Christmas Evil!

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

This off the wall 1980 horror film from writer/director Lewis Jackson begins on Christmas Eve, 1947. Naughty little Harry Stadling sneaks down the stairs after his bedtime and catches Santa Claus nibbling on Mommy’s Christmas cookie. Harry is horrified by the sexy sight and runs upstairs to do what any kid in his situation would do – take comfort in a little self mutilation with a broken snow globe.

We then flash forward thirty years and find little Harry (Brandon Maggart) all grown up with more then a few screws loose. He works as the manager of a toy factory and is now completely consumed by all things Christmas. He applies shaving cream to his face while staring into a mirror and hallucinates that he IS Santa Claus. He then begins to snoop and spy on the neighborhood children and rushes home to feverishly take notes about who’s been naughty and nice in his big red book.

His madness reaches a peak on Christmas Eve. Harry dresses up as Santa and delivers stolen presents to all the good little boys and girls at the local children’s hospital. He also delivers death to a few naughty adults that had done him wrong via toy soldier sword impalements and lethal toy axe head splitting! He then attempts to break into a home and gets stuck inside a chimney in the process. He awakens the family in his struggle and while the children are delighted to see Saint Nick, Mother and Father are none too pleased to find a fat jolly lunatic in their fireplace. Santa slays the Scrooge-like parents with a little help from the razor sharp star from the top of the Christmas tree and then winds up on the run from a lynch mob out for his blood. You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, or you may die!

Legendary director and pervert John Waters not only calls CHRISTMAS EVIL “the best seasonal film of all time,” he also declares it “a true cinematic classic.” I wouldn’t go that far in praising the film, but it’s certainly a unique viewing experience. Hardly a run of the mill hack ‘em up holiday slasher, this one plays out as more of a character study – exploring in depth the twisted mind state and motivations of the eventual psycho killer. Brandon Maggart (the real life father of bad, bad girl Fiona Apple!) does a great job playing the demented lead. My only complaint is that he never really comes across as menacing or scary. He plays the role so broadly, its hard to see him as anything but odd and comical.

There’s a lot more characterization (and black humor) than carnage in this one – so hardcore gore junkies might want to look elsewhere for a ho-ho-holocaust, but I highly recommend this to naughty boys and girls looking for an unusual holiday horror flick. Synapse Films released a beautifully remastered director’s cut of CHRISTMAS EVIL that sports several stocking stuffing bonus features including deleted scenes, audition footage, storyboards, and best of all – a commentary track with writer/director Lewis and none other than John Waters himself!

Lewis Jackson Interview!!!

It has been 30 years since Lewis Jackson wrote and directed Christmas Evil, and I was honored to have the chance to briefly chat with him, and ask him about creating a Christmas cult phenomenon.

LET THE BLOODSHED BEGIN!!!

Brain Hammer: What was your inspiration for writing and creating Christmas Evil?

Lewis Jackson: It was Christmas Eve 1970 and I smoked a joint. I saw an image of a Santa Claus with a knife in his hands. Ten years later, I figured out how to make the script work.

BH: How did the chance to direct your debut film come about?

LJ: Because I came up with a great idea of how to make a soft-core comedy.

BH: Christmas Evil is widely regarded as one of the very best Christmas themed horror films. Was that your intent when making the film – a pure horror film, or were you going for something more psychological and character driven?

LJ: I was trying to make a black comedy and truthfully, if you are not trying to make the best movie you possibly can make, then you are a hack – which is basically 95% of the people in Hollywood.

BH: Are you a fan of the horror genre? Where do think Christmas Evil belongs in horror history, especially when compared to other X-mas horrors.

LJ: There are no other great horror Xmas movies and I believe I am in a genre with Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock.

BH: The film is also known as You Better Watch Out & Terror In Toyland. Do you have a preferred title?

LJ: I originally called the film You Better Watch Out, some asshole who bootlegged the film changed the title card over and over and over again – and only because I had an original print, did Synapse allow me to use the original title because I had the original print.

BH: It’s impossible for me to imagine anyone other than Brandon Maggart in the lead role of Harry Stadling. Was the part written for him specifically or did you discover him through casting?

LJ: I discovered him thru casting. Originally I cast George Dzundza who played the bartender in Deerslayer. We started working and he said to me that we needed to rewrite the script and I realized he wanted me to write him “Marty.” It was a disaster. Somebody found me a great NY casting director who sent me a whole new group of actors. They all came in, they all did videotape auditions. Brandon’s audition turned out to be Brandon’s performance and that was quite a revelation.

BH: The film has a number of violent scenes. Did you find the filming of the violent sequences to be difficult or more time consuming?

LJ: The answer is both. Filming violence is not pleasant, but it has to be precise.

BH: One of the film’s most outspoken fans is John Waters. He mentioned the film at length in one of his books and even participated in a commentary track for the Synapse dvd release. When did you first become aware that you had such a famous fan? What are your thoughts on John and his love of your film?

LJ: 1983 someone told me that John had written about it in Rolling Stone, but I had never seen the article. After the book came out, someone called me and said “have you seen the book?” I hadn’t. When I did, I was overwhelmed basically because I had been treated like a crazy person for making this movie. I didn’t meet John for 20 more years, but then he started to do art shows and invited me to be a part of the film showings accompanying the art shows. I finally met him at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg.

BH: When the film was originally released did you receive any sort of criticism or protests from moral crusaders?

LJ: I was treated like a leper and I thought I was making a comedy and only John understood it was a comedy.

BH: Christmas Evil has been released on vhs and dvd several times. I’ve even seen dvds selling for as little as $1. Did the film ever slip into the public domain?

LJ: No, it was stolen and it has taken me 5 years to regain the rights.

BH: In an age when seemingly EVERY horror film ever made gets a remake, it seems like only a matter of time before someone attempts a Christmas Evil remake. Have you been approached about this?

LJ: Yes. Twice, but this one seems to be one that no one wants to touch. It still seems too transgressive. It may be the most impressive thing I have done in my life.

BH: The remake of Bob Clark’s Black Christmas was met with a fair amount of controversy because of the title. Do you think a remake of Christmas Evil would have the same sort of reception?

LJ: Worse.

I’d like to thank Lewis for taking the time to do the interview and big thanks to horror society for hooking it up!

HO HO HO KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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