'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring... Except for those three drunk idiots on the sofa watching a double-bill of Yuletide horror movies. Christmas Evil is an underground semi-classic which just had to be seen and Silent Night Bloody Night had also had enough written about it to warrant a viewing. Let the festive viewing commence...
Christmas Evil (1980)
Plot A Christmas obsessed factory foreman dons that famous suit and gets to decide who's been naughty and who's been nice.
Jim Christmas Evil is a rather ambitious low-budget effort telling the story of an oddball named Harry and his descent into yuletide madness. Like all good horror movies the story starts years before where a young Harry witness his Mum giving Santa (i.e. his Dad dressed in a red suit) a little too much festive cheer, if you know what I mean. Harry's traumatised by the experience - obviously - and grows up into weirdo loner character.
As an adult, he's the foreman at the Jolly Dreams factory in New York. He lives alone, his co-workers push him around and his brother thinks he's a total loser, but Harry doesn't seem to care much. Harry, you see, lives in his own little world; a world where it's Christmas every day. He keeps lists (checking them twice) of all the good and bad things the local kids get up to, but he also keeps tabs on the adults too - namely his lazy workers who are understandably more interested in taking breaks and collecting pay checks than actually producing quality toys, which annoys Harry immensely. Management isn't much better either; Harry's disgusted when he realizes the donations being made to the local handicapped kids are really nothing more than a publicity stunt that looks good for the press.
Inevitably one thing leads to another and the lack of Christmas spirit on display by Harry's local community pushes him too far. To even the balance Harry finally dons the suit himself and sets about rewarding the good and punishing the evil. This is where the fun really begins.
Truth be told, Christmas Evil is a very cheaply made flick but it has so many clever little bits that I can't help but love it. I was very intrigued to see how my co-zombies took it and to my surprise it went down a lot better than I thought it would. Despite Rawshark's flat mate accusing Harry of looking like a cross between Columbo and Bill Murray, and of having a weird lip, the general comments from the floor were positive. "It's got some indie sensibilities," observed Rawshark, who also loved when Harry accused one of the kids of having "negative body hygiene", but did later point out that "it's not even a horror story, it's about someone who does good!" (although that was before Harry's predicament changes...)
It's got some ropey editing, a snail like pace for the most part and some very feeble acting from the supporting cast, but Brandon Maggart is suitably creepy in the lead role and the movie certainly has its moments. The police line up of Santa's going "Ho, ho, ho!" is particularly funny, but the ending (which blew Zomblee away) really takes the biscuit...
"We're on the look out for a Santa, check all the chimneys in the local area..."
Rawshark Jim's right, Christmas Evil is low budget work, but there is a lot more to this film than first meets the eye, and there are many nice moments that lift it above the shit. Made in a similar filming tone as Henry and Deranged (low budget, hand held cameras, etc) the opening is slightly confusing (Jim, who had seen the film before, had to inform us of certain plot details), but soon picks up once Harry starts, in true Spiderman fashion, to make his own Santa costume.
The great thing about this film is that the "hero" genuinely believes he is the real Santa Clause and that he is acting out his deeds in the name of good. The self-appointed Father Christmas constantly hums Xmas tunes to himself, chortles "Merry Christmas Everyone!" to anyone he sees, and even whips his car as he's driving it as if it was being pulled by reindeer.
Of course, after he's killed a few people, it's obvious this guy is a few mince pies short of a Xmas dinner and the authorities are soon on the case organising Santa police line-ups and chasing this rogue dressed in red before he kills again. When Harry is cornered towards the end of the movie, there is an incredibly touching scene whereby the children protect him, refusing to believe that Father Christmas is a bad dude, and one girl even gives him a knife with which to protect himself. He runs away, only to be chased by a fire-wielding lynch mob (à la Frankenstein) who make the traditional mob chasing noises of "wahyay dweaywe hrermoberg wahea!".
Part of the reason we enjoy watching B-movies is that TV is rarely allowed to be this adventurous or cheap. The true originality (and cheapness) of visual entertainment lies in B-movie badness and this movie is a great example of an inexpensive but fairly original movie that has stayed true to the number one rule of being entertaining. Oh, and watch out for the ending, it's fantastic.
"Now, I want you to remember to be good boys and girls. If you're bad boys and girls, your name goes in the bad boys and girls book, and I'll have to give you something horrible."
Zomblee It’s so nice to be pleasantly surprised by a movie. I had a slightly negative feeling about Christmas Evil but it didn’t take much running time to realise that we were on to a good thing. The offbeat opening scene kicks off nicely, providing a giggle or two to get us in the mood as it establishes the background of the main character before it jumps to the present day to see this Father Christmas-obsessed Bill Murray / Columbo hybrid weirdo as a grown man. He hums Christmas carols to himself, as much as you would expect, and likes to snoop on the local kids to see if they’re being good little boys and girls. That’s right. You couldn’t get away with something like this today...
While much of the film does run at a reasonably slow pace, it didn’t really bother me. Like waiting patiently for the Christmas dinner, good things come to those who wait, be it weird Santa action or sage and onion stuffing. Brandon Maggart was clearly relishing playing this character, and watching him getting into the Santa costume - his one, pivotal fantasy - is downright entertaining. "Merry Christmas! Ho Ho Ho!" he shouts, both in private and in public and it's so ridiculous that you just have to laugh along with him (or at him) and, more than anything else, we are dying to know where this is all headed. The guy in the white beard seems quite harmless, he isn’t doing anything wrong, really. So what’s the pay-off? Where’s the blood, Santa?
Christmas Evil didn’t come across like a horror movie to me. It’s more of a quirky, off-the-wall, weirdo fantasy played as a black comedy with a funny eye-stabbing scene. It’s possible that a lot of people who have written about Christmas Evil have missed the point entirely. It may be just as possible that Christmas Evil does not have a point to make, although its impossible not to pick up on the obvious good/bad basic morality message sitting right on the surface.
My 2004 Christmas was all the better for having seen Christmas Evil, so if you’ve run out of less-than-traditional festive season films to watch next Christmas then get your hands on this little film. One thing though - don’t expect a horror movie and you won’t feel short-changed.
The totally unexpected and beautifully different ending made me smile more than I had in months. Magic.
(Police announcement) “Avoid anyone dressed as Santa Claus”
Director Lewis Jackson
Cast Brandon Maggart
Runtime 100 mins
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Silent Night Bloody Night (1974)
Plot A man inherits a huge house that was once an insane asylum, but first he must find out the truth about what really happened there many years ago.
Zomblee SNBN is low-budget. The problem is, it looks even lower budget than it really is. To say that the transfer of this film is inexcusable is an understatement – when the characters move they look like they’re being followed by visible auras, the dark scenes are mostly plain black, and the sound quality redefines the term “muffled”. Needless to say, this does not do the film any favours. None at all. I was however willing to overlook this, and give this little-seen flick a good chance at ZC. Unfortunately I felt like I was alone as everyone was talking. This film, more than any film we’ve ever seen at ZC, needed our fullest concentration just so that we could decipher what the hell the characters are saying. For the first time, I got a bit angry and had to ask everyone to shut up. Sorry guys.
The plot is like this: A scary looking house that has been empty for years and was once as asylum, is inherited by the original owner’s grandson, one Jeffrey Butler. The local townsfolk want to see the house demolished, saying that it is evil, and so agree to pay Butler $50,000 cash for the property. But first, Butler, along with the help of a local woman, strive to discover the dark truth about what happened there all those years ago, and their investigation leads to some pretty heinous revelations.
While SNBN may be cheap, it isn’t rubbish. It’s no masterpiece either though. Good points are as follows:
John Carradine as a local newspaper editor who can’t speak, and so hits his little bell (ding!) in order to communicate.
A very nasty, stylish and bloody murder at 28 mins.
The music – an effective mixture of spooky tinkling piano pieces, as well as creepy variations on the original Christmas carol, Silent Night Holy Night.
”Marianne” making the telephone calls in order to lure victims to the house. Creepy as fuck, much like the voice in Black Christmas.
The sepia toned flashback scene at the end. Asylum inmates slowly advance in a shuffling army like Romero’s zombies in Night of the Living Dead. By far the best scene in the picture, and beautifully photographed.
And last but by no means least, a small town sheriff. On the phone. “Hello? Sheriff’s office?”
SNBN needs the Anchor Bay restoration treatment. Or in the right hands a remake. This is the worst picture / sound quality I have ever seen on a DVD and this modest little experiment deserves more. As Jim pointed out, “It’s not a very good transfer.” No shit. And by the way, the butler did it.
“You know, one of the greatest pleasures in life is the pleasure of anticipated pleasure.”
Rawshark It's a shame really, this film had quite a lot of promise but, as Zomblee points out, the transfer on this DVD has to be the worst I've ever seen, and that includes a lot of Vipco output. The visuals are hard to see and the sound so inarticulate that Jim and myself resorted to riffing off the film instead of concentrating on what the hell was going on. Sorry Zomblee.
After an opening that includes a burning man, we learn that Wilfrid Butler has left his house to his oldest surviving relative on the one condition that the great Grandson has to leave the property and the grounds exactly as they have been left. There are a few lengthy (inaudible) passages of dialogue that are difficult to follow, so thank goodness for John Carradine who pops up in a cameo as a mute character cameo whose method of communication is a bell.
On the plus side, there's an axe murder (quite good in context), spooky phone calls similar to the far superior Black Christmas, a fantastic 'wine glass in the eye' sequence, and a great 'Living Dead' montage filmed in sepia tones to illustrate the back story of the house once being an asylum that suffered a massacre at the hands of the inmates that looks very creepy. It's the sort of film that has great moments, but doesn't really hang together all that well (especially when it's hard to make out anything you can see or hear). Instead, it's a film that I can imagine film lecturers bringing out to illustrate the Nosferatu-inspired shadow sequences, crafted montages and fairly original characterisations and dialogue.
So, disappointing on the whole, but there's probably just about enough in this film to warrant a second viewing. The story is quite interesting, the acting is better than any Ed Wood film you could care to mention, and there are most certainly some well-crafted set pieces. Unfortunately the transfer on our copy really was that bad that we found more fun in noticing that the 'No trespassing' signs in the film were filmed to look like 'No Spassing' than to actually follow the plot of the film. Oh well.
"I spent last night weeping"
Jim It's well documented here on eatmybrains.com that I really do like a good transfer and so imagine my disappointment when Silent Night Bloody Night turned out to be the one of the worst I'd ever seen - I've watched 80s pirate videos of better quality, for cryoing out loud! And when you can't hear what the characters are saying, your mind wanders and the riffing starts, as does the laughing, and between the talking, the laughing and the bad transfer it was pretty hard to hear what was happening. Then Zomblee told us off and for a while Rawshark and I (and Raw's flat-mates, who were as guilty of chattering as we were) felt bad and made a bit of a concerted effort to concentrate more.
The 'No spassing' signs didn't help though, neither did Carradine's brilliant bell man sequence. And the big red bean bag I'd decided to sit on was starting to get really uncomfortable - it seems the amount of red wine you drink is directly proportional to how easy it is to slide off one of those damn things, although I'm sure the terrible sound quality of the DVD must have effected my sense of balance too.
The actual film (what I could make out) was an early 70s ghost story kind of movie that had a bad transfer and hadn't aged well either, in my opinion. It has that static, quasi-documentary feel mixed with evil little plink plonk Xmas music for good measure and few good tension build up scenes which never really pay off, but it does have a few good POV shots which again cast doubt on Halloween's reputation for pioneering that technique.
More than that I couldn't actually say as I think I gave up on this one half way through mainly because of the almost unwatchable film quality, although I did notice one of my scrawled notes read "I wish I had more wine", so what do I know? I also wrote "Phone" and "small moon shot", the latter refering to the bizarre Hollywood tradition of blowing up shots of the moon to make it look much bigger than it really is. In Christmas Evil the moon is huge (like it is in E.T. for example) but here it's not - Rawshark will be glad to answer your e-mails on that one if you're confused. I have no idea what "phone" was refering too, but I also wrote "She's too sexy for this film", so I guess I was scribbling all kinds of shit by the end of this one...
"Mmmmgrh mmmmgmmmmrgh mmmmrghh Mmmmmgh"
That's "Jesus what a bad transfer" ran though the same audio-mastering process as this film...
Director Theodore Gershuny
Cast Patrick O'Neal
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Is it just me or does the Silent Night Bloody Night poster design on this page make it look just like an Ed Wood movie? While it may not have much professional polish, it IS worth checking out once or maybe twice, just in case you didn’t get it all the first time…which you probably won’t. One tip: on your TV, turn the treble up and the bass down.
The unexpected delight of Christmas Evil was enough, combined with fine wine, to give us all a healthy dose of festive cheer. Rather than being shocking, nasty, sick, depraved, or even crap, like much of the Zombie Club meat, it is simply an above average weirdly original little Christmas tale, ideal for viewing later on in the evening after watching Trading Places which features Dan Akroyd as one of the all-time best movie Santas – give that man a fish.
“Merry Christmas! Ho Ho Ho! I see all the children have been good this year!”