Krampus (2015) directed by Michael Dougherty
Young Max wants a normal, happy Christmas this year. He's young enough to believe in Santa Claus and write him a letter but old enough to have doubts and get pushed in the wrong direction. His older sister is more interested in hanging out with her boyfriend than the rest of the family. His dad isn't traveling this Christmas but is still taking calls from work. His mom is trying to make everything perfect (you know how that goes). When Aunt Linda shows up with her family and Great-Aunt Dorothy (the one with the drinking problem who doesn't like kids), stress levels go off the scale. His bratty cousins discover his letter and read it aloud at dinner. The letter is heart-felt and Max asks Santa to fix the family problems, which he enumerates frankly. Everyone is embarrassed and Max goes nuts. He runs off to his room where he tears up the letter and wishes his family was just gone.
Too bad Krampus, the ancient demonic spirit of Christmas, was listening. A blizzard knocks out the electricity, heat, and phones. Max's German grandmother (on his dad's side) tries to keep things on an even keel, serving hot chocolate and keeping the fire extra hot. She knows about Krampus and tries to stave off the inevitable without saying anything, but that doesn't work for long. Big sister wanders off into the storm to check on her boyfriend and doesn't come back. Some mysterious and creepy snowmen appear in the yard. All the neighbors (except the boyfriend) have left town for Christmas, so no help there. Sister doesn't come back, things start going bump in the night, and the classic knock-em-off-one-by-one routine starts. Can the family pull together before they are torn apart (maybe even literally)?
This premise could have made a pretty low-grade derivative horror film. Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas both present a bleak experience of Christmas made darker by a fantasy element. This movie manages to crank up the bleakness. The bitter and snarky interactions between the family members make the movie uncomfortable and horrifying even before monsters start showing up. The dysfunctionality of the family leads to Max losing faith in Christmas. He then has the most dysfunctional Christmas ever. Santa Claus is replaced by Krampus. Presents turn evil. Gingerbread men become agents of destruction. The movie has a similar level of imaginative creativity as Gremlins and Nightmare Before Christmas and shares the comedic vibe of the other two films. But it also stands out as its own work.
If you're looking for a horror movie for Christmas that's not too bloody (certainly much less than Gremlins) and has some imagination (though not as much as The Nightmare Before Christmas), this movie fits the bill.