"A bowlful of jelly, huh? I'll
show you a bowlful -- of blood!"
Why are there so many Santa Claus serial killer movies? Sure, there are plenty of Halloween horror films, but that makes sense. And if you read this site on a regular basis we're pretty sure you're the kind of person who has seen at least one movie featuring an evil leprechaun, or an evil Uncle Sam, or an evil Easter bunny. But there are many, many movies about an evil Santa Claus. We suppose part of the reason is that lots of people actually dress up like Santa each year, and walk around in public. Horror movies exploit our latent fears, and it makes sense that we might fear that a killer would choose the relative anonymity of a Santa costume at Christmas.
This brings us to Christmas Evil, also known as You'd Better Watch Out or the less popular title Terror in Toyland. In a flashback to a Christmas Eve in the 1940s, young Harry and Philip watch Santa emerge from the chimney to deliver presents. Later that night, Harry sneaks back downstairs and catches Santa doing something to Mom that he should really reserve for Mrs. Claus. For some reason this brief episode traumatizes Harry for the rest of his life.
We feel a really bad novelty
country song coming on.
Moving to the present of 1980, the now-grown Harry (Brandon Maggart) works as a low-level supervisor at a toy factory in New York. He gets pushed around by the other employees, and his brother Philip (Jeffrey DeMunn) thinks he's a bungler. In his spare time Harry spies on some of the other employees, notably the obnoxious Frank and his buddies, and some of the neighborhood kids. Harry keeps records of those who are naughty or nice in a big book. ("Moss -- Impure thoughts. Negative hygiene. Picks nose.")
As potential psychopaths go, Harry is very low-key. As a matter of fact, the only vaguely bizarre thing Harry does, other than his peeping tom activities, is the constant humming of various Christmas classics. We suspect that Brandon Maggart was cast as Harry mostly because of his ability to hum in a slightly menacing fashion.
Eventually, Harry is driven over the edge by the hypocrisy of adults, who preach "be a good kid" sentiments to their children but rarely exhibit nice behavior themselves. Casting himself as Santa in a van painted to look like a sleigh, Harry becomes a dispenser of toys and summary justice, killing off those who don't accept him as Saint Nick. The disappointing truth is that Harry's murdering spree is limited to the quick stabbing deaths of some wags on the steps of a church, and to the botched smothering of the coworker who tricked Harry into working an extra shift. Gore fans get little in this movie to satisfy their need for on-screen carnage.
"Hey, we can wait all night. One of you
is gonna confess to eating those cookies!"
The remainder of the film shows us Harry's life as a sad little man who just wants to live out the Santa Claus legend, to be loved by children, and to gain some acceptance by the adults who don't understand him. After the first set of murders, he accidentally crashes a Christmas Eve party and gains all of those things for a few brief moments, but of course The Man steps in and wants to know just who left three corpses on the steps of St. Mary's. Alerted to the presence of a lunatic in a Santa suit, torch-wielding mobs march the streets in search of the Killer Claus. No really, they have torches, the kind with real flames. Where'd New Yorkers get torches in this day and age? Did they borrow them from a passing mob of German peasants?
Left at that, Christmas Evil would be the story of a simple lunatic in desperate need of some egg nog spiked with thorazine, but the creators of Christmas Evil have one more surprise packed away in their sack. Desperate to give the movie some sort of ending (and perhaps to tie it back in with the childhood trauma of seeing Mommy groping Santa Claus), the filmmakers send Harry back to his brother's house to explain his motives. Rejected by his own kin (who recognize a loon when they see one), Harry speeds away in the Santa Van and careens off the side of a nearby bridge... and magically sails off into the moonlit sky, wishing all a Merry Christmas and a good night.
"On Piston, on Check Valve,
on Spark Plug, and Radiator!
On Brake Pad, on Crank Shaft,
on Tail Light, and Carburetor!"
We swear, we are not making this up. Now we know why Ridley Scott didn't use the happy ending to Thelma and Louise: he was afraid he would be accused of ripping off Christmas Evil.
This bizarre and inappropriate ending brings up one of our favorite questions: what lesson is to be learned from this film? That Harry was justified in killing people, because he was actually possessed by the spirit of Santa? That the Christmas Spirit can redeem anyone, no matter how evil or insane? That General Motors has been holding out on us regarding their development of a flying car?
The most comforting thing we learned during the process of watching and reviewing Christmas Evil was this: the writer-director, Lewis Jackson, never made another movie. That was his Christmas present to all of us.
Or is it that surprising that Santa Claus would be evil? Is not Santa an anagram for "Satan"? And isn't Santa also known as Saint Nick, and isn't the Devil also known as Nick Scratch or Old Nick? Can all this be a coincidence? Go back!