The Film: Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out)
The Principles: Starring Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull and Andy Fenwick. Written and Directed by Lewis Jackson.
The Premise: Harry Stradling is a man completely obsessed with Christmas. He loves the holiday so much; he wants to become Santa Claus himself. You see, when Harry was a child he saw St. Nick do something very “naughty” with his mother that has traumatized him severely. Harry now works in a toy factory and begins to transform himself into Kris Kringle so that he can show everyone the true meaning of the season… even if he has to kill a few people in the process.
Is it any good?: It is highly regarded as one of the greatest Christmas themed horror movies ever made. Not really so much a slasher as it is a slow burn character study into the psycho-sexual mind of a guy with a really fucked up Santa fetish. It’s more Taxi Driver meets Silent Night, Deadly Night than anything.
The film opens on Christmas Eve 1947 with two brothers and their mother spying on Santa as he comes down the chimney to deliver their gifts. The boys are then sent to bed, but little Harry must see more. Unfortunately, he gets an eyeful when he catches Santa giving his mother oral by the Christmas tree and his little eggshell mind cracks in two. Cut to over thirty years later and Harry (Brandon Maggart), who is really obsessed with all things Christmas, is a supervisor in a toy factory called Jolly Dream Toys. He’s taken to spying on the local kids in the neighborhood, to see who’s being naughty and nice. The closer he gets to the 25th of December, the more manic his obsession grows, until finally he decides to actually “become” Santa Claus. Donning a Santa suit, super-gluing a white beard to his face and converting his van into a sleigh (complete with reindeer painted on the side), he takes off on Christmas Eve night to teach the city the true meaning of the holiday.
He starts out good by delivering a bunch of toys he stole from the factory to a hospital full of sick children, but when he encounters a group of drunken, obnoxious yuppies who all lack the spirit of the season, he chops them up with an axe in front of a large collection of spectators. Harry flees that scene and seeks refuge at a Christmas party where he delivers this speech to a small group of children about Christmas:
He then drops by the home of his boss and slits his throat with a sharp Christmas tree star in front of his family because he doesn’t like the way he’s running the company and the quality of the toys has diminished. This leads to a conclusion that will roast your mind like a chestnut, so I won’t spoil it except to say, there is nothing more pleasing to my twisted holiday senses then watching an angry mob of torch wielding New Yorkers chase Santa Claus through the streets of Queens.
Is it worth a look?: This is one warped little Xmasploitation masterpiece that would make a great stocking stuffer! I absolutely love the look and feeling of movies from this time period. It helps that this is a really well made film with some beautiful cinematography that combines yuletide warmth (lots of red and blue lighting gels) with the sleazy grime of late seventies New York. It also has a deeply dark, sardonic sense of humor that is pervasive throughout. Brandon Maggart delivers a virtuoso performance as the lead, Harry. The character is constantly swaying back and forth between rage, joy, pathos and complete insanity. There are moments, like when he’s peeping into the window’s of family homes to see who’s being naughty and nice, psychotically choking a doll during one of his many rage monologues, or practicing his Santa swagger in the mirror alone, that takes you to a seriously creepy place. Lewis Jackson directed this grindhouse gem with the grit of Abel Ferrara and the tweaked-out weirdness of David Lynch, creating a holiday horror classic that will definitely make you give the next guy dressed in a Santa suit a closer look.
Random anecdotes: This is John Waters’ favorite Xmas movie. He says, “Christmas Evil is the best seasonal film of all time. I wish I had kids. I’d make them watch it every year and, if they didn’t like it, they’d be punished!”
Cinematic soul mates: Black Christmas, The Dorm That Dripped Blood, Silent Night, Deadly Night, To All a Good Night and Taxi Driver.