Saturday, 7 December 2013

Christmas Evil

Title: Christmas Evil
Director: Lewis Jackson
Released: 1980
Starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville

Plot: Harry (Maggart) a production line worker at the Jolly Dreams toy factory harbours an unhealthy obsession with Santa, especially as he takes it upon himself to become the next true Santa. However when Harry is driven over the edge by the lack of festive spirit of those around him, he suddenly snaps and embarks on a murderous rampage.

Sadly I couldn't find a spoiler free trailer so here's a creepy Harry clip instead

Review: So the season of Alt-Christmas viewing is once again here and I thought I’d make up for not getting around to this film last year by reviewing it first, especially when it came so highly recommended by my blogging buddy Emily (Deadly Dollhouse of Horror Nonsense) aswell as the high priest of bad taste John Waters who proclaimed it the “greatest Christmas movie ever made” on the commentary he recorded for the special edition dvd, while reminding me just how underrated he is when it comes to great movie ideas even if he does tend to lean more towards art house movies. Now having finally gotten around to watching this film I can safely say it’s underrated legacy is full justified especially and only when it is so frequently overlooked for “Silent Night, Deady Night” which also memorably featured a serial killer Santa, even though this film predated that film by four years.

Also known under the more colourful titles as “You’d Better Watch Out” and “Terror in Toyland” it may seem similar on the surface to “Silent Night, Deadly Night” but this film is a much different beast, which is essentially all down to the character of Harry who when we first meet him is far from the ticking time bomb which Billy from “Silent Night, Deadly Night” was especially as all Harry wants is to be Santa. It's an obsession he plays out in his day to day life as he wakes in his Santa pyjama’s before setting off to spy on the local boys and girls whose names he writes down in his naughty or nice book. As I said he really likes to play out his Santa fantasy any way he can, with his job in a toy factory only seeming like a logical choice. True Harry’s childhood drama might not be a severe as Billy’s seeing how it essentially stems from Harry finding out that Santa wasn’t as real as he thought he was, after catching his dad dressed as Santa one Christmas Eve while getting rather hansey with his mother.

Harry while a self-imposed loner is still a likable enough kind of guy, even though the world around him constantly seems to be working to try and break his festive spirit, from the crappy toys the factory makes, to the pervert little kid who wants a subscription to Penthouse for Christmas, so it really is only a matter of time before he snaps. However unlike Billy Harry doesn’t set off on a bloody festive rampage, but instead suddenly sets off to be the real Santa, as he dons his Santa suit and sets off in his white van (the reindeer might have been alittle too much of a push) to spread some Christmas cheer as he steals toys from the factory to give out to sick kids at the nearby hospital…ohh and he also punishes those still not showing the right amount of festive cheer. Needless to say Harry is not a cold blooded killer, but more of a guy trying who has been in his Santa mindset for too long, if the mindset of a particularly crazed Santa, which frequently account for some of his more random moments.

More light hearted than “Silent Night, Deadly Night” this film also comes with a lower body count aswell, yet more than makes up for it with original moments as Harry uses sharpened toy axes and even a toy soldiers bayonet to punish those who wrong him. The really special moment though here is when he attempts to further his Santa fantasy even further by trying to go down a chimney only to get stuck in the process this is of course before the truly bonkers finale involving a torch welding angry mob and an ending which has to truly be seen to be believed so I will leave that for you to discover for yourself.

What is especially interesting about this film though is the relationship that Harry has with his younger brother Phil (DeMunn), who seemingly is the only family that Harry has left even though unlike Phil who makes repeated efforts to bring Harry out of his self-imposed exile by inviting him to spend Christmas with his family only for Harry to refuse any of these offers in favour of working on his Santa inspired plans. These moments of course only seem the more potent by the end of the film when he sees what Harry has become and tries to stop Harry himself rather than leaving him to be caught by the angry mob pursuing him or turning him into the police, like a more logical person would.

Maggart the father of singer Fiona Apple, something I only found out over the course of writing this review (what a fair weather fan I am) is great as Harry and really makes the role more believable than you would expect from this kind of film, especially when he spends most of the film hiding behind a fake beard he is still able to perfectly translate through his eyes exactly what Harry is feeling, from the twinkle of excitement he gets from playing Santa in a more traditional role such as the scenes of him handing out gifts, to the cold dead eyes of his darker side it really is a memorable performance he gives here and one which never feels campy or OTT, even during some of the more surreal moments and kind of makes the fact that the film is so over looked only more of a shame.
While it never might have caused the same kind of controversy as "Silent Night, Deadly Night" this in no way makes this any less of an essential alt. Christmas watch, especially when this is such a unique take on the idea of a serial killer Santa and one only elevated by Maggart's performance.


  1. Love it love love it! Harry is such a different and complicated character. Now I love me some Silent Night Deadly Night, but Christmas Evil is something truly special.

  2. I know what you mean, as you'd expect both movies to be the same, but it really is Harry who sets this apart, especially as like Jack in "A Nightmare Before Christmas" he just really wants to be Santa, it's just he's not very good at it especially when he enjoys punishing the bad perhaps alittle too much.

    Thanks for recommending it :)

  3. I never saw the ending coming. I remember watching it with my roommates and all of us asking "wait, so he really IS santa?" Haha. A memorable film to say the least. Nice review.

  4. The ending is subject of some debate, some trying to argue what is really happening against what you see. Again this is the reason I didn't post the spoiler riddled trailer, as it's one of those endings like the end of "Death Wish 3" that I prefer for people to be suprised by and get the same kick that I got the first time I saw it.
    Needless to say it really is a special movie.

  5. I love that the ending is *somewhat* open to interpretation. SPOILER ALERT!!!:

    I think any realist can see that he plummets to his death in the final scene. I believe there's actually a key sound cue that suggests it. BUT, for some cock-eyed optimist like me, one could totally pretend he or she didn't hear it and that those jingling bells let him ascend to some higher power of Santadom.

  6. @Emily: There is a sound key, but like yourself I like to overlook it and opt for the surreal ending, which lets face it works perfectly well, when you consider that at this point he is being chased like some kind of Santa Frankenstein by a horde of torch welding townsfolk, who despite him escaping them in his van still manage to track him down!?!
    Still I guess it's really down to the viewer how they choose to interperate it, but guessing most go for the surreal ending.


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