Tuesday, December 11, 2012

REVIEW: Christmas Evil

Christmas Evil
Director: Lewis Jackson
Year 1980

Christmas Evil, AKA You Better Watch Out, is a frightfully entertaining holiday feature that focuses on one man’s Christmas induced plunge into insanity as he desperately tries to come to grips with a traumatic experience that he had as a young child on Christmas Eve night. With a mixture of bloody Slasher moments and a pinch of heartwarming holiday cheer, Christmas Evil manages to establish an obscure balance of fright and fun without ever losing its original attitude and off-kilter nature. If you’re looking to spice up your holiday viewing and you love films with character, craziness and Christmas, then open up this badass present of unexpectedness. Who knows, you might discover the true meaning of Christmas? Maybe?

The film follows a man named Harry Stadling, who long ago at a tender age, tragically finds out that Santa isn’t real. Crushed by this heavy blow and routinely haunted by it, he becomes obsessed with capturing the magic of Christmas and engulfs himself in every aspect of what makes the holiday so special. He works at a toy-maker shop obsessing over the quality of the toys. He keeps a naughty and nice book, filled with all the names of the neighborhood children. He even goes as far as to fantasize as being Santa Claus. All this obsessive behavior finally comes to a breaking point once a few colleagues start ridiculing him for his strange behavior during the week of Christmas. Taking it upon himself to bring back the true meaning of Christmas, Harry transforms himself into Santa and takes to the streets as he delivers presents to all the good boys and girls while punishing the wicked with bloody Christmas cheer. Has Harry truly gone over the edge, or is this what he is destined to do?

Brandon Maggart takes on the exceptionally heartfelt role of Harry Stadling, as he melds both a sympathetic and psychotic bravado into his performance that really grabs you from the onset. Without a doubt, this obscure little title is carried by Maggart’s actions and expressive behavior and I really can’t stress it enough that he is the defining factor in what makes this movie so wholly entertaining and viewable. When we are introduced to Maggart’s Harry Stadling, he is a passive man-child who longs for a world filled with goodness, but is met with nothing but ridicule. Infatuated by the idea of Santa Claus and longing to bring that idea back into this cynical world, he transforms himself into the jolly Claus and becomes quite aggressive in his pursuit of both spreading joy to the believers and justice to the wicked. The duality of the character personalities that he displays in Harry and Santa is exceptionally contrast, and his character arc is wonderful to see unfold. Your initial thoughts before viewing the film may be that this is an ordinary run of the mill Christmas Slasher flick, but with the outstanding performance of Brandon Maggart, the film is anything but routine.

The movie is actually more of a character study, as we are given almost an exclusive look into the life of Harry Stadling. From his humble beginnings as a quiet toy-maker to his robust spree as the emphatic Santa Claus, we are with him every step of the way. What is most unique about this approach to a Killer Santa flick is that we are witness to his failings and pratfalls in trying to emulate the legendary Claus. For example, when Harry initially begins to wander the streets and interact with people, he is still a little sheepish and unsure about himself, but as time passes he begins to perfect his act, absorbing himself into the role until he is completely and utterly convinced that he is the real Santa Claus. This comes to a hilarious and ridiculous turn of events, when Harry thinks that he can fit himself down a chimney in order to kill his co-worker who tricked him into taking his shift the previous night. Harry ascends up a ladder and delicately tries to angle himself into the opening of the chimney, only to come to the realization that he doesn’t have a chance in hell of passing through. Stuck and stranded on a roof, realization begins to hit home and Harry becomes confused and bewildered at the predicament he is in. Is he truly Santa Claus or is he really just a weirdo in a red suit who’s out of his flipping mind? It’s at these moments that you really begin to pity what Harry is going through, and that is a most unexpected experience to have in what is initially presented as a Holiday Slasher entry.

Aside from the general character of Harry, his conflicting personalities, and the original way in which we are detailed his progression into madness, the film also does a plethora of things that will catch you off guard and send you for a loop. Much like how Harry plays a duel role in the movie, the tone of the film partakes in some personality dysfunction as well. As Harry sets off on his outlandish adventure to bring joy and pain to the denizens of this movie, we come to the stark realization that, in an instant, this film can switch from heartfelt holiday cheer to nasty bloody nightmares. One minute Harry will be gouging out a naughty man’s eye with a nutcracker bayonet and the other minute he will be having a cheerful moment with a group of strangers as they dance the night away at a Christmas party. These contrasting moments are abundant, and they present themselves throughout the entire runtime of the film in not only these individual moments, but in its general spirit. It can be naughty when it wants to be and it can be nice, but it is always entertaining.

Another thing that the film does well is that it never takes a full stance on whether Harry is a good or bad guy. Even at the closing moments of the film, we aren’t really sure if he is truly insane or if he is apart of something insanely special. I think that is what is most enduring about this film. It allows us to follow this troubled character through the span of a few days as we witness his transformation and turbulent transgressions against the society that ultimately created him. It’s an approach that you don’t really ever get to see in a Killer Santa film and the inclusion of this unorthodox plot makes for a movie that feels much more genuine and accomplished.

Christmas Evil is an unexpectedly fun look into the madness that Christmas can bring unto the most troubled of souls. Brandon Maggart gives a masterful performance as the delusional or prophetic Harry Stadling, and his ambiguous and diverse approach to the role is a treat to see play out. The duality of the film is especially appreciated, as we are never really sure what will occur next to our entertaining main character. The random nature in which the film unfolds makes for a memorable viewing experience that is blanketed in an atmosphere of Christmas visuals that are sure to delight lovers of this type of demented genre.

At its core Christmas Evil is a low budget holiday Slasher movie, but underneath that disguise is a thought-provoking narrative that has heart, gusto, and a tremendous amount of holiday cheer and fear. It can be bloody and atmospheric when it wants to be, but in the end the main focus of the film is to tell a most interesting story about a man named Harry Stadling who took it upon himself to bring Christmas back to the ones who deserve it, while punishing the ones who abused it. Strange and unusual as it may be, Christmas Evil is an overlooked gem that truly takes the spirit of the holiday and twists it into one of the most engaging character studies to ever grace the category of Christmas Horror Slasher. This flick is a…..

Simply having a sexual Christmas time.

Moss Garcia! You dirty little pervert.

You make me sick.

Sweet ride Harry!

You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only jolly fat man here.

The Bad Boys & Girls of 1980. That's one hell of a read.

You two better pull my finger or you're getting coal this year.

Who wants to play with Harry's sack? Ewwww!

Harry you crazy son of a bitch!

Don't do it Santa! Think of the children!

Santa can be a real prick to those naughty kids.

Santa is ready to get his Christmas on.

Now you see it......

.....Now you don't!

Everyone smile! That's going on the Christmas Card!

Santa's had one hell of a night.

Hiding behind children Santa? You coward!


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