For every person intent on spending their holiday season watching (and re-re-re watching) A Christmas Story and/or It’s a Wonderful Life, there is likely someone out there choosing to approach the season in a more naughty fashion. The holidays have been rife with genre counter-programing, from the mainstream (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) to the not (Maniac Cop 2, Dead Bang), but certain films seem to continuously get overlooked even with “Christmas” so prominently displayed in the title. Lewis Jackson’s Christmas Evil (also known as You Better Watch Out) isn’t the scariest (Black Christmas), the nastiest (Silent Night, Deadly Night) or oddest (Elves) of the Christmas horror flicks, but it is certainly the only one that has Santa drive a rape van for a sleigh.
Christmas Evil is as much a product of late 70s/early 80s indie NYC filmmaking as it is of the holiday it tries so hard to skewer. This is very, and decidedly, unpolished genre cinema at its grimiest and – in some ways – much grimier than its other Killer Santa contemporaries. Unlike the films mentioned above or other holiday genre mainstays like Don’t Open Til Christmas or To All a Goodnight, Christmas Evil isn’t a fun slasher flick to watch after the kids go to bed. This is a powerful character study of a mentally disturbed man that happened to witness his mom doing the nasty with Santa one Christmas Eve. The killer santa in question, Harry (Brandon Maggart), now works in a toy factory and compiles a “naughty” and “nice” list of his neighbors, and hopes to see people appreciate the holiday as much as he does. But they don’t and they must die for it.
Mixing gallows humor – Santa practically gets chased by a (non pitchfork wielding) mob through the streets of NYC! – and an unexpected sympathy towards mental illness, Jackson’s film isn’t like anything else out there, seasonal or not. It’s a surprisingly potent study of a deranged mind as much as it is required holiday horror viewing, just don’t expect it to be as holly jolly a time as its advertisers would like you to think. But, hey, John Waters calls it the “greatest Christmas movie ever made” so you weren’t expecting it to be nice, were you?
Vinegar Syndrome have given us all an early Christmas gift with this release. The transfer is in 4K and from materials that still state the You Better Watch Out title. Everything here is spot on, the blacks are black, film grain is inherent and not overbearing, colors pop and no artifacting or other issues are noticeable. Some may complain that the film’s cue marks are still present, but I find that charming and they were there from the beginning so why remove them? Audio is HD MA 1.0 which is faithful to how the film was originally released and it sounds great. I didn’t notice much distracting, save for the occasional hiss that you’ll get with something of this vintage, but it is overall a clean presentation and does the film justice.
Supplements include 3(!!) commentary tracks with Lewis Jackson, Jackson and Maggart and then – the crown jewel – John Waters and Jackson. All three are worth a listen for superfans but that last one is probably the most accessible and flat out fun for anyone. Waters clearly loves Jackson’s film and it’s a lively track that never gets boring. We also get about 13 minutes of interviews with Jackson and Maggart, 25 minutes of audition tapes of the cast, 6 minutes of deleted scenes, 4 minutes of storyboards and – perhaps my favorite feature – a slew of comment cards from the film’s test screenings, you know what these are going to be like and they don’t disappoint.
Vinegar Syndrome have finally given Christmas Evil the treatment it deserves. Constantly overshadowed by the likes of Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night (which deserve all of the attention that they get), Jackson’s film is a decidedly different beast that has polarized audiences since 1980. We now have it lovingly restored and on a packed disc that should please fans greatly and welcome a whole bunch of naughty newcomers. Get it!