Christmas Evil--a.k.a. You Better Watch Out-- has gained a reputation as a rather obscure holiday horror film, and doesn't really fit into the typical killer Santa category. It's admittedly a bizarre film. At its start, it's even a little slow and boring. But upon closer inspection, you can see the main character's decline into mental fragility coming into full view. The holidays are a precarious time for anyone who has had any trauma or loss in their life, and our sad Santa is suffering from a particular kind of PTSD.
On Christmas Eve, young Harry Stadling and his younger brother witness Santa Claus putting gifts under the Christmas tree. Shortly thereafter, when Harry should be in bed, he hears murmuring and goes downstairs to take a look. He sees Santa and his mother fondling each other and looking to take things to the next level. Shocked, Harry rushes to the attic where, in the throes of hurtful dismay, he cuts himself on a snow globe he throws to the floor.
Thirty-some years later, Harry is weirdly and thoroughly obsessed with the man in the red suit. He awakes each morning to a Christmas carousel alarm, plays carols all day, and has his entire apartment decorated for Christmas no matter what month it is. He himself even dresses like Santa to sleep. Though it's obvious he has some mental health issues, Harry manages to hold down a low level management position at the Jolly Dreams toy factory. His co-workers make fun of him behind his back and trick him into working extra shifts on the assembly line making toys.
Perhaps the most disturbing is Harry's habit of watching the neighborhood children to see who is "nice" and who is "naughty", taking it so far as to have two giant books in his apartment that he documents his findings, as in "Billy has impure thoughts" and "Susie is a little darling". While this is a disconcerting situation, it never quite gets to a creepy sexual level, thankfully.
Harry's brother Phil invites him to Thanksgiving dinner with his family but Harry can't be bothered, and cancels last minute. He's still enraged about his co-worker lying. He also gets upset when he finds out the owner of the Jolly Dreams factory is duplicitous in his idea of donating toys to kids - it turns out the staff has to work overtime and donate their own money.
While some could see this film as not worthy of a watch because it does take its time to engage viewers, building poor Harry's tale of mental sickness slowly - which in turn makes it all the more believable. The more angry he gets, the more delusional and reckless he becomes, culminating in his expected -- and quite frankly, pitiful-- downfall.
I don't mean to be preachy, after all, this is just a horror movie. But within the 90+ minute running time, there are plenty of examples of things to watch for - in the movie, and in real life. And that gives "You Better Watch Out" a whole new meaning, doesn't it?