Monday, December 5, 2016

25 Days of Christmas: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

Welcome to Day 5 of our 25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS series, where we will be taking a look at holiday classics each day in the lead up to Christmas. Today, I'll be reviewing the 1984 holiday themed horror movie, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 

Looking back on Silent Night, Deadly Night thirty-two years after it premiered, it comes across as a slow to build movie with kill scenes and scares that are pretty tame by today’s standards of the horror genre. Yet, even today, very few holiday horror movies have opened to such controversy and opposition to its release as Silent Night, Deadly Night did back in 1984. 

On December 10th of that year, the Catholic Church gave Silent Night, Deadly Nightthe special honor of topping the list of offensive holiday movies, describing it as “a little abomination of the slash and bash genre.” In its review of Silent Night, Deadly Night, Variety wrote: “Picture commits the blasphemy of turning America's best loved institution into a slasher. Results are quite (unintentionally) hilarious and for those few who hate Christmas, this could be their favorite film of the season.” Because of the moral outrage over the topic of this movie, Silent Night, Deadly Night was largely pulled from theaters the night before it was set to open. Despite this, Silent Night, Deadly Night went on to become a cult favorite among horror movie fans.

I first saw Silent Night, Deadly Night on a video rental back in the late 1980s and it quickly became one of my favorite slasher movies for one very important reason: the script writers took the time to actually create a plausible reason for how the killer went from wholesome eighteen-year old to psychotic Santa with an axe. Another reason is that, as a small child, I had a frightening experience with a Santa Claus. Nothing like what Billy in the movie goes through, but it was scary to me!

Silent Night, Deadly Night, which was directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr. and written by Paul Caimi (story) and Michael Hickey, is admittedly a slow building movie with very little of the typical horror movie scenes at the beginning. Instead, it centers around the setting up of the psychotic break Billy Chapman would eventually succumb to once he is talked into donning a Santa Suit.

You see Santa Claus tonight you better run boy, you better run for ya life! 

The events of Silent Night, Deadly Night begin in 1971 when young Billy (Jonathan Best) is on a car trip on Christmas Eve with his family to visit with Grandpa (Will Hare) in the Utah Mental Hospital. They are the typical American family with the pretty blonde mom Ellie (Tara Buckman), the handsome but scholarly looking dad Jim (Geoff Hanson), a young son, and baby boy. One of the scarier scenes in this movie is in this part of the car trip. Of course, it’s the 1970s and this family seems not to have heard of the dangers of sitting in the front seat of a moving vehicle while holding an infant on your lap, talk about scary stuff. However, in the late-night drive back towards home, a car seat magically appears in the backseat for baby to sit in.

At the mental hospital, Gramps is just a bundle of scary as soon as Billy is left alone with him and puts the fear of Santa Claus into the boy with visions of what this not so jolly version does to ‘naughty children.’ I think gramps has Santa confused with Krampus, but that’s another movie. 

 On their drive back home this typical American family gets waylaid by a nasty man dressed in a Santa suit (veteran ‘bad guy’ character actor Charles Dierkop), who proceeds to make Billy believe that Gramps was sane as sane can be. Watching his parents get killed leaves the boy mentally scarred as he and his baby brother Ricky are remanded over to a Catholic orphanage.

At the orphanage, we see that a slightly older Billy (Danny Wagner) has been dominated over by the stereotypical version of the harsh task master Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin). It is here that his psychological trigger of ‘naughty will be punished’ begins to truly be imprinted on his young mind and his fear of Santa Claus is never dealt with even though kindly Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) wants to do so. While the Mother Superior character and the Sister Margaret character are one dimensional in their construct, they are effective in shaping the future of the psychotic break that comes to Billy.

Silent Night, Deadly Night starts to establish itself as a legit slasher type horror movie when we catch up with now eighteen-year old Billy Chapman (Robert Brian Wilson). Billy has grown into a muscular, handsome, and sweet natured young man whom Sister Margaret has gotten a job as a stock boy at the local toy store. More stereotypical characters pop up and naturally Billy finds himself attracted to the lovely co-worker, Pamela (Toni Nero) and gets berated by his bullying co-worker, Andy (Randy Stumpf). Everything is still ok, until the boss talks Billy into dressing as the store Santa. After that, a series of trigger events happen that are reminiscent of the deaths of his parents and send the Santa suited young man over the edge of madness and he goes on a killing spree. With axe in hand, Billy/Santa begins meting out punishment to those who are ‘naughty.’ Including scream queen icon Linnea Quigley in one of her very first horror movie roles.

Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t that scary or even that slashery compared to movies today, but it still stands solid as a movie that gave the viewing audience an understanding of how a psychotic killer can be created. The writers made the audience understand the ‘monster’ in the movie. We watched Billy go from happy child eager to see Santa, to a boy tormented by nightmares of an evil Santa, to becoming the very thing that his nightmares were made of. In the end of the movie as Billy laying dying on the orphanage floor in his blood-soaked Santa suit, his last belief was that everyone was safe now because he as Santa Claus was stopped. 

Well, that is until the camera pans up the handle of the fallen axe to find that it has landed at the feet of Billy’s younger brother Ricky (Alex Burton) and Ricky is giving Mother Superior a look of sheer contempt as he decrees the whole event to be ‘naughty.’ Sequel set up!
Marla’s Score: 7/10

Be sure to stay tuned throughout the rest of the month! We're posting a new Christmas review every day, both old and new! Check back to see what movie we'll have you singing carols next!

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