Sometimes it’s very difficult to introduce a movie screening, for various reasons. Tonight’s film is a case in point, for it’s almost impossible to discuss Lewis Jackson’s 1980 seasonal shocker CHRISTMAS EVIL without referring to its utterly delirious ending! However, I’m aware that many of you in the Fright Club audience tonight may not have seen this all-too-rarely seen Yuletide offering, so I’ll save the surprises for the time being.
Far from being a standard holiday slasher in the style of SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT et al, CHRISTMAS EVIL (aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT) has more in common with the strand of downbeat, urban dramas prevalent in American cinema of the late 70s/early 80s, having more kinship with, say, TAXI DRIVER or BLUE COLLAR than with HALLOWEEN.
At the heart of CHRISTMAS EVIL is a powerhouse performance from the superbly-named Brandon Maggart. Now 80 years old, Brandon began acting in the 50s – he appeared in the first series of ‘Sesame Street’ back in 1969, played ‘Cleveland Sam’ in Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (made the same year as tonight’s film), and became successful on US television as one of the stars of the hit late-80s comedy, ‘Brothers’. His role as Christmas-obsessed Harry Stadling remains the crowning glory of his career, though! Notably, Brandon also fathered seven children with two different partners, and many of his offspring followed him down the showbiz trail. His son Spencer became a writer and director; another son Garrett has acted on American TV; daughter Amber worked as a cabaret vocalist under the name ‘Maude Maggart’; and then there’s Fiona. That’s Fiona Apple to you and me, the Grammy-winning, platinum album selling, jazzy, kooky singer songwriter. Her opinions of her dad’s legendary participation in CHRISTMAS EVIL aren’t recorded, but I sure hope she saw and enjoyed it!
Director Lewis Jackson does a fabulous job in mixing the grim urban feel of the story with Harry’s overwhelming celebration of all things Xmassy. Lewis directed just three feature films, of which two are now sadly lost – sexploitation flick THE DEVIATES (1970) and the bizarrely-titled 1974 sex/horror picture THE TRANSFORMATION: A SANDWICH OF NIGHTMARES. A book called ‘Regional Horror Films 1958-1990’, by Brian Albright, describes the plot as concerning a man who “falls in love with an exotic singer, who turns out to be the high priestess of a cult he’s investigating”. The movie’s advertising taglines are something to behold: “begins where Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT ends”, “a sexual film odyssey of a young girl exploring her innermost fantasies in a sea of navels, thighs and buttocks”, “A blood cult of Devil Worshippers Living in the subways of New York??!! You bet your life!!!”
The major champion of CHRISTMAS EVIL over the decades has undoubtedly been the Pope Of Trash himself, John Waters. In 1985 Waters penned an essay for National Lampoon magazine, entitled “Why I Love Christmas” – in a section on holiday viewing fare, the great man urged us all to ditch IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, WHITE CHRISTMAS and other favourites he dismisses as “hackneyed trash”, and to watch CHRISTMAS EVIL instead! He calls Jackson’s movie “the best seasonal film of all time” and states that “this true cinematic masterpiece only played theatrically for a few seconds but no holiday family get-together is complete without it. I wish I had kids. I’d make them watch it every year, and if they didn’t like it, they’d be punished”!
Up next at Fright Club: In January we will be showing The Last Horror Movie and some Jean Rollin action in February with Fascination.