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“Christmas Evil” Won’t Cure Your Holiday Blues

Thursday, December 16, 2021 | Stab Me Gently


Christmas is a pedophile’s bribe. A dude with a beard pays off parents by doing their holiday shopping for them to excuse the 364 days of the year when the alleged saint stalks all of their children, leaning into his ultimate voyeuristic fantasies. Before OnlyFans gave us exclusive access to our favorite Twitter Kings, no one but Santa got to watch; Norman Bates, eat your heart out! Santa has such a good PR team that even the parents participate in grooming. As they carol along, “He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake,” they condition their children to accept without complaint the invasive presence of this ho-ho-ho pervert in their lives. The song may be called “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” but that’s just to distract Americans from Santa’s uncouth obsession with their youth. If Santa’s intentions were anything but horny and selfish he would skip presents and pay down the national debt.

And just like that…I’m dishing on the holiday horror fest CHRISTMAS EVIL (a.k.a. You Better Watch Out a.k.a. Terror in Toyland). Starring Brandon Maggart (OBC Applause), Jeffrey DeMunn (Storm of the Century, The Green Mile), and Dianne Hull (The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking), written and directed by Lewis Jackson.

Christmas Eve, 1947. Two little boys spy on Santa as he drinks some milk and drops off their presents. Young Harry sees Santa engage in some adult cuddles with his mom. Brother Phillip tells him that his father is under that costume, shattering forever the magic of Santa. Harry freaks out and cuts himself on a broken snow globe, what was once his favorite possession. The music emanating from the globe stops, and so does the innocence of childhood…or something. I don’t fully understand the logic of this sequence but what it does set up for us is two things: Harry loves the Christmas holiday, and Harry is very, very unwell.

Cut to the present. Harry (Maggart) wakes up like so many of us do: in our Santa suits. As he goes about his morning routine, I looked around to see if there was an air conditioner kept year round in the window, or an abundance of large fans. Not judging him for sleeping in a Santa costume, but wondering instead how he achieved that without sweating to death. He lives in an apartment dressed to the nines in holiday cheer. It’s off-putting to those of us who observe Halloween year round, but not so jarring if you know someone obsessed with America’s Cult: Disney. My editor is a Disney fan so if you don’t hear from me again, this shade is probably why, and not low readership. Adult Harry is a sad, lonely dude who works in a toy factory called Jolly Dream. His coworkers tease him for his new promotion, skewing our outlook. The supporting cast takes turns bullying and pitying him, but why? So far all I’m seeing is a guy whose hobby is advancing in the workplace. The filmmakers want us to think his life is pathetic so that they might better build their villain.

In his free time, Harry spies on the neighborhood kids, jotting down any impure behavior in his Book of Stalking. I did wonder if Fran Lebowitz had her own version: a Book of Disappointments, in which she lists all her grievances. At moments you question if you’re in a John Waters film (no surprise that Waters is famously outspoken in his love for CHRISTMAS EVIL). Despite the elements of sex present, Harry is not a sexual character. He may come off as a little crazy-obsessive, but his thoughts are pure. If only he was born in Whoville instead of New York, we might be watching a comedy instead.

The movie ambles along, unsure of what kind of movie it wants to be. I think in part because Harry’s descent into madness happens gradually. At one point he hides in the bushes to scare a little boy whose mother then berates the blessed child and says, “You would ruin my night out!” Love that energy, Susan. Harry goes home and gets fully into Santa drag. He becomes feverish as he affixes the beard to his face; shrieking, gasping, near tears. He does everything but say, “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me.” We know that tonight is a transformation, but still no murders have occurred so what could really go wrong here?

During the staff party at Jolly Dream, Harry sneaks down to the work floor to steal all the toys which he plans to dispense to the poor and needy. He drives off with his bounty in a white kidnapper’s van with a sleigh painted across the side. As he hands out presents at a local hospital, I question why I am in the middle of the Robin Hood reboot we didn’t want or need. When a group of churchgoers tease Harry’s appearance (let’s dwell in this irony for a sec), he stabs one of them in the eye. God rest ye merry gentlemen, INDEED. In between his murders, Harry continues to hand out presents. That’d be like if Mikey took a break from chasing Laurie to pass out candy in Haddonfield. But Harry doesn’t strike me a typical horror baddie – I don’t believe he wants to kill.

The deaths are exactly what you’d expect: suffocation by toy sack, throat slitting with a Christmas topper, the usual stuff. As the authorities learn of the mayhem, they urge everyone to “avoid anyone dressed like Santa Claus.” The cops wrangle up a group of Santas and force them into a police lineup where everyone takes turns saying, “Merry Christmas.” Admittedly, these moments are hilarious, but I don’t understand why they’re happening. It feels like we’re in two movies: a cheeky holiday slasher and a disturbing document of deteriorating mental health and the consequences of not taking mental illness seriously. The lead detective says they’ve got to “make kids scared again” which has been the Republican Party platform at least since Nancy Reagan was doling out bjs at the MGM studio lot.

Throughout the film, Harry alludes to music. He repeats, “I’m going to play my tune now” in the way Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof drinks to eliminate that pesky “clicking” noise. One imagines it all comes back to the music from the snow globe: Harry’s first childhood betrayal. What makes CHRISTMAS EVIL sad is that Harry is unwell, not evil, and there are no systems in place to help him. It is perhaps a flaw in the writing that our Big Bad is so palpably human. The film might have been more successful if he was a proper cold-blooded killer. As he flees a mob, Harry resembles Frankenstein’s Monster; misunderstood and villainized. Harry didn’t want to kill anybody, he just wanted to be a good Santa in a cruel and uncaring world.

With nowhere else to go, he drives to his brother’s house and says, “Everyone rejected my tune.” Even Harry knows the jig is up. But what would have happened if Harry didn’t encounter those rude churchgoers? He probably would have just handed out presents and gone home to bed, full on milk and cookies. “I knew it was you!” screams his brother before strangling him. Harry survives long enough to drive away, but then he veers off the side of the road. Our last image is the van flying through the air, headed straight for the moon.

Final Thoughts: Although labeled a “Video Nasty” in the eighties, CHRISTMAS EVIL isn’t a slasher. It has some gory moments, the eye scene in particular, and because that death happens first, it misleads the viewer into thinking all kills will be like that one. Does this movie seek to capitalize on the holiday theme Halloween started? I don’t think so, as Lewis Jackson claims to have written this long before John Carpenter’s 1978 delight. This film can’t pick a genre. It wants to comment on how most of the world’s monsters are man-made. I support that. But then it tries to be clever-clever and, dare I say campy, poking fun at the insidious nature of our most celebrated holiday. It might have succeeded with the latter if it didn’t inadvertently make Harry such a tragic, compelling force.

Thoughts? Lamentations? Withering critiques? Gentleman Caller applications? Comment below or reach out to me directly on Twitter and Instagram.

Justin McDevitt
JUSTIN MCDEVITT is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME premiered in September at Theater for the New City. Stream his six part series SEVERED HEADS on Youtube. @justinwritesplays