Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013
For the first slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, a scream queen hanging free!
Welcome to the first of twelve slays this holiday season. I’m gearing up for Christmas in bloody good style with a look at several Christmas-themed horror genre (film, literature, etc.) picks. First on the list, is Silent Night, Deadly Night, one of the more infamous of the killer-in-a-Santa-suit films. This movie is notable as being the one to make Paramount put the axe to Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th part 4: The Final Friday, and it also has one of the most memorable movie posters from the glut of 1980s slasher flicks. Although this one might not feature the best Psycho Santa Claus, when compared to other holiday-themed horror outings, this one is certainly not terrible.
The movie opens up on Christmas Eve 1971 with a family on a roadtrip to see Grandpa. All of the familiar faces are present: father, hot mother, un-carseat-strapped baby, and little boy in the backseat. Little Billy is concerned that he won’t be back home before Santa Claus comes to his house that evening. But, Hot Mom comforts her son by telling him, “Don’t worry, Santa Claus is going to bring you a big surprise tonight. You just wait and see!”
It doesn’t take a genius to realize this bit of foreshadowing, but the family showing up at a mental health facility to visit the institutionalized grandfather does take aback an unacquainted viewer. Grandpa is in a catatonic state and completely unresponsive to his family or the doctor. The family leaves Billy to go and ‘review papers’ in the doctor’s office. It is telling the sort of parents these two are to leave a kid — maybe 5 years old — alone on his own in an insane asylum. As Hot Mom walks away, she drops another winning line with “Don’t worry, Grandpa’s not going to hurt you.”
Crazy Grandpa snaps out of his previous state and rants to little Billy about the evils of Christmas. “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year. I’d be scared too, if I was you,” he says. Santa only gives presents to the nice children, but if you’re naughty, then you’ll get punished. “If you see Santa Claus tonight, you’d better run boy. You’d better run for your life!” Despite the foreboding tone, this warning would prove to better parenting advice than Hot Mom ever provided for Little Billy.
Later, on the drive home Billy confesses that he is scared that Santa will come and punish him, but Hot Mom tries to comfort her son by telling him that Grandpa is nothing but ‘a crazy old fool.” Little does she know, however, that elsewhere in the state some Santa suit clad criminal has just gunned down a store owner in a holdup for a measly $31.
Predictably, the family stops by this Madman Santa who has been having car trouble. Little Billy urges them to keep driving, but his dad stops to help, and gets shot for his troubles. Billy hightails it to the woods, while Santa deblouses (gotta get those tit shots in right?) Hot Mom before slitting her throat. Santa decides not to pick off the helpless crying baby brother, and instead just shouts into the woods after Billy, who winds up at an orphanage 3 years later. (There is absolutely no closure on this Psycho Santa, so presumably he is still out there in the backwoods of Utah killing Hot Moms and store owners for chump change.)
Saint Mary’s Home for Orphaned Children is not a very pleasant place for the Christmas-weary children of the world. The nuns running the joint seem to buy into the secular importance of Old Saint Nick, so you can imagine the shock that it causes when 8 year-old troubled child draws Bloody Kris Kringle and beheaded reindeer. The Mother Superior punishes the Awkwardly Mulleted Billy by sending him to his room.
Sister Margaret thinks that the memory of the violence that Billy saw is just waiting to come out and be reenacted, but Mother Superior doesn’t care what she thinks. Mother Superior is old school, and feels that it is best to beat Billy’s violent urges into suppression. Which is exactly what happens after finding out that Sister Margaret has let Billy outside to play with the other children. He does, but only after stopping to peep on some older kids doing some pretty advanced mistletoe activities behind a locked door. (Mother Superior beats them too!)
That night, when Billy can’t stay in bed, so he gets tied down to the bedposts. Then the next day — Christmas Day — things come to a head, and although Mother Superior thinks her strict punishments have been effective, we know otherwise. Billy is dragged onto Santa’s lap, and punches the jolly fat man right in the nose. He goes off to cry in a corner, and there is an effective freeze frame of Billy looking up in terror at whatever punishment from Mother Superior lies in store.
Ten years later, Billy has developed into an 18 year-old dreamboat. This tall drink of water is ripped, and baby-faced, with brown eyes, blonde hair, and just a hint of dimples at the corners of his lips. Sister Margaret has just landed Big Buff Billy a job at Ira’s Toys as the new stockboy.
The filmmakers provide an awesome musical montage of what it was like to work in a toy store in the 1980s. I don’t want to spoil the fun too much, but there is a lot of box hauling, child lifting, time-card punching, and milk drinking, all while Boss Ira nods approvingly, and Billy’s lazy coworker slacks off and drinks J&B whiskey. Unfortunately, things can’t stay all musical montage good for Billy, as Christmas is now fast approaching. Billy has been acting more and more off — staring off into space and suffering wet dreams turning to nightmares — as December 25th approaches.
The tipping point comes when the regular Santa breaks his ankle and Billy must fill in. Billy is creepy and uncomfortable in the blood-red and white suit, and as children wriggle on his lap and he whispers to them to be good, or he’ll punish them. I really wanted this moment to be dragged out a bit, but instead we cut to the store’s after hours Christmas party, and one of the best lines from the movie with Ira’s: “Seven o’clock! It’s over! Time to get shitfaced!”
Sister Margaret is on her way, after being told that Billy was portraying Santa by the lazy J&B swilling coworker. But it is too late! All of the drunken holiday reveling, and overly forward, ripped-clothes lovemaking (read: attempted rape) makes Billy snap. It’s time to punish these naughty folks!
Psycho Santa Billy makes short work of the employees of Ira’s toys in a variety of ways that include X-Mas light hanging, boxcutter mutilation, clawhammer braining, and arrowing through the chest. Then Billy takes his rampage out on the streets. This is when 80s scream queen great Linnea Quigley gets offed in this movie’s most creative kill. As a neglectful babysitter, she leaves her boyfriend on the basement pool table, and goes upstairs, topless, to let in the homeowners’ cat. But when she opens the door, she finds that it isn’t the cat whose collar she heard jingling, but Psycho Santa Billy! He who chases after Quigley, wearing only hotpants, and impales her on a mounted deer head. The boyfriend gets thrown through a window and ends up impaled with a large chunk of glass. Finally, the babysittee comes away with a boxcutter, placed gently in her hand, as she is a good girl and not deserving of Santa’s punishment.
Billy continues on his rampage into the woods where he finally gets the chance to use that double-headed axe he’s been hauling around. The hapless victim is a sled-stealing bully who gets his comeuppance with a blow to the neck on a downhill run. His buddy (doppelganger of former pro-wrestler Edge) is left screaming his head off in the night.
Sister Margaret and the police are worried as the body count is rising. The police are scouring the neighborhoods, but only interrupting tender family Christmas moments instead of finding the murderous Kris Kringle. They deduce that he is heading for the orphanage, so they dispatch officers there, who manage to get there just in time to gun down Santa Claus. Only, it’s not Psycho Billy Santa, but the kindly, old deaf priest who plays Santa for the orphaned children.
As Billy stalks his way to the orphanage, one wonders if Mother Superior will be the next person on the wrong end of an axe swing. Find out if Santa Claus dies by watching Silent Night, Deadly Night yourself. This is an above average slasher film and it certainly deserves to be seen by any fan of horror and/or Christmas movies.
It had been years (maybe a decade+) since I’d seen this, so I was thrilled when I rediscovered how good the acting was. Lilyan Chauvin as Mother Superior was obviously the best, as she was classically trained, and ran her own acting school. I thought that Little Billy (Jonathan Best) was far less annoying and more believable than Weird Mullet Billy (Danny Wagner). Also, a superb and creepy performance was put on by Will Hare as Crazy Grandpa. Robert Brian Wilson as Psycho Santa Billy wasn’t terrible, but he’s no Thom Mathews.
The special effects are standard fare, but it really makes me nostalgic for the days of complete physical effects. CGI squibs and gunshots just don’t really cut it in comparison to something as simple as some blood bags detonating.
It was pretty sweet to see all of those old 80s toys in Ira’s toy store. However, it’s probably for the best that toy stores these days don’t stock double-headed axes or bow and arrow sets.
Perry Botkin’s music is creepy throughout, especially the opening with the child singing. Even the funny picks, like the musical montage were spot on in tone and definitively 80s. When you think about it, even outside of a Santa slasher flick, all those X-Mas songs about an old man watching children throughout the year, and breaking into their houses to leave gifts for them, are a bit disconcerting.
Fun fact: this film opened the same weekend as A Nightmare on Elm Street and outgrossed that film before being pulled from theaters after becoming the target of parents’ protest groups.
Silent Night, Deadly Night was written by Michael Hickey and directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr.
I recommend you watch it, and don’t be naughty this Christmas season!