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Christmas Evil (1980)

Cast: Brandon Maggart, Diane Hull, Scott McKay, more...
Director: Lewis Jackson
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Studio: Media Syndication, Inc.
Genre: Horror, Slashers
Running Time: 96 min.
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He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, and it's best not to get on his bad side in this quirky thriller that's gained a loyal cult following. Harry Straddling (Brandon Maggart) was traumatized as a child, when late at night on Christmas Eve, he walked into the family living room and saw his father, dressed as Santa Claus, having sex with his mother. Now grown to adulthood, Harry is malignly obsessed with the holiday season, particularly the myths of Santa Claus; he works for a toy company, he sleeps in a Santa suit, his apartment is stuffed with Christmas memorabilia, and he spies on the neighborhood children, keeping track of who has been good and bad. Harry's insistence that the toy company maintain high manufacturing standards does little to endear him to his co-workers, and his brother Phillip (Jeffrey DeMunn) thinks Harry has started to go off the deep end. One day, Harry snaps, and after dressing up as Santa, he steals a truckload of toys and delivers them to a mental hospital as presents for the young patients -- all well and good. But when Harry is then confronted by a group of people who don't believe he's Father Christmas, Harry reacts with violence, setting off a murder spree. Terror in Toyland (which was first released as You Better Watch Out and is now available on video as Christmas Evil) also features Patricia Richardson, who makes her film debut in a small role more than a decade before she gained fame on the TV series Home Improvement. Danny Federici of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band also has a cameo, as an accordion player at a community center dance. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

This title is currently out-of-print on DVD.

GreenCine Member Reviews

A Great Stocking Stuffer! by EPetersen October 19, 2003 - 11:33 AM PDT
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful
This rare horror film, originally titled You Better Watch Out, is a real treat for fans! It had been lost in obscurity until 1984, when the controversy surrounding another Christmas-themed scare flick - Silent Night, Deadly Night - prompted an enterprising distributor to re-release it as Christmas Evil. The title was changed again to Terror In Toyland for its first home video release in 1987.

Brandon Maggart, the father of rock singer Fiona Apple, was a vasty underrated and unjustly neglected actor. He was most famous for his co-starring role as Lou on the acclaimed Showtime sitcom Brothers. In Christmas Evil, he has the starring role as Harry Stadling, a toy factory worker with serious mental problems.

When Harry was a little boy, he saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus (actually it was Harry's Dad dressed as Santa, and they were doing a lot more than kissing) and that screwed him up for life. Now Harry is a lonely, emotionally crippled middle-aged manchild whose only pleasure is life is playing Santa Claus every December. But to Harry, he's not playing anything - he IS Santa.

Harry's brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn) has always worried that Harry is taking the Santa thing a little too far. What Phil doesn't know is that Harry is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, and this year, he's going off! Tired of watching all the naughty kids and grownups around him make a mockery of Christmas, Harry makes a list and checks it twice. He knows who's been naughty and who's been nice, and those who are naughty will pay the price...

Christmas Evil is more than just a slasher movie. The script and acting are way above par for a low-budget horror flick. Brandon Maggart is superb as Harry, and plays him as a three-dimensional character, a mixture of comedy, pathos, and chills. Harry is funny, sad, pathetic, and of course, completely insane. The surreal ending, which I wouldn't dream of giving away, ties in with the dark humor sprinkled throughout the film.

This DVD, released by Troma, contains commentary by Brandon Maggart and others, plus special features. The only thing preventing me from giving it a 10 is that the print is full-frame. When are those stupid corporate suits going to realize that full-frame prints and special edition DVD's don't mix?

- Eric Petersen

This title is currently unavailable on disc or is no longer in-print.

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