Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

****(out of 4 stars)

It's that time of year again when I pull out my Christmas horror films, dust them off, and throw them in the player.  It was Christmas Eve last year when my wife let me open this movie as an early gift.  I was like a kid in a candy store, eyes wide, with a slight gasp and totally excited.  The cover reminded me of the days from my childhood when I would rent from video stores.  I was just crazy about the cover:  Santa coming down the chimney with and ax in hand.  That haunting imagery would forever be etched in my mind.

Enough of my gushing. 

Young Billy (Jonathan Best) witnesses his parents brutally murdered by an impersonating Santa Claus.  A few years later he lands himself into an orphanage where he's constantly mistreated by Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin).  Fast forward a couple of years.  Billy is a grown man of 18 now (Robert Brian Wilson).  He lands himself a job at a grocery store around the holidays.  Christmas to be exact.  Every year around Christmas, Billy just isn't himself.  He's continuously reminded through vivid flashbacks of his parents' brutal murder.  But his boss, Mr. Sims, (Britt Leach) gives him the honorary job of playing the Santa Claus for all the little kids.  Once he puts the suit on, the shit hits the fan, and Billy loses it.  And the bodies start to pile up from there.

One of my favorite scenes, and one that stood out prominently when I was younger is when Billy visits his comatose Grandpa, played by Will Hare.  In this scene, Will Hare turns his creepy on and addresses the fact that Christmas is the scariest night of the year.  If Billy should see Santa on this night he'd better run!  As a child watching this scene I just remember how much it literally made my hair stand on end.  When your imagination runs wild is when you've really taken in the experience of the film.  Santa is, after all, a man who only enters the house when everyone is sleeping.  If you really sit back and think about that for a minute or two you'd make sure to lock your doors before bedtime.  As a grown man the scene obviously no longer holds that tension for me although I'd say it's still well done.

For a slasher film in the 80's the formula is pretty standard.  Equipped with the blood, gore and sex - this makes for your typical slasher film.  The body count starts to rise half way through the plot and includes a man being choked by Christmas lights, a boy beheaded as he's sleigh riding in the woods and my personal favorite, Linnea Quigley being impaled onto moose antlers.  Although this slasher didn't trend any new ground, the overall look and feel of the film are satisfying. 

Silent Night, Deadly Night opened the same weekend as, A Nightmare on Elm Street.  But after commercial ads depicting a killer Santa wreaking havoc were aired, parents were up in arms and there began a nationwide outcry for the film to be pulled out of theatres.  And eventually it was.  Film critics Siskel and Ebert hated it, and Mickey Rooney condemned the film and its makers.  The irony of that tidbit is Rooney would later go on to play in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 5: The Toy Maker.  Way to stand your ground, Mick.

With a vast array of biblical films, and The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Silent Night, Deadly Night seems an unlikely project for director, Charles E. Sellier Jr..  Silent Night, Deadly Night was a huge success and beat out A Nightmare on Elm Street upon its initial release.  The film grossed 2,491,460, before being pulled, making back the 750,000 it was made for.  I assume that Mr. Sellier did something right.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is a special movie.  A movie that gained much notoriety and hatred from those who ultimately helped make this movie a success.  That same notoriety and hatred for the film is the reason why I'm even able to talk about it now.  It would've been swept under the rug; forgotten and barely seen except for the few die hard fans that would go searching high and low for it.  The film for many years was actually hard to find and out of print.  Fortunately it was released last December by Anchor Bay.  The dvd includes part 2 with it.  This film is father to a few sequels; none of which are better than the original.

So you better watch out and you'd better not cry.  Santa is out to "punish" you!

Starring:  Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Linnea Quigley

Written by:  Michael Hickey (Story by:  Paul Caimi)

Directed by:  Charles E Sellier Jr.

85 min (Unrated Version)