Christmas films are often associated with warmth, family, togetherness and a general infusion of the joys of the festive season, not horror. However, there are a number of horror films set at the festive season, a time when you would least expect the evils of the world to be on display. Therefore, this year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar, inspired by last year’s selection of Anna And The Apocalypse, takes aim at Christmas horror films.
It’s Christmas Eve. A time of anticipation, hope and excitement. It’s certainly not often associated with fear and revenge. Fear caused by revenge and attacks from a man in the guise of Santa, almost believing that he is the much-loved yearly home-invader all in red. It’s another cult Christmas slasher.
Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) is a dedicated toy factory worker. Having been promoted through the ranks he now has a nice desk job where he can ensure further that products are of the highest quality, so that all children are happy on Christmas Day. He’s dedicated to the festive season and making it as best as possible, trying to avoid a specific Christmas of his childhood when he saw Santa sexually touching his mother, not knowing that it was just his father in a costume. However, Harry’s obsession with Christmas has got to the point where he himself seems to have taken on the role of Santa in his neighbourhood. He keeps track of all the local children, making notes of them in large books to decide whether they’re naughty or nice – asking what they ‘wish’ for each day to know what they want for Christmas. He cancels holiday plans with his family, making them and his brother (Jeffrey DeMunn) all the more concerned about him and his mental health.
Everything leads to Harry’s Santa obsession causing him to don a big red suit and dirty near-grey beard to initially deliver a large load of toys to a local childrens hospital. However, as Christmas Eve moves on his intentions shift. While he doesn’t quite go on a killing spree blood is certainly spilled at his cause, and certainly one caused by a want for revenge. Soon there’s a full police investigation into Santa’s Christmas slay (not quite on the same scale as “he knows if you’ve been bad or good, and he’s got an axe” – see Ernest Saves Christmas’ fake film Christmas Slay).
When first released in 1980 the film was known as You Better Watch Out – which considering the tone and lack of overall horror is possibly a more fitting title than Christmas Evil, although this didn’t stop it from being part of the UK’s video nasty panic. The film is certainly more of a character study than anything else. You watch a person who loves and cares about Christmas become almost delusional because of it, partly relating to scarring at this time of year during his childhood. While passionately capturing the role of Santa in front of kids, jolly and consistently laughing, encouraging goodness with the promise of presents in exchange. However, around parents and adults he’s a figure of fear and pain.
Harry finds himself confused as to why people don’t like him when they clearly should, after all everyone loves Santa. But, when you create a Christmas Eve of trauma and distress it’s to be expected. It takes a while for such elements to kick in, and this could be seen as more of a dramatic character study than a horror -although there are certainly some, even if a bit unconventional, horror elements within the film when it gets to its final third. The festive themes of wanting to spread peace and goodwill are there for some scenes – even if they are shattered by the murders that the same character commits as part of their delusions. Either way with its firm Christmas setting and style, even if not the most conventional seasonal flick, this is a decent enough low-budget festive low-on-slashes ‘slasher’ character study that’s worth even just a one-off check-out viewing, even if the slightly festively-forced ending is a bit on-the-nose and unfitting of the rest of the film.
While it may not bee the most horrifying or slash-filled Christmas Evil, more fittingly titled You Better Watch Out when first released, does have a handful of festive themes. It’s about a man who loves Christmas and cares about it being as magical and enjoyable as possible for children, one where they won’t be disappointed. He takes it too far and there’s a slightly interesting character study to be found there amongst everything else that happens across the film. Deeply rooted within a Christmas Eve/ Day setting Christmas is a core setting for the piece, and, of course, so is Santa. It’s just unfortunate that in this film he’s coming to town with a resulting thirst for revenge.
Christmas Evil can be watched in the following places:
You may have a physical copy of the film on DVD and Blu-Ray (it was passed uncut with a 15 certificate in the UK in 2012, alongside a Blu-Ray release from Arrow Video). It’s always worth checking JustWatch to see where the film is available to buy, rent or stream in your country.