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Nothing says Christmas like a twisted Santa JENNIE PUNTER Globe and Mail December 19, 2008

imd5MWjI3myhCA0oiGvwuCtQ==Not everyone appreciates the Christmas season’s candy-cane smiles and chocolate ho-ho-hos. Which is why a rare screening of Christmas Evil – originally titled the more appropriately sinister You Better Watch Out – should appeal to those who prefer naughty over nice during the holidays.

The obscure 1980 slasher film – which by today’s standards plays more like a low-budget psychological drama – has become something of a cult classic in recent years. A 2006 special edition DVD includes audio commentary by none other than singular “bad taste” filmmaker John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray) who deems Christmas Evil “the best seasonal film of all time,” adding, “I wish I had kids. I’d make them watch it every year and if they didn’t like it they’d be punished!”

Only one 35 mm print of the film is known to exist and it travels with director Lewis Jackson, who brings his road show to a screening in Toronto next Tuesday (9:30 p.m., Bloor Cinema, 506 Bloor St. W., $13 for non-members, $10 for members). Lewis will also present a reel of deleted 35 mm scenes from the film and participate in an onstage discussion with critic Richard Crouse. And for last-minute gift needs, Jackson promises a satchel full of Christmas Evil merchandise.

The film opens on Christmas Eve, 1947, in suburban New Jersey as young Harry, his brother and mother quietly watch Santa Claus quaff some snacks, deliver gifts then disappear up the chimney again. Later that night, unable to sleep, Harry hears a creature stirring; but it’s no mouse – it’s Santa (actually his dad still in costume) on his knees groping his mother’s garters. A stunned Harry goes to the attic where he smashes a snow globe and deliberately cuts his hand. Creepy music lets us know this kid’s screwed for life.

Cut to a few decades later and it’s clear the traumatic childhood experience has created a sociopath with a promising career as a psychopath. Harry, a loner, works at the dreary Jolly Dreams toy factory and at home lives a Christmas-obsessed life as a self-made secret Santa, his apartment festooned with toys and Christmas decor – he even spies on neighbourhood kids with binoculars and keeps notes on them in his “Bad Boys & Girls” book.

After being exploited by a co-worker and enduring other humiliations just before Christmas, Harry has a nervous breakdown and his disturbing activities – which involve toy destruction as much as revenge murder – begin. And what Christmas movie would be complete without a torch-waving mob in pursuit of a psycho Santa? It’s jolly good evil fun.

Of course, the rep houses are offering more “traditional” Christmas flick fare. The Revue (400 Roncesvalles Ave.) is screening Scrooged, Richard Donner’s 1988 modernization of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, this Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Bill Murray stars as a cynical TV exec visited by three spirits on the eve of producing a crass live broadcast of A Christmas Carol – the scenes of Carol Kane, as Christmas Present, continually punching Murray in the face (literally trying to knock sense into him) still crack me up.

Tonight the Bloor presents perennial holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life (7 p.m.), worth catching on the big screen particularly for those who have only watched it interrupted by commercials on TV.

And for a decidedly different kind of holiday treat, the Bloor rings in the New Year with a return run (Jan. 1-7) of Repo! The Genetic Opera, one of the rep cinema’s most successful premieres ever when it opened last month. The explosive popularity of the grisly rock-opera musical has inspired a local group, the Shadow Cats, to organize North America’s first amateur live interactive performance to the film à la Rocky Horror Picture Show on Jan. 3 (check bloorcinema.com for show times).

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