Shudder: 1980’s Christmas Evil is a merry maniacal treat

Shudder is streaming a curated Christmas horror collection called Unhappy Holidays, and one of the movies included in the collection is the 1980 film Christmas Evil (previously known as You Better Watch Out).

John Waters has referred to Christmas Evil as “the greatest Christmas movie ever made.” Despite my love for both horror and Christmas movies, I had somehow never seen it, so I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t expect much, but I really enjoyed it. I think it may become part of my Christmas traditions!

As in several other horror movies set at Christmas time, our killer is dressed as Santa. But, what sets Harry Stadling apart from other sadistic Santas is his heart. As a young child, Harry’s older brother Phil told him that Santa wasn’t real, and shortly thereafter, young Harry witnessed his mother being groped by “Santa” (actually his father in costume).

33 years later, Harry works at the Jolly Dreams toy factory, where his co-workers regularly bully him. He dresses like Santa at home, keeps Christmas decorations out all year long, and spies on the neighborhood children, keeping track of which kids are naughty, and which are nice. He actually has “naughty” and “nice” books, in which he takes creepily detailed notes.

Christmas Evil – Courtesy of Shudder

Already on the edge of insanity, Harry finally suffers a psychotic break after he discovers a co-worker lied to him in order to get him to cover a shift at work, and later finds out that Jolly Dreams is promising to donate toys to a local children’s hospital…but only if the workers increase their production and donate their own money. Harry loses his cool, realizing that his boss doesn’t really care about the children, and breaks into the toy factory at night, stealing bags full of toys.

On Christmas Eve, driving around in a van with Santa’s sleigh painted on the side, Harry starts to make some special deliveries: a bag of dirt for a naughty child in his neighborhood, gifts for his brother’s children, and the bags of toys for the children’s hospital. As he stands outside of a church, a few men exiting the service start to taunt him, and Santa slays for the first time (but not the last). It’s a graphic, bloody scene, which sets the stage for what is to come.

Two things made this movie for me. First and foremost was Brandon Maggart’s performance as our hapless Harry (the other actors are nothing to write home about). You just can’t hate him the way you hate most movie killers, instead you really root for him and sympathize. His facial expressions take him from childlike glee, to sad confusion, to homicidal fury, and you don’t even feel too bad for his victims. For the most part, they are total jerk faces anyway. Harry just wants to reward the good and punish the naughty, and he is really saddened by the state of the world around him.

Christmas Evil – Courtesy of Shudder

The second great thing is the music, which alternates between jarring, ’80s horror synthesizer and cheery holiday music. It’s perfectly balanced, and I was really impressed with how it set the mood. And, the Christmas decorations are great, particularly in one of the final scenes, when Harry is running from an angry mob carrying torches, down a city street lined with light-up sleighs and snowmen.

If you are looking for a slightly different take on the standard slasher Santa flick, check out Christmas Evil, now streaming on Shudder. It’s holly, jolly horror, perfect for the Christmas season.

Fan of holiday horror? Seen Christmas Evil? Let the other evil elves know what you think in the comment section below.