Review: Christmas Evil (1980)


Cast: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull
Director: Lewis Jackson
Country: USA
Genre: Horror | Thriller
Official Clip: Here

As Christmas horror films go, this one is near the top of the list. It’s a jolting jolly holiday slay ride into the damaged psyche of Harry Stadling, a lone man who wants nothing more than to bring the true spirit of Christmas to life. How does he accomplish this? By becoming the one thing Christmas can’t exist without: Santa Claus.

Strangely, the more accurate Harry becomes at impersonating old St. Nick, the creepier the film gets. Once the credits roll, the image of the well-wishing, list-making voyeur that is Santa will forever be tainted in your mind. It brings to light the inherent eeriness of a moralistic tyrant posing in a jolly red suit who knows all of your deepest darkest secrets and isn’t afraid to dish out punishment. Suddenly, the sweet gift giving character becomes a glaring omnipresent threat, a control device if you will, rewarding those who adhere to the rules of “proper” society and bringing suffering to those who don’t.

Like all good Christmas horror, the terror grows out of a perversion of the holiday, usually revolving around family innocents contrasted by blasphemous sexuality. In Christmas Evil, there’s a flashback scene where the main character witnesses his father performing oral sex on his wife while still dressed as Santa. This image, the corruption of an innocent, sacred symbol, is the crux the whole film is built around and something Harry can never reconcile. Other classics like Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night both use sexuality as a way of introducing unease and discomfort into the holiday season. The technique works so well because Christmas time is overflowing with wholesome familiness and what could burst that bubble better than bringing attention to sexuality, perverse interests and the nitty-gritty urges of living we all share? Some desires can’t be satiated by a cup of eggnog.

Although a lot of this movie is about Harry going on a rampage through the town, delivering toys and murder in equal measure, it’s important to note that this isn’t a body count movie. There is blood, but not enough to take a bath. Instead, it keenly focuses on Harry’s inner turmoil as he struggles to fix a world not cut from the same wholesome cloth that he was. Part fueled by revenge, part fueled by his unshakeable sense of naughty and nice, he dispatches those who do wrong, while at the same time, delivers a truck full of presents to a children’s hospital; then plucks someone’s eye out with a tin solider. Well, no one is perfect.

By far, the film’s greatest image is realized after the town rallies against this imposter Santa. Harry is on the run in full costume, chased by an angry mob with torches, backlit by streetlights. Perhaps a reference to James Whales’ Frankenstein, where once again, a monstrous creation is chased down by the very people who helped create it. In this case, Santa is born from a world that needed order, but when he’s made as real as you or me, society acts out to destroy him.

The film ends spectacularly as Harry, still being chased by the townspeople, drives off a bridge in his van, which has been painted to look like a sleigh. Instead of plummeting to his fiery death, as the reality of the rest of the film might suggest he would, his van takes flight and he soars off into the night, his silhouette outlined against the moon. Does this miracle happen only in his head, or did Harry actually reach a level where he truly became Santa Claus? The answer might be a mix of both. One thing’s for sure, you better not pout, you better not cry if Santa Claus is coming to town. Merry Christmas!

[notification type=”star”]80/100 ~ GREAT. It’s a jolting jolly holiday slay ride into the damaged psyche of Harry Stadling, a lone man who wants nothing more than to bring the true spirit of Christmas to life..[/notification]


About Author

Horror Film Critic. Am I obsessed? Maybe. I prefer the term “passionate”; it has a less creepy stalker kind of vibe. Not that I have anything against creepy stalkers being that my genre of choice is and forever will be the depraved, demented and deranged dwelling of horror. If you're looking for films that don’t sugarcoat things, that reveal people at their ugliest, that aren’t afraid to spill a little blood and have fun doing it, then look no further!