Christmas With The Psychopaths : “Silent Night, Deadly Night”

Posted: December 28, 2010 in movies
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"Silent Night, Deadly Night" Movie Poster

Well, I guess first off the bat let me wish a very happy holiday season, whatever your celebration(s) of choice may be, to any and all TFG readers out there. I apologize for having been absent the past few weeks, but a spate of computer troubles finally convinced Mr. and Mrs. Trash Film that it was time to retire our seven-year-old laptop and go out and treat ourselves to a shiny new one as our Christmas gift from us to us, and so I as I sit here writing this I’m on our brand-spanking-new HP Pavilion model whatever-the-fuck-it’s-called-for-$1,000 laptop computer that so far we’re very pleased with. It’s got all the bells and whistles you could ever need and even more that you absolutely never will, and so the movie reviews should continue on here, barring my occasional bouts of laziness, well into the foreseeable future. But enough of this technical stuff, on with the show!

The time of year being what it is and all, I figured it’s as opportune an occasion as any to take a look back at that seminal Santa-slasher series from the 1980s/early 90s, the much-maligned -at-the-time-but-needless-to-say-cult-favorite-these-days Silent Night, Deadly Night opus. We’ll start at the beginning, as is the norm, and work our way up (or down, depending on the trajectory you see these films as having taken) from there.

Take your mind back, if you will (and if you were there) to Christmas, 1984. While big-budget holiday blockbusters like Beverly Hills Cop, 2010, and Dune ruled at the box office, a little horror flick from the nascent-at-the-time TriStar studio with a budget of around $750,000 got the yokels so riled up (thanks in large part to its lurid TV advertising campaign that scared the living shit out of little kids across the country with its depiction of an axe-wielding Santa) that it garnered picket lines at hundreds of theaters nationwide, spurred a national boycott of TriStar’s parent company, Mitsubishi, and eventually engendered a heated campaign of “concerned” parents demanding it be pulled immediately from distribution (a campaign that, shamefully, some Hollywood “A-listers” even signed onto, but more on that when we get to Part 5). After its first week in wide release, a good number of the movie houses it was playing at pulled the flick voluntarily, and after two weeks, the studio buckled under the pressure and yanked it from distribution altogether, immediately recalling all prints. the do-gooders had won — but not before TriStar netted a healthy $2.5 million take on their baby, no doubt assisted in large part due to the controversy itself, which got plenty of people up off their sofas (and their asses) and out to the theater to see if all the fuss was really warranted.

It wasn’t, of course — Silent Night, Deadly Night is pretty much a run-of-the-mill slasher as far as the blood-‘n-guts quotient is concerned, the only notable difference here is that instead of wearing a Halloween costume, a clown suit, or a hockey mask, our erstwhile killer is adorned in a Santa suit.There’s nothing particularly stylish or even different here, either — director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. was a veteran, primarily, of TV specials and movies of the week, and more often than not serves as producer rather than director (he’s given us such notable television masterpieces as The Capture of Grizzly Adams and George W. Bush : Faith In The White House). So It’s not like we’re looking at a particularly visionary take on the whole psycho-killer thing here.

The plot is as by-the-numbers as the direction, as well. Little Billy goes to visit his grandpa who suffers from dementia one Christmas eve, grandpa warns him that Santa Claus is evil, and sure enough, on the way home, the family station wagon breaks down and some drunken guy in a Santa suit kills his dad and rapes and kills his mom while little Billy silently watches on, cowering in the back seat, unnoticed by the inebriated St. Nick. Billy is then sent to a Catholic orphanage where he has a shitty childhood and is tormented by the sadistic Mother Superior who beats him for things like, you know, spying through the door keyhole on one of the pretty young nuns getting fucked by her boyfriend.

When it’s time to go out into the world at age 18, Billy lands a gig as a general menial laborer/stockroom schmuck at a store called Ira’s Toys, where he develops a crush on a cute cashier girl who’s also being pursued by the store owner’s yuppie-in-training college-age son, etc. Then Christmas happens, and when the hired St. Nick calls in sick, Billy is forced, despite his rather obvious reservations, to don the red-and-white gear and beard, and after hours, at the store Christmas party, Billy, still in the Santa suit despite the fact his mind is cracking under the strain, gets a few drinks in him, grabs an axe, and soon Ira’s Toys is going to be needing a whole new staff. Except Ir’s not doing any hiring because he’s dead, too.

Billy then ventures forth into the Christmas eve — ummmm  —- night (sorry, I realize that’s technically redundant), kills some teenagers partying and making out in a house while their parents are away (and points here for a genuinely cool impaling-by-deer-antlers scene), and then makes his way to the orphanage where he was brutalized and traumatized (or, to put it more politely, “raised”) as a boy to exact his ultimate revenge on the Mother superior and all her ilk. The little fact that they happen to be handing out toys to the orphans when he shows up isn’t gonna stop him, either — Billy’s out for blood!

So there you have it. Like I said, nothing new under the sun here. But that doesn’t mean that Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t an effective slasher flick — truth be told it is. It’s just not an original one in the same sense that 1980’s Christmas Evil, which we took a look at here at TFG at about this same time last year, was. It’s  certainly solid and entertaining and well worth your time, to be sure. in short, you’ll get a kick out of it.But you’re also going to be left seriously wondering what all the fuss was about.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is available on DVD from Anchor Bay in a couple of different versions, either as a stand-alone release or paired up on a double-bill with Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2. Both feature nicely-done anamorphic widescreen digitally-remastered transfers and mono audio tracks, and both are extremely sparse on the extras front — the trailer’s in there and that’s about it, barring a text history on the stand-alone version. the double-feature edition would normally be the way to go here, but as it’s out of print and sells on Amazon marketplace for about $80 minimum, you might want to go with the “solo” disc. Or, hell, you might just want to rent it.

At the end of the day, Silent Night, Deadly Night is, above all else, a triumph of marketing. if it weren’t for the TV ads with the killer Santa, this movie never would have garnered the buzz it did, never would have been prematurely pulled from theaters, and never would have made a couple million bucks and spawned a franchise. The Moral Majority-types who acted as its opponents were, in reality, its best friends. the studio couldn’t have asked for better free publicity. And frankly the whole sordidly entertaining episode just goes to show the hypocrisy of the part-time zealots out there — throw movie after movie filled to the brim with violent and sensationalistic brutality out there and no one says a word. But put the violently sensationalistic brutal killer in a Santa costume, and force parents all over to explain to their kids that there’s no such thing as Jolly Old St. Nicholas before they’re good and ready to, and suddenly everybody’s up in arms. They say that every society gets the villain it deserves, but frankly, even though we’ve already had real-life bogeymen like Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Henry Lee Lucas, Richard Ramirez, etc., I don’t think the wretchedly hypocritical, conveniently self-righteous American public has received the kind of amazingly evil, dark-mirror-image-of-itself villain it truly deserves quite yet. When whoever that may be does, in fact, emerge and truly terrorizes American society on a core level — when somebody comes forward and gives us a taste of our own wretched medicine, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. Merry Christmas, everyone.

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