Dec 24, 2012

Christmas Evil

If there is any Christmas-themed slasher flick that would inspire Santa to put steamy reindeer turds in stockings of all crew members involved with film, it is most certainly the superlatively sleazy low-camp anti-Christ-mass classic Christmas Evil (1980) aka You Better Watch Out aka Terror in Toyland; a rather wretched full-fledged assault on Christmas of grand aesthetic futility that the “pope of trash” John Waters claims to be “hopefully its #1 fan” and was praised in the Balti-moron's book Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters (1987), thereupon adding to its 'cult credibility' in the long run. On the surface, Christmas Evil seems more like a hokey Chanukah honoring flick considering its notably anti-nostalgic take on old Saint Nick and the countless Hebraic folks (names like Pressman, Rubinstein, Levine, etc.) that were involved in creating the sneeringly festive film. Christmas Evil is ultimately more of an idiotic half-attempt at invalidating Christmas spirit with a tacked on "Pro-Claus" message than a serious malicious attack on those who wish you a merry Christmas, thus making it the celluloid equivalent of a store-bought gingerbread man; cheap and tasteless, but undeniably palatable. Akin to the patently perverse cult porn flick Water Power (1977) directed by Shaun Costello in the seriousness or lack thereof in its depiction of an aberrant anti-hero whose all-consuming holiday season pathologies are too penetrating to keep under control when certain triggers arise (in this case, Christmas lights, delinquent prepubescent children, and mistletoe), Christmas Evil is best looked at as a crappy yet charming crude camp black comedy with nil serious artistic merit, despite the fact that would-be-auteur Lewis Jackson, the man who directed this bittersweet celluloid candy-cane claims the film was heavily inspired by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (thus influencing him to paint all the set walls "institutional green"), as well as the German New Wave auteur filmmaker's hero Douglas Sirk, of all possible directors! In reality, Christmas Evil is the sort of Xmas film Herschell Gordon Lewis (the smut-peddling Semite did direct a film shot on a high school stage entitled The Magic Land of Mother Goose (1967) to which he later added random excerpts of Santa and re-titled it Santa Visits the Magic Land of Mother Goose) might have assembled had he had a slight interest in somewhat discernible technical competency, sensible narrative construction, and character development as opposed to mere less than sexy sexploitation scenes and grating gore galore that bores. Jackson said that he got the initial idea for Christmas Evil in the 1970s while smoking a joint, henceforth causing him to visualize a random image of sadistic Santa holding a knife in his hand and built the film’s killer kitsch Claus script around this supremely stupid image. Centering around a particularly perverted psychopathic Santa-phile that probably wet dreams of a white Christmas and reams and ravages red-rectum reindeer, Christmas Evil – not unlike Paul Morrissey’s depiction of Dr. Frankenstein Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Dracula in Blood for Dracula (1974), but to a more severely unsophisticated degree – will, for better or worse, make you never look at Santa Clause the same way. 

 After seeing Santa Claus (which, in reality, is really his father in a Santa outfit) paw his mother’s legs with his jolly Christmas claws during one fateful Christmas Eve in 1947 in some stereotypical suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, hardheaded Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) is never quite the same again and grows up to be a marvelously mundane maniac man-child who has dedicated his life to meticulously checking his list as to whether the kids in his neighborhood have been naughty or nice with a special emphasis on punishing those who have been extra naughty. Like Saint Nicholas, hysterical Harry – a most extreme judge of character with a peculiar proclivity towards perverse power trips – has a most meticulous moral compass that never fails, albeit a decidedly deranged and discordant one, that works without fail; degenerates and perverts who have forgot the meaning of Christmas are mangled, mutilated, and murdered and good little Santa-saluting boys and girls are treated to his obsessively assembled handmade toys. Despite his aversion to all forms of sexual perversion, Harry – who talks to and stalks (via Rear Window-style with binoculars) little children like a seasoned saint of unsavory scopophilia – seems like a latent pedophile and a man after Michael Jackson's own heart in his particularly perturbing Peter Pan syndrome, as he keeps personal photographs of neighborhood elementary school children at his desk and sees them as "spiritual" equals of sorts. Described as an “emotional cripple” by his own brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn) and treated with tormenting scorn, contempt and/or disrespect by everyone he knows, Harry strives for an intangible youthful innocence that only grows stronger as it is trampled on by his fellow adults who he cannot relate to in the slightest, which eventually causes him to see red, and not just the color of his much beloved Santa Claus outfit, as many unfortunate people end up dead as a result of their sacrilegious Santa-shunning indiscretions. Essentially living a double life as a result of a split personality, Harry, now Thirty-three years older since that debauched XXXmas night in 1947 that forever changed him, has "a lousy position" as a manager at a toy factory where he reluctantly rules over a group of blue-collar workers who constantly besmirch his Christmas toy fetishism. Of course, Christmas Eve is Harry’s night; a time where the loony loser takes on the self-appointed role of both Saint Nicholas and Black Peter (even putting mud on his face at one point in an act of ritualistic blackface where he marks one bad boy’s house for carnage in the tradition of nefarious Negro Pete) and he certainly knows who has been naughty and who has been nice.

Claiming to be more influenced by the shadows of German expressionism than the colorful lights of any cinematic Christmas classics, Lewis Jackson ultimately managed to assemble one of the most darkly comedic, yet rather retardedly so, X-mas flicks ever made, thereupon making it seem less dated in retrospect compared with the similarly themed Chris Killer flick Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) that spawned an ungodly number of needless sequels. Along with Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) and Black Christmas (1974), Christmas Evil offers some of the best nostalgia for negativity as the sort of sardonic holiday season film one watches for therapeutic reasons after having to meet up with relatives and family friends one would never see under any circumstance, especially on Christmas.  Concluding on an absurdly 'positive' happy note not all that dissimilar from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Alex Cox's Repo Man (1984), Christmas Evil, despite its many scenes of nonsensical depravity and satirical violence, ultimately has a positive message against the cheap commercialization of Christmas (even if the movie itself is a product of such monetary motivated phenomenon) and promotes a message of remembering the true meaning of Christmas, even if the morally dubious maniac promoting such a once-sacred message is far from a role model Santa Claus.  Of course, most people watch Christmas Evil because they want to see a seasonal slasher flick with Santa as a blood-soaked sadist slicing up red ribbons of human flesh.  Personally, I would prefer a satirical Black Peter splatter flick, but you can't always get everything you want for Christmas.

-Ty E

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