Christmas Evil a.k.a You Better Watch Out. 1980. Directed & Written by Lewis Jackson.
Starring Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville, and Joe Jamrog.
Reel Media International.
Rated R. 100 minutes.
As I mentioned in a previous review of Silent Night Deadly Night, the “Killer Santa” movie is not high on my favourite in the slasher sub-genre. Not that it can’t make for a fun flick, I’m just not partial to them because most of them are very similar. While Christmas Evil is a lot like other movies with slashing Santas, I feel like this is less a slasher, and more a look into the character of a man who has simply gone over the edge. While it does contain slasher elements, including gruesome kills, I find the most interesting parts of this movie involve the psychological aspects of the main character; his delusions, and so on.Christmas Evil begins in 1947 and tells the story of a boy who is traumatised at a young age when he discovers his father, dressed as Santa, feeling up his mother and getting sexy. Distraught, the boy runs upstairs and cuts himself with a piece of glass from a snow globe.
Years and years later in 1980, the boy has grown up into Harry [Maggart], who works in a toy factory. Under the delusion he will become the next Santa, Harry starts to spy on neighbourhood kids using binoculars, and other creepy activities. Eventually, Harry is pushed completely past the point of sanity after being mocked outside a church after mass is out – he kills several people in front of a group of witnesses. This begins an all-out rampage, as Harry is beyond being in the Christmas spirit. Now he’s deciding more than naughty or nice; he determines who lives and dies.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this, as I did with Silent Night Deadly Night, was the kills. Not all horror movies really get the slit throat right, but god dammit, you’ll get a real good one here! The first real good bit is on the church steps when Harry finally snaps – he has just the toy for the naughty adults taunting him. Really good eyeball gag. I appreciate some really decent death scenes in a Christmas horror movie; really sets off the juxtaposition of death and a cheery holiday.
A big reason I prefer this film over Silent Night Deadly Night (which I actually forgot to bring up in that review) is because the Santa Claus here is willingly in the suit; he wants to be in it. I never understood why in Silent Night Deadly Night the killer didn’t just refuse to put on the suit. I mean, I know he wasn’t right in the head, but you’d think his trauma would’ve prevented him from ever putting on the suit. I was never convinced by that part of the plot. However, Christmas Evil really works well because Harry wants to be Santa; he willingly puts the suit on, he starts to kill, he owns it. While some people might not care, I think it’s part of why this film is better than most “Killer Santa” outings. It’s a bit more demented in that sense; the fact Harry wants to put on the suit and kind of spirals out of control is a little more twisted than other similar films.
A lot less camp here than a lot of Christmas horror movies. There’s a more sinister tone about Christmas Evil. While there were several extremely goofy moments in a movie such as Silent Night Deadly Night, this one doesn’t go for those scenes. Instead, we get a really grim look at Christmas. There’s a dark and creepy score to the film that really sets its tone. Overall, the atmosphere is unsettling. There are actually moments it reminded me of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – particularly when Harry is shaving and getting ready in his apartment, there’s something about the grittiness of those scenes that reminds me of Michael Rooker in that film.
A great scene that really thrilled me was when the kids surround Santa, protecting him from the wary parents, and the one protective dad pulls a knife – I honestly thought either the little girl would be stabbed accidentally, or the little girl was going to turn and stab her father with the knife. I couldn’t be sure, honestly, the first time I watched the movie. Even on second viewing, I still feel on edge because it’s one of those really tense scenes where anything could happen. Really great moment to include.
Afterwards there’s also a great little chase sequence where the townspeople chase Harry, still dressed as Old Saint Nick, as if it were Frankenstein’s monster being run up and out into the hills. Really enjoyed that part because it actually reminded me of Frankenstein – all the better it was Santa being run off instead.
This is definitely my favourite “Killer Santa” slasher because it works more as a character study than a slasher. There aren’t a huge amount of murders in this film, however, Santa indeed leaves his mark. Mainly, the film focuses on the psyche of a man whose idea of Santa got twisted up with ideas about sex, and worst of all – anger. There are a nice few slasher elements present in Christmas Evil while it also contains great psychological horror. Watching Harry slowly descend into utter madness is fascinating and terrifying. One part that really creeps me out is when he’s driving frantically in his van, which of course he painted a sleigh on, and reciting the reindeer names, as if he’s actually in Santa’s sleigh, flying over the rooftops. But the creepiest of all, and saddest, is when he literally tries to squeeze himself down the chimney – I’m not sure why it’s creepy, I know why it’s sad, but it just really struck me as one of the more standout moments in the movie. You really understand how far gone (if killing people didn’t tip it off first) he is once seeing him realise he physically cannot fit down a chimney; it’s brilliant.
Though, the film isn’t perfect, I can give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s most definitely one of the better horror slashers out there. My main complaint is some of the acting, as well as the script. There are places this could have been a lot tighter. Both with better actors playing the roles, and also a more well-polished screenplay. Not that this would be aiming for Oscars any time soon, I just think it could have fared even better. This has the potential to be high on the list with Black Christmas as Christmastime movies that I can watch any time of the year, though not nearly as good as that amazing film. Definitely check this out. It belongs on any true horror list for the holiday season.