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"Christmas Evil" (1980) Is a Bizarre Foray Into Holiday Horror

India has been an avid fan of all things spooky and scary ever since she can remember.

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"If you’re bad boys and girls…I’ll bring you something horrible."

— "Christmas Evil," 1980

Generally, horror movies set during the Christmas season are more amusing than terrifying; many acknowledge this fact by adopting a more lighthearted approach than their Halloween-centered counterparts. As a result, films such as Jack Frost, Anna and the Apocalypse, and Gremlins are more likely to make you chuckle than shiver despite being just as gory as Halloween.

But for every movie which accepts that candy canes and gingerbread men just aren’t as scary as ghosts and skeletons, there are those which charge full speed ahead, determined to unnerve audiences despite their festive handicap. And thus, we are rewarded with gems like Christmas Evil, which does its best to cast Santa Claus in a sinister new light—though it ultimately fails to redefine the jolly man with the long, white beard.

Christmas Trauma

From the very start, Christmas Evil is on shaky ground, since the film’s premise is almost as half-hearted as its title. The movie follows Harry (Brandon Maggart), a factory worker haunted by his boyhood realization that the Santa he saw delivering presents was actually his father. I don’t know about you, but I was nine when it occurred to me that there was no old man delivering toys in a sleigh. (I mean, it’s the twenty first century. Santa should invest in an airplane, or even better, drones.) It was a bit of a bummer to realize that my parents were the ones buying the presents, but I certainly wasn’t scarred by it. No matter how fragile a person’s psyche might be, it’s hard to accept that something like this would cause Harry to be so unbalanced. You’d think that the idea of an old man watching his every move, recording everything he did, and breaking into his house on Christmas Eve would be more unsettling than the knowledge that said old man wasn’t real, but what do I know? (Regardless, this dude is in desperate need of a psychiatrist.)

A Kooky Kris Kringle

And that brings me to my next point. Aside from the fact that the reason for Harry’s precarious mental state and subsequent murderous rampage makes no sense, Harry himself isn’t exactly fear-inspiring. Even his brother acknowledges this, calling the would-be Father Christmas "pathetic" and an "emotional cripple." But there’s one thing Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn) forgot to mention. Harry isn’t just an emotionally repressed sad sack. He’s also really weird.

For one thing, Harry is obsessed with Christmas—another thing which doesn’t make sense, given that the holiday is the source of his so-called trauma. (I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s mental health struggles, but I’ll make an exception for this guy.) Given that Christmas was such a disturbing experience for him, it would make more sense to avoid it altogether. Instead, Harry is consumed by his devotion to the holiday, sleeping in pajamas which resemble a Santa suit, constantly humming Christmas tunes, and even painting a sleigh on his van. (So he can slay! Get it? I'll show myself out now.)

Seems Harry's finding out that becoming Santa is harder than it looks.

Seems Harry's finding out that becoming Santa is harder than it looks.

A Delivery From the North Pole

Still, these things, while a bit over the top, aren’t alarming—unlike Harry’s favorite pastime, which consists of stalking the neighborhood children and recording their actions in his “Good Book.” Then our hapless villain makes toys for the tots who’ve made it onto his nice list and breaks into their houses to deliver them. Yes, you read that right. Can’t explain that one away with the Christmas spirit. (To be fair, Harry does murder a few people in the process of distributing presents. That’s why you should never go looking for Santa on Christmas Eve.)

No Toys for You!

Then there’s the episode with Moss Garcia (Peter Neuman), whose bad behavior earns him a place on Harry’s naughty list. (Side note: who names their kid Moss? Does he have a sibling called Bark?) You’re probably expecting our wannabe Santa to teach this brat a lesson, but Harry takes a more…unorthodox approach. He does hide in the Garcia’s bushes and watch them through the window, but Harry being Harry, he ruins things just when they’re starting to get good. Because rather than killing the boy or attempting to scare some sense into him, Harry decides to smear his face with dirt, then press it against the side of the house. If his intention is to mark the home so he knows not to bring the kid any toys, why couldn’t Harry just write this down instead of, you know, rubbing his face all over the building? Or maybe it’s an intimidation tactic—in which case, he should have left a lump of coal instead. For someone who’s desperate to be the next Saint Nick, Harry doesn’t seem to know much about him.

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