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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Evil

Little Harry was just soooo excited as he sat with his mother and younger brother, Phil, while from in between the railing of their staircase they secretly watched Santa Claus as he slid down the chimney and proceeded with his Santa duties. Harry looked on, eyes as wide as can be, as Santa enjoyed the delicious cookies and milk they had left out for him and then witnessed the jolly one as he unloaded a mass of amazing gifts for Harry and his brother to tear open in the morning. Harry was in heaven. That is...until after Harry was supposed to be in bed, he snuck back down the stairs and much to his amazement, Santa was still there! This time, instead of bringing joy to Harry with gifts of magic, Santa is bringing joy to Harry's mother as he sexually caresses her leg while kneeling down in front of her. Santa?! Harry thought, as he could not believe what he was seeing before him. It's as if all his dreams and hopes had been crushed because mom and dad wanted to fuck while playing a little dress up.

While being considered a Slasher as far as genre goes, 1980 Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out or Terror in Toyland) is one of the few holiday horror films with intense Santa Claus and Christmas imagery that is not really a Slasher at all outside of a few choice moments towards the end. That's a bit of a nice change with the amount of holiday Slashers I've been watching lately - though I do truly enjoy them, I am starting to get a little burnt out by Christmas Slasher films. Christmas Evil works much differently than some off the wall Slasher; instead, it is more along the lines of a physiological horror film with a man who slowly succumbs to madness due to the traumatic childhood discovery of his mom as she's about to get munched on by someone whom he thought was Santa Claus.

Harry (Brandon Maggart) spends the rest of his life, right up until adulthood, being completely obsessed with Santa and the Christmas holiday - to the point, that he even works passionately in a toy factory and surrounds himself with creepy Santa paraphernalia. It all seems innocent, and Harry appears to be a nice, well-meaning guy, but he harbors many issues that stem from his past trauma. Harry has no sense of nerve when it comes to dealing with others, who can smell the wimp on Harry, and they use it to take advantage of him. To his peers, he is a nobody and they know they can push him around as if he just doesn't matter. Harry is not without the smarts to notice how he is perceived by others. In fact, he doesn't like it at all, but he lacks the proper jingle bells to do anything about it. Couple this with a piss poor relationship with his brother, Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn), and a life less than mediocre, and you have a recipe for a psychotic breakdown.

Taking his Santa obsession to creepy levels, Harry sees fit to spy on all of the neighborhood children so he can see for himself who is naughty and who is nice. He even has a book for both categories, and he puts each child's name in their respective categorie along with what deeds makes them good or bad. Besides being incredibly odd, this aspect of Harry can almost be perceived as the actions of a pedophile in a way, but I think Harry only has one thing on his mind though, and that is the joy that Christmas and Santa can bring to the hearts of good children. As Harry's sanity begins to slip further, he starts to think it may be up to him to take on the role of Santa Claus. He fashions a dope Santa suit, complete with a realistic looking beard and a sleigh, which is actually painted on the side of his van which is filled with toys.

Harry takes his list of who is naughty and who is nice and sets about to do what he thinks will make him important to people. It is at this point that Harry transforms from the loser that he was, to THE GREAT SANTA CLAUS! Being Santa makes Harry beloved by all, respected by everyone and it gives him a purpose - it gives him everything he does not have as just himself, a schlepy toy factory worker with no backbone. Now he is the almighty giver of joy! And this demented Santa does bring happiness to many, as he dances around a room full of clapping children and adults, who make toasts to this great man and celebrate him the way he has always hoped. Not everyone is down with Claus, though and when "Harry" is given a hard time while under the guise of Santa Claus, he does not appreciate it. Now, as Santa, Harry has the balls to stand up to his oppressors and he does so, by killing them.

Written and directed by Lewis Jackson, Christmas Evil is an exercise in one man's will to be greater than he actually can be on his own. When Harry is Santa, he is something special, he becomes someone that matters. Or so he thinks. To him, he is doing what he is meant to have done his entire life, but his decision-making is clouded and how he deals with the bad boys and girls is where Harry goes all wrong. Even with his good intentions, he cannot fight off his demons and these demons are what drive him to judge people, and when he judges people, they learn a life-ending lesson.

Christmas Evil is a bit slow paced, but to watch Harry go through his different stages of sanity is quite interesting, if not extremely sad. Part of me wants to feel for Harry, but another part of me wants to say, "Quite being such a pussy, Harry!" because he's the one who is too afraid to step up and be a man...too afraid to step up and take control of his own life and how people perceive him. If you are looking for something a little different this holiday season, Christmas Evil is a very solid mind fuck of a film with a very well acted thought out character contrast from when Harry is Harry and when he dons the red suit and magnificent beard to become Santa Claus.

12 comments:

  1. Incredible review! You really touch on some interesting aspects of the movie--a very underrated flick in my opinion. I think it gets panned because it does get lumped with other slashers, when it really isn't. It's more of a Xmas themed psycholgical drama, with some elements of horror. It's a way more intellegent film than the title lets on.

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  2. I watch it and love it every year. I probably won't bother to post too much on it since you & others have already touched on it well enough and I doubt I have much new to add in this case - but yeah. I think this is an underrated minor masterpiece and I'm glad at least more & more people are becoming aware of it & giving it the props it deserves.

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  3. Thanks a lot, Rev! I really appreciate it, especially when I wasn't sure if the review made any sense!

    I actually just read a review for this very same film from someone who didn't like it, but thought it was going to be a Slasher film. It really isn't one at all and there is only one scene that is Slasher like in a way.

    As I said, it is much better than most of the lesser known holiday films out there and it was a very nice change of pace. The Harry character and his Claus alter ego is more than fascinating and I hope more people give this film a chance. Again, thanks for your kind words!

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  4. Shit, I just missed your comment J. Astro! I really did enjoy it, enough that I would pick up the Troma release in the future at least.

    It's a rarity to have a film of this type in the holiday horror genre and don't get me wrong, I love me a Christmas Slasher, but how many of those can you watch every year? Thanks for dropping by!

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  5. I just watched it for the first time this year too and yes, it's a nice little gem unlike any other I've seen for holiday horror. I absolutely loved the list-making, especially if you paused it to read what made the kids nice and naughty. My favorite was "just darling" for the one little girl he favors. And as much as I can see the weirdness in that, I didn't get any such pedophile vibe. I kind of thought of Harry as someone who couldn't deal with people, and thus had an easier time understanding kids.

    Fantastic review and way to capture some of what makes the Santa Harry such a special guy.

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  6. Thanks Emily!

    I was trying to read all the naughty and nice things too...love that the one kid smelled or some shit!

    I don't think Harry was a Pedi-ass, even though he did rock the rapist van, but it was more an observation showing how creepy his actions were. He definitely couldn't handle adults at all and that is where most all of his problems stem from. It's like he feels betrayed by adults from when he saw "the event" and staying child-like was an easier way to deal with the trauma.

    And maybe I'm weird, but that mom had a great leg and if I was Santa, I would crawl up her chimney anytime!

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  7. I love how so many xmas horrors involve a character at a young age witnessing Santa sexualize their mothers (consenting or non). The Don't Open Til Xmas flashback remains my favorite, and as much as I loved Christmas Evil with all my heart, the weakest aspect was that opening scene. Couldn't they just rationalize it as Harry having Asbergers?

    It's one of the things I love about Silent Night, Deadly Night: not only does Santa shoot the dad and rape the mom, but we also get Grampa freaking out young Billy by explaining how Santa PUNISHES bad kids, plus Mother SUperior using the word "naughty" over and over again, PLUS a perfect little flashback scene during his first kill that perfectly shows the A-->B logic. It's so elementary and perfect.

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  8. I liked the oddness of the opening, but not how Harry reacted at all...he was being a little bitch about it! It really doesn't make any sense with how his character turns out as an adult - it would be more fitting if he were obsessed with women and thought the way to bone was becoming Santa or some shit. Like that's what they want from a man! "Santa isn't the only one that CUMS on Christmas!"

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  9. How dare you pervert Harry Stadling! I'm fairly convinced he was a virgin to his rape van ascension into true Santadom and am deeply offended by your trying to defile him.

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  10. Any man with Santa PJ's is in no way a virgin. Them shits is like Spanish Fly! Not that I need to tell you...

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  11. True, altough I find railroad train pajamas a tad more manly.

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  12. The reason this one gets panned so often is its misrepresentation as a slasher, but I agree with everyone on here that this is an underappreciated Christmas gem that offers a superior character study. Very happy to see another positive review Matt, you know I love this one!

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