Wicked Wednesday: Christmas Evil/You Better Watch Out (1980)


Ah this is a bit of a different week. One, I’m about to leave for Texas tomorrow to visit my sister’s family – so life is going to be a notch more hectic than usual. Two, I watched this film a couple weeks ago in a cinema and not in the comfort of home with my notebook and pen at the ready.

Arrow Films (the distributor) have had a number of film showings at the Prince Charles Cinema in the past few months. Somehow, I managed to be busy during every single one of those events. When I saw Christmas Evil was showing on a night I could venture out, I was determined to not miss it for anything.

Now, I went with my husband and a couple of our friends. To say something like Christmas Evil isn’t to their tastes is probably an understatement, but I was pretty chuffed that all of them admitted they rather enjoyed the experience (my husband stopped short of saying he liked the film, but I’m working on him).

Christmas Evil (also sometimes titled as You Better Watch Out and Terror in Toyland) is about  a young boy who grows up to like Christmas a little too much. Harry (Brandon Maggart) works at the town’s toy factor. He counts down the days until Christmas every day of the year and likes to watch the local neighbourhood kids to see if they’ve been naughty or nice.

Like similar Santa-gone-mad movies, a young Harry spies his mom getting a bit frisky with “Santa” on Christmas Eve night. It’s pretty heavily implied that Santa is just his father dressed up, but young Harry can’t seem to figure out his own reality.

He’s well loved by the children of the neighbourhood, who shout hellos at him and tell him what they’d like for Christmas, but Harry has it out for one particular naughty boy who doesn’t listen to his mother and cuts pictures out of naughty magazines. To scare the boy, Harry hides in the bushes and spooks him, and leaves a sack of coal outside on the boy’s doorstep.

And well, Harry isn’t completely hinged in other places of his life. While he loves working at the toy factor, he’s been promoted to a desk job and moved off the production line, but it doesn’t stop him from getting tricked into working a shift for his asshole co-worker, Frank, who calls in but whom Harry spots in the pub later than night.

At the factory’s Christmas party, Harry becomes wound up when he watches a video of the factory owner. The owner promises to donate toys to the local hospital for disadvantaged children, but only if the workers increase production.

As the countdown to the big day gets closer, things for Harry start to become stranger. Noticing all of these changes is Harry’s younger brother, Phil. Harry doesn’t go to Thanksgiving (he’s waiting to see Santa at the Macy’s parade). Then Harry says he isn’t going to be at Phil’s house for Christmas.

Though it wouldn’t be Christmas without a rampage, and it certainly isn’t Christmas without a fabulous fur-trimmed Santa suit. Harry’s outing is rather a back and forth. You root for him as he delivers toys to the children at the children’s home. You gape as he stabs a man in the eye with a toy soldier. Should you like him? Well, he mostly targets toffs in suits and liars. But, you know, killing on Christmas.

It’s painful watching Harry on his Christmas mission. No one likes him, and no amount of justice seeking will help that. Which in a way, is rather like the holiday itself: nice sometimes, but it’s also cringe-worthy.

What really works for Christmas Evil is the performance given by Maggart. He’s manages to be both unsettling to watch and likable. It’s what separates it from many crazy Santa films. There is (underneath all the silliness) an actual heart to the film that makes it so endearing.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!'”

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