Friday, December 16, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Movies, Day 16: Evil at Christmas

As you guys know from reading my past years posts on Christmas movies that I am a big fan of Christmas horror films.  I find it perverse and macabre to mix the the white purity of snow and the joy of Christmas with the suspense and gore of the horror film.  It just tickles me...and I also get amused at the people who get bent out of shape over it when a filmmaker decides to make a Christmas horror movie.  Its as if horror can only happen outside of the month of December...which simply isn't the case given the suicide rate and the crime rate around the holidays.  On that note, I bring you yet another dose of Christmas horror that shows the first ever psychotic Santa Claus.  Years before Silent Night, Deadly Night, another nut in a red suit stalked the snowy streets looking for fresh victims and did so with more altruistic motives.  It has been largely forgotten though, because of having no real distribute and little press.  It finally resurfaced on DVD in 2000 from Troma Entertainment, who specialize in sleazy and gory entertainment, and fans of it rejoiced.  Is it worth the fandom it has garnered or is it simply a piece of trash?  Let's find out as we ring in the holiday season with Christmas Evil.

The film begins on Christmas Eve in 1947 in a quiet suburban home.  Little Harry Stadling is convinced that Santa Claus is real and his belief is renewed each year when his father comes down the chimney and places gifts under the tree while his mother has them all watch quietly from the stairs.  Harry is enchanted and loves this tradition until he is irrevocably traumatized when he witnesses "Santa" sexually groping his mother beside their Christmas Tree.  From that moment on, Harry punishes himself for seeing the act and also makes it his mission to become the new Santa, a better Santa.  As part of this mission, he begins working at a toy factory and tries to convince them to work harder at making better quality toys.  This fails and he finds himself becoming a pushover for his coworkers.  One of them even gets him to take his night shift so he can go off and drink.  Harry's only joy is watching the neighborhood kids and checking them off on his Naughty or Nice list.  After being pushed around too long Harry finally snaps and begins to actually think he is Santa and that he must rid the world of shoddy toys and naughty people.  First he steals toys from work and gives them to a children's hospital, then he leaves a bag of dirt for a naughty boy near his home.  Finally, he kills three parishioners of a church because they make fun of him as they exit services.  Thus begins a chilling night that only Harry's brother Phil seems to know how to end.

Christmas Evil is one of those films with a lot of good ideas and not a very good whole.  I loved the idea of a crazed man thinking that he really is Santa and dispatching of 'naughty' people, but that was not mined enough.  One thing the film does right is that it spends most of it's time developing Harry as sympathetic and misunderstood so that we can understand how his problem finally reaches this peak.  But it spends virtually no time setting up the other characters, Phil in particular, that have to be affected by Harry's antics.  The supporting cast are mainly jerks or Harry's family (who are very good people) and this hurts the film.  Also, the killing only happens twice so it's hard to feel really frightened when Harry is around.  Add to the fact that Harry does some really wonderful things dressed in the suit and you come away from the film confused about how you should feel.  Are we supposed to root for him for ridding us of assholes at Christmas, or are we supposed to be horrified that he is killing people dressed in a Santa suit?  I'm guessing its the former, rather than the latter, in which case the filmmakers shouldn't have structured the narrative around the murders the way they did.  Indeed, the film seems to just jump around randomly once the killings start and by the time the ending occurs, we aren't really sure who is who.  I won't be adding Christmas Evil to my regular rotation despite the artful handling of the sympathetic protagonist, I just think Silent Night, Deadly Night is scarrier and better.

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