Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #540
Also known as You Better Watch Out, Terror in Toyland
Number of Views: One
Release Date: November 1980
Sub-Genre: Character Study/Black Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Lewis Jackson
Producers: Burt Kleiner, Pete Kameron
Screenplay: Lewis Jackson
Special Effects: Tom Brumberger
Cinematography: Ricardo Aronovich
Score: Joel Harris, Julia Heyward, Don Christensen
Editing: Linda Leeds, Corky O’Hara
Studio: Edward R. Pressman Film
Distributor: Pan American Pictures
Stars: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville, Joe Jamrog, Wally Moran, Gus Salud, Ellen McElduff, Brian Hartigan, Peter Neuman, Lance Holcomb, Elizabeth Ridge, Chris Browning, Tyrone Holmes
Suggested Audio Candy
 Elvis Presley “Blue Christmas”
 Joel Harris, Julia Heyward & Don Christensen “Christmas Evil”
I’ve got mixed feelings about Christmas. Being a father, the joy of watching my boy tear asunder his gifts is priceless and fills me to the brim with seasonal cheer as it reminds me of my own childhood enthusiasm and I adore reliving it through his baby blues. However, it’s not all tinsel and baubles. Where do I start with the negatives without coming across as some kind of Grinch? Okay, here goes.
Whoever invented overpriced Christmas crackers deserves to be hung, drawn and quartered, I despise foraging around in the attic for the tree and decorations, mince pies and festive pudding both suck assholes, mistletoe is all well and good until your Aunt Ethel puckers up and you catch sight of the hairy mole on her upper lip, reindeer are utterly redundant for eleven months of the calendar year, I always get ugly paisley socks for my tree present, all that roughage comes back to haunt us once grandpops settles down for his post-dinner snooze, I’m fairly sure that elves are inherently evil, January sales start way too early for my liking, and twelve days later I’m back in the poky attic for the return journey, flat broke and still sporting my new year hangover. Bah fucking humbug!
Actually, it ain’t all that bad but you get my general gist. To some, the pursuit of seasonal goodwill goes a little too much to their heads. One such individual is Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart). To call him obsessed is like referring to Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction as something of a tad over-zealous with her advances. He lives Christmas, breathes it too, and even his daily bowel movements come gift-wrapped. Since a young age, the spirit of Christmas has been all that really matters but it just so happens that he practices it in mid-July when he should be scouring the beaches for bikini babes sporting camel toes.
It doesn’t stop at his leisure time either. Harry works at Jolly Dreams toy factory and takes great pride in his work, despite the shoddily constructed plastic crap that spews forth from the production line. Moreover, he decks his own halls with boughs of holly and his apartment bears an uncanny resemblance to the big man’s grotto. His favorite pastime is spying on small children through his binoculars but it isn’t half as nefarious as it sounds. You see, Harry wants to make sure that good kids are rewarded for their upstanding behaviour, whereas any little rascals are struck off his happy roster and placed straight on his naughty list. It’s fair to say that Harry has been bitten by the Xmas bug and he’d probably throttle me dead just for abbreviating it.
So where does his fixation stem from? His childhood of course or the New Jersey suburbs, on a lush white Christmas Eve in 1947 to be precise. Six-year-old Harry was merrily preparing for the festivities and excited about Santa’s imminent arrival when something transpired that his wide eyes weren’t equipped to process. To be fair, the bearded man groping his mother by the log fire was his father and had every right to empty his sack in his wife’s stockings after rappelling down the chimney stack but Harry didn’t see things that way and something snapped instantly inside his still wiring mind. After dashing straight to his room and cutting himself on a shattered snow globe, he was left perpetually altered beyond recall.
Thirty years later and the season of goodwill to all men is looming large once more. Up until now, Harry has managed to keep his compulsions pretty much to himself although, considering he hasn’t a solitary friend in the world, his extracurricular activities aren’t in any danger of getting out. However, this year he has had about as much as he can take. Colleagues repeatedly exploit his kind nature, drunken yuppies scoff at tradition everywhere he turns, and the spirit of Christmas appears to be faltering. Time to pay these infidels a visit and make them pay for their insolence. He may not possess a sled per se, but his van will do the trick and his very best Saint Nick costume is ironed and ready for the donning. With faux beard firmly in place, Harry sets off on his festive errands.
This is where Christmas Evil significantly differs from the likes of mean-spirited fare such as Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s notorious Silent Night, Deadly Night and Edmund Purdom’s gloriously sleazy Z-grade trash fest Don’t Open Till Christmas. One would expect something of a bloodbath as he heads off with forehead vein pulsating but, in fact, he spends just as much time spreading cheer as he does obliterating the ignorant. One minute he is gouging out eyeballs in full view of his fellow townsfolk and, the next, he’s handing out gifts with a twinkle in his eye and brimming with Ho! Ho! Ho! Unhinged he may be and, sporadically psychotic undoubtedly, but in Harry’s mind, his intentions are totally honorable and he means no real harm.
It’s not all about Harry as his long-suffering brother Philip (Jeffrey DeMunn) plays a key part in proceedings also. He is exasperated by his increasingly erratic behavior and desperate for answers as to why, this Christmas, Harry isn’t joining in the annual festivities. Eventually he gets his wish as our makeshift Santa shows on his doorstep although any hopes of a nice sit-down meal are promptly dashed as the revelations come pouring out and their already strained relationship finally comes to a rather unsatisfactory head.
There are long periods in Christmas Evil whereby precious little happens in the way of incident but, thanks to a winning turn from Maggart, it never becomes of great concern. That said, 100 minutes could have done with being trimmed by ten or so, as adrenaline is at a distinct premium for over half of the running time but, bizarrely enough, Jackson’s film is kind in nature. Let’s not get it twisted, A Christmas Story it most certainly isn’t, but even the much-loved Miracle on 34th Street is a surprisingly dour affair, all things considered. The ending couldn’t be more fitting as Harry gets his wish and we are left with a warm, fuzzy glow that catches us somewhat off-guard.
Christmas Evil isn’t a great movie by any stretch of the imagination and those looking for bloated body counts will find little in their stockings once the end credits roll. Having said that, it has an undeniable charm that serves it remarkably well. This is no slasher despite understandably being marketed as such and, instead, Jackson’s film provides us with a, dare I say it, touching character study of one man’s battle with his demons and his inability to let go of past discrepancies. Of course, this makes it a tough movie to wholeheartedly recommend as it struggles with its identity and ultimately falls somewhere between the two stalls. But approach it the right way and you may just find yourself surrendering to Harry’s seasonal good will.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Grue is fleeting and, aside from one burst of violence involving a hack-happy hatchet and some peeper plucking, it’s slim pickings on the splatter front. As for T&A, one flash of garter belt is about as close as we come to emptying our sacks although I would have paid good money to be in Santa’s boots once Harry fled back upstairs despairingly.
Read A Christmas Horror Story Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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