Sunday, December 25, 2011

Believe in Cheers or Else: Christmas Evil (1980)

Christmas evil/ You Better Watch Out (1980)
Rating: ****
starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn and Dianne Hull

A night in 1947, a night in New Jersey, 
Santa came to town and everything should be jolly. 
But little Harry will learn, not everything is all but gleam, a Christmas Eve gone wrong, a trauma he will redeem...

What Harry Stadling saw that one Christmas Eve was his mother being groped by Santa Claus (AKA Harry’s dad), a sight that broke his childhood psyche, and probably unhinged him as he forced himself to cuts his hand with a shattered snow globe.

Thirty-three years later,  Harry has disillusioned himself to be the next true Santa. Staying true to his goal , his home's resplendent with Christmas toys and d√©cors, spies on neighborhood children using a pair of binoculars to see if they have been "bad" or "good", and works at the Jolly Dreams toy factory as a promoted supervisor, a job he is willing to trade back for an assembling line.

Things starts to flow horribly for Harry as one night,  he peeped into the window of a local bar and sees a coworker having a drunken good time after he phoned in Harry at work on being sick. Frustrated by this, he rushes home and breaks a few toys while humming Christmas themes, and phones his younger brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn) in the next morning to decline his invitation for a Thanksgiving dinner just to watch Santa on TV.

When the Company Christmas party is in full swing, Harry watches the owner of Jolly Dreams making a televised announcement that, if production increases sufficiently, the company will be able to donate toys to the disadvantaged children at Willowy Springs State Hospital. Since nobody liked him, and nobody will ever will, Harry finally crumbles into dementia and has convinced himself as the one true Santa, destined to bring joy to all the good boys and girls.

Down in his basement workshop, he begins smelting toy soldiers and small axes. Alone after-hours, Harry  steals the Company toys, wraps them, loads them into his van, and, in a rather lighter scene, gave them to the hospital where the company plans to deliver them. Overjoyed with his success, he later dropped by to a church and, after another argument with a group of young mass-goers, murders them with a toy soldier and a dinky axe. Fleeing from the scene, he later found himself welcomed to a Christmas party where he enjoys the company of good people and, once again, brought him back into his delusional state as Santa.

Later, Harry manages to invaded two homes; first, his brother's, where he delivers his own hand-made and stolen toys after destroying the ones already fashioned under their tree, and later, At the home of the coworker who lied about his sickness, whom he murdered after delivering his presents.

Christmas morning, Phil begins to suspect something is seriously wrong with his brother and argues with his wife Jackie. A full search mission was held at the local police stations, questioning every Santa they round-up in the streets. All the while, at the closed warehouse, Harry began breaking even-more toys in a fit of rage over all the things he had done that had caused panic. That night he drove off, and  eventually finds himself pursued by an angry mob, who recognizes him as the homicidal Santa. Nevertheless, he manages to shake them all off and arrived at his brother's house.

Phil realizes that his brother was the homicidal Santa he has heard on the news and proceeds to strangle him unconscious. He loads him into the front seat of the van, whereupon Harry awakens, beats him unconscious, and drove off again. But an oncoming mob forces him and his van off a bridge; a crash was heard, Phil went after him and toppled down the bridge where, in a last verge of insanity before his death, Harry pictured himself flying to the moon, while chanting the lines:

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight-

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

I saw this film by accident, with zero expectations, despite all the bashings this film had, including one review from Hysteria Lives!, but to my surprise, Christmas got a little early that year for me.

It blow my mind away; yeah it's slow and very tedious, but that's because it took it's time to flesh out the characters before the grand finale, a trait that, i admit, may come off as annoying and disappointing to those expecting a full-blown slasher film. Yes, it had murders, five of them actually, and pretty good ones, but it's more about Harry's descent into madness. More in the vein of time-bomb slashers like "Don't Go In he House" (another fave title of mine), Christmas Evil handed us a few cheesy but believably unnerving script, giving us a drama disguised as a hack and slash flick.

Production wise, it's very decent and stable, and unlike most of the Holiday Slashers of its kind, Christmas Evil provided more warmth and a forgiving nature that is missing from the rest. Our killer, Harry, didn't come off as bad as Billy from "Silent Night, Deadly Night", as to the story had an opposite direction, instead of fearing Santa, Harry WISHED to be Santa, and be as giving and loving, despite his unhinged, child-like judgment. His past wasn't as bad as our punishment-obsessed axe-wielder, it was only his emotional state that jumps him back and forth from killer to forgiver and vice-versa. He was even kind enough to stop by to a hospital and gave all the poor boys and girls there toys, that's really groundbreaking in the sense that it's a gentler side of a damaged psycho that's rarely tackled back then. It's this goal that makes you feel bad for the poor guy, he had more character and, in these years where the Holiday almost lost it's true context and nature, commercialized in every way and hardly taken seriously, you can't help but think he may have a point to all of the troubles he went through.

Staying true to it's slasher nature, however, is some of this film's cheesier moments, providing a few intentional or unintentional laughs, like Harry, staying close to his new Santa Claus persona, tries to dive down a chimney, only to get stuck and, in tribute to classic hammer films, Santa got chased by a mob, hand-holding flaming torches ala Frankenstein, it's silly as it is sort of symbolic on how the mob saw him a monster, despite his good intentions.

While it's not for everyone, Christmas Evil became a cult classic over the years and an unsung indie film triumph, whether as a slasher film or not, it's a quick tap on the back to remind us what the holiday is really all about. Presents come and go, and so does holiday breaks, but should happiness and innocence go away from both child and child-like, then what is left for Christmas to offer? A "slasher" with a Christmas message, Christmas Evil deserved second look for both fans and haters, for tis the Holidays had come, and ole Santa Claus is coming to town~!

1 male eye stabbed with toy soldier's sword
1 male head hacked with toy axe
1 female head hacked with toy axe
1 male throat cut with Christmas Star
1 male drove off a bridge and crashes off-camera
total: 5



  1. I really had to work to track this one down on VHS back in the day - and Friday I saw it was going to be aired on our cable channel Turner Classic Movies in their late Friday night TCM Underground slot - backed with New Year's Evil! I DVR-ed both of them to watch later - really looking forward to seeing this one again!

  2. WOOT! I LOVE NEW YEAR'S EVIL! I really recommend that one for those who loved "bad movies"!

    this one's really worth the watch, too! they don't make them like this anymore...except Full Metal Jacket...

  3. Great review!
    Saw it this year for the very first time and I admit, it kinda swept me off my feet. The scene where he glued the beard to his face - my goodness, after this scene I kinda fell in love with the movie.

  4. You got to hand it to dedication! hahaha!