Christmas Eve, 1947. Young lad Harry and his slightly older brother Phil are allowed by their mother to hide on the stairs and watch as Santa comes down their chimney and leaves presents at the foot of their Christmas tree.

Santa leaves back up the chimney and the brothers are ushered to bed. As their light is turned out, Phil turns to Harry and suggests that "Santa" was actually their father in costume. Appalled at this suggestion, Harry decides to go back downstairs and check things out. Halfway down the stairs, he stumbles upon a sight that mortifies him …

To paraphrase a piss-awful Slade song: What will young Harry do when he sees his Momma kissing Santa Claus?

The answer is, he’ll grow up to be a resentful loner who works in a toy factory. Fast-forward to the "present day" (actually 1980) and this is exactly where we find the grown-up Harry (Brandon Maggart). It’s early December as the action begins proper.

Harry is a supervisor at Jolly Dream, a local toy manufacturer’s. Belittled by his colleagues for his devotion to making quality products over generating a profit, he’s further put out when he hears that there will be redundancies in the New Year.

In his spare time, this quiet weirdo enjoys dressing up as Santa in the privacy of his own home, while surrounding himself with creepy-looking puppets. Harry’s idea of getting out and having a good time is spying on the local kids in order to keep a book on them – detailing their misdeeds in a bid to sift the good children from the bad. It seems they’re all pretty naughty in Harry’s eyes though, save for little girl Susie (Elizabeth Ridge).

Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn), meanwhile, is married with children of his own. He tries his best to reach out to his brother on occasion, such as inviting him round the family home for Thanksgiving dinner. But this is to no avail: Harry prefers to wallow privately in his Santa obsession.

Which is odd, but seemingly harmless enough to begin with. But then events start to escalate, piling on top of Harry and threatening to tip him over the mental edge: his bosses introduce him to George, his possible replacement at work; his colleagues take the piss out of him by getting him to cover their nightshift while they go out drinking; he’s further perturbed by the apparent disinterest that local people have in a nearby children’s hospital.

And so, one evening, Harry glues a fake white beard to his chin and dons a red costume … and sets out to become his local town’s Santa, for real.

This entails stealing presents from the houses of the naughty kids and delivering them by van to the needy children at the hospital; turning up at the homes of the worst behaved brats in a bid to punish them as he sees fit; and, eventually, resorting to murder …

Lewis Jackson’s 1980 horror film has an impressive cult following, and comes with the distinction of being one of the most notable entries in a criminally small horror sub-genre.

Although very cheap in look and execution (the reported budget was $750,000), CHRISTMAS EVIL distinguishes itself from the likes of BLACK CHRISTMAS and the later SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT by focusing from the start on its ‘monster’ and observing as he gradually, steadily disintegrates into madness.

It’s a slow burn, that’s for certain. But Maggart’s performance is sufficiently engrossing so as to make proceedings always watchable. Those seeking schlock may turn off after the first hour, as Jackson definitely concentrates more on characters during this time. But the ante is upped somewhat in the film’s final third.

In the meantime though, be patient and enjoy the quirky cast as they savour Jackson’s mix of darkly witty dialogue and no-nonsense thriller direction. Atmosphere is nicely dark when it needs to be, while there is an array of cheery festive tunes on the soundtrack. The latter are interspersed with some great, early 80s-type electro horror vibes.

EVIL has been made available on DVD twice already in America, courtesy of Troma and then Synapse. Both sets contained unique extras, while the latter trumped the former by boasting the restored director’s cut of the film (a couple of minutes longer than the print used on the Troma disc).

For the film’s UK digital debut, Arrow have not only managed to release the director’s cut of the film, but have cannily complemented it with a meshing of the best bonus features from both earlier DVD releases.

The film itself, as mentioned above, comes fully uncut in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced. The onscreen title is YOU BETTER WATCH OUT. Although much of the footage is naturally soft (exhibiting that ‘fish-eye’ shooting style that was common in low-budget horror films and erotica during the 70s), colours are well-rendered and the print used is a satisfyingly clean one. Blacks hold up well, while natural grain ensures an authentic filmic look is retained throughout.

English audio comes in a dual mono format and is decent for its duration, being free from background hiss or drop-out.

An animated main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

Bonus features kick off with two welcome audio commentary tracks. Both feature Jackson, who proves to be a fluent and engaging host. He speaks with good memory of the shoot, offers anecdotes about filming, cast members and even weather, and injects humour here and there to ensure the whole thing never gets too bogged down.

Of the two, the first commentary is the best because it offers the most insight into the film’s making and subsequent impact. The second track sees the director joined by bad taste legend John Waters (PINK FLAMINGOS; MULTIPLE MANIACS), who is a self-professed fan of the film and brings sardonic camp to proceedings.

Next we have a couple of 7-minute video interviews which originally featured on the Troma DVD. The first is with Jackson; the second is with Maggart. Both are conducted by gore filmmaker Chad Ferrin (SOMEONE’S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR; EASTER BUNNY KILL! KILL!). While the usual Troma daftness applies, these interviews are actually pretty credible for the most part.

6 minutes of deleted scenes have a slightly brighter, more colourful look to them than the main feature but come in rough window-boxed form. Between them, they only add inconsequential plot points.

Original audition footage comes up next, and there is a pleasing 26 minutes worth to wade through. Okay, it becomes heavy-going, but it’s great that this stuff even exists.

Finally, we get a brief featurette which compares the original storyboards to three scenes from the completed film.

Although unavailable for review, it’s worth noting that the DVD comes with the usual Arrow bonus of a booklet with liner notes and production stills.

CHRISTMAS EVIL may not be the best yuletide fright fest out there, but it remains good fun and is served extremely well by Arrow’s UK DVD release.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Films
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review