Christmas Evil (1980)






Have a quick glance at the poster above. Released in 1980, and they’re clearly desperate to make you think it’s a slasher film, as slashers were big business at the time. But it’s so much less than that! Yes, ISCFC readers, I’ve found a movie even worse than “Friday The 13th”…but it’s not worse in a fun way. Oh no, because that would have provided entertainment! Fun fact: this is John Waters’ favourite Christmas movie, which goes to show that even incredibly talented people can have rotten taste.


It’s 1947, and a couple of kids and their mother are watching Santa deliver the toys. A charming little scene, staged by the parents for the kids, but young Harry sneaks back down later and sees Santa on his knees, kissing the underwear-covered crotch of their mother. This extraordinarily un-erotic display apparently tips him over some sort of edge. It’s a classic horror setup.


Fast forward to the present day, and Harry (Brandon Maggart, who’s Fiona Apple’s father, trivia fans) has a Christmas themed apartment, sleeps in Santa pyjamas, etc. We know he’s not quite right because the sign says “55 days til Christmas”…oh, and because he goes to the roof of his building to spy on the neighbourhood kids. Turns out, ol’ Harry has a couple of gigantic books, one with “Good Boys and Girls 1980” on it, the other “Bad”, and he’s got the names of the kids in there, with the list of good / bad things they’ve done.

Feel the heat

Feel the heat

Now…if I was a book-binder, and some guy came in and asked me to make those books (because they’re clearly custom-made, and probably quite expensive) I’d be on the phone to the police right away. “Keep an eye on this one”, I’d say, but luckily for this movie they didn’t. Well, I say luckily. Do you see how desperate I am to not talk about “Christmas Evil”? Also, it might reasonably be expected that those lists mean he’s going to kill some kids at some point, which would at least be interesting, but no.


He works at a toy factory, making cheap plastic garbage – they filmed in a real toy factory, but none of the company’s presumably much better merchandise was featured – and although he’s been promoted from the shop floor, he’s still keenly interested in the toy process, talking about how good solidly built toys are, to his utterly uninterested co-workers. He’s got a brother (Jeffrey DeMunn, who many years later would play Dale in “The Walking Dead”) who thinks he’s pathetic, the other managers at the factory are scum, and other than that he’s got nothing.


There’s a central flaw to this movie. Slasher films are from the perspective of the victims, usually, and they have an arc – the teens go from oblivious to scared to either dead or triumphant. It’s solid. But even for movies that are from the perspective of the “villain” – hell, if you want to be specific, even for Christmas themed horror movies that are from the perspective of the villain (“Silent Night, Deadly Night”) – it’s nice to have an arc. To see the descent into madness, how this affects people around them, then getting on to the actual horror part, at least gives the story some movement. This, on the other hand, clearly shows that Harry is crazy from the very beginning. He doesn’t change, particularly, so from the ten minute mark (when his peculiarity has been firmly established) you’re just waiting for something to happen. He doesn’t put on a full Santa outfit til the halfway point, I don’t think that qualifies as an arc.


Harry never commits. He steals toys from the factory to take to the kids at a hospital (the hospital his business is allegedly supporting in its fraudulent charity scheme, designed to force the employees to work for free and even give up their wages), so he’s a good guy, but he doesn’t do it til after he’s murdered three people. There’s no rhyme or reason to the things he does.


It’s not a slasher film. It’s not even, really, a horror film. I guess, if you were being kind, you’d call it a psychological thriller, but it’s really just nothing. There’s a scene where you think he’s going to go and kill the main kid on his naughty list, but all he does is leave a sack full of dirt, addressed to him, on his doorstep. It’s a perfect summation of “Christmas Evil” – big expectations, then a sack of dirt. There’s a few scenes which are played for laughs – like when Harry tries to fit himself down a chimney, or the Santa lineup at the police station, but for every one of them there’s a terrible scene like the bit where the locals all get flaming torches and chase him through the streets. Clearly not supposed to be “real” (which fits in with the surreal ending) but there’s so little of it, and it makes so little sense, that you could be forgiven for wondering why on earth any of it was happening.


The ending is just abysmal, and given the character Harry was shown to be, the sort of “he was too good for this world” message we’re given by that last image is pathetic. One thing from Waters’ view of this film I did like is being Santa was like coming out as gay or trans – he felt like he had to hide who he really was until he could emerge to the world. While it’s an interesting reading, I’m 100% sure the director didn’t have that in mind at all.


It seems like I’m in the minority for this movie, which has been given a beautiful new blu-ray release, chock full of special features, and is beloved by many of its reviewers. Some love the creepy atmosphere generated by Maggart’s central performance, and while it was pretty good, it was put in a movie that went nowhere, did nothing and made no sense, extremely poorly directed and written by a fellow called Lewis Jackson, whose sole previous credits are a couple of lost soft-core porno movies from the 70s, and who never worked in the industry again after this. Probably for the best.


Rating: thumbs down


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