Friday, December 16, 2011

Terror in Toyland

Christmas Evil is one weird film. I mean, really freakin' weird. So weird that it's John Water's favorite Christmas movie (no, seriously!). Originally released in 1980 as You Better Watch Out...(in some markets as Terror in Toyland), it was re-released and re-titled in 1984 to cash in on the success of Silent Night, Deadly Night. In all honesty, it really has little in common with that film, other than being a Christmas-themed horror flick.

As I understand it, there is a director's cut DVD that is quite good, with a sparkling transfer. I didn't see that one. In fact, the DVD I have I picked up for two-dollars at a used bookstore. As befitting such a cheap purchase, the transfer on this disc looks like it was struck from a print that was pulled out of a landfill, drug through raw sewage, and then left to sit on a dusty shelf for about 10 years. Yeah, it's almost unwatchable. Still, I found myself somewhat enchanted by its bizzare, off-kilter tone.

The story itself is rather hard to explain without getting majorly spoilerrific, so I'll keep it simple. Our Holiday killer this time is Harry (hey, this is the first Christmas horror film I've reviewed where the killer isn't named Billy! I was getting a little concerned that maybe I should avoid anyone named Billy around the Holidays...which would make things a bit awkward, since I have a sibling with that name. Still, I'll be keeping an eye on him if he's hanging out near the knives this Christmas. I digress). Harry sees his folks getting it on under the mistletoe as a kid. While it would be traumatic for most kids to see their folks getting frisky, it's especially bad for Harry, possibly due to the fact that his Dad is dressed up like Santa, and his mom is the mom from Home Improvement. Harry doesn't start humming "I Saw Mommy Schtuping Santa Claus", but instead goes upstairs and cuts himself with a shard of glass from a snowglobe, making him one of the original Emo kids. I wondered what the hell this had to do with anything, but apparently it shattered his belief in Kris Kringle...leading to him becoming obsessed with Christmas. Harry decides to do everything in his power to become a REAL Santa. A noble goal, but Harry is a bit off his rocker, so it doesn't go well for anyone.

This flick really isn't a true slasher film, and it barely qualifies as a horror film. While it naturally draws comparisons to Silent Night, Deadly Night, with its themes of guy-dressed-like-Santa-who-punishes-naughty-folk, the execution of these flicks couldn't be more different. It's really something of a psychological thriller with a heavy dose of black comedy thrown in for good measure. The story itself could be read as an indictment of the over-commercialization of Christmas, which is a bit deeper than your average hack-'em-up. Like SNDN, we feel a bit of pity for our killer here. In this case, Harry seems like a likeable guy who really just means well. It isn't his fault he's nuttier than squirrel poo. Brandon Maggart plays Harry beautifully, and the majority of this film is really just his character mentally deteriorating. We watch as his attachment to reality completely disintegrates over the course of the story. There is very little blood, and not much in the way of actual on-screen deaths here, but that's okay. The surreal tone of the film is better for it. If you're a gore-hound, or looking for something that will scare the crap outta ya...this really isn't what you're looking for.

This flick also boast one of the most bizzare endings I've ever seen of any film...ever! I'll leave it to you to see for yourself, but it'll have you scratching your head, wondering if you actually just saw that. did. You aren't experiencing hallucinations from that gawd-awful fruitcake you decided to take a bite of, even though it has to be at least twelve years old. It was every bit as strange as you thought it was.

All in all, I have to say I enjoyed this truly strange little movie. It's definitely not your typical Christmas tale, nor is it a conventional horror flick. It's a unique, surreal story that you'll be thinking about for years to come! Watch it, and then you can brag to your friends "y'know, I just saw the WEIRDEST Christmas movie ever"! You can then make them sit through it and watch their reactions. Holiday fun for everyone!

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