Critique, Movies

Merry Scary Christmas: Silent Night, Deadly Night

Welcome to WWAC’s Merry Scary Christmas: twelve days of thrills, chills, deadly santas, melancholy, and murder. In part one of the series, Kayleigh reviewed Batman Returns. This time she braves Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Silent Night, Deadly Nightsndn2

Starring Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Linnea Quigley
Directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr.
1984

Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!

–Grandpa Chapman

Every December, they start showing up on your Facebook or Tumblr feeds: awkward, ugly, sometimes faded photographs of kids crying or screaming on Santa’s lap. Like photos of us at Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties, they’re meant for a laugh, a “hey, can you believe this?” moment between cups of eggnog and reading Buzzfeed’s Top 15 Sexiest Elves. Often people share their own sad childhood photos: “Did you see my haircut as a kid? Why am I crying? Who’s afraid of Santa Claus?”

Well, no matter how many times we’re told that Santa is a right, jolly old elf, when you’re a little kid, it can be pretty intimidating to be rounded up and plopped on a stranger’s lap. Not to mention telling him your hopes and dreams for Christmas, or explaining whether you’ve been naughty or nice. So, whether it was your childhood experience or not, there’s always some kid who’s scared of Santa Claus.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is like if one of those traumatized kids made a movie.

silent-night-deadly-night-capThe film opens with young Billy Chapman and his family riding through snowy mountains to Grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve. If that sounds like the opening to a Hallmark Channel movie rather than a slasher flick, don’t worry, in this case, “visiting Grandpa” means seeing the catatonic old man at a mental institution. Billy is unwisely left alone with Grandpa, who then gives him a terrifying lecture about how Santa Claus is coming to punish all the naughty little boys and girls —  he’s been bad, he better watch out. Billy’s Christmas soon gets worse. On the drive back, Billy’s parents stop for a seemingly-stranded motorist dressed up like Santa Claus, and Billy helplessly watches as the sinister Santa shoots his father, then sexually assaults and kills his mother.

Years later, Billy has grown up into a hunky, but deeply repressed young man. He’s haunted by his memories of “Santa Claus” killing his parents, and even a wet dream about his coworker leads to him hunched in a corner, muttering about how he wants to be good. He can’t even look at an illustration of Santa without becoming visibly unsettled or falling over some boxes, which is why it makes perfect sense for Billy’s boss to make him the store’s Santa Claus impersonator. At the office’s Christmas party, Billy–still dressed like Santa–catches a coworker trying to rape a girl in the stockroom, which triggers a horrible transformation in him. Not just dressed as Santa, he becomes his version of Santa, who must violently punish anyone “naughty,” whether their crime is rape, being drunk, or just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And so Santa’s killing spree begins.

I was aware of Silent Night, Deadly’s Night‘s infamy before I saw it. Back in the 80s, its marketing campaign, which featured scenes of a murderous, ax-wielding Santa Claus, sparked protests for being too scary for children. And of course, I’d seen Silent Night, Deadly Night II‘s most infamous scene, “Garbage Day!” Being controversial or infamous doesn’t make a film good, though. Silent Night, Deadly Night is an ugly, artless film, which capitalizes on the “slasher film based on an important day on the calender” trend started by the far superior Halloween. It even has its own Dr. Loomis in the form of the kindly nun from Billy’s orphanage who tries to warn the police about Billy’s madness, but is too late. The direction has all the artistry and competence of a lesser episode of TJ Hooker, all but saying to the audience, “You want some blood and tits? Here they are, now fuck off and let me take my cigarette break.”

And, look, if you’re reading a review on this website, you probably don’t need me to tell you about the misogyny that creeps into a lot of slasher films, particularly the old “sex = death, virgin = final girl” formula. This film doesn’t have a Final Girl (unless you count the nun), but it’s still uncomfortably, creepily sexist. There are two sexual assaults in this movie, and three different scenes of topless women being violently murdered, with the camera lingering on the sight of their bloody, nude torsos. Every scene of female sexuality in this movie, even Billy’s fantasy, are connected with violence and “punishment.” (Scream Queen Linnea Quigley gets the movie’s “biggest” death scene, when Billy, exhibiting movie slasher superhuman strength, picks her up and impales her on the antlers of a mounted stag’s head.)

sndnpotatoheadSo, it’s not a good movie, but it has to be so-bad-it’s-good, right? Nah. There’s nothing in the original film that equals the “did that just happen?” insanity of “Garbage Day!” and the film is so unpleasant and mean-spirited that even its most ridiculous kills, like Billy shooting a woman with a bow and arrow, or sending a headless body down a hill on a sled, lack any camp value. (There are also no scenes of Santa-Billy bashing anyone’s brains in with a giant lump of coal, which seems like a huge missed opportunity.) I did get a chuckle out of the movie’s pre-murder montage of Billy helping kids at the toy store and playing with Mr. Potato Head, all set to a cheesy, uplifting 80s ballad. Perhaps Billy himself is the movie’s biggest problem. The first half of the film spins its wheels presenting Billy as a traumatized but sympathetic Norman Bates type, but all of that goes out the window as soon as his killing spree begins. There’s no real rhyme or reason to anything happening in this film, it’s just generic, vaguely holiday-themed junk, like that giant tub of three flavors of popcorn your elderly aunt gives you.

If you hated sitting on Santa Claus’s lap when you were a kid, this film may make you feel vindicated, but I can’t recommend stuffing Silent Night, Deadly Night down anyone’s stocking.

 

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