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You Better Watch Out (1980) WORK

Now on first glance, Christmas Evil appears to have quite a bit in common with the better known Silent Night, Deadly Night, which was actually released your years later, so any similarities fall on the creators of Silent Night, Deadly Night. And while both films feature the same basic plot outline of a man that had a traumatic experience with Santa Claus as a child goes on a killing spree dressed as Santa Claus, that is really where the similarities end, for while Silent Night, Deadly Night, is a ultra-sleazy bit of Slasher trash, Christmas Evil is a well-made and intelligent film that works well as both a character study and a commentary on the place of Christmas in modern America, ultimately having more in common with Frankenstein than Friday the 13th.

You Better Watch Out (1980)

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Christmas morning, Phil begins to suspect something is seriously wrong with his brother and argues with his wife Jackie. Their children are preoccupied with watching a television program and do not seem to mind playing with their damaged and subpar toys.

The carnage quotient is low, but that's okay: from the outset, it's leaning toward character study rather than traditional slasher fare, more Schrader than schlock. Brandon Maggart's sensitive, implosive performance is fascinating, holding everything together when the director is unable to. Lewis Jackson's filmmaking is largely flat and low-energy, and he makes the fatal mistake of rarely going in for closeups once Maggart's face is obscured by his costume. The eyes are the window to the soul, but you have to be able to see them! All that said, yes, the finale absolutely destroys, and it made me wish the rest of it was better, weirder, or both.

A first-time watch for me, but the second time for Michelle. I must say that I really did not expect the movie to be this bleak. Christmas Evil is definitely less of a mindless slasher and more of a psychological horror movie.

We watched this tonight at my Christmas potluck because it is apparently John Waters' favorite Christmas movie. It's easy to see why. It's awkward in a way that heightens the drama. It's slightly tasteless and wholly campy. It's nonsensical and focused on the sympathetic performance of a man who goes on a violent spree at the same time as he goes out giving gifts to the good children. It has a great soundtrack, too.

An Editorial Board Member of Cineaste magazine, Bob is also a member of the Drama Desk theatrical critics society in New York. See what he's watching on Letterboxd and read more from him at New York Theater News.

As we all may know Christmas is pretty stressful holiday for huge number of people. There are many traditions, like ripping a bottle of wine and arguing with your shitty cousin about inane things, hostility over the course of family dinner, followed by watching holiday themed horror movies while ignoring the rest of your family and so on. So this really sets you in the mood for a really depressingly wonderful Christmas Movie. If so then look no further than Christmas Evil.

THE HISTORY: Originally conceived as a big budget Hollywood production titled SANTA by writer-director Lewis Jackson (who apparently came up with the idea after getting high and seeing an image of Santa Claus with a knife), CHRISTMAS EVIL was thought to be too weird by most producers Jackson showed the script to. Told he would be better off making it as an independent feature, it took Jackson almost eight months to raise the money for the film, which was then being called YOU BETTER WATCH OUT (depending on where you view the film, some versions still use this title). Jackson envisioned the film more as a morality play and character study than slasher film, although obviously it was marketed as such to drum up interest during its release. (Unfortunately, it's Jackson's final film credit as director.)

Carrying the film is Brandon Maggart (aka Fiona Apple's dad!) as Harry Stadling, a man whose love of Christmas goes above and beyond what most people would consider healthy. Maggart's performance is phenomenal; one of those instances where you feel as though the actor really was living the part. As Harry sees the people around him show an un-jolly disregard for the true meaning of Christmas, his mind snaps and he begins to think of himself as the real Saint Nick, who becomes something of a moral arbiter in his town: If you're nice, you get a present. If you're naughty, well, better hope Harry doesn't have anything too sharp in his sack. Refreshingly, Jackson doesn't pummel this idea into the ground; he could have just made Harry a raving lunatic who goes on a punishing spree, as Silent Night's Billy Chapman would do a few years later. Harry actually doesn't want to hurt anyone, not really; he'd rather bring good cheer with him, as he does when he's finagled into entering a holiday party and brightening up the event. Instead of nonstop bloodshed, Christmas Evil is more interested in depicting Harry's slow burn mental breakdown, as his soul becomes ever so weary as he sees the continued corruption of the holiday. Watching Maggart become so unhinged in the role is a wicked treat; it has to be one of the most underrated performances in horror history.

PARTING SHOT: You've likely exhausted all of the obvious holiday horror movies out there; how many more times can you watch Gremlins? (Okay, a lot more, but you know what I mean.) Christmas Evil offers a much different take on the subgenre, one that's quite a bit different than what you're probably used to. And if you've seen it already, there's no better time to revisit this sick Santa.

Captivating and utterly curious are the words which spring to mind to describe "Christmas Evil" which on its original release was called "You Better Watch Out". It's curious because this is billed as a horror movie and a friend who recommended I watched it sold it as a man obsessed with Santa turning into a real sick old Santa who hurts those on his naughty list. And as such I can understand why back in 1980 people objected to this movie without even watching it; in fact I am sure I would have at one point. But there is more to "Christmas Evil" than that and much more than my friend suggested.

As to what happens well let me just say that as you watch "Christmas Evil" you won't be sure how mad Harry will become as we see him dressed as Santa wielding a large kitchen knife yet in a scene shortly after he shows up at a children's hospital with his van full of toys. On the subject of his van he has it decorated with a sleigh painted on its side as he goes full Santa. It certainly keeps your attention as part of you wonders whether his obsessed behaviour will mount to anything and then you begin to fear the worst. Yes I am being vague but that is because "Christmas Evil" works on a couple of levels which work best when you don't know exactly what happens.

Part home invasion horror, part slasher and the best M. Night Shyamalan ending that M. Night Shyamalan wishes he wrote, Better Watch Out follows babysitter Ashley as she watches Luke during the holidays. When a group of intruders invades the house Ashley finds herself in a life and death fight to protect young Luke and herself, question is, is she protecting the right people?

RELIGIOUS missionaries once considered the Japanese language to be the work of Satan, the devil's language, created in hell and made inhumanly difficult to learn in order to frustrate their preaching. Today, however, despite its ominous reputation, record numbers of United States students are enrolling in Japanese classes with the hope of landing high-paying jobs when they graduate.In the past decade, the number of students at two- and four-year colleges enrolled in Japanese language programs has seen more than a four-fold increase, from 11,506 in 1980 to 45,717 in 1990, according to the Modern Language Association in New York. But the US track record with foreign languages is a poor one, and even those languages similar to English, such as French or Spanish, remain a mystery to many Americans who sat through countless hours of high school classes. Japanese is far from similar. Compared with English, sentences are longer and are said backward; personal pronouns are almost nonexistent; subjects, and sometimes even verbs, are omitted; and the slightest mispronunciation can be the difference between saying that you were woken and that you were raped, between introducing yourself as someone's adviser and announcing that you are their anus. These difficulties notwithstanding, today's students seem to be faring far better than their parents did. m always amazed at how well they do," says Prof. Kiyoko Morita of Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. "When I see how quickly they pick it up, I think to myself that the Japanese people had better watch out, economically and in business." Prof. Kazuko Ozawa of Harvard University agrees. "They're doing very well. For many of them, after studying three or four years they're at a point where they can go over to Japan and begin to make good progress." The implication is clear: Those who intend to use it professionally must expect to put in some time in Japan before considering themselves proficient. The reason for this may be that the culture is so different from that of the US. Vocabulary and grammatical patterns can be memorized, but cultural aspects of the society that are manifest in the language are far too complicated to be taught in a classroom. Japanese is a situational language and the way something is said differs with the relationship between speaker, listener, or the person about whom they are speaking; their respective families, ages, professional statuses, and companies all affect the way they express themselves. In this respect, Japanese isn't one language but a group of them, changing with a dizzying array of social conventions with which Americans have no experience. Japanese people are raised dealing with the shifting concepts of in group/out group, male and female speech patterns, appropriate politeness levels, and humble and honorific forms of speech. An unwary student, armed only with a few years of classroom Japanese, can pile up mistakes in this regard very quickly. Because of these difficulties, few students sign up for the language simply to fill out their schedules, and the majority of those studying the language intend to use it professionally. But despite the allure of the Japanese market for US companies, so far, few of them seem interested in hiring Japanese-speaking Americans. The best a typical liberal arts major with a Japanese background can hope for is to be hired over candidates for whom all other things are equal. "American companies still don't seem eager to hire someone just because he knows Japanese," says Carl Kay, president of the Boston-based translating company, Japan Language Services. "They just aren't sure what to do with them." The job market with Japanese companies is slightly better but still less than would be expected. The situation is very different for students who have a second skill, in addition to Japanese. Kathleen Schaeffer of the Japan program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., says, "Students who combine Japanese with something else, such as a law degree, an MBA, or some form of technical expertise, enter the job market with a powerful combination." Toward this end, some colleges, mos t notably MIT, offer technical Japanese classes to this level of student. So, while the job market for Japanese-speaking graduates remains weak, the language's reputation as the devil's language may be on its way out. "It's a long gone myth," laughs Professor Morita. "Before, the Japanese teachers themselves had bad attitudes. They thought the language was difficult and they passed that feeling on to their students. It's not that they did a bad job but they had no experience teaching. They were mostly housewives. But nowadays there are so many trained, experienced teachers that the situation is different. And Americans are not inept at learning languages so they shouldn't be afraid to tackle this." With this in mind, her advice to prospective students is simple. "Just go for it," she smiles. 041b061a72


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