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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christmas Evil (aka. You Better Watch Out) (1980)




The Christmas horror marathon keeps rolling along with this entry, which is I think older than anything else I’ve covered so far. It also happens to be the most serious take on a killer Santa Claus that I’ve ever seen. More on that later but first let’s talk about the plot.

The year is nineteen forty-seven and brothers Harry and Phil are giggling while they watch Santa Claus (their Dad) sneak down the chimney, munch some cookies, and slip some presents under the tree. Later when they are tucked back in their beds Harry takes another look and sees Santa having some sexy times with his mother! Of course, he doesn’t realize it’s his dad, so he is traumatized by it. Fast forward to “today”, which is actually nineteen eighty and we find a grown-up Harry working at a toy factory and spying on the local kids keeping record of if they are naughty or nice. That last bit is kind of creepy.

The story progresses along as we first meet the adult Harry a few weeks before Christmas as see how badly the world is treating him. He has issues, but they are compounded by the general shitty behavior of those around him. Harry believes in the Christmas spirit and is a likeable guy. Well okay other than the spying on kids he is. The closer he gets to Christmas Eve the worse things get as the toy company he works for does some shady P.R. stunt that might leave some kids without toys and one of his co-workers is nasty to him. He finally breaks and while sweetly rewarding the good boys and girls decides to take some bloody revenge on those who ended up on the naughty list.

Really this could mess up any kid...
I really like this movie for a couple of reasons. First is how the character of Harry is portrayed. He is a sympathetic guy who has difficulty dealing with the modern world and escapes in to a fantasy where the good are rewarded and the bad punished. I also thought that the way they presented this was brilliant. The children are rewarded for being good with presents, which includes the hospital full of them that his company was going to promise but not necessarily deliver a Merry Christmas to. Now there are some naughty kids but at most Harry scares them and sneaks in to take their gifts away. The violence is only towards the adults. I’m sure that they could have upped the violence and shocked the audience with a dead kid here and there but resisted the urge. This allows the audience to still sympathize with Harry and for me at least that is a huge part of why I enjoy Christmas Evil.

The ending is left up to your imagination
The second thing that makes the movie stand out is the ending. It’s Christmas Day and everyone is looking for the killer Santa. They have Harry on the run and while trying to escape he drives his van off an embankment and into the river… probably. The last shot of the movie is his van flying thru the air with the painting of Santa’s Sleigh on the side featured heavily. It keeps going up almost as if he has taken flight and is going to escape. Is this real or is it only in his delusional mind? The movie never explains itself as the credits roll before we find out. I can’t think of a better way to end it.

There are only four deaths in the movie and three of them happen in one scene. You don’t see much on the screen, but this isn’t a body count or effects sort of horror flick. Christmas Evil focuses more on the breakdown of Harry and how our shitty society contributes to it. The horror comes from how terrible they are to him and honestly how we are to each other. Even the title Christmas Evil can be interpreted as either Harry’s killing of those naughty people on his list or perhaps how society has twisted the meaning of the season with crass commercialism and greed. There is a lot going on in this movie and I’m fascinated by it. I highly recommend it for anyone tired of the jokes or gore fests that many of the Christmas horror movies normally offer.  This is a much different movie and that alone makes it stand out and worth a viewing.



© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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