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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Christmas Evil Lewis Jackon 1984

I Saw Mommy Porking Santa Claus

In my review of Silent Night, Deadly Night, I illustrated in embarrassing detail my fetish for men in Santa hats. Sick, I know – but I’ll be damned if I start going to therapy for something that crops up for 3 weeks a year and costs me about $6.50 worth of greeting cards at Spencer Gifts. In my discussion of this particular predisposition, I note that putting just any old man in a Santa hat will not, in itself, satisfy the particular cravings of a discerning Santaphile.
Case in point: Christmas Evil.

Before I make the obvious unflattering comparison between Christmas Evil’s Brandon Maggart and Silent but Deadly’s utterly delicious Robert Brian Wilson, let me say this: Maggart, while no trophy-winner in the Hot Santa department, is certainly no slouch of an actor. Especially given that he appears in almost every scene of Evil, his performance is admirably even-keeled and demonstrates some impressive control. It’s hard to make claims about his actorly abilities based on such a strange and stagey movie, but I’d even go out on a limb and say he’s pretty good. But considering the subject matter (guy in Santa suit goes nuts on Christmas Eve and starts hacking people up), a comparison between he and the luscious Mr. Wilson is inevitable, and Robert certainly wins in the titillation department. To quote A Chorus Line, Maggart’s score would be “dance 10, looks 3”.

The film falls somewhere in between. An oddly sincere and snail-paced look at how a childhood event can shape a man’s future, Christmas Evil hovers between pretentious and competent before jumping the fence to completely batshit brilliant in the last 45 seconds. Alternately compelling and agonizing to sit through, the film could certainly stand a good trimming, as the “profound silences” and repetitive master-only scenes pass through intriguing and land squarely in boring territory after about 45 minutes. Almost sensing our dismay, director Lewis Jackson thankfully loosens the reins just a bit and gives us a little mayhem – just a taste – and thankfully the film skids across the finish line an intriguing and memorable little psychological horror curiosity.

Our tale begins 30 or so years in the past (from 1980, so we're talking, like, Eisenhower era here), as young Billy and Harry watch Santa come down their chimney and leave them presents under the tree. Bathed in creepy, colored lights, the scene is downright eerie – and to top it off, Santa actually puts his finger upside of his nose and whisks up the chimney as if at the mercy of some giant vacuum cleaner. The kids are somehow delighted by this, even though it is obviously their father doing the gifting, albeit apparently with the aid of some sort of witchcraft or superconductor capable of propelling a man up a flue at 60 miles per hour.

Anyway, Harry decides to sneak downstairs later (to the chagrin of his brother, who stresses that Santa doesn’t really exist) and catches his mom and Santa in the middle of what looks like some sort of garter-belt fetish ritual. Being a normally sexualized faggot, I'm sure I don’t know – but whatever it is, they’re both enjoying it. Straight people! Apparently campaigning for Parents of the Year, these two dipshits have unwisely decided to get frisky under the tree, effectively scarring their young son for life.

Oddly, the boy does not develop a garter-belt fetish (which would be the most obvious result) – instead he fixates on Santa Claus and all the holiday trimmings. Now, I’m no psychoanalyst (although I play one on TV), but considering the “scarring event”, I would think that this guy growing up wanting to be Santa would be a wee bit Oedipal, no? I mean, wouldn’t this imply that his goal is to worship his mother’s hosiery under the tree? But no – here, oddly enough, the character of the mother disappears entirely, never to be discussed again. In fact, there are really no women to speak of for the remainder of the film, save a few day-players. It’s kind of a shame that the film begins by implying a mis-sexualization involving Santa Claus, and then shows the character adopting an asexual fixation on him; it feels hesitant and half-realized.

But there are other fun things going on to distract us from this. For one, there’s a truly ghetto toy factory, easily one of the shoddiest and most depressing settings I’ve ever seen (two thin, long conveyor belts dropped in the middle of a giant warehouse, carrying a piddly queue of cheap plastic toys – absolutely pathetic). Then there’s Harry’s fixation on charting the good and bad behaviors of the children in the neighborhood, including the virtuous Susie Lovett (who takes loving care of her dolly) and the naughty Moss Garcia (an odd name for a child whose mother is played by Patricia Richardson of Home Improvement!). Harry takes precious time out of his day (he’s been promoted to the offices in the factory but still finds time to moonlight on the assembly line, which he misses) to follow the chillins around, even putting the fear of God into Moss one evening by painting his face black with mud and skulking around outside his house. Yes, I know we’ve all done the same thing – but never in December weather, and we’re clever enough to bring our own shoe polish.

Anyway, Harry gets his Hendersons up in a tizzy over the Macy’s Day Parade, missing Thanksgiving with his brother Billy and his family, which raises a few red flags (or, rather, a few more red flags – Harry’s such a freak that he’s raised the entire semaphore alphabet by this point…). When Harry finally dons his Santa suit and goes to church (which looks more like a city library or City Hall than a house of worship – you know, like some churches look like old Pizza Huts?), he is ripe and ready for a serious crash; luckily there are a group of ridiculously unpleasant parishioners exiting Christmas Eve mass who take it upon themselves to goad him publicly in front of hundreds of people. Even more ridiculous (although entirely welcome at this point, considering that we’re entering snoozeville) is Harry’s response, which is to stab one merry gentleman in the eye with a tin soldier and hack two of the others to death with an axe.

This unexpected display of aggression seems like something from another movie (Silent but Deadly, perhaps?) – one that’s actually kind of fun to watch. Sadly, it’s really all we get from Christmas Evil in terms of violence or gore – there is another tousle later on but there’s no bloodshed and it’s really more like an unfortunate misunderstanding than a scare scene (as is any scene featuring Rutanya Alda, who is simply mind-boggling here as a random woman on the street who has one line, is thrown to the ground and instantly forgotten).

As Harry Claus races away from the fracas, we are treated to one of the best and most memorable images from the film: Santa, winded and hysterical, being chased down a dark Queens street by a gang of adults wielding flaming torches. The moment has a sense of kinetic glee that is entirely missing from the rest of the film; in one sense, it’s brilliant, in that the entire story has been leading up to this moment. This is the most alive that Harry has been (having killed three people in front of a church, crashing and behaving himself at some sort of VFW Christmas party, and finally accidentally stabbing someone in the street in front of his children). Perhaps the rush of exhilaration that this crazed moneyshot provides would not be as rich had the rest of the movie been more interesting, and for that I can almost justify the tedium of the earlier 80 minutes.

And then things happen very quickly – Santa gets in his white van (upon which he has hand-painted a life-sized sleigh) and drives away from the charging hoard, with his brother following behind, slack-jawed at the entire affair that he should have seen coming 30 years ago. When Harry’s van careens through a guardrail and off a bridge, things end exactly as we expected them to, with a stage-bloodied Santa with misty eyes lying amidst the wreckage of his sleighvan, asking God, “Why? Why? I just wanted to help the sick kids!”.

Only… that’s not what happens. In a turn of events that finally bookends the surreal chimney-suck that started the film, Harry’s van crashes through the guardrail, only to fly off into the sky as if pulled by a fleet of unseen Vespa reindeer. Seriously. Ho ho ho, roll credits.

I’m sorry, but that just rocks. Sure it’s ridiculous and cheap and irresponsible and whatever, but it’s also just about the only thing saving the film from being mundane, predictable, and heavy-handed. So he really is Santa Claus – so what if he killed a few people? Hell, they were just Christians anyway… In this last naughty surprise Jackson is telling us that no, his film is not a dour, cautionary tale about how a man’s psychosis can bring fear and tragedy to others when unheeded or ignored. Instead, it’s a delicious twisting of a popular myth and a somewhat disturbing discussion of how (and by whom) we are judged, sentenced, and even executed. This, plus a handful of interesting trivia bits (the odd appearance by Ms. Alda; the early-career performance of Richardson, who would go on to star with another, more substance-dependent Santa Clause, Tim Allen; the fact that a man with the name and appearance of Maggart sired the white-hot, crocodile-wise teen songstress and former David Blaine armcandy Fiona Apple) make Christmas Evil worth a look – just keep a finger on the fast-forward button.

Rating (out of 5):