Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Horror and Christmas are two great tastes that taste great together. Contrasting the jolliest day of the year with monsters, murder, and mayhem are obviously fascinating, and something the action genre has repeatedly taken advantage of. Moreover, Christmas is a pretty weird day, when you think about it. Santa Claus, especially, is a strange figure, an omniscient being who watches all our actions, judges, and bends time to his will in order to sneak into your house. Holiday traditions all over the world frequently bring macabre or horrific elements to Christmas. There have been many Christmas horror films made over the years, so many that a killer Santa Claus no longer surprises. In 1984, when “Silent Night, Deadly Night” was originally released, the idea of a killer Santa Claus was shocking enough to lead to boycotts from the PTA and picketing around the country. Unlike more sophisticated Christmas horror fare like “Black Christmas,” “Silent Night, Deadly Night” gives the audience exactly what they want, providing sleazy, gory, mean-spirited violence with holiday trappings, while also being more character oriented then you’d expect a greasy eighties slasher flick to be.
It’s also hilarious. The film begins with the Chapman family, dad Jim, Mom Ellie, five year old son Billy, and infant son Ricky on a Christmas road trip to visit Grandpa in the nursing home. The parents spent two minutes with the catatonic old man before wandering off, leaving their pre-school age son in the hands of an unmoving old man. Sensing blood, the Old Man springs to life and delivers a monologue about how Christmas is the scariest night of the year. Following that, the family jumps back in the car and drives off. Why a family would drive all day to spend seconds with a relative, leave a little boy alone with a comatose grandparent, or whether Grandpa is truly demented or was simply binding his time, waiting for an opportunity to traumatize his grandchild, are unimportant questions. “Silent Night, Deadly Night” functions on its own level of reality.
a bad mullet while stiffly delivering his lines. Lilyan Chauvin plays Mother Superior straight-faced, bringing method actor intensity to this light-weight, ridiculous material. The tone is never less then melodramatic, with hilarious images like an eight year old punching a grown man across a room decorating the presentation.
After a solid half-hour of hysterically overwrought character building, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” finally gets to the point. Adult Billy, now a six foot tall body-builder, gets a job at a toy store, where he bonds with his boss, female co-worker, and asshole stock manager. However, as Christmas season approaches, Billy becomes uneasy, haunted by disturbing dreams. When the actor hired to play Santa Claus injures himself, Mr. Sims immediately decides the six foot tall, emotionally disturbed body builder is the right man to play the jolly, fat elf. In one of the film’s most (probably) unintentionally funny bits, Billy sternly threatens the children who sit on his lap with punishment, the kids running away in tears, the shop owners smiling and laughing about “how good [Billy] is with kids.” Inevitably, at the post-Christmas office party, the aforementioned asshole stock manager attempts to rape the object of Billy’s affection, sending the dime-store Santa over the edge, spurning on his murdering spree. After claiming several lives in festive fashion, our sadistic Santa hunts down Mother Superior to get his final revenge.
The dramatic contrivances build up as the film barrels towards its climax. The police can’t call the orphanage and warn the nuns because one of the kids left the only phone off the hook. The cops shoot a man in a Santa suit approaching the orphanage, only to find out that was kindly Father O’Brian, the deaf-mute pastor! When Billy does show up to take his revenge on Mother Superior, she doesn’t run or try to get the other kids to safety. Instead, she looks the killer right in the eyes and says, repeatedly, “There is no Santa Claus!,” as if that would stop him.
The movie’s good natured stupidity and camp balances out that mean tone. Robert Brian Wilson is a terrible actor, grunting monosyllabically behind his improbable Santa’s beard. The movie is loosely plotted, Billy mostly murdering random people before working his way back to Mother Superior. Most of the characters are aggressively sleazy cartoons. And what about those fucking awful original songs? “Santa’s Creeping?” “The Warm Side of the Door?” No wonder Billy goes crazy. Still, for all its dumbness, the film knows its audience. The gore effects are wet and creative. Each kill ties into the holiday setting, involving everything from Christmas lights to a sled. The sex and gore are piled on, with two rape scenes and four different sets of breasts. This is delightfully sleazy, deliriously campy, empty-headed holiday horror entertainment. Paired with a glass of eggnog, it’s the perfect antidote to a horror fan’s Christmas blues. [7.5/10]