Originally published in Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey.
The winter holidays and nostalgia go hand in hand. Even for psychopathic Santa Claus obsessives.
While most low-rent, holiday-inspired horror films evoke shock or laughs, very few stretch beyond the novelty of seeing Saint Nick (or his helpers) bludgeon someone with an axe. From Elves to Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas, the exploitation guarantee is expected and easily delivered. On the other hand, a handful of Christmas-themed horrors step beyond the typical confines of the genre. They surpass expectations, creating their own unique space in the minds of those who “get it.” Once a year, they return, filling our living rooms with warm gifts, pine-coated memories, and plenty of the red stuff. Meet Christmas Evil.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1947. Strolling down to the living room to investigate a noise, Little Harry gets the scar of his life, as he peers in on Santa (aka Dad) and Mom doing something that adults do.
Years later, Harry works a banal job at the tacky “Jolly Dream” Toy Factory. But that’s not all he does. Obsessed with Santa Claus, Harry sleeps in Kris Kringle’s duds, covers his apartment with holiday decorations, constantly hums X-mas carols, and spies on the neighborhood kids. He also keeps leather-bound books of which kids have been naughty and which kids have been nice, ensuring his position as a bonafide ultra-creep. As Christmas time rolls around, Harry becomes increasingly frustrated with the hypocritical company he works for and the mistreatment he’s dealt with at the hands of co-workers. Logically, he then sews his own extravagant Santa suit, takes to the streets on Christmas Eve, and dolls out “rewards” to the good people. And the not-so-good people.
Christmas Evil is not what you’d expect. Of course, horrific elements exist. But this isn’t the typical trash-slasher garbage. Instead, we’ve got an excellently acted snapshot of an unhinged man’s slow dive into the surreal. Enthralling from the get-go, Christmas offers up bushels of tight photography and emotionally draining interactions. Once Harry dons the suit, his schizo tendencies come full force, and people aren’t quite sure how to react. That leaves the viewer open for surprises, including an out-of-nowhere gore sequence and an uncomfortable speech that Harry bellows to some kids while in Santa mode. Despite his destructive behavior, you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy, which is a direct result of the well-executed intensity.
Then, there’s the reality aspect. Who’s to say that something like this couldn’t happen? That’s Christmas Evil‘s strongest trait, as it never relies on the expected laurels of an “invincible” killer. Harry’s existence is coated with a genuine sense of emptiness, from the dead-on depiction of a dead-end job to his claustrophobic freak-outs while driving. As the unexpected ending replayed in my head, I realized that Christmas Evil was something special. It joins Black Christmas and Sole Survivor as a unique, accomplished, and frightening holiday-horror experience, offering much more than you’d expect of a novelty exploitation film from 1980. Nostalgia can be so sweet.