Directed by Lewis Jackson
Distributed by Arrow Video
Harry Stadling is a troubled man. See, he’s never quite been the same since the Christmas night, as a boy, on which he saw his mother getting amorous with Santa Claus (his father in costume) in the living room. Now grown up and working in a toy factory, Harry keeps his own grand list of the neighbourhood boys and girls, along with their naughty or nice status. Cajoled and abused by his co-workers and regularly demeaned by his successful, family man brother (DeMunn), meek Harry finally reaches the end of his tether come Christmas.
Donning a Santa costume and sack of stolen toys, Harry paints up his van like a sleigh and sets about trying to bring Christmas cheer to sick and deserving children, and any adults who treat him with kindness and respect. Of course, there are also people out there who most certainly are not deserving of a treat from Santa, and as Harry’s mental collapse worsens, the body count soon rises.
A victim of poor marketing, Christmas Evil (from 1980 and originally titled You Better Watch Out) is surprisingly less focused on a stalk ‘n slash Santa figure than it is with the gradual mental collapse of a man who just wants the world to operate by his own rules of kindness. The incredibly slow pace makes for somewhat of a barrier to entry into the world, but lead Brandon Maggart pulls out an empathetic performance that continues to deliver even when he’s physically masked behind a suit and giant beard. It’s pretty low on actual bloodshed (though an eye-stabbing and multiple axe murder in broad daylight is a shockingly brutal highlight), which will come as an unpleasant surprise to anyone expecting something akin to Silent Night, Deadly Night.
In technical terms, it’s a low budget affair and very rough around the edges. Jackson’s direction is functional but uninventive — more concerned with telling the story than offering visual embellishment, and as mentioned, it really is plagued by flaccid pacing. The daring ending, however, is a stroke of surreal brilliance and a touching metaphor that gets straight to the heart of everything poor, misguided Harry was striving for.
It’s been described by filmmaker John Waters as “the best Christmas movie ever made“, and while it certainly doesn’t deserve that level of accolade, Christmas Evil is well worth a watch over the festive season.
Arrow Video’s DVD release of Christmas Evil sports a decent, if occasionally washed out, transfer and a solid audio track. On the disc we have two commentary tracks — one with director Lewis Jackson, and the second with Jackson and John Waters. The second commentary is certainly the best — coming across like an interview recorded while watching the film, it contains much of the information held in the first one alongside additional laughs generated by an unbridled Waters.
Backing those up are separate interviews with Jackson and star Maggart, a selection of storyboards, six minutes of fairly innocuous deleted scenes, and around 25 minutes of rare audition tapes.
Physically, we have a reversible sleeve with choice of artwork and a collector’s booklet featuring writing by critic and author Kim Newman, John Waters and Lewis Jackson, illustrated with rare stills and images from Jackson’s own personal collection.
• Commentary with Lewis Jackson
• Commentary with Lewis Jackson and John Waters
• Lewis Jackson Interview
• Brandon Maggart Interview
• Deleted Scenes
• Audition Tapes
• Storyboard Sequences
• Reversible sleeve featuring choice of original or newly commissioned artwork
• Collector’s Booklet
3 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5