Reader’s note: This review can also be seen at the site of the man who protects us from awful television, horrible videogames, and terrible movies as part of the Horrors of Christmas series, ThyCriticMan!
“You want it all… but you’re no longer a child.”
Poor Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart). Ever since a young age, he has had an interest—obsession, really—with Santa Claus. As a six year-old in 1947, his eyes fixate upon what he thinks is Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, only to be let down when he discovers it is nothing more than his father. What is worse than discovering that Kris Kringle isn’t real? Seeing the figure sexually grope your own mother.
Predictably, this damages Harry’s psyche for life. Now almost 40 in the year 1980, he has an mundane job at the local toy factory. Normal boring stuff, but Harry still hasn’t grown out of his compulsion with Santa, and takes it upon himself to be a real Santa figure, gift giving and all. That includes spying on just about everyone to see if they have been naughty or nice. The man even keeps a naughty or nice book with detailed notes! Only difference between the “real” Santy and Harry’s rendition? Harry’s making those pay for their naughtiness. They’ll wish they only received coal.
With the premise outlined, yours truly could easily see how Christmas Evil, originally known as You Better Watch Out, has gained a cult following. Cheap, 80’s style horror in which a deranged man dressed up in Santa garb taking out people left and right around Christmas time? Sounds like a good time. And it is…sort of.
In an unforeseen turn, Christmas Evil is different from what one may anticipate. Looking for a predominant horror slasher with a reasonable body count? You may be disappointed. The movie is actually more of a character analysis of a man with an unhealthy obsession/fantasy who sinks deeper and deeper into insanity. The execution isn’t half bad to be honest, and Brandon Maggart as Harry does turn in a solid and effectively creepy performance, even if it comes off as a little bit hammy in two or three places. Kind of expected with this kind of movie.
This may be crazy to hear, but Christmas Evil actually has a good heart to it. No lie, in places this possesses elements of a Christmas family film. It is fairly different from other similar offerings because everything is seen through Harry’s eyes, who is the good guy and the bad guy of this tale. Harry’s methods may be unhealthy, but it is clear that he isn’t some complete monster with no soul whatsoever. All he desperately wants is for others to appreciate Christmas and the tradition like he does. His attempt is a misguided one, but not an inherently malicious one, which makes Harry a character the audience can side with here and there.
This analysis approach gives the movie a small dash of indie art-house vibe, which is cool, but leads to an issue: This moves much slower than it should. Again, while the focus on the lead character’s state of mind was solid, the movie really does stretch this aspect longer than needed. Because there are certain things one expects to see (read: slayings) out of a movie with a summary and title of You Better Watch Out/Christmas Evil , the fact that these things do not occur until well into the second half makes some of the first half drag more than it has to. I honestly wanted to fall asleep in certain moments.
Now, once these things start occurring, it is a much more enjoyable sleigh ride to the finale. As for the ending, it is one of the more bizarre ones out there, both surreal and hilarious. It is type of ending that can be taken literal or metaphorically, but it will leave the viewer asking themselves what just happened.
On a budget around $750,000, director Lewis Jackson does a pretty solid job with what is available. It generally looks like many of the cheap 80’s horrors of its time, which isn’t a negative thing. The kills look cheesy, but inventive and spontaneous.There are a few times where the editing does look choppy in transitions, and the inclusion of some scenes may be unneeded or shot out of order. At least they give some comedy however. Kudos has to be given to the score pieces within this, as there are many staples present that can be found in all Christmas flicks, but those famous tracks here are distorted ever so slightly to give a eeriness to the screenplay. The sound itself isn’t of a high quality most likely due to the VHS to DVD transfer, but the shoddiness in sound actually adds to the eeriness.
While it may not be what is expected , Christmas Evil deserves a view watching over some egg nog for fans of deranged iconic figures of Christmas, or for those who like to see a character gradually slipping into mental darkness over time. Needless to say, Santa Claus is coming to town, and his attention is warranted for survival’s sake.
Photo credits go to stomptokyo.com, cineoutsider.com, and welovemoviesmorethanyou.com.
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