The holiday season is upon us and Christmas is now less than two weeks away. Behold, the 3rd Annual Countdown to Christmas is on! There will be some of the more unusual gifts under the tree along with some of the traditional efforts as well. To start our festive feast off on a horrific note, let’s break out the eggnog and take a look at Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).
It was the 1980s and slasher films were in full swing. We’d already witnessed Michael Myers in the Halloween series and Jason in Friday The 13th. We were just getting introduced to Freddy, so why not take a look at another holiday mainstay. Just what could Hollywood do with our beloved Santa Claus? Plenty as it turned out, perhaps too much. The violence was turned up a notch and the complaints would eventually result in a ban of the film, naturally turning it into a cult favorite. So, just what was so bad about this film?
Our film begins in 1971 as five year-old Billy Chapman is on his way to visit his mentally disturbed grandfather. He is with his parents and younger brother. Once there, and when his parents are talking with the officials, grandpa becomes alert and warns Billy about the truth of Santa. Turns out Old Saint Nick punishes the bad boys and girls. On their way home, the family runs into a robber dressed as Santa Claus on the roadside. Billy is terrified but the family stops. Moments later, his father has been shot to death and his mother killed before his eyes.
Three years later, Billy and his brother are now living in an orphanage run by an evil nun (is there any other kind?). After Billy is sent to his room for drawing twisted Christmas pictures, he accidentally witnesses two older kids having sex. Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) catches him and reinforces the concept that evil must be punished. So the stage is set in young Billy’s mind. Santa is the punisher and evil must be punished. Punishment is good.
The film then turns into a typical slasher flick at this point with the older Billy never really recovering mentally. He goes about killing those he feels needs to be punished, ultimately returning to the orphanage to save his younger brother from evil Santa and Mother Superior. Three different actors would play Billy at the different stages of his life with Robert Brian Wilson playing the adult Billy. Aside from some TV appearances, this film is the bright spot of his career. Overall, the movie isn’t necessarily great. In fact, it offers up some rather poor performances. However, the background story is quite entertaining.
The film is legendary for the rather intense images of the robber Santa, which played a key role in parents becoming angry and picketing it at movie theaters. First week sales were impressive, even out-performing the original Nightmare on Elm Street. But they quickly dropped due to the outrage and the film disappeared until it would see an early VHS release a year later. It didn’t help that some of the cast expressed embarrassment over the film.
One of the more amusing stories centers on Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney. He wrote a letter of protest against the film, expressing how the scum who made it should be run out of town. The original would go on to generate four sequels with Rooney actually starring in the fifth installment some seven years later. I guess Andy Hardy had bills to pay and he left his morals at home for the holidays.
Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t a horrible film but it isn’t that well-made either. It is mildly entertaining, especially if you are looking for a little gore mixed in with your tinsel and garland. There are some different types of kills as the body count stacks up. But, there are better holiday-themed flicks out there, so I would put this one a little lower on your Christmas wish list. You can add it to your collection with either the newly-released Blu-ray or paired up with the first sequel on DVD. Catch the trailer and judge for yourself but I must admit, despite it generally being a poorly made film, this one is a bit of a guilty pleasure.
Next up, our countdown continues with a look at an earlier and better holiday horror flick, the original Black Christmas (1974)!