A Movie A Day: CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) But if you’re bad… I’ll bring you something… horrible.
Published at: Oct. 29, 2009, 5:53 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day. At the end of each standard AMAD I’m going to include a recommendation of a genre film that is either one of my personal favorites or too good of a double feature with the AMAD title to pass up a mention.]
Holy shit, this movie is ten kinds of awesome.
I went into the movie expecting schlock of the highest order at best or a dull, shitty shitty shitty movie like Silent Night, Bloody Night. Much like the last AMAD, THE SADIST, I got a movie with a lot more production value and substance instead.
This story isn’t about an evil man, just a kind of creepy guy obsessed with the idea of Santa Claus and Christmas. So much so that he wants to transform himself into Santa Claus. He spies on the neighborhood children… yeah, it’s creepy, but not sexualized. He’s keeping a list of those in the apartments across the street, a very detailed naughty and nice list.
Brandon Maggart plays the lead in much the same way I’d imagine Paul Giamatti would if taking the part today. It’s a brooding, off-kilter but still grounded performance. You’re on Harry Stadling’s side from beginning to the end… at least I was.
The dude just wants people to be honest, good giving people. You think at the beginning when he’s profiling naughty and nice children that he’s going to radically punish the naughty ones, but that’s not really his game. He just gives them a bag of New Jersey soil, which I guess is kind of cruel and unusual punishment, but still… He saves the slaying for the adults.
And even then we get some nice eye-popping gore, but it’s not done in a traditional slasher way. In fact outside of one person that is a straight up FALLING DOWN revenge kill Harry only kills out of a knee-jerk reaction (admittedly fueled by a simmering hatred for corporate dicks who abuse the holiday season).
The flick does get a bit ridiculous, complete with a torch-carrying screaming mob of angry townspeople out to get Santa… plus the ending will either make you think this is the greatest movie in the world or a huge piece of stupid shit. I, obviously, fall in the former category… without the hyperbole.
Also, movie-fans will recognize a lot of the New York-based character actors of the time, like Frank Darabont favorite Jeffrey DeMunn of The Mist (“There’s something in the mist!!”) and Shawshank as Harry’s concerned/pissed off brother, Raymond J. Barry (everything from Falling Down to playing Dewey Cox in Walk Hard) as a cop looking into the Santa murders and Mark Margolis (Requiem For A Dream, Scarface) as some guy at a party.
Final Thoughts: I was so pleasantly surprised by this movie. It’s a rare low budget horror film… a slow burn that turns convention on its head. Some gorehounds might not want a character-driven story that’s light on effects, but if you’re looking for something that’s less exploitationy you’ll find an undiscovered gem of a flick.
Now if you want something that’s more crazy with the kills, but keeps the Christmas killer theme alive, then look no further than SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT.
Oh, man do I love Silent Night, Deadly Night. I have memories of this movie from childhood, but it wasn’t until about 6 or 7 years ago when the above (now out of print) DVD came out that I sat down to watch it from beginning to end with a group of friends.
This flick grabs you right off the bat when young Billy goes with his parents to visit dear old granddad at the old folks home. Grampa is non-responsive… until his parents leave and then we get the best scene in this movie and damn near any other movie ever made in my opinion.
Grandpa is played by Will Hare who you might remember as the 1950s farmer with the shotgun that finds Marty and his time machine after he jumps back in time in BACK TO THE FUTURE. He knocks that scene out of the park.
I so wish Grandpa was the main character, but the movie does okay without him. Little Billy has a rough life. Directly after visiting Grandpa and hearing that amazing speech the kid rejoins his family who are stopped on the road by a killer in a Santa suit. Of course the little man watches his partents die, but his torment doesn’t end there.
Billy grows up in an orphanage run by a bitch of a head nun who seems to have it out for the poor kid. Christmas is a traumatizing holiday for the kid, obviously, and her tough love approach only pushes him further to the breaking point.
And then they have the bright idea of farming out the now work-age Billy to a toy store as Christmas approaches. The poor bastard tries to cope with this, but when the manager (Britt Leach) puts him in a Santa suit for the kiddies Billy snaps, deciding who is naughty and who is nice.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is cheaply made, but high on the entertainment value and surprisingly character-driven not kill-driven. That’s not to say it doesn’t push the envelope or to portray this as a thriller… it’s a flat out exploitative slasher, just one with more care to character than you’d expect.
And like most memorable horror films this flick has a great ending.
Also, keep an eye out for some incredibly nostalgic toys taking up space on the shelves of the toy store where Billy works. You’ll see some RETURN OF THE JEDI stuff and other things directly out of my childhood.
Here are the final run of Halloween AMAD titles:
Thursday, October 29th: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? (1969)