CHRISTMAS EVIL aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT (1980) Reviews and overview

 

‘He’ll sleigh you’

Christmas Evil is a 1980 American psychological horror film written and directed by Lewis Jackson. It was originally an obscure film that has gained a cult following that includes legendary trash film auteur John Waters who described it as the “greatest Christmas movie ever made.” Originally known as You Better Watch Out and also released as Terror in Toyland

Though lesser-known, it predates the slasher film Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) in which a deranged man goes on a murderous rampage dressed in Santa Claus clothing.

Plot:

Suburban New Jersey, Christmas Eve – 1947: A Christmas Eve experience traumatizes Harry. He sees his mother being groped by his dad, who’s dressed up as Santa. The child then goes up to the attic and cuts his hand with a shard of glass from a shattered snow globe.

Thirty-three years later, an adult Harry now works in “a lousy position” at the Jolly Dreams toy factory. At home, he has taken it upon himself to become the next true Santa; he sleeps in costume, and his apartment is resplendent with Christmas toys and décor.

From the roof of his building, he uses binoculars to spy on neighbourhood children to see if they have been ‘bad or good’ (two children are doing household chores and playing with their doll, the third child is shown rifling through a Penthouse magazine and cutting out a nude photograph). Harry runs back home and writes Moss’ name in his “Bad Boys & Girls” book.

On his way home, Harry peeps into the window of a local bar and sees co-worker Frank Stoller, whom earlier that day had phoned in sick and Harry had relieved on the assembly line.

Harry becomes angry and rushes home, hums a Christmas tune, and breaks one of his male dollhouse figures. The following morning Harry phones his younger brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn) and cancels Thanksgiving dinner…

Christmas Evil You Better Watch Out Blu-ray

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christmas evil variety advert 1982

Review:

It’s easy to understand why Christmas Evil struggled to find an audience on its original release. The film is marketed as a horror film, but it’s more a psychological study of mental collapse (again, rather like The Driller Killer), and it’s not until the film is more than midway through that we get a murder – hardly the sort of thing to keep the audiences flocking to Prom Night and He Knows You’re Alone happy.

Yet seen now, it’s remarkable just how impressive the film is. Slow, perhaps, but deliberately so, and the gradual mental collapse of Harry is effectively played out. What’s more, the couple of gore scenes are remarkably nasty and shocking, coming out of nowhere. There’s also a lot of humour here and the ending is outrageously audacious.

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

“Harry’s existence is coated with a genuine sense of emptiness, from the dead-on depiction of a dead-end job to his claustrophobic freak-outs while driving. As the unexpectedly brilliant ending whisked away in my head, I quickly realized that Christmas Evil was something special; unique, accomplished, and very frightening. Wow.” Bleeding Skull!

“Well filmed and quite ably acted, this is a film that sets itself apart from the rest of the holiday killer on the loose films because, in his heart, the lead character is not a killer, not at all, he is a man that believes in something so absolutely that he is willing to kill for it.” Jackass Critics

Audio Commentary from director Lewis Jackson
Bonus Audio Commentary by director Lewis Jackson and cult director John Waters
Director’s Version Featuring Never-Before-Seen Footage
Storyboards
Original Comment Cards

Audition Tapes (26 minutes)

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“As deluded and crazy as Harry is, he’s fundamentally driven by a desire to keep the more traditional Christmas values alive. Travis Bickle in a stick-on beard if you like; a loner with a bent set of principles, not a lunatic killer out for revenge. Harry’s growing disillusionment is pretty compelling, though marred by some ropey effects once he does get down to some knife work.” Twitch Film

“As for the little bit of blood the movie has, it’s simple slashings and a little bit of splatter. No gore and no tits. Instead, we see Harry’s life fall apart. In a bizarre and seemingly innocent delusion, he realizes that no one wants him. It’s a downer of a movie, and has one of the most brilliant and depressing endings of any movie I can think of.” Sins of Cinema

Sleeve image courtesy of Video Wasteland

New widescreen transfer in the original ratio of the Director’s Cut
Audio commentary with director Lewis Jackson
Audio commentary with Lewis Jackson and director John Waters
Original story-board sequences
Comment Cards
Rare audition tapes

Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by critic and author Kim Newman, John Waters and a new introduction by Lewis Jackson, illustrated with original stills

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Cast and characters:

Brandon Maggart … Harry Stadling
Jeffrey DeMunn … Philip Stadling
Dianne Hull … Jackie Stadling
Andy Fenwick … Dennis Stadling
Brian Neville … Marc Stadling
Joe Jamrog … Frank Stoller
Wally Moran … Philip Stadling Jr.
Gus Salud … Harry Stadling Jr.
Ellen McElduff … Harry’s Mother
Brian Hartigan … Harry’s Father
Peter Neuman … Moss Garcia
Lance Holcomb … Scotty Goodrich
Elizabeth Ridge … Susie Lovett
Chris Browning … Richie Sharp
Tyrone Holmes … Frankie

Technical details:

100 minutes | 95 minutes (re-release)
Audio: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1

Trailer: