What do John Waters and Fiona Apple have in common? The film “Christmas Evil.” I’ll explain as we go along.
“Christmas Evil” tells the story of Harry who, as a little boy, accidentally witnesses Santa (a.k.a. Harry’s father) trimming mommy’s tree (a.k.a. “giving a carrot to Rudolph” and “giving Mommy the Yuletide log”). Actually, it’s a bit more innocent than that, but I figured, when am I gonna get the chance to use those phrases in a review again?
That moment when Harry just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time apparently sets the stage for mental illness. Flash forward to 30 years later when Harry is asked by someone at the toy factory where he works (naturally) to pull a double shift for him so he can leave on vacation early. Harry reluctantly agrees and then, after the shift ends, just happens to be walking by the exact bar where his coworker just happens to be bragging about how he stuck that shmuck Harry with his shift. Talk about your perfect timing!
That does it: Harry snaps and becomes a homicidal Santa. Actually, not quite; that would have been mildly entertaining, but instead we have to watch this happen s.l.o.w.l.y. over the next hour before any blood is shed. It’s sort of like a psychological thriller, only without the thriller part.
Harry is played by Brandon Maggart, father of Fiona Apple. He’s fun to watch when Harry slips on the Santa suit, but otherwise is pretty dull. The writer has done his research, and it is a bit interesting to watch Harry slowly become bolder both in his crimes and his Santa persona, but that’s not nearly enough to save this film from being overlong and completely mundane.
The problem is that there is no hero. It’s as if we were watching “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” from the viewpoint of Leatherface, and learned nothing about his victims…only not that exciting. There is no progression of character here, no growth. When Harry gets stuck in a chimney, it is neither tense nor humorous, because we don’t care about his fate. It’s obvious from the music and the way the scene is shot that the film wants us to feel nervous for Harry, hoping that he’ll get out before he’s caught, but that’s just weird because we know he’s on his way down that chimney to kill someone.
And speaking of music, “Christmas Evil” has one of the most obnoxious synthesizer scores this side of Troma films, and way too many scenes with Harry humming Christmas carols. Let’s just say his daughter didn’t get her talent from him.
“Christmas Evil” is purportedly director John Waters’ favorite holiday film. His quote on the box reads: “The best seasonal film of all time…True cinematic masterpiece.” Too bad it’s not any good.
Cons: The first 95 minutes feel like 4 hours.
Review Rating: 0 out of 5 out-of-tune Christmas carols being hummed by Fiona’s dad…if you’re lucky.
“Christmas Evil” (1980)
Also known as:”You Better Watch Out”; “Terror In Toyland”
100 Minutes; USA (Re-release: 95 Minutes)
Rated R, but kids will be long asleep before anything exciting happens.
Brandon Maggart (Harry Stadling)
Jeffrey DeMunn (Philip Stadling)
Dianne Hull (Jackie Stadling)
Andy Fenwick (Dennis Stadling)
Brian Neville (Marc Stadling)
Joe Jamrog (Frank Stoller)
Directed by: Lewis Jackson
Viewing Format: DVD (95 Minute version. Thank God.)
(Originally published on HorrorWatch)