DVD Review: CHRISTMAS EVIL Isn't Quite What You'd Expect
Originally, and rather wonderfully, named You Better Watch Out (Arrow's print carries that title), it's easy to see why Lewis Jackson's first and, to date, only feature ended up chopped around and tossed out into the snow as a generic yuletide slasher. The sell is simple: Traumatised during a childhood encounter with Santa, a disgruntled toy factory employee embarks on a Christmas killing spree. Yet, really, it's a grimy and intimate portrait of a man's nervous breakdown. Surprisingly light on slashing, it's heavy on psychological anguish and twisted ideology.
As a child, Harry Standling (Brandon Maggart) witnesses Santa getting down with his mum by the Christmas Tree. In reality it's his father dressed as Santa, but little Harry reacts none too well; he runs up to the attic and promptly cuts himself with a broken snow globe. Meeeeerry Christmas! Flash forward to the present day (well, 1980) and Harry is a socially awkward 40-something working at a toy factory by day, whilst meticulously cataloguing whether the neighbourhood kids have been naughty or nice by night. Berated by his more successful younger brother, he also faces plentiful frustrations at work. His colleagues take advantage of him, and his exploitative, greedy new boss is trying to screw the "retarded" kids out of Christmas gift donations unless the workers increase production. Harry reaches breaking point and embarks on a one man mission to right all that is wrong with Christmas.
Jackson's film is a murky low-budget affair, but with a refreshingly complex central character. As deluded and crazy as Harry is, he's fundamentally driven by a desire to keep the more traditional Christmas values alive. Travis Bickle in a stick-on beard if you like; a loner with a bent set of principles, not a lunatic killer out for revenge. Harry's growing disillusionment is pretty compelling, though marred by some ropey effects once he does get down to some knife work. What could have been some genuinely shocking moments are blighted by dodgy editing and ineffective gore. Lucio Fulci this ain't. So too, the supporting performances are adequate at best. The final act turns noirish as Harry is chased about town by a torch-wielding mob in a sequence that plays out like some crazy homage to Frankenstein and Odd Man Out. Then there's that whimsical ending - completely bonkers, yet somehow quite sweet.
Christmas Evil is in many ways the ultimate cult Christmas movie (endorsed by John Waters, no less), and certainly worth a look for those in need of alternative December merriment.
This is a second tier Arrow package for sure, though the print itself (the Director's Cut) is a fine one and for such a little seen, low-budget obscurity it's hard to complain. The sound suffers from some noticeable background hiss, but nothing too distracting.
The extras appear to be taken from the 2006 Synapse release, rather than the generally spiffing new commissions from High Rising productions that adorn the swankier Arrow releases, but they're fine enough. Having commentaries from Jackson and Waters is a bonus and Jackson gets plenty of space to air his side of the movie's murky past.
This review is from an unpackaged, pre-production screener - full details of the final release below.
Christmas Evil is out now to buy through Arrow Video.
SPECIAL FEATURES: - Widescreen transfer in the original ratio of the Director's Cut - Optional English SDH subtitles - Audio commentary with director Lewis Jackson - Audio commentary with Lewis Jackson and director John Waters - Interviews with Lewis Jackson and star Brandon Maggart - Deleted scenes - Original story-board sequences - Rare audition tapes - Collector's booklet featuring writing on the film by critic and author Kim Newman, John Waters and a new introduction by Lewis Jackson, illustrated with rare stills and images from the personal files of Lewis Jackson - Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys