Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

Review- Christmas Evil (1980)

I first heard of this Yuletide horror flick as John Waters spoke about it as being his favourite seasonal cinematic shocker. With such high praise from The Prince of Puke I later heard it was being shown at a local cinema in Sydney, Australia where I lived for a year (it was actually shown as part of a double bill with Black Christmas which is possibly the greatest duo of films I’ve ever seen on the big screen).

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This film was also seized during the raids on video shops that happened in the UK during the video nasties furore. After it was seized it was then banned by the BBFC. Hence, why I wasn’t allowed by the powers that be to see this masterpiece in the 80’s.

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The film centres around Harry Stadling who we see first as a child as he sees Santa pleasuring his mother. After seeing Old Nick being so naughty he goes upstairs and self harms with a broken ornament from a Christmas tree.

The film then flashes forward to Harry as an adult working in a local toy factory. He seems to be completely obsessed by Santa Claus and even dresses like him, sleeps in his outfit and orientates his whole being towards becoming him. We even see him applying way too much shaving foam to his face so that it resembles a white beard to make the likeness even more apparent. He has also starts to make notes regarding the neighbourhood children as to who has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ whilst jotting down examples of why he has arrived at his decision.

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Harry is told by his boss that the factory will donate toys to children at a local hospital but only if production at the factory increases and employees chip in with their own money. This angers Harry who sees this as an indication that his boss only cares about production rather than genuinely caring for the local unfortunate kids.

Harry’s Santaphilia reaches new heights on Christmas Evil when he seems to truly believe that he is Father Christmas. He starts to travel around in his equivalent of a reindeer led sleigh- a van with a picture of a sleigh on the side of it. He creeps into his brother’s house and leaves bags of presents for his nephews and then leaves a bag of dirt to one of the other neighbourhood children he has noted down as being ‘bad’.

After he is mocked by three men who are leaving church, he stabs one of the men in the eye with a sharpened Christmas ornament and then kills all three with an axe. After then entertaining people at a local Christmas party who mistake for just some harmless Santa impersonator and after telling the kids present that they should be good, he breaks into his co-worker Frank’s house (who we saw earlier in the film after he asked to swap shifts with Harry so he could be with his family only to be then spotted by Harry in a local bar drinking with his pals much to Harry’s chagrin) and murders him but not before leaving toys for his kids.

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To tell you much more would ruin the film for everyone and disclose some genuinely unexpected and quite brilliant twists. Without giving too much away I love the fact that even though he’s a murderous Santa, the neighbourhood’s kids protect him from an angry mob who have formed to capture or even kill him. The kids will save Santa even he is to Christmas what Michael Myers is to Halloween.

The final scene will fully ignite the magic of the Yuletide season in your soul. Seriously! Did Steven Spielberg steal it for possibly the most iconic scene of E.T? Quite possibly. I’ll take this movie over Spielberg’s saccharine family favourite any day though.

A genuine oddity and a film unlike any other, Christmas Evil was worth the wait for me and John Waters is completely justified to have taken this to his heart. Perfectly acted, beautifully photographed and with some fantastic insights regarding ‘this most wonderful time of the year’. These include those who are permitted to buy into the whole illusion of Christmas whilst others aren’t, the vileness of capitalism masquerading as being caring and charitable (but only if production is increased) and how in-crowds and groups judge others as ‘one of us’ or not.

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Waters said that if he had kids (and that would be quite something) he would sit down and watch this seasonal shocker with them every year. And if they didn’t like it they would be PUNISHED! That’s fair enough in my book.

***** out of *****

Review- Wonder Woman 1984

Review- Wonder Woman 1984

The sequel to Wonder Woman was rescheduled time and time again because of the emergence of COVID-19 and cinemas being off limits. It’s finally been released however but can also be streamed on HBO Max which has made some to say that cinemas may be a thing of the past.

So is this sequel as good as it’s amazing first film?

The film opens with Diana reminiscing to when she was a child and taking part in an Olympics style event in which she excels until she is felled by a tree branch which makes her fall from the horse that carries her but then decides to cheat to try and take the lead. She is found out to have cheated however and whilst she is heartbroken at not having won she is told that her time will come. This opening is in keeping with the first film and is fantastic.

But as the film then flashes forward into 1984 it starts to come seriously unstuck. It’s easy for films to fall into a kind of exaggerated, unrealistic and truly irritating parody of a decade especially one that is larger than life like the 1980’s. The film falls headlong into this trap and so the 80’s we see is wall to wall bad fashions, people eating fatty foods in abundance and littering. It feels fake and manufactured. If there was a hashtag that could be used here for the Twitterati it would be #notmy80s. ‘Ah but this is the vision of the 80’s that is individual to this film and Patty Jenkins’ I hear the comic fanboys screaming. Then in that case it just plain sucks.

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There then comes an action sequence in a shopping mall in which WW foils a robbery. It’s so pointless and pathetic that I actually shouted out in the cinema ‘This is awful!’ I even for a nanosecond thought of walking out. This would have set a new record for the fastest time I’ve walked out of a film, having lasted only ten minutes watching Freddy Vs Jason.

Fortunately the film calms down on the over the top 80’s schtick as we see the main narrative for the film- an artefact known as the dreamstone which can fulfil the wish of those who touch it but with a catch. For every wish, the person loses something else dear to them. When I heard of this premise for the film it seemed fine. But as is stated by characters within the film, this is actually based on the urban legend of the ‘Monkey’s Paw’. When I found this out (and by characters in the actual film!) the premise disintegrated right before my eyes. I felt robbed and the whole premise for the film felt lazy. In fact, very quickly in the film I found myself thinking ‘I really don’t care what happens to ANY character in this film’. Nothing in the film’s runtime swayed me from this.

Diana wishes for Steve Trevor to come back and hence this is how we get Chris Pine back in the sequel. However, with this wish coming true we see WW start to lose her powers. The scene where we see him reappear should have had a massive emotional pull for the audience. There was nothing. This film is just like it’s depiction of the decade it takes place in- all surface, no depth.

We are introduced to the socially awkward Barbara Minerva who wishes to be just like Diana. She gains her wish. She later wishes to be an ‘apex predator’. Again, she gets her wish and transforms into supervillianess Cheetah. The first glimpse of Cheetah was so naff I actually burst out laughing.

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We also get another baddie in the form of ‘orange man bad’ Max Lord who is based on Donald Trump. Theres even a border wall in the film. Hmmm. The President of the United States in the film is obviously based on Ronald Reagan. There are even allusions to his Alzheimers with him saying that felt completely disorientated and ‘somewhere else’ during one scene. Or maybe with such as admission he’s based on Joe Biden instead.

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A Trump pastiche. Edgy and original.

The real problem for me throughout the film are the scenes that involve Wonder Woman which is massively problematic based around her character. The action scenes contain the worst examples of CGI I’ve seen in a long long time. There are times when Wonder Woman feels more like an action figure in a really badly conceived computer game from the early 00’s.

There is also a scene in which we are introduced to a new power that Diana unveils. She can turn objects invisible by simply touching them. This made me roll my eyes when I had already rolled them far too many times already. ‘Maybe she can also make this film half it’s running time’ I found myself thinking.

Another scene that had me rolling my eyes was when Barbara decides to go to the gym when she discovers she has superstrength and decides to lift weights. There is also another cringy scene when she bumps into the creepy guy who harassed her earlier in the film.

But there are scenes that work. When Diana finds out she can fly it’s through a statement Steve has made earlier in the film about his love of flying. These scenes are beautiful to behold and don’t involve dodgy CGI. This scene works amazingly well. If only the care and attention that had gone into this scene could have been applied to the rest of the film the whole movie would be more of a rewarding experience.

I enjoyed the scenes of Max’s health getting worse with every wish he bestows. This could have been exploited more with him disintegrating more radically throughout the film a la the undead character in An American Werewolf In London. But I appreciate that that might not have been appropriate in a film aimed primarily at children.

When Diana has to say goodbye to Steve so that she can get her powers back, again, there should have been more emotional resonance for the audience. Again, there wasn’t any.

In fact when I heard that Diana was to lose her powers to get Steve back I instantly thought of Superman 2 with Superman willingly renouncing his superpowers so he can enter a relationship with Lois. But whilst I was hoping for a sequel as good as Superman 2 for Wonder Woman instead we got Superman 4: The Quest For Peace resplendent with a naff call for world peace in a nuclear free world.

After the first film I would have wished for a sequel. After seeing Wonder Woman 84, I renounce my wish.

* and a half out of *****