a deeper look into the meaning of the hen reveals something entirely different. Not only do they represent fertility, birth, and faith, but also mothering, femininity, and sexuality. There’s a strong sense of love and sensuality in this gift. Perfect for a true love.

Horror fans know better…

Well, here we are, with what essentially boils down to gifting three chickens, but boy is there a lot for us horror fans to unpack here. To begin with, that hens represent faith can only mean one thing: this is a gift of demonic possession. And what better example of possession is there than The Exorcist (1973). Regan’s (Linda Blair) transformation from innocent, loving girl to foul-mouthed is outstanding and should be viewed as a stern warning for the case where chickens are gifted. After 45 years, this movie is still terrifying. Be warned!

If you are looking for a more mothering or fertility interpretation, there are options, including John Carpenter’s excellent Prince of Darkness (1987). Kelly (Susan Blanchard) embodies these interpretations perfectly as she becomes the vessel for a Satan-like being. Though she ultimately fails, she transformed into quite an attractive Satanic vessel, one that our true love would undoubtedly appreciate. But what about femininity and sexuality? If that’s the terror you’re looking for, you’re in luck. Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) is sexy, fun, happy, but crazy and deadly as fuck. Crazier, twisted and more sadistic than Harley Quinn, Sheriff Wydell (The Devil’s Rejects, 2005), should have known better than to think he could control her. Even Greta (Dee Wallace) severely underestimates her (3 From Hell, 2019). Any of the above terrors are a perfect gift for us horrorphiles.


Day 4 – On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds…

Christmas fans think…

Another gift, another bird. Although our true love gifts the calling bird in this version, there actually isn’t such a bird in existence. However, prior to this iteration of the song, various other birds had been given on this fourth day. There has been the mockingbird, a bird that symbolizes imitation and cleverness. There’s the blackbird, which has traditionally been associated with being smart and playful, and also being mysterious and secretive. Lastly, our true love has also given away canaries, birds that have been used in the past to spring traps, to test out the safety of a path before humans engaged in it.

Horror fans know better…

Birds that are used for warning directs horror fans to one obvious title: Bird Box (2018). As Malorie (Sandra Bullock) blindly makes her way through this dangerous world, her birds ensure she’s alerted to any of the strange apparitions being nearby. In this case, we can be thankful our “true love” gifted us with something useful. It’s a quiet, slow-burning movie, but worth watching.

If you’re looking for playfulness, mysterious, and secrecy, then The Children (2008) might be satisfying. Let’s be honest, what is more playful than children in the snow? But these children have a secret. Something is making them turn bad, and what begins as innocent, fun, joyful children, quickly devolves into dangerous, terrifying, and killing ones. Careful with this entry as you might find yourself becoming a little too suspicious of any children in your household.


Day 5 – On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five golden rings…

Christmas fans think…

Rings. What a precious gift. Beyoncé commented that if one “wants to keep her, put a ring on it.” Whether right or not, people do it. In some cases, people wear rings for fashion reasons. In others, it could be to signify some event, like winning a championship. Tolkien used rings to symbolize and embody power. Also common, rings are used as gifts to signify love. When people get married, they often make the bond concrete via the exchange of rings. And in this case, our true love doesn’t just give one ring, but five! And golden ones at that. Now, that’s a luxurious gift.

Horror fans know better…

“’Til death do us part.” Samara (Daveigh Chase) doesn’t mess around. If you’re one of the unlucky ones to lay your eyes on her and her “ring,” you are hers (The Ring, 2002). The bond forged in that connection is practically unbreakable. It is so strong that it consumes the victim after seven days. For those who’ve witnessed the aftermath, it isn’t pretty, brought on by Samara’s torturous embrace. The horror that must have been experienced in those last moments is indescribable. The look on Katie’s (Amber Tamblyn) face should leave no doubt as to the terror experienced in those last moments. It’s a great movie to watch on this fifth day.


Day 6 – On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying…

Christmas fans think…

On this day, our true love gave away six geese, birds that have shown to be very faithful to their kind. It’s not unheard of that these birds will look after one another if one of them is wounded. That’s incredible loyalty, not unlike perhaps a true love would want to show their partner. They are also very territorial and will fiercely defend that territory from intruders. Perhaps, along with a promise of loyalty, our true love is indicating that they would fight tooth and nail to maintain the relationship and defend their loyalty.

Horror fans know better…

Survival is an instinctive behavior, something that is at the core of so many horror movies. Fiercely defending one’s territory either ensures a character survives or dies. But the definition of one’s territory is variable. For Ben (Duane Jones) and Barbra (Judith O’Dea), it’s the farmhouse they find themselves in (Night of the Living Dead, 1968). They do everything in their power to save themselves and the others (Ben, Karen, et al.), putting up barricades and killing the slow-moving zombies that try to overrun and kill them.

For Martin (Vegar Hoel), the territory requiring defending is bigger (Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, 2014). When he finds out about Herzog’s (Ørjan Gamst) unfinished business–that Hitler himself had ordered the destruction of the town of Talvik–he and his friends (and newly acquired personal zombies) mount a defense to save the town from Herzog’s own zombie army. But how can one outdo the defense of an entire town? Well, along the lines of War of the Worlds, how about the entire planet?

It may seem absurd to have the planet overrun by zombies, but World War Z (2013) presents the possibility in a credible and serious way. Humanity’s survival is at stake as the plague begins to spread. Lead by Gerry (Brad Pitt), humans begin to mount an offensive to fight back. And although there are many losses along the way (South Korea and Jerusalem, among others), the solution to buy them time to fight back is pure genius. Any of these three movies are sure to satisfy day six.


Day 7 – On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming…

Christmas fans think…

Swans. Calm, regal looking birds. So special and precious are they that they’ve been linked to Apollo, the god of music. When our true love gave those birds, it was another true sign of the love he or she felt. These beautiful white birds represent faith and fidelity, in part because they are known to mate for life. A complete display of love and devotion is this gift of the seventh day.

Horror fans know better…

Mulder (David Duchovny) asks Scully (Gillian Anderson) to investigate a supposedly haunted mansion. According to legend, two lovers, whose love for one another was so deep, engaged in a murder-suicide pact to be together for eternity (The X-Files “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas”). Successful in their pact, they now haunt the mansion every Christmas Eve, something Scully refuses to believe. But as the evening progresses, our famous FBI agents meet up with the inhabitants of the mansion, Maurice (Ed Asner) and Lyda (Lily Tomlin). Together, they make sure Dana and Fox have a Christmas Eve to remember and give us fans a solid episode to watch on this seventh day.


Day 8 – On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking…

Christmas fans think…

A long time ago, lords and ladies had various people who worked for them, completing the menial tasks around the house or mansion. They would do the cooking, cleaning, gardening, and take care of various barn animals. One task, in particular, was completed by maids, which was the milking of the cows. The offer to gift hired help, albeit outdated today, was a kind and incredibly generous offer.

Milkmaids experienced an interesting side effect from handling milk on a regular basis. Their skin, especially on their hands, was very soft and young-looking. However, though it was suspected that milk was the cause, some wondered if witchcraft could be behind this unnaturally long youthful look. Nonetheless, it is a generous gift for a true love to give.

Horror fans know better…

To keep looking young takes a bit more than milking cows, and something witches are fully aware of. Powers aside, they are vain and actively engage in behaviors to maintain their beautiful, youthful look. When Winnie (Bette Midler) and her sisters try to catch the children, it is to regain their youth (Hocus Pocus, 1993). The movie isn’t scary, but the idea of eating children is terrifying, even if not new. Hansel and Gretel came across a witch who specialized in the cooking of children.

Witches seek out other humans besides children, but always with some end goal in sight. Lacy (Judy Geeson) and her sisters aren’t subtle in their pursuit of Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), though they keep that goal from viewers for some time (The Lords of Salem, 2012). And though they don’t look young by any means, in their normal form they are far more presentable than when in their pure witch form. Either one of these entries is a perfect viewing for this eighth day.


Day 9 – On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing…

Christmas fans think…

As the song advances, so do the stakes. Our true love now wants to give greater and grander gifts. Realizing that perhaps enough birds have been given, the gifting of humans seems to now be in the cards. On this ninth day, our true love realizes that Christmas is approaching and that the festivities need to be cranked up a bit. Hence the more lively gifts to prepare for the party. And these dancing ladies are the beginning of this last stage.

Horror fans know better…

There is only one choice if you’re looking for a horror party dancing good time! On the night Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) reveals his newly-built Rocky (Peter Hinwood), Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) happen to stumble upon his castle (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975). Along with Eddie (Meat Loaf), Magenta (Patricia Quinn), and Columbia (Nell Campbell), they all participate in a night of singing, dancing, sex, and murder. Oh, you have to love the irony of having Meat Loaf play Eddie, the main course for the meal. The movie is cheesy, funny, scary, terrifying, and you’ll likely find yourself standing up to do the time warp in the living room as you watch this on the ninth day.


Day 10 – On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten lords a-leaping…

Christmas fans think…

After our true love gave away the dancing ladies, the lords were bound to follow. Other than provide more bodies and companions for all the ladies, this is another odd gift. But in the spirit of making the Christmas celebration a fun and memorable one, here they are.

Horror fans know better…

Lords are usually men of power; men who are in charge. However, being in charge doesn’t necessarily make one a fun, outgoing, or even loving person. Unlike what Christmas fans may think, lords aren’t always a-leaping, something Derek (Steven Yeun) found out the hard way. Crowned a hero for Towers and Smythe Consulting (Mayhem, 2017), Derek realizes that his accomplishments aren’t necessarily something to be proud of. Once he realizes that he’s set-up by his superior Kara (Caroline Chikezie), the lords of this company have another thing coming.

Just before Derek is kicked to the curb, the building shuts down because the Red-Eye virus has infected the staff. Resulting in a complete loss of inhibitions and any moral compass, people act out their deepest darkest desires, which include sexual as well as violent ones, including murder. Quarantined for eight hours, what follows are eight hours of pure insane mayhem where the staff attack one another, killing as they can. And Derek, through sheer will, goes after the bosses with a surprise ending. The journey, though interspersed with moments of comedy, is pure horror and worthy of day ten viewing.


Day 11 – On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping…

Christmas fans think…

The bagpipe and it’s evolution can date back almost to the before common era Egyptians. In its present form, it’s often associated with Scotland. To be offered as gifts serves two purposes. First, it provides music for our true love as Christmas is only a few days away. Second, having been used in battle, the bagpipe also represents pride, bravery, and honor. To gift eleven of them is quite an honor.

Horror fans know better…

Honor in a horror movie is not always an obvious theme. However, the way Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) treats Clarice (Jodie Foster) is honorable, if not even borderline father-like. Lecter is a brutal, sadistic killer, going so far as eating part of his victims, but he has respect, demonstrably so vis-à-vis Clarice. Though it is not a classic horror movie, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is frightening in its realistic approach of the story. As a choice for the second last day, this is an excellent one.


Day 12 – On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming…

Christmas fans think…

It’s almost Christmas! Bring on the drums, the backbone for so many genres of music. Echoing the beat of one’s heart, the rhythmic energy of everyone in attendance at our family gatherings and parties, it’s a leader of mayhem. Like Animal from The Muppet Show (1976), a wild drumbeat can turn the calmest, most behaved and disciplined person into a wild, crazy out-of-control one. A fitting final gift for the eve of one of the biggest holidays of the year.

Horror fans know better…

Looking for crazy? Nutty? For some mayhem? Or insanity? Well, look no further than the events that take place in Kingston Falls when Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) gifts his son Billy (Zach Galligan) with Mogwai (Gremlins, 1984). A few broken rules later, and the town is overrun with gremlins led by Stripe, one of the meanest and most ruthless gremlins. The action is intense, the comedy is hilarious, and the events horrific. Nobody is safe from these creatures. They enjoy drinking at the bar and watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the theater, but best of all, they enjoy torturing and killing humans. Perfect holiday mayhem and a fitting final entry for this twelfth day.

After this analysis, it’s clear that horror fans can also rejoice in this festive season, though it is enjoyed for different reasons. Murder, killings, scares, and even some laughs can fill your own 12 days of Christmas. However, before you begin to feel as though you’re living a second Halloween season, let me make one last suggestion: Krampus (2015). It’s a great little entry in the Krampus series and is a reminder that losing the Christmas spirit can be fatal.


So, enjoy all the above-suggested movies, but make sure that as you watch them, you keep a little of that Christmas spirit in your heart. Enjoy the holidays, enjoy the food, enjoy the traditions, and also your loved ones. Merry Christmas, everyone, and may all your gifts be made of coal!

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