They say sex sells in the world of cinema. Christmas Evil (1980) says sex doesn’t sell… if it’s with Santa.
Sex – it’s that funny thing that humans get up to every now and then. We all know about it. (I’m assuming that if you’re on the Internet and have crawled deep enough to find this site then you are probably at least marginally aware of what sexual intercourse entails.) But regardless of how much you know or don’t know, it’s sex and all of its pleasurable forthcomings that lie at the heart of this film’s conflict.
Harry Stadling welcomes us into the blissful wonder of Christmas Eve in 1947, showing us just how much fun a family could have in a sincere yet staged visit from the Big Man himself. It’s a touching moment that’s lost on Phil, Harry’s younger brother. When the fun has simmered down, Phil, in a smug shithead sort of attitude, declares that the Santa that visited them that night was their father just pretending to be the real deal.
It starts as a simple disagreement between two brothers – the kind of argument you’d have with most kids telling you Santa isn’t real. Things turn slightly more sinister and deranged once Harry decides to investigate this identity crisis by sneaking downstairs. His mission is a stunning success as his dreams are instantly shattered at the sight of his Father… rubbing… his mother.
Harry is devastated and near suicidal. He rushes back upstairs and cuts his palm with a shattered snowglobe. Because that’s what you do when sex attacks your perception of the overweight angel of consumerism.
Christmas Evil is made in good fun. It’s the sort of B-movie concept that draws a viewer in either for the sheer absurdity of its premise or the legitimate interest in how something like that might pan out. In my own journey as a partly-curious, partly-fascinated viewer, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this film comes across as less faded gore porn than it does a legitimately unsettling experience.
Generally speaking, I picture Christmas Evil as the perfect amalgamation of terror and joy. It’s the result of an hilariously bizarre set up matched with the unforgiving delivery of grainy characters and creepazoid moments.
There’s one scene where Harry spies on the children in his neighborhood. He’s taken up the habit of recording each child’s behavior, taking note as to whether they’ve done something naughty or nice according to a self-imposed sense of morality. I imagine this would ordinarily be the kind of sequence framed with some kind of comedic value. A modern take on the premise might accent the scene with some obnoxiously awful stock music or some over the top delivery from the film’s lead. What we’re left with is the polar opposite.
Between the dulcet tones of a soundtrack that sounds like it was the prequel to the Wii Shop soundtrack and the beyond-serious acting of Harry’s performer, Brandon Maggart, there isn’t a real delivery on the punchline of Christmas Evil. Instead, the film insists on the brutal reality of a story like this, leaving us with the pieces of Harry’s broken psyche and the idea that maybe his idea of an ‘evil’ Christmas can be vindicated. It’s saying that this idea isn’t funny – it’s a legitimate part of who Harry is.
With an overly comedic expectation out of the way, Christmas Evil performs as a competent profile of a bizarre figure. As I said before, it’s the story of someone who was deeply troubled by sex. Harry’s motivations are the result of how sex can tarnish the image of the pure and challenge the innocence of the world around us. The dude just really isn’t into the idea.
I could go on about how this kind of anti-sex message may parody the culture’s attitude toward sex at the time, but who cares? It’s funny: Sex and Santa do not mix. (That’s partly why I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is such a scandalous tune this time of year.)
Jokes aside, I recommend Christmas Evil to those brilliant fans of the esoteric. This is required reading for anyone who calls themselves a fan of slashers and, I must admit, it feels like a hidden treasure amidst the slew of awful Christmas horror movies we’ve had in the past 15 years.
dir. Lewis Jackson
Screens 12/22 & 12/23, 11:59PM, @Coolidge Corner
Part of the Ongoing Series: After Midnite