Christmas Evil (1980) Review
Time to jump into the Holiday season with a properly themed horror review. Christmas has always been a fun time of year, for horror. Everyone sort of gets off on the macabre concept of this special time of year being ruined by killer Santas or evil snowmen. A lot of the time it’s just utterly ridiculous. Sometimes though, it can be a pretty effective and chilling tales of home invasion during a time when we would hope that kind of evil would take a holiday with everyone else. Somewhere in between the super serious and utterly ridiculous there is Christmas Evil.
Christmas Evil was released in 1980, by good old Pan American Pictures, it was written directed by Lewis Jackson, it tells the story of a lonely man (Brandon Maggart) obsessed with Christmas and the concept of Santa Claus.
The movie starts off with a family watching Santa delivering presents to their home, of course this is just the father of the family pretending. It’s a cute little holiday memory that I don’t actually know for sure happens in real life. It certainly happens a lot in movies and television though.
I remember reading about this film before I saw it and it was said that the main character experiences a traumatic event as a child regarding Santa and it grows up all twisted. Well, the trauma in question is when he comes back downstairs later and sees his father (dressed as Santa) have some PG-13 sexy time with his mother. It’s honestly a pretty weird thing to be traumatized over. He runs up stars and smashes a snow globe then proceeds to cut himself deliberately with a piece of glass. That’s pretty much it.
It cuts to him as a grown man. He isn’t married and has no kids of his own; he lives in a small house by himself and works at the Jolly Dream toy factory. He gets pushed around and talked down too by his co-workers even though he technically has a higher position than they do.
It starts off quickly letting you know that Harry isn’t quite right. He watches the children in his neighbourhood and decides who is naughty and nice, he then writes it down. In books marked rather professionally as Good Boys and Girls 1980 and Bad Boys and Girls 1980. (I really want to know how he found those books or got them made.) You can see how important he considers this “work” and how frantically he makes sure it’s up to date.
As it gets closer to Christmas Harry starts making himself a Santa Suit and getting ready for something. What I like is that he never tells anyone what he’s doing and as an audience you’re not even sure yourself. I knew I was watching a horror movie but aside from a few musical cues here and there you never get a sense that Harry really wants to do anything “wrong”.
It becomes obvious that Harry really just wants to be the Santa Claus he always wished was real. He wants children to believe and know that if they are good, good things will happen to them but, if they are bad, bad things will happen. This in itself is pretty deranged and after he starts breaking into peoples houses you wonder just how far he’s going to take it.
As a horror movie some people might find this one a little slow, but I feel it’s effective.
There are great moments where you see the intensity behind Harry’s eyes and actions the character has moments where he looks like he is just about to snap, but then gets into his Santa character and seems completely harmless. These moments work fantastically because as an audience we know that these people mocking him or being greedy on Christmas are going to get it. There is one scene where he is talking to a group of kids at a Christmas party and telling them to be good. Nothing he’s saying is bad but since you know how screwed up he is, it just made my skin crawl.
I found myself rooting for Harry, I wanted him to get revenge on his bosses who were more concerned about their pockets than children in need. Or his co-worker that was trying to just take advantage of him. Even his brother who was hard on Harry because in his opinion he was a loser. In the end I wanted him to get away with it.
The deaths aren’t that numerous but they are well done with great use of the “holiday themes” A guy getting his throat sliced open with a Christmas star is just damn good film-making if you ask me. There isn’t a huge body count and it isn’t really gory but the deaths have resonance.
There is also the matter of this being considered somewhat of a comedy. I think the moments that are funny are actually some of the more realistic aspects of it. Harry isn’t a smooth, cold calculating killer who has it all worked out. He seems like a man who has been thinking about this for awhile but this is his first outing as old Saint Nick and he’s bound to make a few mistakes. A long scene of him trying to go down the chimney is a good example. As well as struggling to kill someone not realizing how difficult it might actually be. He’s defiantly doing a lot of this on the fly. He stumbles and falls and goes the wrong way, just like any killer getting his feet wet I guess.
The parts that didn’t work for me were mostly around the end, when the parents of the neighborhood are chasing him around. They had actual torches. Really? It’s like something out of a Universal horror, which isn’t a bad thing but kinda hard to believe modern people (in this case the modern age of 1980) would actually go and cobble together torches. The other thing that I think could have been worked out better was the reasoning for Harry’s bizarre fascination with Christmas and his desire to –be- Santa Claus. When he goes on to blame his younger brother for never believing in Santa, it seemed way too trivial to explain his mental state. Now that I am writing this though, I do admit that it goes along well with Harry’s delusions that he would take a single incident that his brother did when he was 6 as justification for robbery, breaking and entering and murder. His own brother screams about how ridiculous it is.
The ending is also a little off-beat but overall I think it was a fine farewell to one of the more complicated characters I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.
This is regarded as one of the best Christmas horror movies ever made. That is a pretty bold statement considering how varied peoples tastes are. I think this is a very good character piece that definitely deserves to be viewed at least once. Brandon Maggart’s acting goes a long way to help this film, that otherwise might be pretty forgettable. He gives us a character that is selfish and selfless at the same time. A character who garners a lot more sympathy than the people he is killing. I say check it out!