Santa comes early this year . . . And he has a big knife! "Naughty or nice?" is more than just a catch-phrase to psychotic Santa Harry Standling. Coming this Yuletide season in a special edition from the fine folks at Synapse, Santa's helpers might stuff the re-mastered, restored and uncut version of Christmas Evil down your stocking this year. Surprisingly intelligent, and more creative than many other films of this ilk, Lewis Jackson's seasonal slay-a-thon is superbly atmospheric, dripping with an uneasy mixture of holiday cheer and dread. With believable -- disturbing -- performances and a chillingly emotional story-line, Christmas Evil weaves its sordid spell of warped good cheer and seasonal magic with ingenuity while never forgetting its exploitation roots. Synapse presents this bloody good time in a newly re-mastered edition sporting new footage and generous extras.

A seasonal tale for the kiddies (if you hate them!), Christmas Evil is bravely straight forward in its narrative goals, never forgetting that its first job is to entertain by exploiting the holiday and our discomforts, particularly the jolly Saint who crawls into our homes every Christmas eve. Drawing on this culturally significant symbol of love and kindness, the script's major accomplishment is wrapping the standard seasonal conventions into a new psychologically intense package. Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart), as a youngster, discovers his mother and father -- dressed as Santa -- getting it on, which emotionally scars him (similar to Silent Night, Deadly Night, the past is the key to corrupting the future). From this obligatory prologue, the story focuses on present day. Harry is now an adult, working at the Jolly Dream toy factory. Emotionally unbalanced, alienated from his neighbors, family, and friends, he lives in a dream world, a fantasy of his own making.

Obsessed with Christmas, surrounding himself with images and music of the holiday, Harry loves his job and yearns to become the Jolly old saint that is waited anxiously by the kiddies every year. Waiting eagerly for the big day, Harry spends his time spying on neighborhood children, preparing gifts, and, generally speaking, loosing his crackers! These scenes are disturbingly believable, and lend an emotional authenticity to the remainder of the story. Lacking any significant relationship outside of his brother (and not especially close to him), Harry begins to take the 'better watch out!" maxim further than anyone would dare dream. When he looses his job, which he actually cares about (unlike his co-workers), his grip on reality (and his violent impulses) fades. On Christmas Eve, he determines in a fit of mad inspiration to return magic to the world, bringing the belief in good cheer and Santa back to the masses . . . with various sharp weapons.

A story told with disarming economy and emotional scope, Christmas Evil doesn't allow its lean pacing and surprisingly complete characterizations to dilute its splendid depiction of the season. In fact, the atmospheric trimmings of the holiday, juxtaposed with raw violence and brooding emotional intensity, create (and sustain) much of the suspense. Mingling seasonal good cheer and nihilistic violence, Christmas horror films, particularly those focusing on psycho Santas, are a troubling (and paradoxical) contradiction of sentiments. Both celebrating and attacking the values of happiness and fantasy that the holiday season whisks into our lives like newly fallen snow each December, the psycho-Santa flick subverts what we have been taught to love most. Devoting equal time to characterization and sensationalized violence, Christmas Evil lends true characterization to the mix. Cheerfully warped and relishing its mean spiritedness, the movie sets out to warp what little remains of our innocence with its alternating mean yet occasionally tender spirit, and establishing sympathy for the troubled main character. Harry is anti-hero whose faith in, and love for, Christmas mirrors our own feelings toward the holidays as we grow and change. In particular, the director's approach suggests (and he himself admits to believing) that commercialism has ruined both the holiday and our individuality. Further enjoyable is the manner in which symbols/acts of good cheer are lent horrid significance. A contrast is made between seasonal decorations/activities with madness and murder, achieving an admirable tension. Because the filmmaker's encourage us to understand Harry's dilemmas before he looses his grip on reality, we care about him as well as his victims -- a smart move, and one that not many directors take advantage of. Maggart's performance is spot-on, believable in both his obsessions and fits of rage. While the film takes time to gain momentum, the middle of this creepy carol is an explosion of color, rage, and fear once Harry snaps. In fact, this slow approach allows the director time to establish mood, lending claustrophobia to juicy moments of exploitation. The ending, if somewhat -- no, make that extremely ridiculous! -- is inspiring for its very audacity and, in a poetic if cheesy manner, is a dream come true for Harry.

The visual and audio quality for Christmas Evil is superb. Offered in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen, the print is clean and crisp, sporting fresh, vibrant colors and excellent detail throughout. Brief spots of grain are easily forgivable by the overall excellence of the print, particularly for such an odd, unjustly forgotten release. Audio is pristine, featured in Dolby Digital Mono, which is free of background disturbances.

Extras are highly entertaining for this release, wrapped like colorful holiday paper around the feature. A wealth of warped stocking stuffers, the first supplement is an audio commentary with director Lewis Jackson, which, despite some awkward lapses, is informative and lively. Lewis expounds on his initial inspiration for the movie, the problem between vision and budget, and the problems of toiling in the low budget world. His pride as an independent director is obvious, as he describes how he made the picture without outside influence. Ten year's worth of struggle and inspiration is featured in this talk, covering the balance between the fantastical and realistic that makes the film so unnerving. More rowdy in nature, and more lively, is the second audio commentary, featuring Lewis Jackson with John Waters, the later of which is an unashamed fanatic for this exploitative wonder. Analyzing specific scenes, the two of them swap personal stories and gossip amidst technical talk. This is fascinating, good humored stuff! Other extras include three storyboarded scenes, original comment cards from an actual screening, footage taken from the audition tapes during the casting process, deleted scenes, and a short note from the director. Christmas is sure to be a bit bloodier this year thanks to Synapse. Ask Santa for it!

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Synapse
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review