42nd Street Cinema

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Charles E. Sellier Jr.'s Silent Night, Deadly Night. Riding in the same sleigh as Christmas Evil (1980), a controversial seasonal slasher in which a deranged 18 year old, dressed as Santa takes it upon himself to dish out severe punishment to those he deems 'naughty'.

Upon the film's original release it was apparently one of the most controversial films of the 1980s due to the killer being dressed as Santa Claus. Even the PTA fought to get this film removed from theaters. Critics; Siskel and Ebert condemned the film as well, as mobs of angry parents forming groups around theaters to protest against the film. The original distributor; TriStar Pictures pulled ads for the film six days after its release, shortly after that the film was fully withdrawn. Ironically all of the above acts as marvelous publicity for a film that without it, probably wouldn't have reached the cult status it holds today.

The initial set up begins Christmas Eve, 1971 with a young Billy Chapman visiting his catatonic grandfather who resides in a mental hospital. His parents briefly leave him alone with Grandpa who suddenly snaps out of his state and begins to educate Billy about the frightening truth to the legend of Santa Claus. Explaining how Santa not only rewards the good boys and girls handsomely, but punishes the naughty ones. As soon as Billy's parents return to the room Grandpa conveniently slips back in to his catatonic state. Upon leaving the mental hospital Billy seems somewhat shaken by Grandpa's tale and is now worried about being punished by Santa, his mother reassures him that Grandpa is just crazy.

Sadly just around the corner is a petty criminal who holds up a convenience store, dressed in a full Santa Claus suit. He kills the clerk by blasting him twice in the chest and once in the head before raiding the register and exiting, only to exclaim 'Thirty one bucks? Merry fucking Christmas!" - a clear example of this film's sheer grittiness. Cutting back to Billy and co. on their drive home, they happen to run in to the criminal Santa. What follows is a vile scene involving Billy's father being shot in the head causing the car to stop and allowing Billy to escape, running to hide on the opposite side of the road. He then watches his father's corpse flop from the car to the asphalt as his door is opened, his mother is then chased down, her shirt ripped open exposing her breasts during an attempted rape, she however resists and then ends up having her throat slit by the maniacal thug. Frequently throughout the scene there is an overdubbing of Billy's baby brother's screaming, creating immense sensations of unease and displeasure.

Three years pass. Billy and his younger brother are living in a Catholic orphanage. Clearly haunted by his parent's deaths he draws a graphic picture of Santa Claus who's been stabbed to death alongside a decapitated reindeer. Sent to see Mother Superior (sounding like something reminiscent to that of an Argento trilogy), who confines Billy to his room as punishment. The situation becomes progressively worse at the orphanage for Billy, as we see another series of run-ins with Mother Superior who teaches him that "Punishment is necessary, punishment is good". An interesting piece of satire on Catholicism and possible religious child grooming.

Leaping in to the year 1984, Billy is now 18. The sympathetic Nun at the orphanage; Sister Margaret is assisting him in his search for a job. Eventually finding a placement at Ira's Toy Store. Things go well for Billy until once again it's Christmas time and a co-worker, set to dress up as Santa has been injured leaving it to Billy to don the Santa costume, he rather reluctantly and with no real other choice, accepts. Later that night the staff are throwing a party, co-worker Andy takes Pamela (another co-worker of Billy's who he has a crush on) in to the stockroom and attempts to rape her. Billy enters a few minutes after and snaps, as the attack brings back memories of his mother's demise. Since he is still wearing the Santa costume he believes he has the power to punish the naughty and so ensues Billy's killing spree.

Teeming with grimy and fiendishly inventive deaths, prominently an unforgettable deer antler impaling scene featuring scream queen Linnea Quigley places this right next to Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974) in my opinion. So admittedly the acting is sometimes weak, but it's what we as an audience, especially in this area of film have come to expect and see past.

So sod watching Will Ferrell as Elf this Christmas. Smack Silent Night, Deadly Night in your DVD player instead.

DVD: Anchor Bay
Running Time: 85 Mins
Extras: Audio Interview with Director Charles E. Sellier, Jr., Theatrical Trailer, Poster and Still Gallery, Santa's Stocking of Outrage.


DTG Reviews said...

This movie was a great slasher movie of it's time. I think there needs to be more killer Santa movies out there like this one. The sequel to this wasn't bad but it pretty much was a flashback rehash of this movie with the same story wrapped around it.

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