Tuesday, December 19, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Movies #6: Christmas Evil (1980)

Happy Holidays everyone! To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, I've decided to complete a daily review series of 12 Christmas movies leading up to the big 12/25. To qualify, the movies have to be tied to Christmas in some way and also something I've never seen before. I'll be going in chronological order. So, without further ado, if you got chestnuts, roast 'em - and enjoy my 12 Days of Christmas Movies!

Christmas Evil
Dir. Lewis Jackson

Although it's a holly-jolly holiday, horror directors have exploited Christmas for decades. But while slasher movies like Black Christmas (1974) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) still have cult followings, Christmas Evil remains a little more obscure. Unlike the aforementioned titles, Christmas Evil is actually more of a character study about a man's descent into madness as his principles are threatened. Unbelievably, this movie featuring a knife-wielding Santa Claus possibly bears more resemblance to Taxi Driver than Friday the 13th!

As a boy on Christmas Eve, Harry (Brandon Maggart) eavesdropped on his mother doing a little more than "kissing" Santa Claus. Psychologically traumatized - that night his human ideal of kindness and warmth was shattered. Harry grows up obsessed with keeping the purity of Christmas and Santa whole. He leaves holiday decorations up all year, hums carols to himself, and even works as a manager at the "Jolly Dream" toy factory. But soon Harry doesn't just want to uphold Santa's innocence, he wants to be Santa. He starts wearing white beards and red suits around the house, and spying on the neighborhood kids with binoculars, cataloging all their "good" and "bad" deeds.

Twas the night Santa got some action
The facade all comes crumbling down when he realizes that the upper management at work care more about the bottom line than the quality of the toys, and his co-workers openly mock him for working so hard. After a full display of holiday cynicism at a work mixer on Christmas Eve, Harry snaps and changes into Santa, giving toys to good girls and boys while slaughtering the "naughty" adults with no Christmas spirit.

What makes Christmas Evil work better than other "psycho-Santa" movies is that it's a surreal character study at its core. Brandon Maggart plays Harry as a sympathetic lunatic. He's unhinged, but we understand his rage to some extent. He's on a murderous rampage, but also gives out toys to children - in his mind he's just upholding a set of morals, though in his own distorted way. It's a surprisingly effective performance. Even when Maggart has to do silly things, he plays it completely straight. There's a scene where Harry tries to go down a chimney and doesn't fit. Instead of playing up the camp or the humor, however (like in The Santa Clause), we just feel sad for Harry's mental condition. While we don't "cheer on" Harry to kill people, we're still with him on his bizarre, unfortunate journey.

You don't want to get on Santa's naughty list this year.
It's an ultra-low budget production, but that only adds to the off-kilter atmosphere. The creepy 80's synth soundtrack also reinforces a "not quite right" feeling. It has an unexpectedly jaw-dropping ending as well that invites multiple interpretations.  If you enjoy these kinds of gritty, psychological horror flicks (like George Romero's Martin), you have to check this one out!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Random Connection:
- There's a scene where kids are watching TV, and Babes in Toyland (1934) is playing!

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