“Silent Night, Deadly Night” (1984)
Studio: TriStar Pictures
Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Robert Brian Wilson, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Britt Leach, Linnea Quigley
Directed by: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Running Time: 85 min.
Synopsis: A teenager whose parents were killed when he was a kid by a man dressed as Santa, gets revenge on others who are naughty and dresses as Santa while on his killing spree.
If you want to see a really good cheesy Christmas horror film this holiday season, then Silent Night, Deadly Night is for you. Although the film is heavy on the cheese, it’s a great horror movie all around from the 1980’s. The film was plagued by controversy when it was released in 1984, due to the fact that the killer was dressed in a Santa Claus suit and all the theatrical posters featured someone in a Santa suit going down a chimney carrying an ax. With all the parents complaints, the studio that released the film, Tri-Star, pulled it from theaters. Once it went to VHS it gained a cult following that it still has today. The film also spawned a bunch of sequels that were terrible and unwatchable. One of the sequels, Part 5: The Toy Maker, stars Mickey Rooney, who actually bashed the first film when it came out, saying it was a disgrace to make a killer Santa Claus film.
The film starts off with a husband and wife and their two sons (Billy, age 5 and Ricky, just a baby) driving down a country road to visit the husband’s father in a mental hospital for Christmas. The scene is picture prefect with the family listening to Christmas songs on the radio and smiling at each other. Yes, the prefect happy family on Christmas Eve night. When they get to the hospital, the grandfather is catatonic and doesn’t respond to them. The family leaves Billy in the room with grandpa for moment while they look at his records and once everyone is gone, grandpa starts talking to Billy. He scares him by telling him that Christmas Eve is the scariest night of the whole year. He continues to tell him if your naughty, Santa will punish you. He asks Billy if he’s been naughty, which he nods, yes. Grandpa tells Billy if he sees Santa you better run for your life. Once the parents come back in, grandpa goes back to his catatonic state. The family then leaves, but Billy whispers to grandpa that he’ll be good from now on. This was a great scene. The grandfather is creepy as hell and puts fear into the kid. A great way to start off the film that almost foresees what’s about to happen to the family.
As the family is driving home they come across Santa himself, who is having some car trouble. Billy freaks out when he sees Santa and tells his father not to stop. He should have listened to his son, because this is not the real Santa. The guy takes a gun out to hold them up. The father backs up, but is shot and killed by the crazy Santa. The car rolls in a ditch and Billy jumps out of it and hides behind a bush. He watches as Santa tries to rape and then kill his mother by slicing her throat. Santa then tries to look for Billy and screams, “Where are you? You little bastard!”, as the baby cries in the car.
The two sons somehow survive the ordeal and are shipped off to a Catholic orphanage. It is now three years and it’s Christmas once again. The two boys are a little older and Billy is traumatized by the death of his parents. The orphanage is run by a tyrant named Mother Superior, played by veteran actress, Lilyan Chauvin who is fed up with Billy’s weird behavior that includes drawing a picture of Santa with a bunch of knives stabbed in him. The only one who understands is Sister Margaret, who can see he’s deeply disturbed from the way his parents were killed. Mother Superior believes that he doesn’t even remember the event and will deal with Billy her own way.
Billy is sent to his room for the rest of the day, but Sister Margaret gives him the okay to go outside. Before venturing outdoors, he over hears someone. He looks into a peephole and sees two teenagers having sex. This image brings back horrible memories of his mother getting raped. Mother Superior catches Billy spying then barges into the room and beats the hell out of the teenagers with a leather strap. Billy runs outside to play with his brother, but then is confronted by Mother Superior and she tells him that what they were doing was naughty and if you do something naughty, you’ll be punished. It’s almost like the same thing his grandfather said to him, so these thoughts are forced on Billy throughout his childhood.
Billy is punished for leaving his room, even though Sister Margaret said it was all right, he is beaten by leather strap and sent to bed. In the middle of the night he has nightmares and starts wandering around the orphanage. He is caught of course and Mother Superior ties him to his bed. Then on Christmas Day, Mother Superior forces Billy to sit on Santa’s lap, thinking it will help him. Billy gives Santa a knock out punch and runs upstairs. The scene is awesome and it’s cool to see this little kid knock out this big goofy Santa. Billy hides in a corner mumbling to himself that he didn’t mean to be naughty. Suddenly we hear the haunting voice of Mother Superior coming to get him. You feel bad for the kid that goes from one traumatic experience to another with no sign of help for him and each situation gets worse and worse for Billy.
Ten years later, Billy is 18 and ready to leave the orphanage. Sister Margaret gets him a job at a local toy store. Things start to finally look up for him. In one of the highlights of the film and in 80’s fashion, there’s a cool montage with a country Christmas song playing called Warm Side of the Door. The song will be stuck in your head days after you hear it. The montage is so cheesy it’s great. There are scenes with Billy stocking shelves with toys and helping little kids. There’s a part where Billy is straightening up some books on a display and his boss, Mr. Simms (played by TV actor Britt Leach), gives a confident proud nod to the kid. Then when Billy is in the back room eating lunch, his co-worker offers him a shot of Jim Bean, but he turns it down and holds up his drink, a small milk carton. Then towards the end of the montage, Mr. Simms comes out with a huge Christmas banner with Santa smack in the middle. Billy sees this and all of his newfound happiness is gone and now is filled with darkness.
On a side note, I have to point out that the toy store is very cool, it’s nothing fancy, just a simple toy store, but that’s what makes it great. It kind of reminds me of toy stores from my childhood. They are a lot of cool items in the store, like G.I. Joe Halloween costumes and Return of the Jedi toys, like Jabba the Hut play set. Brought back a lot of memories for me.
With Christmas season in full swing, Billy tries to gets his mind off the holiday season by thinking about Pamela his co-worker who he has a crush on. He has many fantasies about her, but even they turn into nightmares when he imagines getting stabbed by someone. Things get much worse, when the store has Billy dress up as Santa. He even tells a misbehaving little girl he has on his lap that she better be good or Santa will punish you. Billy slowly starts to become the thing he hates.
Once the store closes on Christmas Eve, the staff has a party. Billy hopes he can get through another Christmas and be happy for once, but when he sees Pamela go off with scumbag employee Andy, he finally snaps. He catches them making out in the back and punishes them by strangling Andy to death and stabbing Pamela. Billy kills everyone in the store and then ventures off into the night on a killing spree.
Billy offs a bunch of teens that he feels are naughty. One is Scream Queen, Linnea Quigley and in one of the most famous kills in the film, Billy impales her on antlers of an antelope head hanging on the wall. Another stand out kill is when Billy beheads one of two bullies who stole two other kids sled. One goes down a hill, which doesn’t even look very steep at all and just looks like some trail, and waits for his friend. As the other slides down he is met with Billy’s ax. After a nightmarish Christmas Eve, Billy goes off to the orphanage to get some revenge.
The film is very entertaining and a great horror film to watch around Christmas or anytime of the year. It’s cheesy at times, but in my opinion it’s a very good horror film. Also one thing to point out is the musical score, which is very well done and creepy. Don’t bother watching any of the sequels, just check out the first one, which is the best in the series.