On the 25th night of Halloween, my true love gave to me, a psychopathic Santa out to punish the naughty.
1980’s “You Better Watch Out” (aka “Christmas Evil”) ranks #1 on Listverse’s Top 10 Christmas Horror Movies, beating out the obvious choice of Bob Clark’s 1974 “Black Christmas” (aka “Stranger in the House”), one of the first slashers, influential in effecting the subsequent slasher blitz of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Lewis Jackson’s “You Better Watch Out,” although considered a dark comedy, maintains an unsettling vibe throughout, especially conspicuous during the season of love and joy.
The movie goes inside the mind of Harry, a boy whose visions of sugarplums dancing in his head shattered when he peeked downstairs Christmas Eve and saw Santa (unbeknownst to him, his father) groping his mother. Young Harry grows up to be a toymaker (Brandon Maggart) and rigidly moralistic champion for children, but, after witnessing too much naughtiness in the world, he snaps and goes on a killing rampage.
Films delving inside a deranged mind provide interesting perspective but inherently extinguish any chance for scariness or suspense. Viewers only know the killer, and, therefore, only sympathize minimally for victims. And Harry’s behaves so dementedly that viewers can’t empathize with him either. Acting and script are mediocre.
But little touches in this film make it unique and worthwhile. The scenes in the toy factory – sort of surreal even before Harry totally loses it, but even more so after. When authorities realize the killer they’re attempting to apprehend is dressed as Santa and conduct police lineups of various Santas. The compelling angle when psychopathology derives from over-zealous righteousness.
1984’s “Silent Night, Deadly Night” follows a similar plotline as “You Better Watch Out,” with another moralistic Santa on a killing spree attempting to punish the naughty. According to Wikipedia, although the original “had gone unnoticed,” when “Silent Night” came out, critics expressed strong negative opinions and parents and families protested outside theaters showing the film. “Silent Night” went on to spawn four sequels, and a remake is currently in production.
Horror fans may recognize Jeffrey DeMunn, who plays Harry’s brother, as (20 years later) Dale on the first two seasons of “The Walking Dead.” Might also recognize Patricia Richardson, the mom from “Home Improvement,” as the bad mom of bad boy Moss Garcia. And the film’s star Maggart is real life dad to singer Fiona Apple.
Director John Waters, known for shock value and crude humor, is quoted on the 2006 DVD release of “Christmas Evil,” calling it the “greatest Christmas movie ever made.” The film is available for rent from Netflix or for instant watch from Amazon.