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John’s Horror Corner: Christmas Evil (1980; aka, You Better Watch Out), a low budget holiday horror that feels like a progenitor of 1993’s Falling Down.

January 1, 2023

MY CALL: Certainly very Christmas-y, more so than most Christmas horror. But actually not very horror-y for my taste. Weak kills, weak gore, horror-lite, and feels more like a murderous drama about a man pushed over the edge. Still, not bad. MORE MOVIES LIKE Christmas Evil: For more holiday horror, check out Black Christmas (1974, 2006 remake, 2019 reimagining), Await Further Instructions (2018), Holidays (2016; Christmas), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), Krampus (2015), Better Watch Out (2016), Silent Night Deadly Night (1984), Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), Gremlins (1984), Elves (1989), Tales from the Crypt Season 1 (1989; And All Through the House) and Tales from the Crypt (1972; And All Through the House). Skip Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984), The Oracle (1985), Silent Night Deadly Night part 2 (1987), and maybe even All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018).

Obsessed with Christmas to such extent that he spies on the neighborhood kids keeping an elaborate list of who has been naughty or nice, Harry (Brandon Maggart; Dressed to Kill) is about crack. Between being disrespected at the toy factory by his own employees and then corporate, he had it!

Harry lives and breathes Christmas. He manages a toy factory, dresses as Santa and sleeps in Santa pajamas, he literally makes kids toys and delivers toys to the needy, and he sings Christmas songs during his morning routine. And whereas Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) features a toy store employee in a Santa suit murdering people, Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) features a killer targeting blue collar holiday Santas, and Elves (1989) is literally about a Christmas elf trying to mate on Christmas eve; they just don’t manage to capture that Christmasy feeling as much as Christmas Evil does. There are Christmas decorations, employee Christmas parties, Christmas music, and yuletide décor at every turn. Oh, and I love that Harry tried and failed to go down a chimney in a Santa suite—and by that, I mean breaking and entering!

So yes, this movie is very Christmasy. Unfortunately, it’s not as awesome as it is in the spirit. And while it’s decently produced for a 1980 holiday horror, there’s really not much substance to the horror. The best stocking-stuffer in this movie’s Christmas sack is a finding a young Jeffrey DeMunn (The Mist, The Hitcher, The Blob) playing Harry’s brother.

The execution of the death scenes isn’t great, and the pacing of the “horror” takes a while to kick into gear, but I’ve definitely seen worse. The kills are few and the height of creativity is found in smothering someone with a sack of presents. This movie really feels like it’s going to build up to a killing spree. But it never does. The horror stays very light, and the body count remains low. Truly, the movie feels quite misnamed.

This feels more like a super low budget predecessor of Falling Down (1993), but with Christmas themes. Harry never really felt like “the killer” in a holiday horror movie. He felt more like a guy who was pushed to his limits and went a little nuts. And sure, he killed a few people. But it almost feels like a drama-thriller more than anything I’d call horror.

Was this movie good? Not really. Was it really even a horror movie? Let’s say no—perhaps on the cusp. But ultimately, I’m glad I finally saw it. It’s an interesting little film creation.

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