This is my first time viewing Christmas Evil. That's astonishing, because I'm a big fan of both horror movies and Christmas - for me to not see this movie is like Santa Claus skipping over a plate of cookies. I've heard about it, and I've seen the likeminded Silent Night, Deadly Night, but for one reason or the other Christmas Evil hasn't really been on my hit list - until now.
While it's fairly easy to relate both of these movies to each other (and maybe even say that one can skip Christmas Evil entirely because of SNDN), there are marked differences that make each important. In Christmas Evil, little Harry gets a shock during his Christmas Eve visit from Santa Claus. He stops in and creates a spectacle - presents galore and a magical happiness that can only be generated by the fat man in the red suit - that can never be matched in Harry's life. The splendor of the event is something beautiful, and it's all ruined once Harry comes bounding down the stairs later that night to see Santa Claus deep in the heartland of his mother.
This is such a heavy-handed utilization of Freud's psychology that it borders on ridiculousness - surely Harry can't be that traumatized at Santa's groping? Still, Christmas Evil doesn't go the way of Silent Night, Deadly Night by presenting a traumatic childhood experience and then focusing on the grinchy main character who hates Christmas - instead, Harry begins to embody the role of Santa himself (wow, the Freudian connotations are just magically appearing in this review with ease!), becoming the man who he once held as a mystic being.
The first half of Christmas Evil is hilariously demented; Harry (Brandon Maggert) spies on young children, keeps meticulous notes of their behavior in his large naughty-and-nice books, and practices his Christmas cheer by waking up with carols in his head and sewing a mighty fine Santa suit. It's all entirely outrageous, but at the heart is a truly messed-up individual who acts fairly normal at his work but lapses into mania at home. Maggert plays it splendidly, and a lot of the scenes where Harry finds his jolly side are made creepy simply because of Maggert's acting.
It all begins to escalate as Harry finds that he's underappreciated at work; everyone also seems to misunderstand the point of Christmas. He finds it in all kinds of places, especially at his work's Christmas party, where drunken colleagues scream and mangle Christmas carols while children go without toys at the local hospital.
Christmas Evil's focus on Harry works well because it finds a good cause within the troubled man. Harry harbors some malice, but his most important job is bringing happiness to the children, even if he does have an eerie fascination with the little girl in the apartment next to him. He brings a full sack of toys to the kids' hospital, and he's treated with the dignity that he deserves; when he visits a packed church, the people coming out harass him as though they've forgotten where they come from. They get surprising gifts this Christmas in some of the only displays of violence in Christmas Evil, and yet they're (sort of) deserved deaths for these douchey people.
But towards its final act, Christmas Evil tends to forget which point it's trying to make. Is it that people have forgotten what Christmas is about? Is it that Harry needs constant reinforcement and acceptance? Is it that Santa Claus' role in Christmas is losing steam? There are moments where Christmas Evil can make startling revelations about how most people celebrate Christmas - a little girl picks up a knife that her father dropped, and there's symbolism in having her choose between stabbing her father and taking Santa's side, or stabbing Santa in a justified act against Christmas. But there's no such drama or conflict within Christmas Evil; the moment disappears, and instead the film ends on a rather lackluster note with Harry driving off of a ridge after a mob pursues him and his brother (Jeffrey DeMunn of The Walking Dead!) tries to kill him - except he flies off to the moon!
And so the point of it all is kind of shot down like Santa being taken out of the sky with a missile. While ridiculous and purposefully cheesy, the ending is in no way satisfying. Seeing Harry ride off to the moon just makes it more evident that Christmas Evil could have actually proved a point if it had done some more work, and it's disappointing that the most powerful moments fade away while the movie focuses on lame moments where Harry tries to squeeze down the chimney or dances the tango in a bar.
Still, Christmas Evil is far better than I thought it would be, and its first half is actually a very strong showing - not as a horror movie, really, but as an exaggerated portrayal of what Christmas has turned into. And this was the '80s, folks, so think about what's happened 30 years later. Unfortunately, the movie struggles with how to wrap the present together, and we're left with tattered wrapping paper and unraveling bows instead.
Christmas Evil on Rotten Tomatoes