Pieces

Take Another Stab At Christmas Evil (1980)

This post is a part of the Take Another Stab series, where the horror films I hate get a chance at redemption through an open-minded revisit. There will be blood. There will be spoilers.

I’m listening to Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ as I type this. I have no shame about this, nor have I ever joined in those reindeer games that try to avoid this song. I like Christmas and I bask in every glow it has to offer. This of course extends to horror movies. These movies have perfectly perverted the merry holiday and they’ve become ingrained in my own ideation of what Christmas time truly means. I’ve watched a concerning amount of Christmas horror. I’m a sucker for that cool cover art. If there’s a Santa or Krampus on it, I’m in. If there’s a screaming gingerbread man on it, I’m down. What’s even better are the ones with the corny titles to match. Anything is horrific if you put it in a scary font. This isn’t to say that 90% aren’t gutter trash. But if the heart is there, I extend my own. I reach for Black Christmas (1974) when I need something that means business. Jack Frost and Santa’s Slay are optimally enjoyed with booze or a lingering food coma. Batman Returns for a dark Christmas atmosphere. I’ve seen the titans, too. Ya know, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Don’t Open till Christmas, Elves and Deadly Games. They all get shuffled to the “maybe” pile. They’re pulled from the shelf. They’re discussed. And sometimes they aren’t watched. But the one that I’ve never put in the pile is Christmas Evil. It’s a slow burning Yule log. It gives my figgy pudding a soggy bottom.

There’s a bleakness to the whole ordeal. It’s not at all silly like some of those other ones. But how could it be more bleak than Black Christmas, where nearly everyone’s lights go out? It may be that there’s plenty of humor to balance out the mood. In Christmas Evil, it’s straight up sad. The beginning is weird, which helped it rise to cult status. I stand to offer that perhaps the beginning isn’t so extraordinary. There’s more than one Christmas horror film that depicts the childhood trauma of accidental sex exposure (there was no easy way to write that sentence, just so you know). These life-altering moments in the films generally affects the villain/protagonist’s ability to accept rejection, the idea that sex is a thing that’s happening, and that assholes who don’t like Christmas unfortunately exist. From this viewpoint, the movie isn’t the most creative, either. If it can’t scare me or make me laugh, what’s left? Sad times. I don’t want to be sad at Christmas time. I’ve got that shit covered like a blanket of fresh fallen snow. These holiday horror films are supposed to inspire me with foreboding moral tales sprinkled with seasonal monsters and stuffed stocking jokes. My last meeting with it was late at night, years ago. I didn’t bother staying awake to watch it. Nothing in there was going to give me a festive pep talk and lift my spirits. I wrote it off and since then, haven’t given it much thought. Until today, obviously.

About one hour and forty minutes later

Time can change a person. Evidently, it’s changed me a bit. I watched the opening scene with fresh eyes this go around. I tried to infer what happened what was startling enough to alter this child into a damaged man. What’s that one thing called, the Mandala Effect? Yeah, that happened. I thought the mommy kissing Santa Claus scene was so much naughtier than it actually was. The way people have talked about it, it’s like full blown cunnilingus was going down. No such luck. Past that, the set design was spot on. There’s nothing more disappointing than a Christmas film not having enough decorations. Then I met Harry, again.

Harry is this shlub of a guy who works at a toy factory and he has a secret. He likes to keep tabs on the neighborhood kids to see if they’re nice or total shitheads. He’s also obsessed with Santa, like on an Elvis collector level. That wintery night in his youth fucked him up so badly that he fixated on Santa Claus for the rest of his life. Damn. His co-workers don’t respect him and his younger brother sees him as a burden in his charge. You think the guy would be getting to the end of his rope, right? That’s it! That’s the movie. He is. We’re essentially watching his descent into giving zero fucks. Thinking back on those pajamas he was rocking, he may have already cruising down that road. What I thought was previously bleak and desolate seemed relatable to me now. I felt for Harry. I understood where he was coming from. He gave a shit about his job. He gave a shit about Christmas and maintaining those gay, happy feelings that comes with it. All of that is tough whenever the people around you don’t. The thing about Harry is that his care turned to hate. The scene where he squeezes the plastic doll nearly to death while humming a carol? Yeah, felt that. When he watches the Macy’s Day parade, he gets the epiphany to not worship Santa, but to become Santa. He craves that unconditional adoration from the masses and his fragile mind allows him to go with the fantasy. Sure, all this is still sad. But I get why that sadness needed to be expressed now. It’s real life. It’s real life that I, at the time, didn’t register. That’s either extremely depressing or a fat check made out to reality. As grown-up me, I was cheering Harry on when he dumped off a bag of coal to that bratty kid. I nodded with approval when he stole those toys and dropped them off at the children’s hospital. I gave him a “good for you” when he told those suits at the Christmas party they were phony pieces of shit. I don’t have any vendettas to deal with (yet) but it still felt right to step aside while this dude dealt with his.

The horror aspect of Christmas Evil was a slow build, but it was brilliant once it happened. Another angle I love about Christmas horror is the creative kills and this fella delivered. We got a smothering by Santa’s toy sack. We got an eye stabbing with a toy solider. We got a throat slashing with a tree topper. The set design was great. I love to see real snow, especially on the road. As a Midwesterner, that’s the image of Christmas that will always been emblazoned in my mind (dangerous roads, piles of gray slush, disturbing blow mold decorations in unkept yards, etc.) Brandon Maggart killed it as Harry. What I recall as this unlikeable, emotionally stunted man became an unlikeable, emotionally stunted man that I had empathy for. The stifled rage and rejection could have exploded in so many different ways but he channeled it in a way that you could see the simmering progress to a soft boil, and then finally the overflowing bubbles (I’ve had food on my mind. It is the holidays, after all.) Also, fun fact, I learned that he’s Fiona Apple’s father. Crazy. Towards the ending, when Harry is hiding behind a group of fierce children, he says something to their parents that’s so telling of his character. He said, “They want someone to guide them. They want someone to take responsibility.” That’s the shit Harry craves. He wants to save these kids from his parent’s mistakes and frankly, that’s what a lot of adults desire. Ah, there’s something in both my eyes. Oh and when the van took flight? Beautiful.

I usually wrap up by saying something along the lines of, “Idk why I didn’t like this, I’m dumb and old and can’t remember anything,” but I think I nailed the reason this time. The last time I watched Christmas Evil was some years ago, alone in my boyfriend’s apartment. I had a bootleg copy that I watched on my laptop. It was a lame experience during what should have been a festive time spent with people who loved me. That bad memory kinda warped this movie for me. Now? This movie fucking rocks. I associated it with the loneliness I felt during the holidays. I was surrounded by jaded people who didn’t find the joy in December like I did. I started to become laissez about this thing that, once upon a time, made me really happy. Much like Christmases, bad memories can affect how the future ones turn out. Don’t let them.

Until next time, Merry Christmas!

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