CHRISTMAS, IT’S THE MOST TERRIFYING TIME OF THE YEAR
Traditional Christmas movies are boring. If you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Your basic, traditional Christmas movie goes something like this:
Main character loses the spirit of Christmas because of divorce/a break up/or something devastating happens. As a result, Main Character hates Christmas. In the second act, Main character goes through another transformation because of new love/meets someone/something mysterious happens. In the third act, Main Character finds the true meaning of Christmas and lives happily ever after.
It’s a boring formula, but one Hollywood turns to time and time again. It’s a formula Hollywood knows will get people’s eyes on their product. Maybe this is why we like Christmas movies that tend to break this formula while comfortably staying in the formula.
Christmas movies like Elf, The Santa Clause, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas fit into the formula but with enough of a twist we enjoy them year after year. Then there are movies like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and It’s A Wonderful that don’t fit the formula at all. These movies took the spirit of Christmas, family, and made it their own. Finally, there’s a little sub-genre we call Christmas Horror.
Christmas horror movies take all the feel good stuff of the season and throws it out a window. Classics like Black Christmas to new classics like Krampus and All Through the House remind us not every one has a holly, jolly Christmas.
The Elf (2017)
The Elf, not to be confused with the much more lighthearted and family friendly Elf, is a low budget horror movie. Low budget doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Low budget simply means film makers have less to work with than if you were making a movie for a studio. Low budget doesn’t have to mean bad, but in the case of The Elf that’s exactly what it means.
The Elf, from the very start, is a confusing movie. It’s not confusing in a David Lynch kind of way, but confusing because the movie never really explains itself. We meet Nick and Valeria at a thrift store. Did the couple buy a thrift store? Victoria randomly finds information on a toy maker. Did the couple buy a toy store?
For some random reason, Nick wanders into a room to discover a chest. Of course, Nick unlocks the chest. Inside the chest is a toy elf holding a knife, a naughty list, and a set of rules. It’s not a game, but it’s set up as a game. Except, the rules are never enforced in the movie.
Only after the elf has killed a lot of people do we learn Nick knew what the elf was the whole time. Apparently his family had been cursed with the elf generations ago. The elf we’re told is killing people on the naughty list found in the box. Except, Victoria and her parents are not related to Nick and neither are the two people from town invited to Victoria’s Christmas party. Either a way, a killer elf isn’t information you suddenly remember after your girlfriend’s parents are murdered by a wooden elf.
There are so many problems with The Elf it’s difficult to keep track of them all. Victoria and Nick are going to be married. Victoria says more than once she doesn’t know anything about Nick, but she went on a road trip with him and even invited her parents to finally meet him. Nick later wonders how Victoria’s parents knew where he lived. It’s a good question but the answer is vague at best. Either Victoria knew in advance where Nick lived and he was going to open a chest that would result in people being killed or it’s a leap in logic the director hopes no one will notice. We figure it’s the latter.
There’s a better story in The Elf than what we are allowed to see or what was ever put in the script. After several deaths, Nick tells Victoria an urban legend the town used to scare kids. The Keeper of Souls would take children from their homes to the underworld. In the underworld the children would live and be used in what sounds like combat type games. The Keeper of Souls may or may not have possessed the elf. The viewer never really gets a good explanation how the whole thing works.
A demon who possesses a toy elf every Christmas so it can steal children is a movie we would love to have seen. Instead we are treated to a movie full of plot holes, leaps in logic, bad acting, and nonsense the director hopes no one will notice.
Avoid this movie like a Christmas fruit cake.
Christmas Evil (1980)
Troma Films is not known for high brow art films. This is the company that brought us Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and The Toxic Avenger. It’s hard to argue Troma’s catalog of movies is anything but low budget silly messes. Tasteless and trashy may come to mind when you think of Troma films, but there are a few exceptions to the rule.
Christmas Evil goes somewhat against the grain of most Santa Claus as a killer movies. Young Harry Stadling, the future Santa Claus killer, learns the hard way that Santa Claus is either not real or someone who had sex with his mother under the family’s Christmas tree. We get an explanation much later in the movie, but whatever the case may be it was enough to send Harry down the wrong path in life.
Adult Harry, now working at a toy company, keeps a list of all the good and bad boys and girls in his neighborhood. He also spies on them from his bedroom window. It’s definitely a stalker move, but if you think about it this is exactly what the real Santa Claus does throughout the year. Except, Harry has a major break from reality.
Unlike the Santas in those other movies, Harry is a firm believer in the code of naughty and nice. This code is what really sets Christmas Evil apart from movies like Silent Night, Deadly Night or Santa’s Slay. The Santas in those movies kill for no rhyme or reason. Harry may be misguided, but in his own way he is trying t keep the spirit of Christmas alive.
Harry’s code is exactly like Saint Nick’s policy. Harry rewards the good and punishes the bad. He kills the yuppies leaving the church who mock him and he later kills his co-worker who cons him into taking his night shift at the toy factory. He spares his coworkers who are giving gifts to children at the company’s Christmas party. He leaves dirt for the one of the children on his naughty list.
Christmas Evil may not be a hardcore slasher film like All Through the House, but it has heart. Heart in any Christmas movie goes a long way. It’s a definite must see for the ending alone. Does Harry really fly to the moon in his van or is he doomed to crash into the icy river?
Christmas Evil also stars the great character actor Jeffrey DeMunn (The Shawshank Redemption, The Walking Dead, Billions) as Harry’s brother.