Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Movie Notes: Christmas Evil (1980)

If you're planning to watch a number of psycho Santa horror movies this year, like I am, you will absolutely have to put Christmas Evil on the list. According to people who are "in the know" about these things (i.e. some Internet nurds, me, and John Waters basically) Christmas Evil is the best of the Christmas killer movies. There's some stiff competition, admittedly, but this is the only killer Santa movie that's seedy, creepy, funny, and poignant. So there.

Again, we have a movie that starts with a young boy traumatized. On Christmas Eve, 1946, young Harry sneaks downstairs and sees Santa (actually his Dad) about to go down on his Mom. This scene, incidentally, inspired my single favorite photo caption in Fangoria: a picture of Santa kneeling before mom's panties with the line, "Yes, vagina, there is a Santa Claus!" But I digress. The young boy sees this, gets freaked out, breaks a snow globe and cuts himself with the glass.

As an adult, Harry decides to revive the Christmas spirit in the modern world. Theoretically, this could go either way: it could be an inspirational story of the miracle of Christmas or a slasher film. The brilliance of Christmas Evil is that it's sort of both. Harry becomes a closet Santa, working in a toy store, making lists of good and bad children in the neighborhood, and sewing a Santa outfit. Basically, he's a fetishist. Nowadays, there's probably some website where Santa fetishists get together and talk shop, but this is 1980, so he's lonely and sort of depressing. Harry is played by Brandon Maggart, who was also on Sesame Street, although this movie might have put the kibosh on that! His daughter is singer Fiona Apple- and that is the probably the most worthless piece of trivia you'll ever read.

Anyway, Harry is sort of the schmuck of the toy factory and is taken advantage of terribly. His view of the world is entirely too rigid and self-righteous, and it's pretty much inevitable that he will snap. The movie is a bit slow in getting to the inevitable killing spree, but Maggart is great playing the put-upon putz in a crappy dead-end job, and director Lewis Jackson invests the film with just enough off-kilter humor. A favorite scene of mine has the police questioning a line up of Santas, having them turn to the right and say "ho, ho, ho!"

It's never entirely clear how seriously we're supposed to be taking all of this, and Jackson keeps the film on the edge of surreal and serious until the very end, which is an absolutely fantastic twist ending that you should avoid hearing about before you see the film.

Anyway, if you're also planning a Psycho Santa film festival, include the original Black Christmas and the segment from the original Tales from the Crypt in which an escaped lunatic dressed as Santa stalks Joan Collins. But, by all means, cap it off with Christmas Evil.

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