Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
“Shocking… disturbing… The movie they tried to ban.”
Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr
Cast: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero
Synopsis: After his parents are murdered, a young tormented teenager goes on a murderous rampage dressed as Santa, due to his stay at an orphanage where he was abused by the Mother Superior.
Silent Night, Deadly Night spends an unusually large amount of its fairly short running time providing us with the back story of its antagonist. Although it’s not a good movie by any measure, it at least briefly rises above its stubbornly low standards in a few scenes of this backstory, during which we see a murderous assault on his parents seen through the eyes of a small child. This small boy’s perspective elevates the terror of the situation to a level it wouldn’t otherwise have achieved, but sadly the reason it stands out is because every other part of this movie is so ordinary.
It’s Christmas Eve, and young Billy (Jonathan Best), his parents (Tara Buckman and Jeff Hanesen) and baby brother (Melissa Best — don’t tell her mates) are travelling to a destination that is never revealed. On the way, they swing by the Utah State Mental Hospital to visit Billy’s Granddad (Will Hare — Back to the Future) who is in some kind of catatonic trance. As all responsible parents do, Mum and Dad leave little Billy alone with his creepy Granddad for a short period of time, during which the old man suddenly reanimates long enough to frighten the bejesus out of his Grandson by telling him that Santa punishes severely anyone who hasn’t been good all year long. If that wasn’t bad enough, later that night, on a secluded stretch of road, Billy’s parents are hailed down by a man in a Santa suit standing beside a broken down car. Unknown to them, this Santa is actually a small-time robber who has just shot dead the store clerk he robbed, and he wastes no time in doing the same to Billy’s dad. Young Billy legs it, and finds a hiding place by the road from where he watches Santa brutalise his mum before slitting her throat.
Three years later, and Billy (now played Danny Wagner) is living in an orphanage run by nuns. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Billy gets a little unruly around Christmas time, and his aversion towards Santa Claus isn’t helped by the fact that the Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) attempts to cure him of his condition by tying him to his bed or forcing him to sit on Santa’s lap. Fast-forward yet again another ten years to 1984, and Billy (now played by Robert Brian Wilson) is a strapping eighteen-year-old who has just been found employment by the kindly Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) at Sims Toy Store. Billy proves to be the perfect employee to begin with, but as Christmas approaches and images of Santa Claus begin to appear, he grows noticeably ill-at-ease. His already fragile state of mind is tipped over the edge when the store’s Santa phones in sick and he is forced to play the part. Before you know it, Billy’s found himself a festive axe and is embarking on a rampage that sees him taking out the entire staff of Sim’s Toy Store as well as a few random strangers he feels are deserving of severe punishment.
It’s not a bad idea for a cheap horror movie, and it’s kind of fun seeing a series of murders carried out by Santa Claus, even if he is portrayed by a tall, slim 22-year-old actor whose agent clearly insisted that his face wasn’t to be obstructed by Santa’s voluminous beard for more than a couple of scenes, which ruins the effect somewhat. But by focusing so much on the events that led to Billy turning into a festive homicidal murderer, it leaves us with nobody to root for. The obvious target of his rage would be the Mother Superior whose tough love contributed to his condition but he doesn’t get to her until the final scene, before which we see him working his way through a number of people about whom we know nothing.
Obviously aware of the thinness of Silent Night, Deadly Night’s plot, director Charles E. Sellier Jr compensates by filling the screen with a succession of naked breasts (and one nasty, completely gratuitous, shot of Wilson’s unusually hirsute butt) that bounce fetchingly as their owners attempt to evade Santa’s axe. The murders are fairly straightforward, and presented with little imagination other than the memorable death of one girl which sees her suspended from the antlers of a wall-mounted deer. Silent Night, Deadly Night might appeal to the undemanding horror fan — it does, in fact, have quite a following, and spawned four sequels before being remade in 2012 — but its camp value can’t paper over its substandard qualities in all other areas.
(Reviewed 31st January 2014)