Poor Harry Stradling!
As played by Brandon Maggart in the 1980’s Christmas Evil, Harry is a poor guy who lives alone and spends his days thinking about Christmas. When Harry was a child, he and his brother, Philip, had an argument about whether or not the Santa they saw in their living room was the real Santa or just their father dressed up as Santa. Philip claimed that there was no Santa. Harry insisted that there was. Later, Harry snuck downstairs and caught his mother doing a lot more than just kissing Santa Claus. It was enough of a trauma that, 33 years later, Harry is still obsessed with bringing Santa Claus to life. While Philip (Jeffrey DeMunn) has started a family, Harry is an emotional stunted manchild.
Harry does a lot of creepy things in Christmas Evil, even before the film reaches it’s bizarre denouement. He starts his day spying on the local children and making a list as to who has been nice and who has been sneaking an adult magazine into his bedroom. There’s also the scene where he masturbates while secretly watching Philip and his wife. That’s a bit …. yeah. Eeek! And yet, as creepy as Harry can be, it’s hard not to feel bad for him. His love of Christmas and Santa is just so sincere and earnest. He’s so obsessed with Christmas that he even has a managerial job at a local toy factory. The toys are shoddy, his bosses are hypocrites, and his co-workers take advantage of him. Harry has so many reasons to be miserable but he’s not. His love for Christmas is the thing that keeps his life going and which gives him hope.
Eventually, Harry decides that maybe he could be the new Santa! He puts on the beard. He makes the costume. He decorates his van with a picture of sleigh and, while he drives it, he gives orders to his imaginary reindeer. He steals a bunch of toys and tosses them into a bag and, while its snows outside, he joyfully hands out the presents at a children’s hospital. Later, when he gets dragged into a Christmas Party, he gives out even more toys. He tells the kids to be good because if they’re bad …. ho ho ho!
Yay for Harry, right? Well, the problem is that some people aren’t as happy to see Santa as the children are. Some people make the mistake of mocking Harry, which leads to Harry using his toys to murder them. Soon, the police are dragging in random Santas and forcing them take part in a lineup. Meanwhile, Harry drives around town and continues his quest to become the new Santa!
And maybe …. just maybe, he does. It all depends on how you interpret the ending. The film’s director, Lewis Jackson, has officially said that most people are not correctly interpreting the ending but I don’t care. Harry may be a murderer and a weirdo but, dammit, he’s just so earnest! He deserves a happy ending!
Christmas Evil is often described as being a slasher film but it’s actually more of a character study. Imagine Taxi Driver if Travis Bickle dressed up Santa. Harry may be insane and dangerous but he still tries to do some good in the world and, in the end, he wins the hearts and support of the children. Christmas Evil is an odd mix of mental squalor. gritty grindouse imagery, and holiday earnestness. Christmas Evil was certainly not the only early 80s “slasher” film to focus more on the killer than his victims but, as opposed to Maniac and Don’t Go Into The House, it’s one of the few to generate some sympathy for its main character. Everyone deserves a happy Christmas, even (or maybe that should be especially) Harry Stradling.