You Better Watch Out


1h 40m 1980

Brief Synopsis

A psycho in a Santa suit gets to decide who's been naughty and who's been nice.

Film Details

Also Known As
Christmas Evil
Genre
Horror
Release Date
1980
Production Company
Pressman Film

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m

Synopsis

One Christmas Eve when Harry was a child, he was traumatized to see his father, who was dressed as Santa, having sex with his mother. Now a grown man, Harry works for a toy company, sleeps in a Santa suit, and spies on the kids in his neighborhood to see "who's been bad or good." His brother Phillip has begun to worry about Harry's mental balance, and one day he does snap. Dressed as Santa, he steals a truck full of toys and takes them to a mental hospital to give to the children there. But when Harry runs into people who don't believe he really is Santa, he goes on a killing spree.

Film Details

Also Known As
Christmas Evil
Genre
Horror
Release Date
1980
Production Company
Pressman Film

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m

Articles

You Better Watch Out (aka Christmas Evil)


You Better Watch Out (1980 aka Christmas Evil) was released amidst the initial rush of holiday-themed horror films that were produced in the wake of John Carpenter's phenomenally popular and much imitated Halloween (1978), so the casual observer might be inclined to write it off as another pale "slasher" movie typical of the era. Images of jolly old St. Nick brandishing a butcher knife do indeed crop up in the medium-budget, independently-produced film by first-time feature writer/director Lewis Jackson, but the goals of his impressive, disturbing, and disquietly amusing effort are actually quite lofty. You Better Watch Out succeeds more often than not as a twisted character study, a carefully-crafted visual treat, and a reflection of the disdain for crass commercialism that haunts the lead protagonist.

Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart in a bravura performance) is a lonely, disturbed individual. A pre-credits flashback to Christmas Eve of 1947 gives a glimpse of what may have triggered his mania for Santa Claus--a stylized memory from childhood in which Harry and his younger brother Philip watch from the stairs as Santa eats a snack left by the Christmas tree is followed by an argument in which Harry refuses to believe Santa was their father in disguise. The mischievous Harry goes to the stairs again, but this time he sees Santa Claus sexually gratifying his mother. The sight sends Harry running back upstairs where he smashes a snow globe and slices his hand with a shard of glass.

In ways that the movie makes no further attempt to explain, the childhood trauma causes grown-up Harry to be obsessed with Christmas to the point that he lives in an apartment decorated year-round for the holiday and works at the Jolly Dream toy factory. More ominously, Harry spies on the children living in his working-class neighborhood to note if they are naughty or nice. Using binoculars to see one boy looking at an issue of Penthouse magazine, Harry runs to his apartment and writes "impure thoughts" and "negative body hygiene" on the boy's list of misdeeds in a book labeled "Bad Boys & Girls."

Times are also tough at the office, as Harry has been promoted to a desk job away from his beloved toy assembly line, and his fellow workers mock him and take advantage of his giving nature. Also, the executives at the company are using shoddy materials in the toys and are callous, making a phony show of the "spirit of giving" by publicizing paltry donations to the Willowy Springs State Hospital for Retarded Children. Things come to a head on Christmas Eve, as Harry dons his Santa apparel and takes off in his white van, on which he has crudely painted a large red Santa sleigh. Delivering presents to the good children and unseen items dredged from the Hudson River to the bad ones, Harry-Santa also seeks out the phonies running the toy factory and murders a few people who get in his way.

The violence in You Better Watch Out is seldom premeditated; Harry acts impulsively, seeing through his victims toward a greater yuletide mission. Maggart's performance sets the uneasy tone; depending on the events he is reacting to, Harry can be either sympathetic or pathetic, mannered or manic, jolly or vengeful, and the emotions seem honest even as they come from a disturbed source. The film's sharp and unwavering focus on Harry creates a tension that seems to belong less to the slasher genre that would develop as the 1980s wore on and more to something akin to Harry: Portrait of a Santa Obsessive.

In 2008 writer-director Jackson told Matthew Hays of the Toronto Star, "My film was not about killing girls who were no longer virgins; horror audiences were looking for more of Halloween, I think, and my film was not about random acts of violence. Mine was more about an obsession, like Fritz Lang's classic M (1931). I was thinking a lot about German Expressionism as I made it. I also thought of Hitchcock and even Douglas Sirk. This was meant to be a thoughtful genre film." Jackson certainly gave careful consideration to the visual look of his film. He created storyboards for every scene, an unusual step for any live-action feature. As his director of photography, Jackson brought in Ricardo Aronovich - Argentinean-born but based in France - who shot Murmur of the Heart (1971) for Louis Malle. The producers were secretive about the shoot, which took place largely in New Jersey, partially because the unions would not have looked kindly on such a key technical job being filled by a foreign artist. Additionally, as producer Ed Pressman told the genre magazine Cinefantastique (Volume 10, Number 3) prior to the film's completion, "We also didn't want any quickie TV movies coming along to rip us off."

Pressman needn't have worried; it is difficult to imagine a TV network of the era coming anywhere near some of the bizarre images and plot developments on view in You Better Watch Out. In an early scene Harry makes an elaborate Santa suit, pounding the padding on his upper leg in anticipation of children sitting on his lap; later we see Harry covering his face and hands with mud to leave an impression on the white-painted side of the house where a "naughty" boy resides; then Harry-as-Santa is welcomed into a Community Association dance, where he warns the children, "If you're bad boys and girls I'll put your names in the Bad Boys and Girls Book, and I'll bring you something ...horrible." In one amazing sequence, Harry uses a ladder to climb on a rooftop and supposes that he can easily slide down the chimney - of course, he becomes wedged only hip deep into his descent and while the camera lingers for a painfully long interval, he struggles to free himself and slumps to the roof, having realized that the magic of Santa is not working after all.

You Better Watch Out was "presented by" Pressman, who had championed early efforts by directors such as Brian De Palma (Sisters, 1973) and Oliver Stone (The Hand, 1981). The film received a spotty release at best, and at some point along the distribution line it was given the alternate title Christmas Evil. By any title it is a funny, disturbing and effective first-time feature from Jackson, who unfortunately has not made another film to date.

Producer: Pete Kameron, Burt Kleiner
Director: Lewis Jackson
Screenplay: Lewis Jackson
Cinematography: Ricardo Aronovich
Production Design: Lorenzo Mans
Art Direction: Roberta Neiman
Music: Don Christensen, Julia Heyward, Joel Harris
Film Editing: Linda Leeds, Corky O'Hara
Cast: Brandon Maggart (Harry Stadling), Jeffrey DeMunn (Philip Stadling), Dianne Hull (Jackie Stadling), Andy Fenwick (Dennis Stadling), Brian Neville (Marc Stadling), Joe Jamrog (Frank Stoller), Wally Moran (Philip Stadling Jr.), Gus Salud (Harry Stadling Jr.), Ellen McElduff (Harry's mother), Brian Hartigan (Harry's father)
C-100m. Letterboxed.

By John M. Miller

You Better Watch Out (Aka Christmas Evil)

You Better Watch Out (aka Christmas Evil)

You Better Watch Out (1980 aka Christmas Evil) was released amidst the initial rush of holiday-themed horror films that were produced in the wake of John Carpenter's phenomenally popular and much imitated Halloween (1978), so the casual observer might be inclined to write it off as another pale "slasher" movie typical of the era. Images of jolly old St. Nick brandishing a butcher knife do indeed crop up in the medium-budget, independently-produced film by first-time feature writer/director Lewis Jackson, but the goals of his impressive, disturbing, and disquietly amusing effort are actually quite lofty. You Better Watch Out succeeds more often than not as a twisted character study, a carefully-crafted visual treat, and a reflection of the disdain for crass commercialism that haunts the lead protagonist. Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart in a bravura performance) is a lonely, disturbed individual. A pre-credits flashback to Christmas Eve of 1947 gives a glimpse of what may have triggered his mania for Santa Claus--a stylized memory from childhood in which Harry and his younger brother Philip watch from the stairs as Santa eats a snack left by the Christmas tree is followed by an argument in which Harry refuses to believe Santa was their father in disguise. The mischievous Harry goes to the stairs again, but this time he sees Santa Claus sexually gratifying his mother. The sight sends Harry running back upstairs where he smashes a snow globe and slices his hand with a shard of glass. In ways that the movie makes no further attempt to explain, the childhood trauma causes grown-up Harry to be obsessed with Christmas to the point that he lives in an apartment decorated year-round for the holiday and works at the Jolly Dream toy factory. More ominously, Harry spies on the children living in his working-class neighborhood to note if they are naughty or nice. Using binoculars to see one boy looking at an issue of Penthouse magazine, Harry runs to his apartment and writes "impure thoughts" and "negative body hygiene" on the boy's list of misdeeds in a book labeled "Bad Boys & Girls." Times are also tough at the office, as Harry has been promoted to a desk job away from his beloved toy assembly line, and his fellow workers mock him and take advantage of his giving nature. Also, the executives at the company are using shoddy materials in the toys and are callous, making a phony show of the "spirit of giving" by publicizing paltry donations to the Willowy Springs State Hospital for Retarded Children. Things come to a head on Christmas Eve, as Harry dons his Santa apparel and takes off in his white van, on which he has crudely painted a large red Santa sleigh. Delivering presents to the good children and unseen items dredged from the Hudson River to the bad ones, Harry-Santa also seeks out the phonies running the toy factory and murders a few people who get in his way. The violence in You Better Watch Out is seldom premeditated; Harry acts impulsively, seeing through his victims toward a greater yuletide mission. Maggart's performance sets the uneasy tone; depending on the events he is reacting to, Harry can be either sympathetic or pathetic, mannered or manic, jolly or vengeful, and the emotions seem honest even as they come from a disturbed source. The film's sharp and unwavering focus on Harry creates a tension that seems to belong less to the slasher genre that would develop as the 1980s wore on and more to something akin to Harry: Portrait of a Santa Obsessive. In 2008 writer-director Jackson told Matthew Hays of the Toronto Star, "My film was not about killing girls who were no longer virgins; horror audiences were looking for more of Halloween, I think, and my film was not about random acts of violence. Mine was more about an obsession, like Fritz Lang's classic M (1931). I was thinking a lot about German Expressionism as I made it. I also thought of Hitchcock and even Douglas Sirk. This was meant to be a thoughtful genre film." Jackson certainly gave careful consideration to the visual look of his film. He created storyboards for every scene, an unusual step for any live-action feature. As his director of photography, Jackson brought in Ricardo Aronovich - Argentinean-born but based in France - who shot Murmur of the Heart (1971) for Louis Malle. The producers were secretive about the shoot, which took place largely in New Jersey, partially because the unions would not have looked kindly on such a key technical job being filled by a foreign artist. Additionally, as producer Ed Pressman told the genre magazine Cinefantastique (Volume 10, Number 3) prior to the film's completion, "We also didn't want any quickie TV movies coming along to rip us off." Pressman needn't have worried; it is difficult to imagine a TV network of the era coming anywhere near some of the bizarre images and plot developments on view in You Better Watch Out. In an early scene Harry makes an elaborate Santa suit, pounding the padding on his upper leg in anticipation of children sitting on his lap; later we see Harry covering his face and hands with mud to leave an impression on the white-painted side of the house where a "naughty" boy resides; then Harry-as-Santa is welcomed into a Community Association dance, where he warns the children, "If you're bad boys and girls I'll put your names in the Bad Boys and Girls Book, and I'll bring you something ...horrible." In one amazing sequence, Harry uses a ladder to climb on a rooftop and supposes that he can easily slide down the chimney - of course, he becomes wedged only hip deep into his descent and while the camera lingers for a painfully long interval, he struggles to free himself and slumps to the roof, having realized that the magic of Santa is not working after all. You Better Watch Out was "presented by" Pressman, who had championed early efforts by directors such as Brian De Palma (Sisters, 1973) and Oliver Stone (The Hand, 1981). The film received a spotty release at best, and at some point along the distribution line it was given the alternate title Christmas Evil. By any title it is a funny, disturbing and effective first-time feature from Jackson, who unfortunately has not made another film to date. Producer: Pete Kameron, Burt Kleiner Director: Lewis Jackson Screenplay: Lewis Jackson Cinematography: Ricardo Aronovich Production Design: Lorenzo Mans Art Direction: Roberta Neiman Music: Don Christensen, Julia Heyward, Joel Harris Film Editing: Linda Leeds, Corky O'Hara Cast: Brandon Maggart (Harry Stadling), Jeffrey DeMunn (Philip Stadling), Dianne Hull (Jackie Stadling), Andy Fenwick (Dennis Stadling), Brian Neville (Marc Stadling), Joe Jamrog (Frank Stoller), Wally Moran (Philip Stadling Jr.), Gus Salud (Harry Stadling Jr.), Ellen McElduff (Harry's mother), Brian Hartigan (Harry's father) C-100m. Letterboxed. By John M. Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1980

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1980