STARRINGBrandon Maggart - Harry Stadling
Jeffrey DeMunn - Philip Stadling
Dianne Hull - Jackie Stadling
Joe Jamrog - Frank Stoller
Peter Neuman - Moss Garcia
Year - 1980
Score - 2 Howls Outta 4
When it comes to slasher films of the 1980s, you can count on three things:
a) People getting butchered.
b) The killer will either be wearing a iconic mask or costume.
c) It'll mostly center around some type of holiday or special occasion.
It started with HALLOWEEN [though it's technically not a slasher film, although the sequels are] and continued with FRIDAY THE 13TH, SATURDAY THE 14TH, APRIL FOOL'S DAY, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and the list can go on. The most intriguing slasher films center on probably the most joyous day of the year - no, not the annual Adult Film Expo - but Christmas! BLACK CHRISTMAS started the trend back in 1974 and you'd think the Christmas slashers would continue to be good. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT proved that wrong in 1984 [so did its many sequels and probably its upcoming remake next year].
While you can't go wrong with the idea of Santa Claus killing people, there was a film that took that idea long before SNDN did. That film was called YOU BETTER WATCH OUT. Or TERROR IN TOYLAND. Or CHRISTMAS EVIL. They're all the same film but with different titles. So you better watch out, you better not cry, you better comment, and I'm telling you why... The Big Bad Wolf is writing this review down!
Young Harry Standling, a true believer in Santa Claus, is traumatized when he sees his mother getting kissed on the lips by his Santa Claus suit wearing father. And I don't really mean kissed. More like tongued. And not on the mom's facial lips either. I mean the lips much more...below. Yeah, you get it now.
Anyway, this causes Harry (Brandon Maggart) to grow up holding all that is pure about Christmas, especially Jolly Ol' St. Nick. His apartment is decorated for Christmas all year round. Christmas music plays in the background every day. He even wears Santa pajamas to bed. He also has books listing which kids in the neighborhood have been naughty or nice. Yep, Harry is in love with Christmas! He's so in love that it pisses him off when his co-workers don't hold the holiday is such high regard as he does. The stress of this and naughty children reading porno mags causes Harry to snap, making himself believe that he's Santa Claus in order to spread cheer to his entire neighborhood. Even if he has to steal and kill to make that happen.
I had this film in my collection for a while. It was included on one of those horror compilation DVDs that also holds the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I did research on the film because I had never even heard of it until a few days ago [never really paid attention to the other films in the collection other than the zombie classic I mentioned earlier] and read how bad the film was. Honestly, I was in a mood to bash a film, hoping to let some pent-up frustration and sarcasm out through the review. So I watched it...twice...and I was disappointed. It wasn't a bad film at all. But it's not a great one either.
Lewis Jackson was obviously an amateur director. We get really quick, disjointed edits [although they could have been intention to match the disjointed nature of Harry's mind]. Too long of shots of just Harry reacting [10 seconds is all you need, not a whole minute]. The pacing was really weird. The first hour was really slow and almost boring, while the last half hour was quick paced with a lot of jump cuts all over the place. Especially during the murder sequences [which are only 2 of]. While he tried to create a scary feel to the film, I found myself laughing during most of it. At least Jackson gave time to create character development, especially for Harry, who was really a tragic figure in his own delusional world he created for himself. Also, we're never really sure what we're seeing. Is it reality, what Harry is seeing, or both? It left me very unsettled and a bit uncomfortable with confusion. So Jackson wasn't a total failure in the director department, but I can understand why it took the man 23 years to direct another film.
While many have classified this film as a slasher flick, they're completely wrong in their conclusion. Sure, Harry kills people as Santa Claus. But it's only on four people and in two scenes. This is not a film about a man killing people all for the joy of Christmas. This is a study of a man who's total obsession over Christmas and Santa Claus cost him his life and his sanity. This film is a portrait of a man standing on the edge, ready to snap when others don't see Christmas as how he sees it. The first hour, while laborious, creates sympathy for Harry, even though we know we shouldn't have any for him. He's a crazy guy who wants to correct the wrong he saw as a child when he caught his parents having sex on Christmas. He wanted to make Christmas pure again. Not about presents or bonuses or marketing to gain a profit - just an old fashioned good time and making children happy enough to believe in Santa Claus. He's a tortured soul. There's no "good vs. evil" theme here. Harry is a good guy who does good things while stepping over that line most of us are afraid to cross. And when his Christmas obsession really drives him mad to the point where he feels he must be Santa all year long, you feel bad for the guy. Harry is his own worst enemy, and I think alot of us know what that feels like.
When this film was released, many people protested against its released, wanting it banned from theaters. That's probably why this film has become a little-known cult classic. These people didn't understand what this film was trying to say. The film was about one man who wanted to bring back the simplicity and pureness of Christmas. It was arguing against how Christmas has lost its true meaning in order to become a day where businesses can gain profits through people buying presents for others. Christmas has become phony and this man was trying to make it real again, even if he's a bit overboard trying to achieve that goal. That's what this film is about, at least in my mind. But all these people saw was Santa killing people on Christmas. I can't stand ignorant people.
And I think the most infamous part of the film is right at the end. I won't spoil this in case you want to see this, but it'll be left to interpretation. I saw this film twice, and I laughed at how silly the end was the first time. But on the second time, I kinda understood what really happened. I suggest not to take it too seriously and think about what you just saw. Remember, we're seeing things through Harry's perspective at the end. And if that's the case, then the ending makes sense in context with the film. That's all I'll say about that.
The acting was good for a B-flick. But the only actor really worth mentioning was Brandon Maggart as Harry. The father of singer Fiona Apple really captured Harry's descent into Christmas madness, to the point where I actually believed he wasn't acting anymore by the end. You see the anger on his face when his co-workers make fun of him over Christmas. You see him lose it when he starts singing Christmas songs to himself while rocking himself. You laugh at how absurd he is when he puts mud all over his face and hands, just to make an imprint on a neighbor kid's house for being naughty. And you get kinda weirded out when he laughs in the mirror to himself as he glues Santa's beard to his face and tries to pull it off in vain, as if to say he really is Santa Claus now. And his transformation from Harry to killer Santa Claus is flawless, as he paints his van with a sleigh on it and bellows "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" in such a disturbing way. The man even tries to climb through chimneys , yells the name of Santa's reindeer while driving his van, and he kills church going people because they mocked his outfit! Maggart really lets us into Harry's fragmented mind and we're captivated by what we see and hear. He wants to make Christmas right again, but he goes through the wrong procedures to make it happen, creating a duality in a "horror" film that's rare [especially in the 1980s]. He really did a great job and he was the reason I kept watching. Surprised he didn't become a bigger name.
We also get Patricia Richardson's first film role before gaining fame as Jill Taylor on HOME IMPROVEMENT. She plays an abusive mother for about five minutes. Nothing really memorable or anything, but I felt it was worth a comment in case you're interested in that kind of trivia. You never know...it might be on next year's WORLD SERIES OF POP CULTURE show on VH1!
THE FINAL HOWL
There's nothing evil about CHRISTMAS EVIL. It's a mediocre film that you'll either find boring due to its slow pace, or find appealing due to the great acting by Brandon Maggart and its interesting ending. I think it's worth a look if you're tired of watching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE every Christmas and want to see Santa going off the deep end while killing mean people. It won't jingle your bells, but it won't melt your snowman either.