Christmas Evil

Christmas Evil ★★★★★

"Jolly Dream Wishes All Its Employees a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. Remember - If It's Not a Jolly Dream It's Not Worth Having!"

Ho, ho, ho - it's time for another Vinegar Syndrome treat! Extra special for December 25, it's in the form of Christmas Evil, originally titled You Better Watch Out. Trust me, you don't want to get on this Santa's naughty list.

Brandon Maggart (aka Fiona Apple's dad) is completely magnetic as Harry Stadling, the toy factory clerk whose memory of a psychosexual shock from Christmas Eve 1947 - seeing his mother and Santa-suited father locked in a steamy embrace in the living room, after the kids were supposed to have gone to sleep - rewired something critical in his brain. Now he's fixated on punishing citizens guilty of "impure thoughts," among other offenses; maybe a screening of the X-rated holiday classic The Passions of Carol could have helped prevent this mishegoss, but obviously Harry prefers Kris Kringle cosplay to the raincoat brigade. Isn't it fascinating how often these cinematic serial killer origin stories are rooted in exposure to a consensually sexual rendezvous? Always so much blame placed on erotic (and noticeably non-violent) imagery. Think of all the time I spent as a young girl poring over my mother's coffee table book Sin in Soft Focus, with its grown-up discussions of pre-Code film history and that beloved portrait of Ramón Novarro as Ben-Hur, and I turned out just fine!

There are so many excellent elements at play here, including the editing by Corky Ohara (who cut The Exterminator that same year) and Linda Leeds, the fact that the film doubles as Thanksgiving entertainment (the Macy's parade footage was shot by the director, Lewis Jackson), little details like the red/green color scheme (Fassbinderian inspiration on Jackson's part; apparently he storyboarded everything) and the "Days to Xmas" countdown chalkboard in Harry's house, the disco version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" in one of the party scenes, the announcements of "Christmas Eve" and "Christmas Day" as nods to Halloween, the Santa lineup in the police station (round up the usual suspects...), the overall similarity with another slasher that I enjoyed earlier this year, Don't Go in the House, and finally the genuinely emotional ending.

With great delight, I recognized several crew names in the end credits: additional photographer Affonso Beato was later the cinematographer on such varied features as All About My Mother, Ghost World and The Queen; one of the associate sound editors was Skip Lievsay (he won a Best Sound Mixing Oscar for Gravity) and one of the assistant sound editors was Sally Menke, aka Tarantino's editor on everything from Reservoir Dogs to Inglourious Basterds; script supervisor Geri Ashur later edited Lee Grant's documentary When Women Kill, and there is now a screenwriting award in Ashur's memory; and production assistant James Y. Kwei went on to have editing credits on both Frank Henenlotter's Brain Damage and Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.

Meanwhile, Vinegar Syndrome's DVD/Blu-ray combo release offers an abundance of goodies, including Troma interviews from the late 90s with both Lewis Jackson and Brandon Maggart, the latter seeming a little bit off his rocker in a way that might be wonderful or irritating, probably differing depending on who you ask. (Got a laugh at Maggart being asked if he liked Fiona Apple's boyfriend at the time, Paul Thomas Anderson, either as a filmmaker or as a person; our man honestly couldn't come up with an answer.) But the real victory is that VS offers three commentary tracks, one of which pairs Jackson with Christmas Evil's self-proclaimed #1 fan, John Waters. A few highlights:

- Waters is obsessed with the story's fetishistic/sex change allegory aspects ("He's just a lonely closet Santa. That's what he is! He comes out of the Claus closet.");
- Jackson says that he turned down both Kathleen Turner and Glenn Close for the sister-in-law role eventually played by Dianne Hull; he also originally wanted George Dzundza to play Harry, but upon being cast, Dzundza tried to rewrite the role to make him more like the lovable lead in Marty;
- the scene of Harry's younger brother Philip (a particularly handsome-looking Jeffrey DeMunn) doing shirtless push-ups is total beefcake ("This is your Petra von Kant shot!");
- Waters continues to emphasize the identity component of the Santa costume ("He's passing! He's getting in drag... he even makes his own outfits!") and reminisces about a more recent Christmas-themed gay porn video starring Jeff Stryker;
- both Jackson ("My favorite moment!") and Waters absolutely lose it over the driveway scene with future Home Improvement mom Patricia Richardson slapping the young actor who plays her son (Waters compares the performance to Divine in Female Trouble);
- a shot of Harry smiling to himself appears, as on many other occasions, like ecstasy to Waters ("Ah, the afterglow...");
- the choreographer for the dance party that our voyeuristic main character spies on through a window was Meryl Streep's younger brother, Harry Streep;
- and I just continued to chuckle at more of Waters' observations, like the aforementioned "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" cover ("An all-disco soundtrack! Pass the Quaaludes!"), calling Harry's van "his little pervert wagon," describing the multiple murder on the church steps as "don't fuck with Santa," and snorting at Harry's inability to fit into the chimney as a sexual metaphor, a failure no matter how he tries to move in and out of the space ("You can make it, Santa! ... Santa interruptus! He couldn't get down!").

This is the point at which I stopped taking notes, having too much fun to pause for typing. Five-star experience, truly.

"How ya feelin' now, Harry?"
"I never felt better."

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