Film Review: Christmas Evil (1980)

Also known as: You Better Watch Out (original title), Terror In Toyland (Germany)
Release Date: November, 1980 (Pittsburgh premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Jackson
Written by: Lewis Jackson
Music by: Joel Harris, Julia Heyward, Don Christensen
Cast: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fendwick, Patricia Richardson, Mark Margolis

Edward R. Pressman Productions, Pan American Pictures, 100 Minutes, 95 Minutes (rerelease)

Review:

“But now I want you to remember to stay good boys and girls. Respect your mothers and fathers and do what they tell you. Obey your teachers and learn a whooooole lot! Now if you do this, I’ll make sure you get good presents from me eeeevery year. Ha ha ha… but if you’re bad boys and girls, your name goes in the ‘Bad Boys & Girls’ book, and I’ll bring you something… horrible.” – Harry “Santa”

I had never heard of this film until Joe Bob Briggs featured it recently on The Last Drive-In. For me, that’s odd, as I’ve delved deep into the bottom of the barrels of horror history, especially in regards to the ’70s and ’80s. However, this was lost to time, as it never really got a proper release due to problems with the production.

It’s only become known in the last few years or so but I’m glad that it did see the light of day and I mostly enjoyed it, even if it’s a bit slow and feels somewhat derivative (not its fault).

Although, this did beat the other, more famous killer Santa movies by a few years. Sadly, just about no one got to see it and the Silent Night, Deadly Night films would go on to steal its thunder and the venom of the do-gooder public that hated that a killer Santa movie could even exist.

What’s notable about this film is that it has a few recognizable people in it such as Jeffrey DeMunn, who would become most famous for playing Dale on The Walking Dead and being in just about everything Frank Darabont has touched, as well as Patricia Richardson, the mom from Home Improvement, and Mark Margolis, who has been in dozens of films but is probably best known for playing Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

This is a pretty dark and brooding movie and it almost plays like a black comedy at times. I’m not sure if that was the director’s intent but scenes like the one where Harry a.k.a. Santa talks to kids about being good has an underlying fucked up humorousness about it. Also, the ending, which has apparently divided audiences, also exudes the same sort of vibes.

For the record, I liked the ending and while many saw it as weird and confusing, I saw it as something that was happening from the character’s psychotic point-of-view. I guess some people took the fantastical final moment too literally.

This is decently shot and it looks fine. There’s nothing special about the cinematography or general visuals of the picture but it also doesn’t need that. It looks just as good as other slasher-y type flicks of its era.

My only real gripe about the film is its pacing but there’s still enough here to keep its head above water.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Christmas horror films, specifically slashers.