When Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) was a boy, he stayed up to wait for Father Christmas with his brother, and was treated to the sight of the jolly fat man appearing down their chimney and leaving presents under the tree, only pausing to help himself to the food and drink that had been supplied. Harry was enchanted, but back up in his bedroom his brother scolded him and informed him that the man they had just seen had been their father dressed up. Not willing to accept this, the boy crept downstairs to be sure only to see Santa there caressing his mother in an intimate fashion...
Well, something like that can warp a young mind, but it's not the young Harry we're concerned with here as the grown up and now approaching middle age Harry is still obsessed with Christmas even though he has no children of his own to share it with. His brother Philip (Jeffrey DeMunn) is still about, and he has a family, but our anti-hero is left to somewhat disturbingly spy on the children in his neighbourhood like some creepy old Peeping Tom, only he has what he sees as more noble reasons for doing so. Yes, Harry is so obsessed with Santa that he actually wants to be Santa, and is keeping a book, checking it more than twice, of who has been naughty or nice.
So when he spies a little girl playing with her doll, that's fine, she's being nice - when he sees a little boy reading Penthouse, that's a different matter. Weirdly - and this is a strange film - the kids like Harry and when he finally gives into his preoccupations and dresses as Santa for Christmas Eve, it is they who wish to defend him against the adults who see him for the psycho he really is. Also known as Christmas Evil, You Better Watch Out is often regarded by cuiltists as the finest of the killer Santa movies, and there have been a surprising number for such a supposedly benevolent figure of folk legend, perhaps due to the worrying thought that arises after a while of having your home invaded by him.
Even if it's just for a few minutes every Yuletide. Our sad Santa works in a toy factory, and has somewhat impenetrable beliefs in the festive season which he regards as sacred, not in a Christian way but in his own personal Santa worshipping way. What he wants to do is distribute the toys his company makes for free to needy children, a laudable intention, but it's the manner in which he goes about it that the horror stems from, although for the most part you could be watching a quirky drama about a troubled eccentric. There are some good laughs, such as the police station lineup of Santas once Harry has been sussed, but for the most part director Lewis Jackson, whose only film at the helm this was, keeps it almost dour.
This in spite of the Harry character being fairly ridiculous as he goes loopy in pursuit of his dream. Unusually, the action is spread over both Christmas Eve and the following day, so there are two nights when Harry can venture out in his van (which he imagines to be pulled by reindeer, naturally) and alternately be nice to the children and murder those adults who he thinks are spoiling the celebrations. Although there are those who find much camp value in You Better Watch Out, and it does have a bad taste quality that is compelling, in truth Harry is something of a bore and hard to sympathise with, though the notion that the wholesome qualities of Christmas could twist fragile minds into outright insanity thanks to the drive to have fun being so overbearing is a strong one. In the end, Jackson is willing to indulge Harry for a final shot which will either have you grinning or wondering what the hell that was meant to be.