Ah… Religion, iconography, and moral panic. Welcome back to B-Movie Enema all you nutty, repressed, goofballs!
When coming to picking a movie that could tie into the Christmas holiday (as well as the general winter theme), I guess I could pick from several that the 80s and 90s offered up. However, I should probably just go one that was sort of at the forefront of some controversy right at the start of the raddest decade of them all – Christmas Evil.
I will try to frame this as best as I can because people get pretty silly over horror and have consistently over the years. I’ve mentioned before that satanic panic ran rampant over the late 70s and all throughout the 80s. Some of that still persists today over the things that were stigmatized during that era. But what was stigmatized and why?
In the mid-50s, at least in America, there seemed to be this perception that “western culture” reigned supreme. The United States felt pretty high and mighty with the defeat of the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II. For decades, we’d lord over Britain and France that they would all be talking German if it wasn’t us. I ain’t gonna spend too much time on all that jazz, because we all know it’s true.
Nah, just yankin’ your chains, England and France!
In the 50s, there was a purity that was afforded the victors, right? Without getting into the whole issue of segregation and whiteness of what would become kind of known as “Traditional America”, there is a serious connection to what we think of that time being innocent and wholesome. Families went to church. Girls were expected to wait to marriage before playing grab ass with boys, even though boys were kind of expected to grab dat ass.
Now some of the perception of what religion in America was during that time is that Southern Baptist hard line evangelical piety. So when expression started to come back around, like rock and roll and desegregation and civil rights and women’s rights to name a few, older generations and religious leaders started losing their goddamn minds. As time passed, what hills certain people and groups wanted to die on shifted, but pop music, games, and horror movies seemed to become the prevailing things that religious folks focus on the most – with a special honorable mention going to toys in the mid-80s.
So by the 80s, pop music, harder rock in particular, and Dungeons and Dragons were central in the satanic panic craze. However, horror movies were often labeled as something that could certainly warp minds and degrade moral standards of the “civilized” world. I should mention that what these people felt was the “civilized” world was “western culture” which is also another way to say “white people”.
Naturally, the best known instance of how horror kind of had to take it on the chin is the United Kingdom’s infinite wisdom of moral crusader Mary Whitehouse. Whitehouse was a crusty old British lady who, with other crusty old hard line conservatives, decided that anything that seemed like something other British people shouldn’t watch, they would label it as a “Video Nasty” and take the decision of what is right or wrong out of the hands of other adults. It is something that is kind of tantamount to fascist behavior.
In the United States, most people kind of ignored horror and what religion would say about the genre. However, shit came to a serious head when Christmas-themed horror started happening. It was an attack on things that are meant to be cheerful and a celebration of Jesus and Santa Claus. Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night were at the forefront of people being asshats about the topic. The idea of a killer dressed as Santa got a lot of people riled up. It was somehow a slap in the face to Christianity.
However… Isn’t Christmas supposed to be about Christ? Isn’t Santa and the dilution of the religion side of things for the sake of capitalist spending for gifts kind of sacrilege?
Oh well, I never said any of this made any of the sense.
So, yeah. Santas as killers would cause critics and various other actors to speak out hardcore on the moral implications of displaying something like this. Critics, particularly big time, mainstream critics (like Siskel and Ebert), had been very hard on a lot of the 80s horror by dismissing it as trash and anti-feminist (though I could squabble on many of their main examples, but that is for another time… maybe).
Now, more recent reviews have been kind of positive on Christmas Evil compared to other films of its time. However, the audience score isn’t so hot on the movie. My ultimate point… This should be pretty damn perfect for B-Movie Enema to celebrate the holidays with.
Our movie opens on Christmas Eve 1947 with a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Two boys and their mother watch as Santa Claus comes down the chimney and makes himself a meal of milk and buttered bread. You know, really keeping things traditional around here, right? Already this movie is OBVIOUSLY anti-God.
Ugh… Anyway, he begins leaving presents. One of the kids, Harry, giggles as Santa fills the stockings and goes back up the chimney. He swears to his brother, Billy, that it was not their father, and that it was obviously the real deal. When Billy doesn’t have any of it, Harry goes downstairs to see exactly why they left bread with the milk…
Because mama has the cookies Santa wants.
Harry’s little brain kinda fucking explodes. He goes upstairs and smashes his lovely little snow globe and goes right to the cutting. He doesn’t act out, he doesn’t go for drugs, he just goes right to self-harm. He bleeds all over his busted snow globe and BAM! Titles. But wait…
Those goddamn Nazi-Commie Liberals are obviously trying to destroy Christmas! What is this You Better Watch Out shit? Quick! Someone get Josh Feuerstein on the fucking phone! We gotta go picket some mothershittin’ Starbucks!
Sigh… Now we’re in the present. Harry is sleeping in his Santa Claus pajamas and has a Christmas alarm clock. He does his morning exercises to an instrumental version of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” while we see his utterly fucking insane home full of dolls, depictions of Santa Claus, and so forth. He gets a little too cute with his razor and he cuts himself shaving which causes him to have flashbacks to his mom gettin’ the old jolly man’s candy cane in her gingerbread house.
Now, I think his house has a chalkboard on the wall that says there are 55 days until Christmas. So he’s one of these fucking assholes who wants to put his Christmas shit up even though it is just barely past Halloween.
Worse, he’s one of these creepers who spies on children in the building across the street and takes fucking notes on whether they have been good little boys and girls or not. He flips his fucking shit when a kid is looking through a Penthouse.
It probably comes as no surprise that Harry works at a toy company called the “Jolly Dream”. He tries to pep talk his pals, but they don’t really care about making toys. Sure, they have kids, but they just need a paycheck. Harry just got promoted, but he misses working on the line making the toys instead of being a foreman. One worker needs someone to cover his shift, and just because Harry said he misses working with the toys, the guy basically strong arms him into working that shift.
So what we have here is a guy who just likes Christmas, and likes Santa, and enjoys making toys like Santa does for Christmas. He likes working at the toy company, but he doesn’t really have anyone who likes it the way he does. He’s kind of alone and a bit of a weirdo because of how much he loves these things, and cheerleads for the idea of well-crafted toys, but no one cares.
Man, I get it. I just want to talk about how much I love writing about bad movies. I just want to celebrate Christmas with a holiday-themed piece, but I just don’t think people care. Maybe I’m kind of a loner, but dammit. This movie is called Christmas Evil! Doesn’t that mean anything to you people? Doesn’t it matter that this has a well-crafted title?
While walking home, Harry sees the guy he filled in for at the bar and bragging about how he got Harry to fill in for him like a schmuck. Harry rushes home and has a bit of a breakdown. He vigorously hums “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” while he figures out what he can do to solve this little problem if that guy being an asshole. He goes to his childhood home and stands outside to try to conjure up some pleasant memories of his youth. Instead he ends up seeing the couple who lives there now start to make out on the couch. That couple, by the way, is his brother Billy and his wife.
Apparently, Billy is kind of an asshole to Harry. Billy works as a banker or something, and Harry is just this dork who works at the toy company like a goddamn nerd. Billy is expecting to see Harry for Thanksgiving dinner, but he calls to tell Billy that he has other plans and isn’t going to make it. Harry is focused a little too much on watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and is kind of entranced by the Santa in the parade. After hanging up the phone with Billy, he puts together his Santa costume – even sewing together pieces as needed. What’s more, he paints his van to look like Santa’s sleigh and starts to read from his book of good girls and boys and listing what they should get for Christmas.
One day, Harry reads from the BAD girls and boys book. He creeps outside one bad boy’s house. When the little boy and his mother leave to go somewhere, he sees Harry in the bushes. He approaches slowly to see who it was in the bushes, Harry lunges at the kid scaring him away. When screaming about something terrible in the bushes, the kid’s mom has enough of his shit and slaps him one good.
Next we see Harry working with liquid metal to make a toy soldier. At the Jolly Dreams Christmas party, Harry sees the company owner on a TV saying that the more toys they make, the more they will donate to a kid’s hospital for the mentally disabled. Harry tells one of the line workers that he’s onto their bullshit. Then, Harry meets a new executive who came up with the donation scheme. Harry takes umbrage with the donation scheme because there is no set number of toys the company wants to give out. So it’s a little disingenuous, and he tells off the execs because they are just playing some bullshit. Harry steals toys from the production floor and replaces the toys with dirt in the big bags.
Harry goes home and starts gluing his Santa beard onto his face and starts in with insane cackles of how the beard is him and he can’t rip it off because it is literally, like, super glued to his face. On Christmas Eve, all decked out like a real life Santa, Harry starts delivering toys to the good boys and girls. For the bad boys, he leaves a fairly suspicious package.
He goes to the children’s hospital and tries to leave packages for the kids, but the guard does not want to let him in. The doctor and nurse come out and Harry Claus gives an entire van load of toys to the kids in the hospital. When asked who donated them, he simply says that they came from people who didn’t know how generous they were. The hospital staff is blown away by the act of kindness.
It really seems that he wants to do well and be good to people like Santa would be. However, he is not well. He’s is too literal in his idea of good and bad. For everyone who is good, he showers them with love and gifts, but he lashes out terribly at those who he deems bad. He stops by a church service with something for the execs from the toy company. Some of the people coming out of the church mock Harry, so he kills them with the homemade toy soldier and hatchet.
After driving around for a bit, he hears “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town” from a nearby holiday party. He peers into the window and dances around while listening to the song. A couple drunk guys at the party go outside and drag him into the party. As he hands out gifts to kids at the party, the police show up to question witnesses who saw the murders out in front of the church.
What’s interesting is that the people who brought Harry into the party were not exactly that great of people, or at least seemingly they were being jerks. However, everyone at the party loves him – especially the kids. When he leaves, he tells the kids, who are sad to see Santa leave the party, to remain good boys and girls to continue getting getting wonderful gifts, but if they do bad things, he’ll bring them something terrible. Then he lets out with a pretty insane guffaw. Some of the adults aren’t so sure about the joke he made, but most seem to find Harry pretty damn nice and awesome.
Despite riding high from pleasing the party goers, he is reminded of that jerkwad, Frank, who convinced him to work for him that one night. He decides to go to that guy’s house and slide the down the chimney. He realizes this is tougher than how the real Santa makes it look. Feeling defeated, Harry considers moving on without his revenge… Until he realizes he might be able to get into the guy’s house through the basement.
He gets inside and leaves presents under the tree, but some kids see him. He investigates further to see them back in bed. He creeps into Frank’s bedroom and suffocates him with his bag of toys. The struggle nearly wakes his wife up, so Harry grabs the star from the top of the tree and slashes his throat. When Frank lands on his wife, she is unable to scream from shock. When he is on his way out, he runs into the kids again, but beats a hasty retreat when the wife finally screams.
On Christmas morning, Billy and his wife watch the news report about the Santa murders from the night before. Harry is not at their home. Billy thinks something is wrong. His wife believes that the way Billy treats Harry is the only possible reason why he is not there. Harry wakes up in the back of his van. He goes into Jolly Dreams and turns on the conveyor belt that starts running toys onto the floor.
Meanwhile, the police are watching The Usual Suspects Holiday Special which is only marginally better than The Star Wars Holiday Special.
The police try to sort out the connection between the three murders at the church and Frank’s murder. Harry calls Billy and tells him that he “finally found the right notes to play the tune everyone dances to.” This is something that’s come up a couple times previously in the movie. He’s mentioned how people have the ability to play “the tune” but it’s not exactly clear what he’s referring to aside from just being crazy. He says something cryptic about shaving and coming one day closer to death.
Harry walks down a beautifully shot street with loads of lighted decorations. Some kids rush him and he hands out toys while their parents are watching on in fear. After all, the cops have issued a directive through the press to not approach anyone dressed as Santa. One of the parents approaches with a fucking switchblade. The kids huddle around Santa, but the guy is all like, “Yeah, don’t care.” The kids continue to protect Santa while he says that the kids just want someone to notice when they are good and bad. When the guy drops the knife, his daughter picks it up and gives it to Harry. He is able to escape, but the neighborhood starts to form as a mob with fucking torches.
Holy fucking shit, we got ourselves an angry villager, torch-wielding mob!
Harry goes to Billy’s for help. It doesn’t take long for Billy to realize that Harry is the Santa murderer. Harry tries to tell Billy about how he tries to prove him wrong about his belief in Santa. In a fit of rage, Billy begins strangling Harry. With his wife looking on, Billy seemingly wrings the last bit of life out of Harry. He drags Harry outside and puts him back into his van. Harry wakes up, punches Billy and drives off right into the torch-wielding mob which causes him to drive off a bridge.
But then the van, with Santa’s sleigh on the side, flies off into the night sky.
I fucking shit you not, dear Enamaniacs! Harry Claus flies off into the night while the end of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas tells us how he said, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!”
I mean… I mean, shit, man. I’ve seen some kooky conclusions in my day like with last week Denise Richards dancing for Paul Walker’s brain for reasons I can only assume that came down to people needing to see early 20s Denise Richards in sexy lingerie and performing a striptease. Mystics in Bali had a crazy, well, everything. I could go on and on, but holy shit, guys. I did not expect to see this ending.
I wonder if maybe Harry was, while crazy and did some bad shit, ultimately sympathetic. Maybe writer/director Lewis Jackson didn’t feel right killing a mentally unstable person. And maybe he really didn’t want to do that when he was only trying to bring back the love of Santa Claus. And maybe… Just maybe… He wanted to end on this shot.
This is a marvelously silly little slasher. It is interesting in the sense that it does have some sort of a sympathetic villain. You got a guy who just wants the innocence to return to the ideology of Santa Claus and Christmastime. However, admittedly, I do find myself asking some questions like what were the 33 years like between the moment Harry snapped and when he finally was ready to go out as a Santa to try to bring it back or fucking kill you if you ain’t into the Claus? Was he consistently weird and it seemed only a matter of time before he went on a Christmas killing spree? Did he go through all of school believing he actually saw his mom getting it from Santa?
All those questions and everything I’ve said, this movie is absolutely a curiosity enough to keep me wanting to come back for more.
Next week, I’ve got another holiday evil to celebrate. This week was Christmas Evil. Next week… New Year’s Evil. Happy Holidays to all my Enemaniacs and we’ll see ya next week!