For whatever reason, “Christmas Evil” has gotten a bum rap, most likely because it doesn’t fit into that slasher sub-sub-genre of Holiday Horrors. It was obviously inspired by more subtle fare, including “Frankenstein” and “Psycho” and with an underlying theme that Christmas is good but commercialism is bad, “Christmas Evil” kicked off the Regan era with panache.
Brandon Maggart plays Harry Stadling, a loner type who lives in the nostalgia of a Christmas that never was. He works at a toy store and his apartment is literally wallpapered with Santa paraphernalia. His pastimes include watching the neighborhood kids to see who’s been naughty and who’s been nice (he also has a disturbing fascination with the local ‘Jon Benet Ramsey’ girl), which includes marking the more undesirable kid’s house with muddy handprints. Harry decides this is the year to check off his list after a surreal encounter with Santa via a televised parade as he begins his descent into North Pole Madness.
“Christmas Evil” is a film that gets better with each viewing. Director Lewis Jackson has commented himself that he felt certain aspects should have been expounded upon more, but that’s the pure pleasure of re-visiting this wonderfully nasty hybrid of art and exploitation. The art direction alone deserves a second glance. Maggart gives an incredibly sympathetic and disturbing performance in a part that requires very little dialog. He easily conveys a tortured soul while still taking you along on his downward spiral. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem so odd that this movie along with William Lustig’s “Maniac” did poorly upon their initial release while gaining a cult status over the years. They simply didn’t fit into a pat slasher formula, which was very popular at the time.
Troma’s out-of-print DVD gave the film some much needed justice, including separate interviews with Jackson and Maggart. The commentary track was a lot of fun, but my DVD gave up the ghost on it half way through. I’m still happy to report that what I did catch was informative and a very entertaining (Maggart is a character).
Lewis recently acquired the rights back to “Christmas Evil” and is working on a definitive release under its original title “You Better Watch Out” for 2006. Like I said, this movie gets better with each viewing and I welcome another DVD to bring in next year’s festivities with a wicked helping of horror to fill my stocking.