Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013: December 24

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.

Anyway, a robber in a Santa suit pulls the family over, murders the father, sexually assaults the mother, and traumatizes Billy and Ricky for life. While in the care of a catholic orphanage, Billy is further traumatized by the psychotic Mother Superior. When presented with a child’s drawing of a dismembered Santa Claus and reindeer, Mother Superior doesn’t consult a child psychologist but instead locks Billy in his room. (Why a strict Catholic wouldn’t even allow kids to talk about Santa Claus, I don’t know.) When Billy walks in on a humping pair of teenager, Mother Superior whips the fucking teens as well as Billy, all while going on about punishment. She ties him to his bed when he has bad dreams and forces him to sit on Santa’s lap, even though he really, really doesn’t want too. The distressing nature of the child abuse is hilariously undermined by the inept execution. Child actor Danny Wagner sports 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 absurdity mounts during the slasher escapades of the latter half. Like any good Catholic, Billy blames Pamela for her rape, gutting his romantic crush with a box cutter. The murders go unheard by the shop owner, who shrugs off the strange noises as the result of his drinking. The stalking scene through the toy shop has a few clever bits. However, you have to wonder why a toy shop would stock a fully working box and arrow… The movie’s most notorious moment is, no doubt, it’s most entertaining. Nudity prone scream queen Linnea Quigley is getting hot and heavy with her boyfriend in the basement. Their attempted seasonal rutting is interrupted first by the girl’s little sister and then the cat wanting in. Dressed in a pair of cut-off jean shorts and nothing else, Linnea goes outside into the snow to let the cat in. Naturally, the killer springs, tumbles the nude girl around the living room, before impaling her on a pair of strategically placed reindeer antlers. The boyfriend, meanwhile, doesn’t hear any of the screaming, wall slashing, or glass breaking. After both are dead, Santa gifts the little sister with a bloody box cutter, she too apparently not hearing the noisy murders that had just taken place.

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 most endearing thing about “Silent Night, Deadly Night” is its deeply misanthropic, anti-Christmas streak. The first murder, the Santa Suit-clad robber shooting a gas station attendant, begins with the worker complaining about the fakeness of the holiday and ends with the murderer shouting “Merry fucking Christmas!” Christmas is presented as a night of judgment and moral hypocrisy. During the toy shop murder, Christmas decorations of Santa and his elves watch, coldly, disinterested, as innocent victims are brutally slain. Twice in the film, Santa Claus is shot to death in front of a room of kids. The most visually striking moment in the film is when Billy, randomly, turns his wrath on an innocent snowman. Just because he hates the season that much. Director Charles E. Sellier has claimed he had no agenda while making the film but clearly someone on the creative team really fucking hated Christmas. This makes “Silent Night, Deadly Night” ideal holiday counter-programming.

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]

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