If you were to mention a movie about a man who dresses up as a snowman and begins murdering people, you’d immediately think of the controversial Silent Night, Deadly Night. But believe it or not, Christmas Evil, otherwise known as You Better Watch Out was released in 1980 to crickets.
The movie begins in 1947 where two brothers, Harry and Philip Stadling are watching their father dressed as Santa Claus deliver gifts while their mother watches behind them giving Santa the “fuck-me” eyes. It’s because Santa is their dad, but Harry doesn’t know that. So, later, he sees Santa trying to come down more than a chimney and freaks out.
Flash forward to 1980, Harry (Brandon Maggart, formerly of Sesame Street of all things) is a 40-something schmuck who lives alone, sleeps in a Santa suit and spies on the neighborhood kids in a creepy stalker fashion. But it’s not anything sexual as he makes note of the kids who are good and the kids who are bad. One of the bad kids, Moss Garcia (Peter Neuman), Harry later gets in trouble that his mother, played by Patricia Richardson of Home Improvement fame, slaps the hell out of him.
Good job, Harry!
Harry works at a low-level office job at the Jolly Dreams toy factory in northern New Jersey where he is bamboozled into covering a shift on the line so bully worker Frank Stoller (Joe Jamrog who appeared in The Muppets Take Manhattan) can go out drinking with the boys on a Friday night. Frank lies and says he and the misses are going out of town. Well, Harry got fooled but at least he’s got family who loves him.
Well, he doesn’t. His younger brother, Philip (Jeffrey DeMunn of The Walking Dead and original Hitcher movie and the Blob remake) doesn’t like Harry being around his wife and kids and could you blame him. Also, Philip gives his wife the “fuck-me” eyes because she’s got that late 1970s hot housewife vibe. And his wife, Jackie (Dianne Hull) wants him to include Harry in more things.
But Harry doesn’t want to be around the family more for Thanksgiving and other things. Harry does manage to go to the company office party where he meets a young college boy (Peter Friedman who also appeared on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show) who has devised a plan the company will donate to a local children’s hospital only if employees donate to help and increase production so they’ll have a surplus. Surprisingly, Harry doesn’t kill this dick when he goes on a murdering rampage later.
He does kill Frank, because that jagoff had it coming. He dresses up as Santa on Christmas Eve and steals toys from the factory to give to the children’s hospital. Then, he goes out and parties with some at a local neighborhood Christmas party because those in attendance including Mark Margolis (aka Hector Salamanca of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul) invite him in. Harry also kills some people outside a Midnight Mass service.
The next day, the news is abuzz of a killer Santa and Philip begins to suspect it’s Harry. So when Harry shows up, they have a fight and Philip loses it and strangles him unconscious. Maybe there is something wrong with this whole family. Their mother has a Santa fetish and both of them have violent tendecies.
But Harry is being chased by an angry mob of people and the ending is confusing as it’s believed Harry drives the van he was using to deliver the toys off a bridge and dying in an explosion. But we get scenes of the van flying through the air. We also get one of the worst goofs on film as Phil jumps down what’s supposed to be a snow-covered shoulder of the road but it’s obviously a snow-like blanket because it rolls up. Apparently, they didn’t do a second take.
Christmas Evil doesn’t have the creepy slasher feel that Silent Night did, but Lewis Jackson, who wrote and directed, manages to give us a gritty feel of a man slowly losing his mind as those around him treat him terrible. Both movies are an examination of how a childhood trauma left untreated and not dealt with can have a dangerous effect. Both men are led to believe that sex is totally wrong even if it’s between two people who love each other. Philip has managed to start a family while I would presume that Harry is probably still a virgin.
The movie didn’t invent the Killer Santa trope. That belongs to the 1972 anthology Tales from the Crypt with the segment “And All Through the House” where Joan Collins plays a evil woman who kills her husband on Christmas Eve but is stalked by a lunatic dressed in a Santa suit. But Christmas Evil like Silent Night views Harry more as a sympathetic character. If someone had really listened to him, he might have been helped. Philip is angry at Harry for never being a “big brother” that he needed.
Both movies take a look at the idea of what it meant to be a man in the era. Men were expected to hide their emotions. Harry can’t say no to Frank because Frank always gets what he wants because that’s how men like him were taught. Even the young executive is more concerned with profits over helping. (Any bets they’re probably going to write the donated toys off anyway?)
Killing people is wrong. But this isn’t the standard kill for revenge trope in slashers. By the time, Harry dons the suit and beard, he’s already gone so far over the edge there’s no turning back.
I like both this and Silent Night, Deadly Night, while I like the latter a little better. Both movies find their way in my yuletide viewing habits.
What do you think? Please comment.