42nd Street Cinema

Christmas Evil (1980)

Seasons greetings, time to get festive with a yuletide slasher. My choice for this year is Lewis Jackson's Christmas Evil, also known as You Better Watch Out, which I personally believe to be a better fitting title.

Starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville and Joe Jamrog.

The idea of a 'killer Santa' verges on sheer ridiculousness, Christmas Evil, however remains somewhat serious, except for a few campy lines of dialogue, the bulk of the picture is quite a chilling tale of psychopathy and helplessness.

The story is essentially about a lonely chap named Harry Stadling (Maggart), who's completely obsessed with Christmas and the concept of Santa Claus.
As in almost all instances of slasher films, the antagonist generally suffers from one form or another of childhood trauma and Christmas Evil is certainly no exception.
In the opening minutes of the film Harry's backstory is unveiled, as we see a mother and her two sons watching Santa deliver presents to their home, unknown to the children it is really their father pretending. After they have both gone to bed, one of the two children, Harry, goes back downstairs and sees his father, still dressed up as Mr. Claus, engaging in some PG-13 romance with his mother. But, the scene is so tastefully shot that's conveyed more romantically than smutty or mentally damaging. Though, after what he has seen the young Harry retreats to his room, smashes a snow globe and deliberately cuts himself with a shard of the broken glass. Now, without being a qualified psychologist I find it questionable as to why anyone would be traumatized by such a thing.

The narrative then skips forward to a 'present day' Harry, unmarried and living alone in a small house. Incidentally, he works at Jolly Dream toy factory, where he is mocked and belittled by his colleagues, even though he holds a higher position than them. Director Lewis Jackson is wastes no time establishing Harry's mental condition, when he's shown to be scrutinizing the children of his neighborhood, before writing down the names of who's been naughty and who's been nice in specifically marked books.
As Christmas draws nearer Harry's mental state steadily declines, at first it begins quite innocently as he glues a fake white beard to his face and dons a full Santa suit. However, things become more deranged when he begins breaking into people's houses...

Christmas Evil is a bit of an oddity, it's nowhere near as strong as Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), but certainly holds a distinct charm. I believe that said charm is predicated wholly on the complexity of Harry's character. He's not a clean, glorified killer. Instead he appears to be an already disturbed individual, who's been pushed around too many times and has just 'lost it'.
He makes mistakes, including one humorous scene of him attempting to fit down a chimney. I'd go as far as comparing his character somewhat to the character of William Foster, portrayed by Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1994).

Yet, towards the end of the film I found Harry garnering quite an amount of sympathy from myself, I couldn't help but root for him to get revenge against his co-worker who took advantage of him.
A lot really has to be said for Brandon Maggart, as he carries most of the film on his own acting abilities. But, I feel that because of the film's slow pace and sparse killings and lack of gore, it may not appeal to newer/younger audiences.

2 Stars


Will "Pyro" Tingle said...

This movie is Public domain - I made a double feature of this and (the also PD) "Santa Clause Concurs the Martians" My Christmas card one year.

Richard of DM said...

I'm of the exact opposite opinion. While I like Silent Night, Deadly Night okay, it's Christmas Evil that is a favorite of mine during the holidays. I do prefer the shorter cut to the director's.

Unknown said...

Oddity is the best word for this film. I love it because of it's sheer strangeness, especially that head scratching ending! I do love SNDN but think it is a different animal at heart, compared to CHRISTMAS EVIL. To quote the Au Pairs, equal but different.

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