Christmas Evil (1980)
85 minutes / Color / Rated R
a.k.a. You Better Watch Out, Terror in Toyland
The Plot: Christmas Evil starts out innocently enough as two young boys and their mother watch Santa pop down the chimney with a sack of toys and go about his usual yearly tasks of eating cookies, filling stockings, and placing presents under the tree. After Santa, alerted by one of the giggling children, hops back up the chimney, mom puts the boys to bed, then goes back downstairs while young Philip and Harry argue over the existence of Santa. (Harry believes that they have just witnessed an honest-to-goodness Santa visitation while the more rational Philip thinks it was their dad.)
To set the record straight, Harry decides to have another peek downstairs and accidentally bears witness to some cos-play action! Santa (most likely Harry's dad) is back and preparing to give mom her present if you know what I mean. ("I saw Mommy get felt up by, San-ta Claus!" and "Then, I saw Mom-my tick-le San-ta Claus! Underneath his pubic hair so white!") Understandably confused and disturbed that mom is having a one night stand with a right jolly old elf, Harry runs furiously up the stairs, smashes a snowglobe, and then cuts himself with a jagged piece of glass. Hmm... I wonder if he's going to turn into a psychotic killer in a Santa outfit? Nah! What are the odds of that happening?!
Thirty-three years later, Harry is a real odd duck. He wears Santa pajamas (complete with cap) to bed, listens to Christmas music every day, and not surprisingly, he works on an assembly line at a toy factory. Even stranger.... he keeps his own personal log of naughty and nice children that live in his neighborhood. How does he know if they've been good or not? Oh, he just goes up on the roof of his apartment building with a pair of binoculars and SPIES ON ALL THE CHILDREN! As the film progresses, Harry begins to lose what little grip he has on reality, and on Christmas Eve, he dons an extremely impressive homemade Santa costume (complete with glued-on beard!), loads up his van (which has a sleigh painted on the sides) with toys he stole from his employers, and heads out to spread Christmas cheer.
He breaks into a few homes and then makes a grand entrance at a children's hospital with a van load of gifts. After delivering his generously stolen donation, Harry pulls up and waits outside of a church, anticipating the eventual exit of his employer. You see, Harry isn't too happy with how certain things are being run at the toy factory, and he is ready to PUNISH! his NAUGHTY! boss. Luckily for said executive, a smart-assed (and possibly drunk) gent begins commenting on Santa Harry's outfit and ride. He pushes Harry's buttons and gets the bayonet of a toy soldier to the eye, followed up by a hatchet wound to the skull.
Harry claims two more victims then leaps into his "sleigh" and drives off into the night. Harry next ends up at a Christmas party, where he's eagerly dragged inside by two drunken men. Harry Claus is hesitant at first and seems ready to start killing people again, but after he realizes that everyone there is good-natured and excited to see him, Harry sticks around, hands out gifts, and has a fantastically fun time! (It is really hard to believe he just murdered three people in cold blood.) After dancing around in circles and making merry, Harry announces that he must go, but before he does, he issues a warning to all the children present:
"But now, I want you to remember to stay good boys and girls. Respect your mothers and fathers and do what they tell you. Obey your teachers and learn a whole lot. Now if you do this, I'll make sure you get good presents from me, every year. Haha. But if you're bad boys and girls, your name goes in the bad boys and girls book, and I'll bring you something..... horrible." [awkward silence followed by hearty Santa laughter!]
Harry's Santa charade continues into the night (the crazy bastard even tries to go down a chimney at one point), while the police begin their investigation and show "Santa line-ups" to witnesses of the night's triple homicide. Things eventually come to a head when Harry attempts to give some presents to a group of children. Harry gives them all gifts, while the children's parents look on in horror. One of the adults decides to act brave and approaches Harry with a switchblade in hand, intent on snuffing "the Killer Claus" before he can hurt the children.
In a surprise move, the guy is disarmed by his little daughter, who picks up the knife and gives it to Harry. Backed into a corner and not nearly crazy enough to harm the kids or use them as human shields, Harry makes a run for it and is soon chased after by a torch-wielding mob! (No, I'm not kidding.) He escapes in his van and goes to his brother Philip's house. Phil freaks out and strangles poor confused Harry, then drags his brother's limp (but not lifeless) body out to the van. Harry quickly comes to his senses, peels out of Phil's driveway and races off, only to be cut off by that pesky torch-wielding mob. (Hahahaha. I still can't get over that!)
Harry swerves off the road to avoid hitting anyone and drives off a cliff to his demise...? Wait, what?! Instead of falling to the ground and bursting into flames, Harry's van begins to fly up into the night sky! That is totally surreal and well.... really unexpected. [Vault Master glances at his drink] Did someone spike my tea or did I really see that?
Christmas Evil isn't exactly a horror film per se, but rather a study of a man's emotional and mental breakdown. It's a slow paced movie and it takes forever to get to the good stuff, but there's something oddly endearing about Christmas Evil that keeps me watching every time. Perhaps it’s the bizarre innocence of Harry, who is hell bent on A.) being Santa and B.) getting others to believe in Santa. I guess in a way, he wants to become Santa Claus so that people will believe in him and it is sort of heartbreaking at the film's climax when he fails his ridiculous mission and then gets strangled by his estranged brother.
And speaking of the climax, what a crazy way to end a film! Things remained relatively believable until Harry is chased by a mob of men and women carrying torches. (What, no pitchforks?) After that, its almost as if we are getting pulled into Harry's twisted world where there's a fine line between reality and fantasy. While this kind of negates the horror film aspects of Christmas Evil it definitely gives this movie more depth and makes for an interesting viewing experience. I guess in a way, this film is like a thinking man's "Silent Night, Deadly Night."
Just a side note here: The version I've watched is the short, eight-five minute cut. If you pick this movie up on DVD, get the longer director's cut that is put out by Synapse. They treat their cult films with great respect, and you get to see fifteen additional lovingly-restored minutes of weirdness that is missing from other DVD releases of the film.
Not sure you want to own this flick? Well swing on by Bmovies.com and watch Christmas Evil absolutely free! Just CLICK HERE!
Why it made the list: Because a dude eventually goes insane after seeing his mom getting down and dirty with "Santa" when he was a child. For some reason this causes him to lose his mind at age forty or so, leading to a laundry list of crimes. He steals toys from his workplace by the friggin' truckload, delivers them to good boys and girls, murders three people in cold blood, gets strangled by his brother, then "flies" away from a lynch mob in his magical Christmas sleigh van. Holy sh*t, this is a weird movie! I'm beginning to wonder if it shouldn't be higher up on this list....
Weirdness Factor: WELL ABOVE AVERAGE. Yeah, forget LOW, MEDIUM, and HIGH, because this movie is in a category all its own. Surprisingly, there are in fact far stranger things to come!
I'm definitely not going to be able to finish this top ten list before Christmas arrives (in TWO DAYS! ACK!), but I'll keep on plugging away until I reach my number one pick for the Oddest Cult Christmas film of all time! Next up on the list is a little indie film from '96 that gives an all new meaning to the word "frostbite!"