Christmas, Horror, Slasher

Christmas Evil (1980)

Comments Off on Christmas Evil (1980) 23 December 2014

christmas evil blu ray

Studio: Vinegar Syndrome

Theatrical Release: November 1980

Blu Ray Release: November 18, 2014

Director: Lewis Jackson

R

Review by James Klein

With the holidays just around the corner, what better way to celebrate than with Vinegar Syndrome’s newest release, Christmas Evil. Having been released on DVD by both Troma and Synapse in the past, Christmas Evil is now making its blu ray debut which includes all of the extras that were on both DVD releases. And with this new blu ray / DVD combo, fans of this cult classic can now re-gift their old DVD’s and celebrate the holidays with Vinegar.

Christmas Evil

Released in theaters briefly in 1980 under various titles such as Terror in Toyland and You Better Watch Out (the director’s preferred title which is included on this release), Christmas Evil has slowly gained the appreciation and fandom that this film so richly deserves. It’s not really a slasher film. It’s not really a black comedy. It’s not really a psychological drama. What the hell is it exactly?

Terror in Toyland

Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) loves Christmas. The man’s entire apartment is covered from head to toe with Christmas decorations. He sleeps in what looks like elf pajamas and his alarm is his turn table which plays Christmas music. With the holidays coming around the corner, Harry’s favorite time of the year is almost upon him. However, Harry’s life as a newly promoted executive at a toy company where he used to work on the main floor making the toys has now turned into a job he despises. Missing his old position and fearing that his company is mass producing toys that are junk, Harry soon quickly falls into a depression. His fellow co-workers not only make fun of him but take advantage of Harry by getting him to work their shifts, thus making Harry’s life even more unbearable.

You better Watch Out
Harry’s relationship with his younger brother Philip (Jeffrey DeMunn, best known for playing Dale on The Walking Dead) is all but nil. Philip has never understood his brother and feels that his older brother has always been a burden on him. Philip’s short fuse gets ignited anytime he speaks to Harry (this was originally much more expanded as shown in the deleted scenes on the blu ray). When Harry sits in front of his TV watching the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving parade and sees Santa Claus look at him, Harry’s calling has finally come. The last straw on reality is broke. Harry is going to become Santa Claus.

Jeffrey DeMunn
But unlike other “killer Santa Claus” films such as Silent Night, Deadly Night and Santa’s Slay, our hero Harry first steals all of the toys from his warehouse, dons a Santa Claus suit, and goes straight to the Children’s Hospital to give to the children. While Harry starts off as a Santa Robin Hood, his mood quickly changes when he decides to seek out those that have wronged him. When Harry goes to a church and waits for his CEO to come out, he is blocked by a bunch of obnoxious church goers who poke fun at his suit and the van that he drives. In maybe my favorite sequences, Harry goes bonkers and takes a wooden soldier, stabbing a man’s eye with it’s gun and then starts hacking away at others with a small hatchet.

Christmas Evil Vinegar
From here on out, one doesn’t know what Harry will do next. Is he going to off more people, turn himself in, go to his brother? The sympathetic character of Harry also conflicts the viewer’s attitude towards this would be killer as its hard to root for the man but yet you want this guy to fulfill his revenge. His brother Philip is more unlikable than Harry and its at this conclusion where the film goes completely nuts. SPOILER ALERT: I don’t quite understand the ending but find it absolutely hilarious and totally nuts. On the film maker’s commentary, director Lewis Jackson claims that Harry’s van goes off the cliff and he really dies. He claims the ending is in Harry’s imagination. However, if that’s the case, why does his brother Philip look up in the sky as Harry takes flight? I prefer the idea of the supernatural ending of Harry flying off to the North Pole. Does it make sense? No, but it somehow works for this film as a man who wishes he could become St. Nick actually does become him.

pointing Claus
Christmas Evil is wonderfully shot and cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich gives this low budget thriller an artistic advantage over most holiday horror films. It is apparent that Jackson worked hard on this film as the detail that went into the movie is quite obvious (I love his homage to the German Santa legend of Black Peter in a creepy and odd sequence of Harry spying on a little boy who likes to read Penthouse magazine). While Christmas Evil was shot on a low budget of just $750,000 the film looks like a 1-2 million dollar film. Kudos also goes out to the performances of both Maggart and DeMunn who both elevate this movie to a much higher standard thanks to their performances. Maggart’s eyes alone take on so much sadness and pain, he is the perfect Harry.

brandon maggart
Speaking of kudos, Vinegar Syndrome does it once again. While I found the Synapse DVD quite good, the picture has never looked better here. The colors are bright and the film still holds its grain, giving the movie a film like quality while looking so clear. There is a bit of print damage however as a few cigarette burns pop up from time to time. The 1.0 DTS soundtrack is fine with the dialog being heard just fine. This isn’t a film where one needs 5.1 to enjoy it. Now on to the special features…wow. Everything from both the Troma DVD and the Synapse DVD is on display here. There are three commentary tracks (my favorite being the Troma one as Brandon Maggart almost seems like he’s drunk or just a bit of a loose cannon, he even calls the film “stupid” at one point) There are two interviews from the Troma disc, one with Jackson and the other with Maggart at his own home who seems off put by Troma’s own Sgt. Kabukiman who sits next to Maggart as the interview takes place. There are audition tapes which are definitely something to check out as now famous celebrities such as JoBeth Williams, Michael Beck, and George Dzundza all read from the script, trying out for parts. Jackson claims Kathleen Turner and Glenn Close tried out for the film as well but their audition tapes are not on here. There are a few deleted scenes which add more to Harry and Philip’s relationship as well as Harry’s dislike for his job. Rounding out the special features are commuter cards from the first preview (most people didn’t like the film) storyboards and the original red band trailer. If I was going to complain about anything it would be the awful looking blu ray cover that makes Santa look like a goblin or a cartoon.

flying van
For those who enjoy their holiday festivities a little strange or dark, Christmas Evil is a holiday treat you won’t want to miss and Vinegar’s blu ray is about as good as they come.

Movie and Blu Ray Rating: ★★★★½

 

 

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