Christmas Evil (1980)
By: Devon B. on December 22, 2008  | 
Synapse Films (USA). Region 0, NTSC. 1.78:1 (Anamorphic). Dolby Digital 2.0. 94 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Lewis Jackson
Starring: Brandon Maggert, Jeffrey Demunn, Dianne Hull
Screenplay: Lewis Jackson
Country: USA
External Links
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While Silent Night, Deadly Night may have been the movie that caused the most furore over Santa Claus horror movies, Christmas Evil came before it (though people seem to forget that Tales From the Crypt preceded it). The film was never actually meant to be called Christmas Evil; it was originally titled You Better Watch Out. Since that's what writer/director Lewis Jackson wanted it to be, that's what I'll call it. It's explained in liner notes why the DVD release is still titled Christmas Evil (so people would know what it was), but the title card says You Better Watch Out.

The movie starts in what seems like ancient history now, but was only about thirty years earlier at the time of release: the late 40s. A young boy is fooled by his father dressed up as Santa, but when he later catches his mother making out with the man in red, it shatters his illusion about Santa being real. He doesn't take this well. Cut to the present day (nearly 30 years ago now), and the boy is all grown up. He's a Christmas obsessed oddball with a job at a toy factory. He spies on children but he's not a paedo; he's making lists of who's naughty and nice. His Santa obsession doesn't end there, this year he really wants to be Santa, and is taking steps to make it so. Unfortunately for the community at large, he also has some very strong ideas on how to punish naughty adults.

Before I go any further, I'd just like to point out that the lead has a brother named Billy. Billy is the name of the killer in Silent Night, Deadly Night, and the voice on the phone in Black Christmas also shouts that name. What is the connection to Christmas horror movies and the name Billy? Is it just that it's a generic name? I mean, if the name in question were Noel or Kris I might see the connection, but it just seems a bit weird.

Anyway, You Better Watch Out is fairly unusual itself. It's funny at times, depressing at others, and downright disturbing at others. The film gets more surreal as it progresses, with an old fashioned torch bearing mob turning up to chase "Santa," and the ending is totally bizarre. The performances are all solid, aside from a few of the children. There are some familiar faces to be seen, including Raymond J. Barry who also stars in perhaps the funniest Christmas movie ever: The Ref. You Better Watch Out was criticised by horror fans during the initial release because it was too slow, and honestly it is a bit of a slow burn that takes too long to spark for my tastes.

The movie is presented in a restored director's cut, using elements from Jackson's vault. I've only seen it once before and that was years ago, so I can't go into the impact of the changes. There're a few jumpy edits, and the gore is still pretty simple. The film is so off beat it's hard not to appreciate it, but I'm not sure how much I actually like it.

Watch for the magic snow that moves like a blanket in the finale.
Presented at 1.78:1, You Better Watch Out looks excellent. It's a low budget movie that's over twenty years old, so there are still some spots, some grain, and a bit of minor print damage. The film is also a bit over lit in places and has a few brief instances of flickering. Overall this print is clean and sharp, and I was absolutely amazed with how good it looked.
Original mono track, very clean and tidy, just like the video.
Extra Features
The DVD comes with quite a few bonuses. First up is nearly a half hour of audition tapes. These are in black and white and the audio's a bit rough. Some of the people evidently went on to bigger things, but I only recognised the people actually cast in the feature. There're also storyboards, and six and half minutes of deleted scenes, some of which give further insight into the relationship between the lead and his brother. A few comment cards from test screening are included and these are funny, and if the sampling was accurate women did not like this movie.

There're also two commentaries. The first is with Jackson, and he give some insight into making a low budget movie and making it look good. He delves into sacrifices he made for the movie, the work involved, and achievements he made. There're some gaps in this track, but it's not bad, and most importantly he explains the ending and how it differs from what he envisioned. However, the real treat is a second track where Jackson is joined by your friend and mine, John Waters. Waters loves this movie, but he hasn't seen it in years, so gets a bit distracted and just watches the film at times (Jackson even felt the need to record an interjection to explain this). Info does repeat between the tracks, and maybe only one track was actually needed. This one is far better, and Waters delights in pointing out the fetish elements of the film. There's also a cartoon insert backed with the aforementioned liner notes.

The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Even without any extras, I'd be tempted to give this DVD a 5 just for the sheer quality of the transfer and the director's cut finally getting released, but a commentary featuring Waters makes a 5 a sure thing. Long time fans will probably enjoy the other extras more than me, but this is a fairly complete package. The movie is hard to rate because it's so wacky, particularly the ending, but it is well done. It may be a bit slow and turn totally surreal at the end, but it's a welcome addition to the collection for those looking to escape from the normal Christmas offerings.

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