DIRECTOR Lewis Jackson WRITER Lewis Jackson STARS Brandon Maggart; Jeffrey DeMunn; Dianne Hull DVD Now
REVIEW UncleBob Martin
As torch-wielding villagers hound the benighted protagonist in the final reel of Christmas Evil, the touch of self-reference that seemed postmodern on first release now seems familiar, quaint, even a bit over-used. Similarly, those who savour such classic 80s holiday slashers as Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night may find this film a disappointment. It is, however, a classic in its own unique way, embraced now for 30 years by those who savour off-beat films that foil expectations.
Brandon Maggart — a well-established stage actor who snagged a Tony for his supporting role in the musical Applause in 1970 [and is also notable as the father of Fiona Apple] — plays the role of Harry Stadling with a thorough commitment that is key to keeping this cart on the rails, even as it swerves wildly from social satire to screwball comedy to personal tragedy.
We first encounter Harry as a child on Christmas Eve, 1947, spying upon Santa Claus as he delivers gifts to the Stadling family. Later that evening, his brother Phil disabuses Harry of his innocent notions by revealing that ‘Santa’ was actually their dad. Harry flees his brother, running downstairs to the living room, where Mom and Dad [still in Santa suit] are engaged in PG sex. Despite the family-friendly rating, the activity is sufficiently disturbing to cause Harry to smash a snow globe and cut himself with the shards.
33 years later [that is, 1980, the year of Christmas Evil‘s release] Harry is working at the Jolly Dream Toy Factory [in scenes shot at a factory operated by the Pressman Toy Company, through the courtesy of Edward R. Pressman, the toy heir who entered the film industry by underwriting early works by Brian de Palma, Terence Malick and Oliver Stone]. He has grown up to be a sad sack with a desk job, though he misses working on the assembly line making toys. After hours, Harry has a curious and troubling hobby, spying on the neighbourhood children and recording their habits in two ledgers, ‘Bad Boys and Girls 1980 ‘and ‘Good Boys and Girls 1980’. Harry, it turns out, loves to play at being Santa and, at a leisurely pace that allows plenty of room for Mr. Maggart to win our sympathies while creeping us o ut, he spins into the abyss as he becomes increasingly convinced of the legitimacy of his claim to Santa’s mantle, while his brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn of The Walking Dead) struggles to save him.
Far more a character study than anyone is likely to expect, Christmas Evil is closer kin to Romero’s Martin or to Lucky McKee’s May than to the flashier seasonal slashers of its decade. Like the principals of those films, Harry is just a lovesick puppy, whose obsessions thinly mask a disturbing paraphilia.
This Arrow release offers a widescreen transfer of the superior director’s cut, and includes a commentary (amongst many other extras) by director Lewis Jackson, joined by John Waters who, in his book Crackpot, dubbed Christmas Evil “the best seasonal film of all time”.