Directed by Lewis Jackson
Starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Joe Jamrog, Peter Neuman, Scott McKay, Peter Friedman, Burt Kleiner, Patricia Richardson, Andy Fenwick
IMDb 5.3/10 Rotten Tomatoes 83% Metacritic NO DATA
This was the predecessor film to Silent Night, Deadly Night. Initially it was titled “You Better Watch Out” and has also been released under the title “Terror in Toyland”. This one was released on a more down low kind of marketing plan and was released in November as opposed to December. It’s not that it’s really any different than SNDN but, for some reason, this film didn’t get the backlash that SNDN did. I’m guessing the trailers shown on television at the time were not as “Santa” oriented as the ones they showed for SNDN.
In this version of the story, it’s 1947 and a young boy, Harry, is a BIG believer in Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas and following all the rules to be a good boy so Santa will bring him gifts. He has an argument with his little brother, Phil, on Christmas Eve. Phil says their father is really Santa and that a REAL Santa doesn’t exist. Harry gets very upset and goes downstairs to see Santa. What he sees obviously scars him for life. He finds “Santa” kneeling in front of his mother while she is dressed in lingerie and a satin robe and “Santa” (their Dad) is feeing her up and things are getting a little steamy.
Harry is so upset to realize that the man in the Santa suit is his own father he goes upstairs to the attic and smashes a Christmas themed snow globe on the attic floor. Then he takes a piece of the broken glass and slices into his hand with it. (Keep in mind this kid is like seven or eight years old.)
Okay. Can we hold it for a second right here? This kid is running up and down stairs, closing doors in a less than quiet manner and smashing snow globes on the attic floor. HOW CAN THE PARENTS NOT HEAR ANY OF THIS??? I mean, a herd of cattle could creep around that house quieter than this kid. And yet, parents so wrapped up in getting wrapped up that they are totally oblivious to the child running around in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. Okay, moving on…
Flash forward thirty-three years…1980. Harry is now around forty or so. He works at a toy factory where he recently got a promotion from the assembly line to a desk job. He’s not thrilled about it. He prefers to be close to the toys. He is completely obsessed with making himself into the next REAL Santa Claus. He sleeps in a set of Santa suit pajamas and his house looks like Christmas threw up all over it. He listens to only Christmas music and, here’s the kicker, he spies on the neighbor kids and tracks their behavior, carefully writing it down under their name in either the Good book or the Bad book. One kid gets written in the Good book for taking out the trash and yet another boy gets written down in the Bad book for looking at Penthouse magazine and impure thoughts, “negative body hygiene”, throws rocks at dogs. A little girl gets written down in the Good book for being “just a darling”.
When Harry goes to work one day he is weaseled into covering a co-worker’s shift. Harry is a kind of awkward and odd fellow and he gets antagonized by his co-workers. The guy, Frank, said he needed his shift covered so he could leave a day earlier with his family for vacation. When Harry is walking home after finishing his extra shift, he sees Frank in a bar he passes. Frank is drinking with other co-workers. Harry realizes he’s been swindled. In reaction, when he gets home he takes on of the little male dolls from the dollhouse in his living room and, while humming a Christmas song, he squeezes and squeezes the doll until it breaks.
Then, the next day, Harry cancels going to his brother’s house for Thanksgiving solely to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade…and see Santa. This frustrates and angers Phil.
Then, later on at the company Christmas party, Harry sees a video being played while they are socializing. The video shows that the company is going to start donating toys to a children’s hospital…IF the workers raise production and donate money of their own…which is craftily disguised in the video. So, Harry asks some questions of his boss and he finds out that they really don’t care about the children at the hospital. It’s just a way of getting the workers to work harder, faster and give up their hard earned money. Harry is outraged.
He decides once and for all that HE is going to be the REAL Santa this season. He goes home and sews himself a Santa suit. He gets the wig and the beard, even eyebrows. Then once he’s all dressed up, he goes to the toy factory and puts stolen toys in canvas bags. Other bags he fills with dirt. He has a momentary freak out when he sees himself in the Santa outfit but then talks himself down, realizes it’s just him dressed as Santa. He also paints his white van with a sleigh on the side to represent Santa’s sleigh.
Another pause, please. It’s obvious that this guy has issues. And I mean serious issues. But, is seeing your Dad feel up your Mom’s leg at like eight years old REALLY that traumatic????? I mean, it may be uncomfortable to walk in on and it may make you a little creeped out but, to freak out like this???? And oh wait, there’s more. Carrying on…
Harry delivers the stolen toys to the hospital…in his “sleigh” van. Afterwards, he goes over to the town church where Midnight Mass is just letting out. This is the church his boss attends. A group of young people see him dressed as Santa and they start to poke fun at him. He gets mad and kills three of them. One with a toy soldier and two with a toy tomahawk.
Then he goes to Frank’s house, the lazy, lying co-worker. He puts gifts under the tree for the kids but he hears them sneak out of their room to see him. He goes to check and they are back in bed. He then goes to Frank and his wife’s bedroom, where he tries to smother Frank with his bag of toys and presents. Frank wakes up and wriggles free but, Harry then slices his throat with a star tree topper. After that he flees the house.
By now, there have been a number of news broadcasts talking about a killer on the loose dressed as Santa and detailing what happened earlier at the church. Harry’s brother sees this on the news and he becomes very concerned.
Meanwhile, Harry is out and about watching other people’s Christmas parties from outside the window and walking around, wandering about. Some people pull him inside to a party and he laughs and dances and gives presents to the kids that are there. Once he leaves he is bombarded by some children walking down the street with their parents. The kids are all excited but the parents soon determine he is a danger.
They chase him around town with lit torches like a mob and he gets in his van and runs to his brother’s house. He and Phil have an argument and Phil ends up choking out Harry. Phil drags Harry back to his van and as he’s trying to figure out what to do next, Harry wakes up and clocks Phil in the jaw and then drives off in a haste.
As the chase continues, Harry gets more and more worked up. Finally, the big crowded mob of people forces him to drive his van off a bridge. In his delusional state, he hears the last two lines of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas as he sees himself flying in the air like Santa with his reindeer and sleigh.
This movie was SO MUCH better than Silent Night, Deadly Night. It was more well done, the story was better, the acting was better and the film was actually somewhat enjoyable to watch. There were some corny parts to the movie, some awkward parts that didn’t seem to fit the flow of the film and there were actually parts of the film where you felt warm and fuzzy inside and smiled.
The movie seemed to hit on the abnormal behavior of the kind of psychosis that Harry was going through but, the CAUSE is what confuses me. I mean, I just don’t see a hand going up a thigh damaging a kid so deeply that he almost can’t function as a regular human being. He lives in a world where everything is Christmas and he’s spying on small children. How creepy is that?!?!?! This guy is two steps shy of child predator…maybe one step. Yeah, one step.
He loves the good kids and gives dirty looks to the bad kids. He also delivers dirt to the bad kids and hides outside their house and waits to scare them.
This guy has absolutely no boundaries when it comes to interacting with other human beings. And when people get upset because they don’t want him around their kids or they aren’t grateful enough or they don’t believe enough, he gets very dejected and acts like it’s the end of the world. He takes it so personally, as if HE were truly Santa Claus.
While this is a horror movie, it does have an emotional and sad undertone to it. You almost feel bad for Harry. Well, if you have any amount of empathy and compassion you can feel sorry for Harry. There are some good kill scenes but, the blood and gore is minimal and the movie is more about Harry and his issues than killing around Christmas, because of Christmas. And that’s what makes it sad. You see this poor guy who doesn’t fit in anywhere struggling through the holidays and trying to make people believe in Santa Claus. Almost heartbreaking…until he starts slicing throats and putting toy soldier bayonets through eyes. Then it gets the horror vibe.
I think this is worth watching. In my mind, it’s a classic that has been developing a cult following for a long time. Again, it’s much better than SNDN. I think they tried the best they could with this movie. And they didn’t do half bad.