Thursday, 10 December 2015

Christmassacre Two - Christmas Evil (1980)

It all started on Christmas Eve 1947, the day Harry Stadling found out that there is no Santa Clause.

Thirty-three years latter and Harry works at a toy factory, the perfect job for him as he has decided to become Santa Claus himself and bring back the magic of Christmas.  He plans to deliver toys to nice children on Christmas Eve but of course to know who's been nice and who's been naughty means he has to spy on the kids in his neighbourhood. And so begins the simple, yet brilliant premise of Christmas Evil, showing how creepy it would be for a regular person to take on the duties of Santa Clause.

The 1980 film was originally titled You Better Watch Out (the title that comes up on my copy of the DVD, though the box has the Christmas Evil title), it was written and directed by Lewis Jackson and stares Brandon Maggart as Harry, Jeffrey DeMunn as his brother Philip and Dianne Hull as Philips wife Jackie.

A third alternative title for the film is Terror in Toyland, possibly due to the film Babe's in Toyland playing on a TV at one point.

After the opening we see Harry's life and that he seems totally obsessed with Christmas, he sleeps in a Santa outfit, his apartment is decorated all year round and he even practeces his 'Ho Ho Ho' in front of the mirror. His job at the toy factory is less than fulfilling as Harry clearly is a man who started off wanting to bring joy to children only to find out it's a world of business, that his bosses only care about the profit, even their promises to donate toys to a local children’s hospital fall empty when Harry sees it's nothing but a PR stunt with no care as to weather there will be enough toys for all.

Christmas Eve arrives and Harry puts on his suit and gets in his van (he's already painted a sleigh on the side) to set out bringing good will to his fellow man, he steals a load of toys from the factory and gives them to the children’s hospital, breaks into homes and leaves gifts for the good children, and leaves bags full of dirt for the naughty ones (which makes more seance than coal if you think about it, you can sell coal). Sure he's breaking and entering but he genially doesn’t seem to want to cause any harm, that is until he waits outside a Church where he knows his bosses from the toy factory are attending evening mass. When it end's they come out but three other church goers come up first and start to make fun of him, needless to say it doesn’t end well when Harry pulls out his candy cain coloured hatchet.  Hard to say weather this is what he planned for his bosses but it's a fair bet he was planning some sort of punishment.

The film leaves no doubt that Harry is suffering from mental issues, it's hard to tell latter on weather or not he even remembers the murders, and he is genuinely shocked and confused when people turn on him. He doesn’t understand why, people always say they want Christmas to be less commercial and more the season of good cheer, he's brought that to them so why are they rejecting it?

Harry is a sympathetic character to a degree, someone who just wants to do good in a world that seems to reject that notion, though his kills are mostly premeditated he genuinely thinks he is doing right, punishing the naughty while rewarding the good. His acts may not be justifiable, but he doesn't seem to know that what he is doing is wrong, you can emphasise with him, even if his actions horrify you.

Out of the main cast you would probably recognise Jeffrey DeMunn best especially after his role of Dale Horvath in The Walking Dead, but you may also notice Patricia Richardson in a small early role ten years before she would become much better known as Jill Taylor in the sitcom Home Improvement.

This is a great film, the first half is all build up to Harry going out as Santa and when it finally happens you never guess where the film is going and it has some decent subtle commentary on the commercialisation of Christmas. A great festive horror film that is sadly not as well known as it should be.

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