Christmas Evil / You Better Watch Out / Terror in Toyland (1980)

The holiday horror theme continues, this time through another slasher cult classic, Christmas Evil. Just like Black Christmas, I was prompted to watch this after reading an article about alternative holiday movies. This primarily started off as a morbid curiosity watch, but hold and behold, like Black Christmas, not only did this actually turn out to be entertaining, it’s also pretty damn ingenious little cult movie. It goes to places you would never expect it to go and it manages to repeatedly take you by surprise. And above else, it’s filled with proper old school Christmas spirit.

There’s so much I love about this movie but what I can’t get over the most is the fact how well the script manages to mix the inherent cheesiness of the plot to an otherwise very serious movie. This could so easily fall into the pitfall of having an entirely wonky, schizophrenic tone, but somehow it manages to get it just right. I think it’s because movie is much closer to an interesting psychological drama than a straight up horror, so it avoids from being too formulaic and predictable. It’s quite remarkable how good this ended up being given how little money they had to make this. The entire budget was only somewhere in the ballpark of mere $450,000. My hat really goes off to the makers.

There isn’t one boring moment in the entire movie. Everything the story does is far too delightful and slightly goofy to be ever dull and the way the tone jumps between almost heartwarming and childlike to slightly terrifying when Harry goes all psycho on Christmas Eve is handled remarkably proficiently. And boy, I just adore how the event that is implied to be the origin of Harry’s psychosis/motivation/whatever, i.e. what turned him into this peculiar child like grownup madman with a Christmas fixation, is him as a child seeing his mom being sleazily groped on Christmas Eve by his dad, while the dad was dressed in the Santa costume. It’s such a bizarre, overextended and dirty moment,  done in a way that steers towards bad taste to the point where it becomes overtly funny and awesome.

When you look at Christmas Evil as a whole, it’s strange how good it truly is. If you took a glance at the story, very little beyond the killer Santa gimmick really strikes as anything remotely interesting about it. Yet it’s very compelling once you sit down and watch it. It seems to be one of those movies where a lot of small, seemingly insignificant moments lumped together end up transforming the movie into being something greater than the sum of its parts. Just to list few of the things that make this such a fun movie to watch includes stuff like Harry spying on kids and keeping self-made ledgers of all the naught and nice children in his neighborhood meticulously up to date, or the entire process of Harry slowly cracking up as Christmas Eve approaches. We see him getting more and more aggravated and deranged, until he finally starts to create his own Santa costume, which all leads to him eventually pretending to be Santa Clause on Christmas Eve night, breaking into people’s homes to deliver the  presents (that he has himself built, naturally) to the kids he has perceives to have been good that year and then stabbing the original gifts that were already sitting under the tree with a kitchen knife. Amongst all this, the couple of murders Harry ends up committing during the movie feel almost an after thought, which is pretty great subversion of your expectations. You see, the true message of Christmas Evil is the joy of Christmas as a holiday, not bloody murder and cathartic revenge fantasies.

The absolute highlight of the movie is the ending, when on Christmas Day Harry stumbles into a group of people who recognize him as the psychotic killer that the news have been talking about. After a brief violent confrontation, Harry flees the scene, but all the parents from the neighborhood quickly form a lynching mob (with actual torches!) and chase after him down the road. It’s tremendous, like something ripped straight from  a 1930s Universal monster movie. And the following climax is the best part: while attempting to flee the mob with his van, Harry panics and accidentally speeds off the road, but rather than crashing down the cliff to his karmic demise, we see Harry magically keep flying onwards into the night sky, as if his van had transformed into Santa’s magic flying sled. It’s like the Christmas nightmare had suddenly turned into a genuine Christmas miracle. It’s absolutely beautiful finish to the movie, I almost felt liked crying.

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