You Better Watch Out (1980)

Young Harry and Phil Stadling's (Gus Salud, Wally Moran) parents decide to put on a little show for their kids, with Dad (Brian Hartigan) dressing up like Santa Claus and putting presents under the tree. Later, Phil is more skeptical, telling Harry it was just their father. Harry, however, believes that it really was Santa, and goes back down to check - only to find Mom (Ellen McElduff) getting her garters sniffed by Old Saint Nick.

Fast forward to Christmas 1980. Harry (Brandon Maggart) has just been promoted to a lower management position at Jolly Dream, a manufacturer of cheap, useless toys. His apartment is decorated for Christmas at all times, and he even sleeps in a Santa suit and keeps Naughty and Nice lists of the neighborhood children. Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn) is married with two kids and thinks his brother is just this side of retarded, while Harry doesn't understand why he doesn't fit in.

After being tricked into working the production line by the obnoxious Frank (Joe Jamrog), Harry slowly begins to come unraveled. At the company Christmas party he becomes disheartened by both his former coworkers and their Union, as well as his boss and a junior executive who decide to donate toys to a local hospital as a feel-good measure. Frustrated that no one is doing anything out of the goodness of their own hearts, Harry decides to take his obsession with Christmas one step further and become Santa Claus.

Designing his own Santa suit in minute detail and painting a sleigh on the side of his van, he steals a number of toys from his employer, wraps them and delivers them to the hospital, much to the delight of the staff. Fresh from this triumph he decides to go visit his bosses as they leave mass on Christmas Eve. Instead of receiving the same treatment as he did at the hospital, he is instead derided by the upper class parishioners and, in a fit of rage, stabs one to death with a homemade tin soldier and takes an axe to two others. On the run, he eventually makes it to Frank's house and, after almost getting stuck in the chimney, instead enters the house through the basement, leaving toys for Frank's kids before attempting to smother Frank with his bag of toys and, failing that, slitting his throat with the star from a Christmas tree.

Harry's exploits make the news, further concerning Phil who has an idea that his brother is behind it. Christmas day comes and the New York police are picking up everyone dressed as Santa and telling people to stay away from any and all Kringles. Unaware of his notoriety, Harry visits a neighborhood decorated for the season, only to find himself the target of suspicious parents, who attack him and drive him out while waving torches. He flees to his brother's house for safety, but Phil has had quite enough and, despite the objections of his wife Jackie (Dianne Hull), decides to deal with Harry himself.

You Better Watch Out, also known as Christmas Evil, was released before the slasher genre really took off. This means even though the plot might sound similar to Silent Night, Deadly Night or other holiday-themed slashers, it's not. No one even really starts to get killed until about two-thirds the way through the movie. It's more the study of a man slowly going insane due the pressures of modern life clashing with the way he thinks things ought to be.

The problem is that the issues the film wishes to cover are a bit beyond the writer/director Lewis Jackson's abilities. There is often a clash between wanting to be a serious horror film or a campy black comedy, and the poor direction and editing doesn't help. In fact, it muddies what is supposed to be an effective ending, confusing the viewer over what actually happens.

Maggart does a great job as Harry, which is nice since no other character in the entire movie has any dimension, not even his brother Phil. It his probably his performance and some of the stranger set-pieces (mainly Harry's apartment) that have garnered this a cult status and some accolades by people like John Waters. Unfortunately, it neither has the ability to shock like a simple slasher nor enough strangeness to keep it consistently entertaining.

You Better Watch Out (1980)
Duration: 99 minutes
Starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn
Director: Lewis Jackson

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