ICFVT: Christmas Evil (1980)

Hello and welcome back to It Came From Video Tape. After a couple of weeks absence, I was able to get this feature out for another crack at the killer Santa genre. I had high expectations for this flick John Waters gave up the blurb love saying, "The BEST seasonal film of all time... True cinematic masterpiece." High praise indeed coming from the guru of trash cinema, but can the film live up to expectations and be nice or will it be naughty and full of....

Christmas Evil (1980) starring Brandon Maggart, Jeffery De Munn, and Diane Hull. Directed by Lewis Jackson. 

In 1947, Harry and Phillip Stadling stay up late on Christmas Eve with their Mom so they can catch a glimpse of Santa. When the jolly old elf arrives to deliver the presents, Harry is enraptured while his brother believes (quite correctly) that Santa looked a lot like Daddy. Harry sneaks back down stairs after he's supposed to be in bed and his little world gets shattered when he gets an eyeful of Santa groping Mom.  

Flash forward to the future and Harry is a grown man with a Santa fascination. His home is littered with Santa memorabilia and he works in the Jolly Dreams toy factory. He's just been given a promotion off the assembly line to a desk job which Harry finds to be depressing and unfulfilling. In his spare time he creepily spies on the neighborhood children and records their names in books for the Naughty and the Nice. Finding that the world is losing it's Christmas spirit, Harry takes matters into his own hands and begins to fashion himself in the image of his hero. As the holiday approaches, Harry begins to check off his list. He does good deeds to those who deserve a better holiday, but those who don't receive his vengeance in the form of deadly toys. As his rampage peaks on Christmas Eve, you better have been good for goodness sake. 

Film Facts

--Kathleen Turner was turned down for the role of Harry's sister in law. 

--The DVD reissue from Synapse films contains a audio commentary from John Waters.

--Patricia Richardson later of Home Improvement had a small role as one of the neighborhood children's mom.

--The film is also known by the titles Terror in Toyland and You Better Watch Out. 

The Bug Speaks

The main problem I had with this movie had to do with the presentation of it. All the press I read about it and the box itself presents the film as a Christmas slasher in the vein of Silent Night Deadly Night, but it actually is more akin to a character study with some limited violence. It takes over an hour before Harry actually gets around to getting his murder on. So while I did overall enjoy the film, I was disappointed by the low body count. 

The film is largely a glimpse into the life of a very troubled man. He obviously was very traumatized by seeing his Mom and Santa in flagro delecto, but to me it didn't make much sense that he would grow up to have an obsession with being Santa. Perhaps there was some oedipal subtext I was supposed to pick up, but it was lost on me. However, Brandon Maggart does a heck of a job embodying the character. He walks a thin line between just being a crazy bastard and being sympathetic enough that the viewer will actually care about him. All the people he dispatches do deserve it, but perhaps giving them a stocking full of coal might have sufficed. The few scenes where Harry gets to revel in the joy of being Santa were actually very touching, and juxtaposed against the murders it gives them more power. 

The rest of the cast seem forgettable, and the direction by Lewis Jackson was nothing special. The poor quality of the film did enhance the dreariness of Harry's existence, but alas seeing as it was not likely intentional, I hesitate to praise it. The ending also suffered from being very confusing. While it ends with a compelling visual, I had to run it back a number of times to figure out what had actually happened.

For what it was, this was not a film I regretted watching, but it is very unlikely that I will return to it in the future. It was an average film which has been terribly marketed (possibly because it fell into the hands to Troma for VHS distribution), but there's enough here that it's worth a single watch if you've seen all the heavy hitters of genre holiday fare.

Bug Rating 

Couldn't find a trailer for this one, but here's a clip of Harry getting to enjoy being Santa, and taking a moment to scare the piss out of a group of kids. 


  1. You show the cover of Troma's bootleg version. There is a much higher quality version on DVD from Synapse Films, which includes a commentary by John Waters.

  2. Love this of the best endings ever!

    And I really need to get my hands on the dvd with the John Waters commentary. It's on my Christmas list. Hope, hope.

  3. Anonymous I mentioned the Synapse DVD in my Film Facts. This review was actually for the VHS from Troma. Both are stated in the review.

    Johnny, thanks for commenting.I also liked the ending but the way it was cut it took me a couple of views to get it. I hope you get the DVD you want and all your X-mas wishes.

  4. Haha. Troma never really attempts to create a beautiful cover image.


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