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Blogvent Day 7 – Christmas Evil (1980,USA)


Director: Lewis Jackson       Starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull

It’s the end of the first week of my 2011 Blogvent and if you ask me that means it’s time for another dubious Christmas based horror film. This time it’s the turn of Christmas Evil (also known, without the somewhat dodgy attempt at wordplay, as You Better Watch Out) a festive psychological horror from writer/director Lewis Jackson who, according to his IMDB entry, appears to have gone on to make precisely nothing else whatsoever (although he’s still made one film more than I have!).

As a child, Harry (Maggart) has a slightly traumatic experience when he and his brother wait up to catch Santa delivering their presents, the resulting trauma exhibiting itself as a lifelong fetishistic obsession with Santa Claus. Fair enough, you might think, but when the rest of the world resolutely refuses to accept his belief in the man in red and the sanctity of his naughty and nice list it takes a heavy psychological toll on him. Pushed to the limit by uncharitable colleagues, badly behaved children and a world obsessed by the commercial nature of Christmas Harry flips out and goes on a bit of a rampage, paying a visit to the people on his own naughty list. Whilst dressed as Santa.

As far as concepts go, it’s not a bad one and beneath the somewhat tatty surface is a story that is actually quite interesting. Maggart’s performance as the deeply disturbed Harry is better than the film suggest and he really comes into his own when he transforms from put upon toymaker to Santa Claus, doing so with a laudable gusto. He doesn’t become some super-psycho like the title would suggest, instead his killing spree is targeted at those who would have the world reduced to commercial and PR opportunities, the selfish, the venal and the people he encounters who embody the spirit of Christmas he not only allows to live but gives generously to and enjoys their company. It’s sort of like Taxi Driver or Falling Down only Harry’s broken mind has room for compassion and joy inamongst the neurotic desire to cave people’s heads in with a festively adorned hatchet. The relationship between Harry and his long suffering younger brother Philip (Jeffrey Demunn who you may recognise from recent Zombie horror TV series The Walking Dead) is also pretty good, Demunn’s performance covneying the notion that this has been a lifelong cross for the family to bear.

Sadly, the execution falls a little short of the idea and even allowing for the fact that the film was clearly cobbled together on the most threadbare of shoestrings it’s a scrappy, unflattering affair. Even the gore effects that you would expect to take centre stage in a film of this kind feel neglected and unimaginative and really fail to satisfy, especially given the amount of build up. Granted, this is as much a problem of expectation as it is delivery but the gradual increasing of intensity of Harry’s psychosis suggests there is going to be a major payoff and when the moment finally comes where Harry snaps and Santa becomes homicidal it’s a little bit of a let down.

This fact, coupled with a peculiar ending that doesn’t fit tonally with the rest of the film (not to mention a flaming torch wielding vigilante mob straight out of a classic monster movie which seems totally out of place) makes the whole thing feel like a missed opportunity, a great idea that wasn’t sufficiently followed through or at least not by people with the right talents to make it shine on screen. I couldn’t help but wonder how it might have been had it been put together by a Raimi or Carpenter type director, people who have the drive and vision to bring in an impressive spectacle on a low budget. As it stands, although I did enjoy it, it doesn’t amount to much more than an unusual curiosity, an interesting enough diversion for fans of the genre (“killer Santa” is a bit of a niche genre but anyone into horror movies, especially this kind of video-nasty-esque film, will probably find something to hold their attention) and a testament to a squandered idea.

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