Christmas Evil

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“I’m gonna play my tune now, everyone will dance. You’ll see.”
Harry Stadling (Christmas Evil)

More psychodrama than slasher, Christmas Evil, known as You Better Watch Out upon release, actually has more in common with the heady horror of Taxi Driver than say, the Silent Night, Deadly Night Series – the lethal umbrella inspiration for our book.

Young Harry is traumatized when he witnesses Father Christmas getting frisky with mom (This goes a few black stockings beyond “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”)

Harry runs upstairs and slices his hand open with a shattered piece of snow globe. Citizen Kane this ain’t. Nor is it Miracle on 34th Street. But when it comes to Christmas movie fare, John Waters calls Christmas Evil, “the best one ever.”

Not sure about that, but it’s a consistently compelling if downbeat affair, and one of the more interesting films in the holiday horror sub-genre.

Harry (played as an adult by Brandon Maggart) then grows up to be a disgruntled loner (If there’s one 80s horror that deserves a cheesy back-in-time prologue, it’s a Christmas-themed one.)

He’s far too obsessed with kids than a man who’s this advanced into bachelorhood should be (or anyone else for that matter). Harry dresses as Santa, and takes surreptitious snaps of the neighborhood children, documenting how naughty/nice they’ve been in giant volumes kept in his study These creepily document, in one instance, a boy whose “bad personal hygiene” puts him in the “naughty” ledger.

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Harry works as a middle manager at Jolly Dream, a candy-cane branded toy factory, where he’s toy-possessed, taking a stint on the floor assembly line to manufacture what look like, it has to be said, really odd looking toys.

As his Yuletide obsessions become more pronounced, he takes in Santa Claus parades on television and kits himself out with a bespoke felt suit, eventually setting up his own basement toy workshop — in short, morphing into Santa Claus and manufacturing bizarro toy soldiers. And it’s one of those same toys that’s used in a terrific church-front attack, witnessed by dozens of parishioners.

Director Lewis Jackson reports this one went over-budget and was  plagued by production issues that pushed this up to the $850,000 mark. Hope they made their money back as there’s a lot going on here.

Nice to see that the film’s gotten some exposure to become a cult Christmas curiosity. In December 2014, our pals over at Vinegar Syndrome released Christmas Evil in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack.

Put it under your tree.

***1/2 (out of 5)

The Bone Garden

BONE_GARDEN“I wanted to make a movie without any red herrings.”

So says writer/director of The Bone Garden, Mike Gutridge. And that’s an admirable goal as our genre’s rife with leering maintenance guys, bug-eyed garbage men and skulking homeless people.

The Baltimorean mostly delivers, in a suburban romp whose tone and setting conjures up John Waters’ Serial Mom (of interest: Waters’ assistant appears briefly in the film as the legendary cult director turned down an overture to appear).

At the fictional Carpenter University, Professor Norman Hardy has a way of getting his leg over undergrads. Wife Alice Hardy is on to him though, egged on by boozy divorcee Laurie (an excellent turn by Tammy Kaitz).

With nothing to occupy her time other than tend to a field of corn, walk the dog and eventually commit revenge adultery, Alice spies on her wandering hubby and involves herself in a local investigation involving the disappearance of a college coed.

Meanwhile, a killer is lurking about with a shovel and a couple of neighborhood newcomers are acting strangely.

Bone_GARDEN_STILLAlice Hardy, gorehounds will note, is the name of the camp counselor from the original Friday, who gets it in the temple as the kettle boils in Friday the 13th Part II.

Here, Hardy is played by Tracie Savage who was Debbie in Friday the 13th Part III. Her brown lab is “Jason,” and investigating officer Detective Meeker is played by Friday the 13th’s Officer Dorf, Ron Millkie. The film is littered with Camp Crystal Lake references, but never enough to bog it down.

The Bone Garden showcases something that’s rare in horror: sure, there are a few hot college students (including a dance troupe from the university) but the film’s focal point is mostly middle-aged, married suburbanites. Demographics alone is enough to set this film apart and it’s about time focus shifted to the parents. After all, without them we wouldn’t have the next generation of bikini babes and slow-witted boyfriends with car trouble getting feasted on by masked maniacs.

Sharp-looking, despite being made on the cheap in under a month, The Bone Garden is made in the true spirit of indie film-making, a friend-and-family affair. (The director’s brother and son appear in bit parts, his friend’s band is the local bar house band in a watering hole owned by the director’s friend. The TV newscaster is another friend, an actual local TV news personality, etc.)

It’s a tastefully restrained whodunit with a mondo payoff and the denouement will be apparent to only the most keen-eyed observers.

*** (out of 5)