Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

Filtering by Tag: Santa Claus

Christmas Repost! My Favourite Moment of Holiday Horror!

A few years ago I decided to take a look at the movies I considered to be my all-time favourites and try to figure out what they had in common--what exactly it was about them that I responded to the most.  Eventually I concluded that the kinds of films I love are ones that aren't afraid to acknowledge the dreamlike nature of the medium without sacrificing emotional verisimilitude in the process.  That's why, for example, I love the films of Wes Anderson, but have never felt much affection for the work of David Lynch.  Both are talented auteurs who strive to bring their unique visions to the screen, but for all of Anderson's whimiscal touches, his films are still grounded in an emotional reality I can understand and connect with, while the characters in Lynch's films are completely alien to me and--as a result--much more obviously artificial.  All of my favourite filmmakers (Bob Fosse, Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, David Cronenberg, Robert Altman, Milos Forman, P.T. Anderson, Peter Weir to name nine of them off of the top of my head) implicitly understand that great art should invoke empathy and that as long as that is accomplished, they are then free to do whatever the hell they like.


I bring this up because the scene I have chosen to name the #1 most memorable moment in Christmas holiday horror history impresses me as much as it does because it is a dreamy, sweet ending to what has otherwise been a very dark and discomfiting picture.  After spending the entire movie watching the gradual mental disintegration of a hopeless individual, we are at the very end allowed to escape from the darkness in an instant of pure fantasy.  It doesn't matter that the moment makes no sense and isn't explained (is it a dream or did it really happen?), it simply is and it is wonderful.

 The film is 1980s You Better Watch Out (or, as it is better known, Christmas Evil) and though the film bears a superficial resemblence to the more infamous Silent Night, Deadly Night, they are actually as different as two films about homicidal maniacs in Santa suits could be.  You Better Watch Out is actually closer in spirit to films like Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Roman Polanski's Repulsion than it is to a traditional slasher movie.  Rather than being a movie about a madman's killing spree, it is instead about what has led that madman to go on that spree in the first place.  Stylistically it is the kind of raw and dirty movie that defined the cinema of the 70s.  It's one of those movies where its obvious low budget and grainy cinematography adds to rather than subtracts from its sense of realism, which only makes its surreal ending that much more thrilling to watch.

The only film written and directed by Lewis Jackson, the movie tells the story of Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggert, a familiar character actor best known these days for his having sired the pale white songstress Fiona Apple) a middle-aged man who works as a low-level manager in a low-rent toy factory.  Its the perfect job for the quiet, lonely bachelor, since--unbeknowst to the rest of the world--he harbors a unique fixation for all things Clausian.  The roots of his obsession go back to when he was young and he saw his parents engage in some mildly fetishistic foreplay in front of the fireplace while his dad wore the Santa suit he had donned to surprise his two sons earlier that night.  Beyond filling his apartment with every Santa artifact he can find, Harry also indulges his passion by sleeping in Santa Claus pajamas, listening to Christmas carols and--more disturbingly--keeping track of the activities of the neighborhood children in books labeled "Naughty" and "Nice".

 It comes as no surprise that Harry's strange hobby wrecks havoc on his social life.  He has no friends and is mocked as a loser by his co-workers.  The neighborhood kids are charmed by his own childlike demeanor, but he wisely keeps his distance from them.  His only real contact with the world comes from his brother's family, but as the film begins Harry has already started the inexorable journey from eccentricity to madness and he starts avoiding them as well.  At work he becomes angry when he discovers that the owner's pledge to donate toys to a local hospital for disable children is purely a publicty stunt and very few toys are actually going to make it into the children's hands.  Having already started to design his own ornate Santa Claus costume, Harry decides to correct his company's fraud by stealing toys from the factory floor and giving them to the hospital himself.  To add authenticity to his delivery, he takes the time to paint the image of a sled on the side of his van.

Having taken care of the nice part of his list, Harry decides it's now time to address the issue of the naughty.  To that end he stands outside of a local church after the end of a Christmas Eve mass.  There he is ridiculed by a quartet of obnoxious yuppies.  He quickly shuts them up when he stabs three of them to death with one of the toy soldiers he made himself.  After he escapes from the murder scene, he finds himself the center of attention at a private Christmas party, where he gets to truly enjoy the status that comes from being Father Christmas.  After this brief ego-boost, he goes back to his Naughty-punishing mission and goes to the house of a co-worker who has previously taken advantage of him.  There he gets a uncomfortable glimpse at reality when he briefly becomes stuck inside the house's chimney and is forced to get inside using a window instead.  When he finally gets into the house, he uses the same toy soldier as before to kill his co-worker.

 The news quickly spreads that a homicidal Santa is rampaging through the streets of the unnamed city.  The police organize a lineup of suspects, but Harry is not among them.  Armed with a sackful of toys he returns to his neighborhood and starts handing out presents to the kids, which immediately arouses the suspicions of his neighbors.  One of them threatens Harry with bodily harm, but he is stopped when the kids intervene and allow their benefactor to escape in his van.  As he drives to his brother's house, a mob (complete with torches!) forms and begins to search the streets for him.  His brother is horrified to discover that Harry is the madman responsible for all of the mayhem being reported on TV.  They end up coming to blows and his brother strangles Harry until he is unconscious.  Afraid that he has killed him, he puts Harry back into the van, only to discover that Santa still has some life in him yet.

It is at this point, as Harry escapes from his brother while being pursued by the (torch-wielding!) mob that the jaw-dropping moment that ends the film unspools before the audience's disbelieving eyes.


That, my friends, is pure genius.

And thus endeth the House of Glib's countdown of the most memorable moments in Christmas holiday horror history.   While I doubt it was at all enlightening, I know I had a good time, which is all that matters to a selfish bastard like me.

Felix Navidad!