Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) 
Label: Vinegar Syndrome
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 94 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 
Video:  1080p Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Lewis Jackson
Cast: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville, Joe Jamrog

When Harry (Brandon Maggart) was just a young boy he experiences a rather traumatic event on Christmas Eve. While trying to sneak a peek of jolly old St. Nick leaving gifts under the Christmas tree what he ended up with was an eyeful of the bearded fat man doing a bit more than just kissing his mommy. Poor Harry didn't realize that the man in the Santa suit was his kinky father having a fun with mom, confused and frightened by what he saw Harry runs off to his room before cutting himself with a shard of glass from a broken snow globe. 

Now thirty years later Harry works at the Jolly Dream toy factory but still carries the mental scars of that awful night.  In the years since Harry has styled himself into a neighborhood Santa Clause of sorts, his home is plastered with Christmas decorations and he sleeps in Santa pajamas. Harry regularly goes onto the rooftop of his apartment with a pair of binoculars to spy on the neighborhood kids. Peeping through their windows he documents who's naughty and nice in a  set of ledgers labeled "naughty" and "nice". A kid looking at Penthouse magazine in his room ends up in the naughty book while another young girl observed taking out the trash is noted as good. 


Weird though he may be Harry seems like a well meaning guy and enjoys his job at the factory making toys for the boys and girls of the world.  Sure, he's odd but he seems mostly harmless at first. Harry's older brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn, THE BLOB) notices Harry is becoming more obsessive and weirder as Christmas approaches, he tries to reel him back into reality but it's a losing battle and only Harry descends further into madness as Christmas approaches. 

He finally snaps on Christmas Eve, now fully delusional and dressed in a Santa suit Harry sets about rewarding the good boys and girls in the neighborhood and punishing a few of the naughty adults who corrupt the true spirit of Christmas. In the process he leaves behind a small body count and a mob of towns folk armed with torched and pitchforks chase him through the streets before we come to a very surreal finale, one that the film is rightfully most remembered for. 


I think this film is often confused for the more bloody and cynical Santa slasher SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT. Both movies deal with a young men traumatized as kids who grow up into a delusional and homicidal Santa, this one is more of a character study along the lines of TAXI DRIVER or HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. As the film moves along we witness Harry's  break from reality and the tragic aftermath. Maggart is pretty great and does a fine job portraying the descent into madness all the while keeping Harry a sympathetic character. There's something about his eyes that conveys so much, he really does carry the film on his shoulders, there's just so much that could have gone wrong here but he holds it together. 

While there are a handful of deaths none are overly graphic or gory and this might not satisfy the gore hounds but if you enjoy a demented slow-burn with a very strange finale there's some fun to be had here. There are a few times where the film does drag a bit but I find myself returning to this one every Christmas season and it's great to see it get a new restoration with loads of extras from Vinegar Syndrome. 


BLU-RAY:
Vinegar Syndrome have gone back to archival 35mm elements for this new transfer and the source material looks very nice with just a few blemishes and minor white speckling along the way. The new 4K restoration is mighty fine with accurate skin tones, decent black levels and vibrant colors. The cinematography is a bit on the hazy side so the image is not the sharpest but  the grain is managed quite nicely and the detail is far superior to previous releases and improves the image in all the expected areas. The print used bears the original title of YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, which is probably a more appropriate title but doesn't carry with the same exploitative cache. 

The English language DTS-HD Master Audio Mono does a fine job exporting the audio chores with a clean and nicely balanced presentation. 


Onto he extras we have three audio commentaries featuring director Lewis Jackson who is joined separately by actor Brandon Maggart and cult film director John Waters. The commentary with John waters is quite amusing, some might say that his interest in this cult-film resurrected it from obscurity. The king of bad taste is a true champion of the film and at a few points seems to stop commenting just to sit back and enjoy the film. 

Sourced from the previous releases are interview with director Lewis Jackson and star Brandon Maggart coming in just under fourteen minutes in length, the interviews cover the spotty distribution of the film and the cult status. The Tromatic interview with Maggart is conducted at what appears to be his  kitchen table and he is joined by Troma's Sgt. Kabukiman which is just weird. 


Also on the disc are nearly a half hour of screen tests, deleted scenes, original theatrical trailer, storyboard comparisons and my favorite, a collection of hilarious comment cards from early screenings of the film


SPECIAL FEATURES:
- BD/DVD Combo Pack
- Restored in 4k from 35mm archival elements
- Commentary track with Lewis Jackson
- Commentary track with Lewis Jackson and Brandon Maggart
- Commentary track with Lewis Jackson and John Waters
- Archival Video Interviews with Lewis Jackson (7 mins) 

- Archival Video Interviews with Brandon Maggart (7 mins)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 mins)
- Deleted Scenes (7 mins) 

- Screen Tests (26 mins)
- Storyboards (4 mins) 

- Comment Cards Gallery (3 mins) 

VERDICT:
CHRISTMAS EVIL may not the blood and guts fueled Santa slasher I think most might expect - and the artwork suggests - but it's definitely one of the most demented Christmas stories out there and it just happens to be a damn good film. Vinegar Syndrome are a very naughty label but I am pretty sure they're on Harry's good list this year with the definitive release of CHRISTMAS EVIL. 

No comments:

Post a Comment