When choosing which Christmas movie to watch, there’s really only one question you need to answer, and it’s “What does John Waters think of this film?”
In the case of Christmas Evil, originally released in 1980 as You Better Watch Out, the Waters opinion is glowing: “Greatest Christmas movie ever made.” That by itself was more than enough reason to watch this “killer Santa Claus” movie for December’s Of Dreck & Drink. And what better beer to pair this film with than Southern Tier’s Krampus, an imperial helles lager/pilsner inspired by the European demon who punishes the children on St. Nick’s naughty list? Truly, it was a no-brainer.
The concept of a killer Santa Claus had been done only twice before Christmas Evil, and both times the killer in question was simply a madman who happened to don a Santa suit. (Silent Night, Deadly Night, the most famous “killer santa” movie, came out in 1984 and largely ripped off the beats of Christmas Evil.) This film, train wreck though it may be, had much loftier ambitions than a simple slasher flick. Rather, Christmas Evil is a sincere attempt to capture a disturbed middle-aged man’s slow descent into madness, as seen through the lens of his fixation with Santa Claus. Where it fails is in adequately making us understand why we should care or why he’s so messed up in the first place. The entire root of his psychosis boils down to one “unimaginably horrible” childhood moment: He saw mommy kissing, and also being groped by, Santa. Flash forward 35 years, and he’s apparently never experienced any other kind of stimulus, because that incident has completely dominated every aspect of his life. We know this because the movie subtly begins with him sleeping in bed, dressed as Santa.
By the time this film’s screeching musical cues drag you past the five minute mark, one begins to feel the oncoming of a headache not unlike a hangover. And that being the case, you might as well indulge in something that will give you the real thing. Enter Southern Tier’s Krampus, a brawny pale lager inspired by folklore’s favorite demon who whips small children with birch branches and rusty chains. It’s an assertive, nearly overwhelming beer, 9% ABV with a chewy malt backbone that presents bread and toffee flavors. The malt dukes it out with a punch of bitter, herbal hops that remind me of thyme and rosemary, finishing on the bitter side despite its high alcohol. If there was such a thing as “artisanal malt liquor,” it would probably end up a lot like this, and I say that in the best possible way. (Perhaps Steel Reserve can take a crack at this million-dollar idea?)
The malt liquor comparison may be apt simply because a can of Steel Reserve is what you drink when you’re waiting around for nothing to happen, and by happy coincidence, “waiting for nothing to happen” accurately describes the plot of Christmas Evil. Scenes of our “protagonist” Harry mostly involve him puttering around the house or sad-sacking his way through another work day at the toy factory (naturally). This continues until the viewer can’t help but wonder when the horror is supposed to begin. It’s the weirdest thing about the film—at 45 minutes in, we’ve seen him do literally nothing that could be considered villainous. Rather, his main accomplishment has been to steal toys from the stingy corporate factory and deliver them to the “Willowy Springs State Hospital for Retarded Children.” (Yes, that is the real name.)
Until, that is, Harry finally snaps and begins stabbing people. Yes, dressed in his Santa suit and driving an inconspicuous, windowless van with a sleigh painted on the side, he goes searching for vengeance against his non-jolly coworkers. Or at least that’s what he attempts to do before becoming distracted and MURDERING A GROUP OF COMPLETELY RANDOM PEOPLE ON THE STEPS OF A CHURCH. After this jarring tonal shift, all bets are off as he continues on an entirely confusing holiday rampage.
By this point, the beer has warmed and stagnated—warm is not the way this style is meant to be consumed, let us note. The film, likewise, goes into an incredible holding pattern as it desperately seeks enough padding to reach feature length. Harry is pulled off the street randomly into a party of drunken revelers, where he spends 10 minutes dancing, making vague threats toward the children, and essentially behaving exactly like your typical middle-aged man in a Santa costume. Immediately thereafter, he stalks a coworker’s home with murder in mind, only to get stuck in the man’s chimney for another five minutes. After giving himself an apparent hernia wriggling out, he then enters through a completely open downstairs window he passed by minutes before. The pace is not what you would call “brisk.”
It’s all saved, however, by one of the greatest non-sequitur endings in film history, and I implore you to seek this portion out if nothing else. Chased by a mob inexplicably wielding torches in the style of Frankenstein, Harry drives his sleigh van off a bridge. It smashes through the barricade, hovers for a moment … and then soars into the night sky. Yes, as it turns out, Harry possessed magical Santa powers the whole damn movie! But there’s no time to ruminate on it, because that’s the end, as abrupt as it is insane. He simply flies away, conveniently at the same moment when the crew ran out of film stock.
Watching Christmas Evil is like suddenly becoming one of the children on Krampus’ naughty list. When I wake up with a headache, it will be difficult to tell whether it’s the result of the potent imperial lager or a film ending seemingly devised by the goat-faced Christmas demon himself. My advice to you: Don’t mess with Krampus, and don’t watch Christmas Evil unless you’re looking to perform some sort of Christmas penance.
So, what’s it gonna be?
A beer for your wish list:
Southern Tier Krampus
Cinematic punishment. (You’ve been bad.):