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Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) (out of 4)
Directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Starring Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Robert Brian Wilson, Linnea Quigley
Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 (1987) (out of 4)
Directed by Lee Harry
Starring Eric Freeman, James Newman, Elizabeth Kaitan, Jean Miller
I remember in 1984, when I was about 11 years old, the brouhaha that Silent Night Deadly Night stirred up. Angry mothers were picketing outside movie theaters protesting the depiction of a psycho killer with an ax dressed in a Santa suit. It’s amazing, the things the people choose to get worked up over, especially back in the early 80′s. Nowadays, if somebody released a killer Santa movie, people wouldn’t even blink. Of course, back then it was the Reagan era, so it was perfectly normal for Nancy to come on Different Strokes telling us how bad drugs are while Rambo dropped into Vietnam and single-handedly won the war for us. Let’s just say it was a bad time for intellectuals.
Turns out that Silent Night Deadly Night is a neat little slasher flick that actually tries to be more than it is. What surprised me upon viewing the film so many years later is that it makes an effort to understand our killer (Robert Brian Wilson)- to explain why he does what he does. So in that respect, the movie earns some points – you are shown what happens to little Billy as a child – how he witnesses the shocking murder of his parents by a guy dressed as Santa – the aftermath in an orphanage where a hard-ass Mother Superior teaches him that the naughty must be punished – we are talking about scenes from the So You Want to be a Serial Killer handbook, folks.
More props must be given to the film for giving a horror audience what they came for. We get images of Santa Claus with a bloody ax, Santa brutalizing women, Santa shooting people, Santa chopping off heads… and a sequence with scream queen Linnea Quigley showing off her assets before being impaled on deer horns. There are also plenty of helpings of humor – witness the one scene where our anti-hero asks a little girl if she has really been good. She says yes; he gives her a bloody exacto knife as a present. Or the beheading of a snowman, an unnecessary act (how was the snowman naughty, exactly?) but completely hilarious. The film isn’t squeamish about its sex and violence, and it isn’t squeamish about telling people where to stick their holidays. Offensive to Catholics, Republicans, and lovers of Christmas everywhere, the film is a bit over-the-top, making it impossible to take seriously.
I did see some underlying jabs at Catholicism, and it’s interesting to note that most of the protests surrounding the film dealt with the way Santa Claus was portrayed – hardly anybody talked about the evil nun, who as one reviewer commented, would be at home during the Inquisition.
Silent Night Deadly Night is worth seeing for evoking nostalgia of what slasher movies used to be like (unlike the glossed up 90210-style horror that we had to endure in the 90s). The same can’t be said for the ridiculous “sequel” – Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2, which, incredulously, offers not much more than the first movie repackaged in a new box. I’m not kidding – the first 35 minutes or so are just flashbacks from the first film – something that even the most horrible sequels don’t have the gall to do. (I believe that only Boogeyman II was this obnoxious). There are two possibilities – either the filmmakers wanted to save us the trouble of renting the first movie by giving us a glorified clip show from hell (“Last time on Silent Night Deadly Night…”), or they had zero budget and a one-page script, with intentions of cashing in on the cult status of the original. No extra points for the correct answer.
Little Ricky (Eric Freeman), the brother of our killer Billy in the last movie, is grown up now and has inherited his brother’s dislike for naughtiness. In the office of his 13th psychiatrist, he tells his family’s back-story, including events following the first movie, where Ricky kills random do-badders. (There is one clever murder sequence involving an umbrella). Just when you think we might get into some kind of original footage, the filmmakers take us into an excruciatingly painful movie theater sequence that – get this – shows us footage from the first film again!
While the badly filmed scenes could be explained away by a nonexistent budget, the “acting” here, especially by our main character Freeman (who is outperformed by his own eyebrows!), is so awful, that it makes Robert Brian Wilson’s performance in the first film look like Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. The movie is horrible any way you look at it; even an amusing killing spree in a yuppie neighborhood can’t quite save it. Although, I can see that, given enough Jagermeister shots one might appreciate the performances here – one might even start thinking that Freeman’s performance was intentional. I’m not sure – what do I make of the (admittedly funny) scene where Ricky shouts Garbage Day! before shooting a guy taking out his trash can? The girlfriend uttering the line “uh-oh” as Ricky starts chasing her; Mother Superior’s home – with address 666. Come to think of it, this movie is quite funny in its awfulness. I might have forgiven it if almost half the running time wasn’t a repeat.
Anchor Bay releases both movies on one DVD in wide-screen and mono. There is an informative inside booklet, an audio interview with the director of the first movie, Charles Sellier, Jr., and, for some reason, audio commentary for the second film by writer/directory Lee Harry, who has a great sense of humor about the whole affair.