This time of year you’ll probably find most folks stampeding back from the shopping malls and Wal-Marts to see “Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer,” “A Christmas Carol,” or even worse yet “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I nevertheless will find myself looking for other cinematic avenues. Avenues that lend themselves a bit more towards my jaded and cynical movie watching palette. Never mind the fact that I despise Christmas.
In lieu of the coming days and their festivities I humbly suggest some twisted Christmas features like; “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, “Jack Frost” or the aptly titled “Christmas Evil.” Any one or all of these should do the trick. For me there’s something inherently satisfying about watching blood-stained Santas and snowmen wreaking havoc and mayhem on shoppers and carolers. It’s a satisfaction that even Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas” can’t approach.
Now, however deserving or undeserving, the most notorious of the Christmas slasher flicks is the 1984 “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” The film’s fame is in no small part due to critics Siskel and Ebert’s utter disdain for it. The duo’s public ban on the film backfired and everyone known to man had to see the damned thing. The paper thin plot involves a young Billy witnessing his parents’ murder by a dude masquerading as Santa. The parentless tyke is tossed into an orphanage and summarily mistreated. At age eighteen Billy is released and finds himself working in a department store dressed as his parents’ murderer. Not surprisingly, Billy snaps, sees red and begins wielding axes, colored lights and moose antlers in a city-wide killing spree. The less than inspiring script leads to dull characters that do painfully uninteresting things. It’s not the first of its type and it is certainly not the best, but it is the most popular. If nothing else it proved to be a perfect example of exploitation cinema as it was released right at Christmastime. A smooth move on the distributor’s part. Had the film been released in July I doubt anyone would have taken notice, and I’m quite sure Siskel and Ebert wouldn’t have given a damn. To date there have been no less than 4 sequels lensed for this piece of celluloid silliness directed by Charles Sellier Jr. To be sure, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” is a turd, maybe more like two turds; but who’s counting?
Unfortunately, many have not heard of the far superior “Christmas Evil” – or they’ve already seen “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and have had quite enough of such yuletide tripe. Through design or simply by accident this 1980 sleeper directed by Lewis Jackson manages to rise a cut or so above the rest. Interestingly, “Christmas Evil” leans less in the direction of a slasher flick and more towards that of a serious character study. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some gleeful scenes of blood and gore being strewn about the fluffy white landscape, but that stuff will quickly become inconsequential. Inconsequential, that is, once you’re absorbed by the character Harry and his delightfully delusional mind. You see, lil’ Harry caught his mother and Santa getting it on underneath the Christmas tree and from that moment our hero’s motives are set into motion. Harry apparently loves the jolly old fat man more than anyone ever could or would and is dead-set on maintaining his mentor’s good name. Outfitted in the obligatory red and white suit, Harry sets his deranged sites upon his full-of-good-cheer town. Those foolish enough to fill Harry in on the truth about St. Nick will soon find themselves on the business end of his butcher’s knife or even better, a toy soldier equipped with a special dagger. Eventually, the tormented Harry is set free as he sails his van (a stand-in for a sleigh) off a bridge and into the wild white yonder. A bewildering scene to say the least. Some great performances and a clever script make this a fantastic treat. Director John Waters likes it a lot, too.
Onward and away from the nut jobs in Santa drag we have Michael Clooney’s 1996 entry into the Christmas-crazies-cycle entitled “Jack Frost.” Mass murderer Jack Frost is in custody and en route to his execution when a freaky accident occurs. A truck carrying some experimental genetic material blind-sides the paddy wagon and throws Jack from the vehicle into the snow and toxic waste. For no apparent reason whatsoever Jack’s violent demeanor and the chemical spill make for one volatile compound, and the screen’s most bizarre serial killer is born. Jack Frost emerges as a living snowman. A snowman with a soul as black as coal, jagged ice for teeth and a carrot nose. To top this murdering popsicle off is his keen ability to launch deadly icicles from his frostbitten mittens. In all seriousness though, the “Frosty” costume more closely resembles a Jim Henson experiment gone horribly wrong rather than anything remotely frightening. Moving on; after a barrage of unexplainable murders the angry villagers finally figure out who/what’s causing these deaths and subsequently devise a plan to do the frozen bugger in. Using their heads, they employ the obvious -ahem- hair dryers and anti-freeze. With much doing Jack is finally thawed, syphoned into bottles and buried. This perplexing mixture of horror and black comedy makes for one campy ride that you won’t want to miss this holiday season, or any other for that matter. I would also like to add, though, unlike most standard holiday films and their need to deliver a moral there’s really no lesson to be learned from something like “Christmas Evil” or “Jack Frost” unless maybe it’s this: don’t eat the red snow.
Writer Christopher Curry has spent 29 years relentlessly trolling the underbelly of Horror, Sci-Fi and Exploitation cinema. He was first hooked by a made-for-TV zombie picture entitled “The Dead Don’t Die” and his recollections of Reggie Nalder have yet to peacefully leave his psyche. There is seemingly no benchmark of quality for Curry as he will watch and write about any damned thing. Curry has not only spent 10 years contributing to MK Magazine but is also the author of A Taste Of Blood: The Films Of Herschell Gordon Lewis and is presently hard at work on a book chronicling the films and career of Ted V. Mikels.