When it comes to movie villains, plenty of iconic figures stand out in our minds. We have Darth Vader from Star Wars, the unstoppable Michael Myers in Halloween, and in the Lord of the Rings movies, Sauron’s influence was terrifying to behold. But, despite all the big cinematic baddies we’ve seen over the years, one figure stands out as a truly perfect and timeless villain – none other than the big jolly man himself, Santa Claus.
Yes, you read right; I said, Santa Claus. The same Santa Claus who supposedly is the very embodiment of festive cheer and goodness. When in reality, his tendency to break into homes, selectively tear apart families with his naughty and nice list, and dubious magic power that has some sort of time-freezing ability makes him a step-by-step template for the ideal supervillain.
Now, before you angrily click off this article or begin citing a long list of family movies where Santa is shown as a hero, such as the animated movie Klaus or the classic film Miracle on 34th Street, please hear me out. I have reasons for putting evil versions of Santa on the cinematic pedestal.
Before we even get into the specific movie-related aspect of Santa, we have to examine the very essence of Saint Nick and why at his core, he has all the makings of a classic film antagonist. Recognising Santa’s villainous potential is not a new phenomenon or a Hollywood/ horror movie conception. In fact, even without the film industry, the mythical figure has proven his creepy capabilities time and time again via folklore.
For those of you who may need to catch up on your Chris Cringle history, Santa is based on the real-life Turkish Saint, St. Nicholas, who was thought to have been born around 280 AD. St. Nicholas was generally a pretty good guy, as you’d expect a saint to be. He gave his wealth away to the poor, went around healing the sick, oh, and according to a traditional French children’s 17th-century song, he also raised the dead.
But good deeds and necromancy aside, Santa’s true villainry is reflected by his co-star in many variations of his legend – Krampus. Krampus, like St Nicholas, predates any Christmas horror movie starring the festive demon. The seasonal monster is theorised to have originated as far back as the 6th or 7th century CE and is often depicted as a horned, anthropomorphic monster.
Krampus, sometimes accompanying Santa and sometimes acting on his own, was said to have dealt with all the naughty children come December, while Santa ignored them and focused on all the good children instead. While Krampus isn’t strictly Santa and is more of his partner in crime in many of his folklore variations, he does highlight how scary the jolly man can truly be.
No matter how you look at it, Santa Claus is not only a master home invader but also a bit of a sociopath, lacking any empathy for naughty children throughout history. In folktales, he lets Krampus do as he pleases to the children unworthy of his nice list. And, if you are reading this, rolling your eyes at my empathy comparison purely through the lens of Krampus – I have news for you in normal Christmas lore; he isn’t great either.
Santa gifts bad children coal – which, I’m sorry, is just a jerky move designed to cause embarrassment and is worse than no present at all. So yeah, he’s kind of a bully no matter how you look at it, right?
When you examine Santa, there has always been a well of qualities that are major red flags. And Hollywood has shown us time and time again how it’s not only easy to turn Saint Nick into a villain by playing on those qualities but also how effectively simple it is to frame him as the ultimate baddie.
Iconic movie villains, by nature, are all-powerful. Santa Claus is an immortal figure who not only controls a legion of elves but can travel the world in a single night – check. Villains in films are driven by a very specific worldview.
Santa examines every child to see if they fit into his version of nice and gives out coal to manipulate others to fall in line – check. And finally, movie villains tend to lack feelings of empathy as they move forward for their own personal gain. Santa doesn’t think twice about naughty kids’ fate with Krampus but will still eat the cookies laid out for him – check.
Think of the horror Santa Claus movies such as Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Saint, or Christmas Evil. All those examples show a violent (and, in the case of Rare Exports, inhuman) version of Saint Nick, who uses his powers of infiltration and warped sense of judgement to kill everyone he deems as unworthy. Or remember the animated series Futurama where, in a Christmas episode, a robot Santa goes on a rampage because no human lives up to his definition of nice?
All those films and TV series appearances portrayed Santa as an unstoppable force of nature you can easily root against. And when you compare him to figures such as the Harry Potter villain Voldemort, or a Xenomorph from Alien, he seems far more untouchable and unkillable than our go-to examples of cinematic big bads, too. You can’t kill Christmas, so therefore you can’t ever truly kill Santa. And in the hierarchy of movie villains, he is firmly in the S-tier.
An evil Santa always knows when you are sleeping, can break into your home whenever he feels like it, and has enough magical powers (as well as immortality) to make any potential fight hazardous. That kind of figure inspires fear and intimidation, just as any classic franchise villain does, and then some.
So, in conclusion, I want more Santa villain stories, and I want them now. Saint Nick has proven time and time again how intriguing his dark side, when explored, can be. So let’s stop with the festive, goody-two-shoes depictions of the character and let the man in red embrace the psychopathic tendencies we all know he secretly harbours.