Christmas Evil (1980)
WRITER: Lewis Jackson
DIRECTOR: Lewis Jackson
STARRING: Brandon Maggart as Harry Stadling
Jeffrey DeMunn as Philip Stadling
Dianne Hull as Jackie Stadling
Joe Jamrog as Frank Stoller
QUICK CUT: A disturbed man slowly, very slowly succumbs to the holidays and gives into his obsession with Santa Claus, eventually becoming the crimson clad spreader of Christmas cheer and punishment.
Harry - This dude is obsessed with Christmas and Santa Claus. His home is filled with Santa memorabilia. He spies on the kids and keeps track of their good and bad acts. He looks around at the world and sees the growing moral decay and commercialism of the holidays, and wants to remind people what Christmas is all about. What could possibly go wrong?
Philip - Harry's brother, and whereas Harry wants to believe in Christmas, and gives gifts, Philip has grown up and pushed Christmas away. And he works for the city, repossessing people's things.
THE GUTS: Oh no ho ho, Merry Triskmas! We survived Halloween, we made it through the harvest, we've put away the scarecrows...so that must mean it's time to hang up the lights, and hide from murderous Santas again, as Trisk goes classic with Christmas Evil! John Waters himself says its the best Christmas movie ever, so how bad can it be??
I actually had different plans to kick off December, but the disc is taking its sweet time getting here, and so I bumped up this review from the 26th. It works, since it's a classic, but my post Christmas review will be a little oddly timed because of the change...
Anyways! Christmas Evil! We go way WAY back to Christmas, 1947, and everyone is probably still reeling from the attacks of the hooded phantom in Texarkana, as a bunch of kids catch Santa Claus delivering their gifts.
It's gotta be dad in a Santa costume doing the deed, but how the heck does he go up and down the chimney? Do I even wanna start questioning the logic this early in the game?
The kids argue about whether or not it was dad, as they should, and one of them later sneaks down to check things out, finding Santa checking out his mommy's chimney...
He freaks out at the overly lurid display, and runs upstairs to the attic where he breaks a snowglobe. He would then grow up to become the Silk Spectre...wait...no, wrong movie.
The kid grabs a piece of the broken globe, and cuts his hand, making him one of the first cutters, I'm sure.
His blood spills over the tiny house that was once inside the globe, and then all over the opening credits.
We bleed out straight into the present...or 1980, at the latest. We're greeted by a guy sleeping in red silk PJs with white trim, the matching Santa style hat, and he puts on Christmas music while he does his morning excercises.
DUDE. Was anyone ever really THIS into the holiday? I know we've become jaded about it in recent years as a society, and there was more joy back in the early part of my lifetime, but this is going too far.
And...and then there's dancing. He nicks himself shaving and we flashback to two minutes ago, so I'm gonna guess this is the same kid. Huh, he adjusted rather well, quite honestly.
Once he's done his morning rituals of harmless weirdness, he heads out to the roof with his binoculars for the creepy side of weirdness. See, he's been watching the kids, I presume for some time, and making sure they're nice or naughty, and keeping rather detailed records of all their infractions.
No, seriously. He sees one kid playing with Penthouse, so rushes down to his collection of journals to write it down. Hey, is anyone writing down that you're a peeping tom and watching little kids in their bedrooms?!
With that bit of creepiness out of the way, we follow Harry to work at the Jolly Dream toy factory, where he's recently gotten a promotion. At least, until one of his coworkers has to take the night off, and Harry has to cover for him on the assembly line.
On his way home from work, he passes by a bar and Harry sees Frank didn't take the weekend away with his wife, but just conned his way out of doing any actual work. Someone's on Harry's naughty list now!!
Harry rushes home, stomps around a bit, and then starts rocking back and forth while clutching a toy tighter and tighter, while humming Christmas songs with much anger. The guy has rage issues, I see.
While watching the Macy's parade, he calls his brother Dale and asks about borrowing the RV before the walking dead rise up and the zombie apocalypse takes us all...but Harry actually just tells him he won't be able to make Thanksgiving dinner this year.
Harry has clearly gone off the deep end, as we get a lengthy montage of him creating a Santa costume, from scratch. Yeah, montage!
We continue following Harry's day to day routine, until the same kid with the Penthouse obsession gets back on the naughty list, and Harry decides to take action.
And by 'take action', I mean he peeks in on the kid, smears dirt on his own face, and leaves dirty hand and face prints on the side of the house. I do like that they're using obscure bits of various Claus myths.
Harry barely escapes being caught in the bushes by the kid and his mom, and he heads home to do some metalworking before work. ...As one does, i guess.
After a rough night at the Jolly Dream Christmas party, Harry steals some toys to donate to kids, which is great! Everyone can donate lots when they commit theft!
He then heads out and scoops up dirt, because even fake Santas need to clean up the reindeer poop, I guess.
We *finally* reach Christmas Eve, and hopefully the plot of the movie takes off. We're almost halfway through this thing. I do like the first act slowly picking away at Harry's brain, and really showing us his descent in such detail. It's like a Christmastime version of Falling Down. But let's get on with it!
He delivers toys to his nephews, then drops off the bag of dirt for the naughty kid, and then he heads off with the stolen toys to the hospital where there's a bunch of sick kids that Jolly Dream SAID they'd be donating toys to, but not so much.
Quite frankly, I ain't seeing much evil here!
After his good deed, Santa Harry remembers the PR guy who came up with the whole donation idea with the hopes that the Jolly Dream workers would be good people and donate stuff anyways. Sine that's a terrible plan, and the whole scheme is just a way to get good press without any actual work, Harry heads to the church to find some of the execs.
That's...that's pretty weaksauce for a reason, isn't it? I mean, they couldn't come up with any better reason to FINALLY kick off the carnage than, "Oooh, you bad man, you made an ad campaign that's deceptive!" Yeah, well, head down to Madison Avenue, Har, because they'll keep you busy with the same but worse FOR YEARS!
Harry then takes out a guy, and two people with him, because they were rude and made fun of Santa. Gotta say, his naughty-ometer is pretty low.
Santa passes by a Christmas party and gets dragged inside unexpectedly. Fortunately, he has a sack full of toys for the kids, and has been studying this role his entire life. Harry blends in effortlessly. He leaves the party by telling all the kids the usual 'stay good and listen to your parents or I'll come back for murder' speil.
On the way home, Harry starts calling out to his reindeer in his van, and I don't think he quite understands that horsepower is not literal. He also flashes back and remembers Frank screwing him over to get out of work.
Naturally, that means he has to break into Frank's house for a little bit of the old ultraviolence and revenge. He climbs up to the roof, finds the chimney, and starts to squeeze his way down.
See, I would have this go such a different way. But MY way would lead to broken legs, screaming, or Frank finding a dead Santa in his fireplace on Christmas morning. My way may not be better for the story, but it's sure more fun
The clincher is Harry actually getting STUCK and trying to get back OUT of the chimney. Sometimes, you just can't emulate your heroes. Especially when they're magical creatures of legend with nonsensical powers.
Y'know, they never did explain how Santa whooshed down and up the chimney at the start of the movie...
Having failed miserably at the chimney drop, Harry finds a ground floor window that's fortunately unlocked, and breaks in that way.
After leaving some presents under the tree for Frank's kids, Harry heads upstairs and suffocates Frank with his sack. Which sounds dirtier than I intended. Leaving them also with a dead dad for Christmas. Thanks, Santa!
He finishes the job with a star to the neck. Ninja Santa!
When Harry's brother wakes up the next day, and Harry is nowhere to be seen, he knows something is wrong. Yeah, with the way that guy loves Santa, I'd expect to be woken up by him to open presents...er, unless you're Frank, then that didn't go so well for him.
They catch a news report of Harry's exploits, and the news warns people to avoid anyone dressed as Santa. So, this won't be a good year for the Salvation Army then...
And boy, do I love one of the kids teasing his brother, and saying Santa's gonna get ya! That's like the worst fears people had with these Christmas horror movies, that they'd ruin Christmas, and Santa. It never HAPPENED, but it kills me to see it actually appear on screen, in one of the firsts.
While Harry ruins more toys at the factory, the police are rounding up every Santa they can find to try and ID the guy. Yeah, good luck with that. Santa has his clones everywhere! Worse than Mister Sinister, that one is...
They talk about how this will bring some realism back to the myth, and have kids scared of being naughty, and it's a shame that Santa never had that before. Guys. Guys, that's called Krampus, damnit. Look 'im up.
Harry finally calls his brother and says some very disturbing things about death and music. There's a running thing during the movie about Harry trying to find the right tune to live his life by, and apparently that right tune is Murder Ballads.
After driving off, crashing his van into some snow, and wandering around a bit, Harry Claus finds some kids. They're soon followed by parents that are aware of who he might be.
They are so aware, one of them actually pulls a switchblade. While Santa is surrounded by kids. Oh, this is gonna be about as traumatic as the Santa that got shot in the face in Silent Night #1.
Since he's, y'know, freakin' Santa Claus, the kids actually try and protect Harry, bringing them dangerously close to being stabbed in the face themselves, when one of the girls rushes her dad.
He drops the knife, Angelina picks it up and gives it to Santa, so Harry rushes the guy trying to attack him.
Rather than make a scene in front of the kids, Harry's still rational enough to run away. He knows staying would just cause problems.
Unfortunately, on the way out, he gets stabbed in the face by a woman using a brooch she's wearing as a weapon.
Harry runs off, but the guy he was fighting with takes a page from the book of Otis P. Hazelrigg and rounds up a mob. They grab some torches and go after the guy they think is the killer Santa.
Ahh, mob justice. What better way to celebrate the holidays?
Following a lengthy chase through the town, Harry gets back to his van which he miraculously gets out of the snowbank in time to make an escape.
Harry rushes to his brother's house, and the two avoid the kids so Harry can be yelled at. And rightly so.
And this all comes down to Philip not believing in Santa Claus when he was a kid, and Harry wanting to prove him wrong. That is one lengthy grudge to try and prove a point. And one that lead to murder. Man, let it go!
Phil gets fed up with his brother trying to justify his horrible actions, and chokes Santa to death. Well...that was fast. No big fight, just some yelling, and choking, and boom, Santa's gone, and we ride off into the sunset with the reindeer pulling our sleigh.
He drags Harry's body to his van, while the kids watch, no less! and props him up in the front seat.
But you cannot stop the power of Santa, and he's essentially a horror villain, so Harry wakes up, punches his brother in the face, and zooms off to bring cheer and death another day!
Or, that's the plan anyways. At least, until the angry mob rounds the corner and drives the van off a bridge.
Well, the movie just got weird on me. The van drives off the bridge, and flies off to the moon. Hopefully, Santa will find some Martians.
I'm gonna assume Harry died, and that was his final brain flash of a happy conclusion, where he becomes the true Santa, and flies off to his North Bi-Polar home.
...Hey wait, we never did find out how Santa went up the chimney at the start of the movie!
Video: It's a *little* rough, a little dull, but only a little worse than something like Dark Night. They did a great job with this new transfer, considering what they had to work with.
Audio: I'm actually pleasantly surprised with how good the mono track is. This isn't an atmospheric movie, you don't need lots of stuff going on around you, and while that might be welcome to tweak things to that now, this movie commands your attention be front and center.
Sound Bite: "I was six years old! You are blaming ME for all of the horrible things you've done because of something I said when was six years old!" Some people just can't get over one little thing, eh Philip?
Body Count: Considering it takes forever for Harry to start his killing spree, there's a fair amount of bodies, in the final thirty minutes.
1 - After a lengthy 50 minutes, some dude finally takes a sword to the eye.
2 and 3 - The next two all get taken out by an axe to the head for being rude. Or maybe just for being friends with the other guy.
4 - Frank gets a Christmas star right in the neck.
5 - Harry dies when his van is forced off a bridge and he hallucinates flying off like Santa's sleigh. And you can't convince me otherwise.
Best Corpse: I'll go with our first victim, since we get a nice, if quick, closeup shot of the toy sword to the eye.
Blood Type - C-: There's not much, but they know when to use it. This isn't about the gore, it's about the character's spiral, but they don't shy away from Harry's brutality when he uses it.
Sex Appeal: Not much, but some provided by Harry's sister in law, and mother.
Drink Up! Whenever Harry does something Santa-like.
Sights and Sounds: Since this is a pretty slow burn movie, there's not much 'til that last third, but I had a few good choices. I decided to go with Harry trying to get down the chimney, since it made me giggle snow much at his impotent little fit he has when he gets stuck.
Movie Review: The biggest problem with this movie, is also it's biggest strength; it's voice. You can tell this is a passion project of the creator, and it took him a decade to make this movie. The movie clearly knows what it wants to say, but sometimes isn't sure how to say it, and sometimes gets so mired down in saying things that it goes off in too many directions. But Christmas Evil/You Better Watch Out sure has a great visual style, I actually really enjoyed the direction, and I absolutely loved all the little absolutely spot on nods to Christmas mythology and popular Santa imagery. That's the last sort of stuff you'd expect from a killer Santa movie. I could sit here and go on for awhile just talking about design and the colour theory in the movie, and I was pleased to hear in the commentaries that I was actually picking up on the right stuff. Again, that's above and beyond what a movie of this sort normally does. While this movie may be a bit lacking in the plot department, it's not a terrible plot, it's thought out, and there is a *surprising* amount of layers here for people who want to look and find them. It's a lot like Mother's Day that way. It works on one level, the very visceral, in front of you level, but there is so much more its saying if you go deep. Also, this movie was light years ahead of its time, with how much it predicted the oncoming commercialisation of Christmas and Santa, and how we'd drift away from the values of the holiday more and more. But then the movie just has those downright WEIRD moments like the ending, and it's wildly varied tone, and maybe not explaining QUITE enough of some of the things that were going on... So we're left with a basic plot that's a bit too messy to be perfect, but has so many layers and is so enjoyable in a strange way... I gotta go with four out of five lead soldiers. But it comes SO close to a five.
Entertainment Value: This movie is SO SO DAMNED campy. It's glorious. It's so campy, Jason Voorhees thought he could come over and kill some kids. Brandon Maggart is brilliant and does such a great job, and is somehow so low-key as Harry, but then has these wild moments of theatrical over the top-ness. I point specifically to his freakout of rocking back and forth to contain his non-Santa rage. But then there's such *earnestness* when he addresses the kids. And the aforementioned weirdness just adds to the camp factor, then there's the lurid nature of it, which is NOWHERE near as bad as it could be, but still so very much there. I thought this was going to be Silent Night Deadly Night all over again, or Don't Open 'Til Christmas, but this somehow ends up being better than those for the very Falling Down-like character arc of Harry, only really matched by the in-depth psychological stuff they get into with the first Silent Night. And while I thought I was getting just more killer santa movies, I instead get this wonderfully camp, thoroughly enthralling despite how long it takes to get anywhere, and surprisingly deeper than it should be movie. Five out of five flying vans.
Fun Fact! Brandon Maggart is Fiona Apple's dad. ...I feel bad I couldn't sneak in jokes about that. But there's your strange bit of trivia for the day.