After witnessing his mother getting a little too friendly with Santa when he was a kid, Harry grows up to be obsessed with Christmas. Working in a toy factory, he keeps a record of which children in the neighbourhood have been naughty and which have been nice. Eventually he is driven over the edge after seeing his company’s disregard for the quality of the toys they make and he goes around town dressed as Santa, killing those who don’t believe in the magic of the festive season.
Often thought of as a slasher flick that latched onto the nearest free holiday-themed day that writers could find in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Christmas Evil is not THE film about a killer Santa which got American parents picketing cinemas, despite the similar poster featuring Santa about to pop down a chimney holding an axe. That, my friends, is Silent Night, Deadly Night. But by the time Christmas Evil has finished, you’d be wishing that you’d put that one instead to get your fill of foolish festive frights.
I think part of the problem here is the way in which Christmas Evil has been marketed, clearly painting itself as a slasher film and hoping to attract the blood-thirsty audiences. It isn’t anything of the sort though, ending up as some second-rate loner-turns-into-psycho movie which just so happens to be set at Christmas. I don’t know where the blame lies – the title was even changed from You Better Watch Out into Christmas Evil so whether it was a director’s thing or a producer’s decision remains to be seen. Whatever it’s called, the fact remains that it’s a dull affair. Like Christmas, you spend way too long waiting for it to happen and then it’s all over in the blink of an eye.
Christmas Evil is certainly, well, Christmassy. The theme is in full effect here – festive music, decorations, trees, snow and lots of guys in red suits and white beards. In many respects it does a better job at recreating this time of the year better than most mainstream schmaltzy Christmas films try to do. Shot on a low budget, one-time only director Lewis Jackson gives the film a decent polish, never once belaying it’s lack of cash. Along comes the mean-spiritedness of the film which, surprisingly enough, isn’t aimed at the main character but at others around him. For all of his murderous moments, Harry isn’t the Norman Bates of the holiday season – he’s a nice guy who loves Christmas and is sick of the way others treat it with contempt. He just wants to bring the true spirit of Christmas back to the masses. For this reason, the film tries to earn your sympathy for the character and it does a reasonable job of getting it. But it’s hard work getting there. Boy is Christmas Evil slow, arduous work.
The only redeeming factor to Christmas Evil is Brandon Maggart who jumps into the role of Harry as if he’s going for an Oscar. His slow turn into a psychopath is believable enough but it’s a shame that not much is done with it in the end. It takes too long for him to snap and when he does, he doesn’t really do anything that he wasn’t doing before – well with the exception of a few murders! This isn’t a body count film but when it’s bandied around in the ‘slasher’ sections I expect more than four deaths, three of which happen within thirty seconds of each other. I’m sure that it would take more than four people to die before the delusional Harry was satisfied that he’d got his message across.
Despite the film trying to play itself off as a serious character study, there are too many silly moments strewn throughout which beg the question of why the writers didn’t go for the black comedy approach from the get-go. From a bunch of kids making a human shield around the killer Santa to ward off a group of torch-wielding adults to seeing a load of guys dressed as Santa in a police line-up to an ending which presages the most famous scene from E.T. by a couple of years, the film plants its tongue firmly in its cheek when it deems it necessary. But then in the next breath we’re expected to take Harry’s human drama seriously. It’s an uneven line crossing an one which could have been made clearer at the start.
Like an unwanted pair of socks or a Christmas jumper, by the time Christmas Evil has finished, you’d wish that Santa had skipped your house completely. There is more character work in here than a dozen slasher flicks but there’s little else to go on and in the end, it’s so slow that you won’t need the glass of wine to doze off on Christmas Day afternoon – stick this on instead and watch the Zzzzzs start to fly.