When holiday preparations are in full swing, people sometimes need a bit of background spirit to help those fun activities like wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, and eating your neighbor’s two year old fruit-cake (at least that’s how it looks, I don’t touch the stuff).
Most people would probably put on Bing Crosby’s Old Fashioned Christmas, Elvis Presley’s Xmas in Hawaii, or maybe Barbara Streisand’s I’m Doing It for the Money Xmas Album. I, on the other hand, don’t care for such albums. I only seem to enjoy the electronica version of “Carol of the Bells” and Christmas parody songs.
No, when it comes to Christmas spirit, I usually go to the DVD collection for my background noise. Some of these films are classics. Some are most definitely not (except in my own mind). Some of them stop me from wrapping presents and decorating so I can make some spiked hot chocolate and laugh my ass off. The one thing they all have in common is that they infect me with the Christmas spirit, for better or for worse.
Christmas movies usually have a wholesome message about sharing, and family, and helping those less fortunate. Whether it is Ebeneezer Scrooge being haunted by 3 ghosts or Macaulay Culkin being scared straight by two burglars, the spirit of Christmas always shines through in film to give us that warm fuzzy feeling inside that has nothing to do with spiked eggnog.
Christmas horror movies, however, break this mold with a sledgehammer. One such movie is Christmas Evil, aka You Better Watch Out, which was released in 1980. This movie has so much Christmas spirit that it’s leaking out of every orifice of its body. If that sounds perverted, it doesn’t hold a candle to the perversion of Christmas that takes place in this slasher flick.
Each Christmas Eve, a young Harry Stadling and his brother Philip would sneak down the stairs to see Santa Claus come down the chimney. One year, 1947 to be exact, Harry’s belief in Santa is crushed when he takes a second peek at the Christmas tree and sees Santa getting frisky with his mother in a way that the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” could never hold a candle to.
33 years later, Harry still loves Christmas. Maybe a little too much. He sleeps in a Santa suit. His home is littered with Christmas decorations year-round. He practices laughing like Santa Claus. He has a “naughty” book and a “nice” book where he writes down the activities of the neighborhood children. He has an unhealthy obsession with a little girl named Susie Lovett. Finally Harry snaps, puts on his Santa Claus outfit, paints a sleigh on the side of a beat-up van, and goes out to give the good people presents and well wishes, and give the bad people an axe in the face.
While the idea of a killer Santa Claus should be enough to make Christmas Evil a holiday movie that only a horror fanatic could love, it really is so much more. While the most notorious Christmas slasher yet, Silent Night, Deadly Night, touches upon the mental trauma that can affect a child when his or her vision of Santa Claus is shattered, Christmas Evil makes the degeneration of a man’s psyche the focus of the film, sidestepping actual kills for over an hour. What we are left with is one of the most horrifying mind-fucks in cinema. It just so happens to be even more of a mind-fuck because it takes place during one of the most joyous holidays of the year, Christmas.
The kills themselves are nothing special. A toy soldier sword through the eye here, a hatchet to the head there, and a Christmas star throat slashing. Pretty par for the coarse as far as horror movies are concerned. But what is even more terrifying is the non-violent but slow-burn breakdown of Harry’s mental being, even after we see the lifelong obsession he has with Christmas. It’s like Robin Williams in One Hour Photo except that Harry actually ends up killing people. The film goes into major mind-fuck mode when Harry drives his molester-mobile off the road while being chased by an angry mod, and floats off into the moonlight.
I give Christmas Evil 4 out of 5 candy cane axes.