Christmas in July: The Retaliators and Violent Night bring on the holiday horror

(from left) Santa (David Harbour) and Scrooge (John Leguizamo) in Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola. Allen Fraser / Universal Picture
(from left) Santa (David Harbour) and Scrooge (John Leguizamo) in Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola. Allen Fraser / Universal Picture /

Every year in November/December, we talk about holiday horror. Generally the same films are discussed: Black Christmas, Krampus, Silent Night, Deadly Night…you know the drill.

In honor of Christmas in July, I wanted to discuss some newer holiday horror films that have been released within the last year. This ensures that you haven’t read about them a million times, and may even inspire you to look them up if you haven’t already seen them.

The term holiday horror is subjective, because a film doesn’t necessarily have to be ABOUT Christmas to be considered holiday horror. One of the films we are going to talk about IS specifically about Christmas, but the other is not. Both are brutally violent, with lots of gore, but one is what I consider a “fun” horror, and the other is pitch black and very grim. What both of these films have in common is that you can watch them currently on Amazon Prime for free (if you are a Prime member).

First up is Violent Night, which was released in theaters last year just in time for the holiday season. David Harbour (Stranger Things) is a disgruntled Santa who has made up his mind to call it quits after he finished delivering this year’s toys. Actually, he is not just “a” disgruntled Santa…he is THE Santa. That’s right, he is the real Santa, which made me not quite sure how this was all going to play out when I sat in a theater watching the first ten minutes or so.

Violent Night is truthfully more action than it is horror, but the amount of violence and gore inspired me to include it on my holiday horror list. Be that as it may, the story amps up pretty quickly after drunk Santa stops at the Lightstone mansion to make a delivery. As it turns out, the caterers are actually a group of violent mercenaries who slaughter the staff and take the family members hostage.

Violent Night. Cr: Allen Fraser/Universal Studios. /

After his reindeer are spooked by gunfire, they run off, leaving Santa stuck in the mansion. He’s a hard-hearted soul who possesses mad fighting skills, but like the Grinch, his heart grows two sizes when he gets to know cute, spunky Trudy, who manages to sneak away from the bad guys and hide within the mansion. She and Santa communicate via walkie-talkies, and work together to try and save Trudy’s family.

As I said, this is one fast-paced, blood-spattered holiday horror film with plenty of laughs to go along with the fighting and gunfire. It races along at a fast pace, and will keep you entertained right up to warm fuzzy ending.

I first heard about The Retaliators on the Civil Gore podcast, when hosts Tim and Brian waxed rhapsodic about it. It’s not a fun, light-hearted film, it deals with very dark subject matter, and I am including it as a holiday horror selection because it’s set during Christmas.

John Bishop (Michael Lombardi) is a pastor with two daughters, and is about as non-violent as a man can get. When shopping for a Christmas tree, a man basically takes the family’s chosen tree from teenage daughter Sarah, and Bishop just turns the other cheek.

Holiday horror
The Retaliators – Courtesy Justin Cook PR/Better Noise Films /

Then, Sarah is brutally killed when she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, just minding her own business and pumping gas, and Bishop becomes consumed with finding her killer. He is helped along in his quest by Detective Jed Sawyer (Marc Menchaca), who found his own unique way to deal with a similar situation in his life. His pregnant wife was ruthlessly slaughtered by the serial killer Sawyer helped apprehend, and let’s just say he gets his revenge.

The Retaliators is relentless in its violence, and it’s easy to get pulled into the story and the sympathetic characters. The fact that it is set during the cheerful holiday season just makes the heartbreaking death of Sarah, who is a good girl, even more effective. There’s lots of metal included in the soundtrack, and several metal stars make appearances in the film.

I am a huge fan of holiday horror, so I am always on the lookout for new ones to add to my list. I will be sure and let you know as I find others – in the meantime, Happy Christmas in July!

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