Christmas Evil (1980)

Twas the night before Christmas 1947 and Santa Claus is laying presents under little Harry Stadling’s Christmas tree. Unfortunately for Harry presents aren’t the only thing Santa wants to lay tonight and – having gone to bed – Harry sneaks down to find his mother getting fondled by jolly St Nick… which is bad news for his psychology…

Despite this minor setback, thirty years later and adult Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) is all about the Christmas spirit! He has his own little toy workshop, sleeps in a Santa hat, works at the Jolly Dream toy factory (“if it’s not a Jolly Dream it’s not worth having!”) and keeps a list of which neighbourhood kids are naughty and which ones are nice.

But Harry isn’t well. At all. His past experiences, coupled with some his work colleagues severe lack of Christmas spirit, leaves him jaded and angry against all the ‘bad boys and girls’. So on Christmas Eve he dons a home-made Santa costume and sets about providing Christmas cheer to the good… and punishing the bad…

Maggart is genuinely superb as the troubled Harry Stadling and he plays the role fantastically well, with some decent support from the likes of Jeffery DeMunn (most recently seen as Dale in The Walking Dead).

Christmas Evil is well written and directed by Lewis Jackson, providing a slow-burn horror / thriller that sharply depicts one man’s rapid descent into psychosis with the coming of Yuletide. At once both sweet and seriously demented, Christmas Evil is an enjoyably crafted film and definitely one of the best Christmas horror films ever made.

Unlike many Christmas horrors Christmas Evil isn’t a cynical attack on Christmas, but actually fantastically Christmassy. If you want to mix up horror and Christmas then certainly add this to your list as it’s a good-spirited, old-school holiday romp (with a slow descent into absolute madness, horror and murder of course…).

Christmas Evil does suffer from some bizarre plotting, so you never get a sense of urgency or timing, and some of the police procedural makes no sense (why they don’t look for Harry’s very distinct van?! It’s got a sleigh painted on it!!) and the violence is shoddily done and most bloodless. It is good to see a horror film taking the Christmas theme seriously, which is something most Christmas horrors ignore in favour of ironic mockery (despite the tagline for Christmas Evil being the cringe-inducing “He’ll Sleigh You”…).

Pre-dating the more-famous Silent Night, Deadly Night by four years, Christmas Evil was originally released in 1980 as You Better Watch Out and is also known as Terror in Toyland, although “You Better Watch Out” certainly delivers the correct message. Calling Stadling “evil” seems wrong, somehow, considering he gives gifts to the good as well as punishing the bad. It’s a psychologically interesting little horror.

Arrow Films have also ensured Christmas Evil has had a decent restoration and although a little soft and pastel-like, it feels like a surprisingly contemporary horror film (even though the wonderful 80’s soundtrack certainly marks the era!).

Twisted, disturbing, cleverly made and thoroughly enjoyable, Christmas Evil is definitely one to watch and cherish this Christmastime.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

One Comment on “Christmas Evil”

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.