Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Author: Josh G.
Submitted by: Josh G.   Date : 2008-12-16 13:00

Directed by: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Written by: Michael Hickey
Starring: Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin and Gilmer McCormick

Reviewed by: Josh G.

You've made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas.

Many horror films have caused controversy in the United States, from the 70s Grindhouse features, to the early slasher films of the 80s, and the ‘torture porn’ knock offs of 00's Saw and Hostel movies. Still, Silent Night, Deadly Night, a mid 80s slasher with previews of a murdering Santa Claus, single handedly stormed up an outraged mob of mothers and Christmas lovers, who eventually got the film pulled from theaters. Their defence was that the posters and trailers for this, now a cult classic, destroyed the innocent minds of children who looked up to Santa as a hero. People went so far as to say that the film was horrible and would forever be on Worst Movies Ever lists. It’s funny. Silent Night, Deadly Night haters seemed to have forgotten what Christmas was really about, while at the same time taking up the side of protecting the sanctity of it. Christmas being a ‘sacred’ time of year to some, meant Santa Claus was part of this phenomenon as well, but Santa is just a made-up character, and to use him in a way such as this film does not destroy anything Godly. No, the true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with Santa Claus, meaning Silent Night, Deadly Night should not have been bludgeoned with hate, but evaluated on its horror scale as another acceptable ally to the slasher genre.

Some lives are deeply affected by the traumatic events of one’s childhood, and Billy Chapman is living proof of that. Billy and his younger brother Ricky are sent off to a Catholic orphanage after their parents, Ellie and Jim (Tara Buckman and Jeff Hansen) are brutally slaughtered by a robber in a Santa suit. Little Ricky was just an infant when it happened that Christmas Eve in 1971, but Billy remembers every last painful detail. With the memories haunting him every December, bitter old Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) does little to help ease the pain of Billy’s frustrated conscience, punishing him whenever he does something ‘naughty’. At age eighteen, in the present (1984), Billy works efficiently as a handy dandy employee, stocking shelves at a mini mall. Too bad for Billy, Christmas time has come once again, and when he’s asked to play Santa for the customers’ children, he takes things a little too far. He’s going to become Santa. But it’s not the jolly ole Saint Nick that you and I know. It’s the sadistic, punishing Claus that has stayed in the young Chapman’s mind for thirteen years, and tonight, he’s going Christmas chopping for all who have been...naughty.

Here it is. The ultimate killer Santa movie. Sleazy, cheesy, and for some, a queasy experience. It’s hard to say if Silent Night, Deadly Night is actually a standard slasher film, or whether it’s what you’d have expected. On one side, Santa Billy goes on a rampage through the little, snowy town of the orphanage and shop, killing a few random characters of whom we know little about. He’s like a Terminator, wiping out everybody in his path. Although, we’re not exactly sure that they stood in his path. Billy goes out of his way to kill for fun, or to punish, in his explanation. He’s not taking out revenge in general. He’s becoming the thing that destroyed his family all of those years ago; most of his victims never harmed him at all. In fact, some were incredibly affectionate. It can be argued that Silent Night, Deadly Night shouldn’t work as a slasher because it doesn’t focus around a group of teenagers or adults, but a bunch of individuals and couples. Somehow, Silent Night keeps its story and main cast at the viewer’s thoughts. Even though this is purely a ‘just for fun’ outing, a lot of characters are being developed without us realising that it’s happening.

Mother Superior is one of the meanest nuns I have ever seen. You can watch dozens upon dozens of horror films with a ‘bitch’ character, and I’m telling you, few will give you the desire to watch them die as much as Mother Superior does. Her punishment antics are over the top, and the fact that she always believes herself to be the righteous know-it-all is a teeth-gritter when you know that she is being unreasonable. Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick), another nun, is more of the anti-Superior; she’s the one who understands Billy’s irrational behaviour and wants to give him the benefit of the doubt. She sees the problem thirteen years later before anyone else because, unlike Mother Superior, she listens. Of course, by this time, the body count has already risen high enough. Other characters include Billy’s love interest, cashier Pamela (Toni Nero), his jerk co-worker Andy (Randy Stumpf), and the owner of the store Ira’s, Mr. Sims (Britt Leach), a funny drunk.

Silent Night, Deadly Night may have the feeling of Christmas inside, but that has little to do with decorations. Yes, the store is covered in Holiday cheers, and the orphanage looks to be covered in presents every year, but it’s the things like the carolers, the Santa Claus’ and music that bring you back to that special time of year. The movie doesn’t really do well in portraying the 70s. Ellie Chapman has a noticeable 80s hairdo and styles just aren’t right. But all is forgiven. It’s Christmas after all. The atmosphere in both the season and the horror binds together, and a lot of it has to do with Anchor Bay’s uncut DVD release of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Some scenes have been mastered from a VHS source, and the change is obvious, but it doesn’t distract. To be honest, I enjoy it this way. It looks like the 80s more and the darkness in picture makes the film have another dimension. I do have to ask the movie why Billy’s hair color changes from dark as a boy, to light blond as an elder teen.

No 80s slasher can be complete without a musical montage. It’s the funniest thing since Madman’s hot tub sequence, showing how Billy starts out working in the spring time, and through the year’s struggles, he learns that everything will be alright, because the shop employees accept him. Awwwww. And it’s all set to a sitcom-like theme song, ‘The Warm Side of the Door’. I told you there was cheese to be had. The other non-traditional song of Silent Night is the ‘hip’ 80s pop tune, ‘Merry Christmas Baby’, played during one of the film’s other strength: a sleaze scene. Starring Scream Queen favorite Linnea Quigley, the character of Denise is topless and making out with her boyfriend, Tommy. But this isn’t the first pair of ‘naughties’ to be seen in Silent Night. The original 1971 Santa killer tore open Ellie Chapman’s shirt, Billy has a wet dream about a naked Pamela, and there’s even more! There’s certainly no shying away here. Here’s a popcorn terror if I ever did see one, and the best part is that you can rewatch it over and over again with no boredom attached!

Silent Night, Deadly Night’s gore ranks up there with some of the better 80s slasher pieces. The Prowler, The Initiation and even the Friday the 13th films are close in nature to the quantity and quality of the special effects present. Billy’s kills are creative, rarely using the same weapon, and if so, it’s used in a different way. The infamous deer kill, where a topless girl (can you guess who?) is lifted up by her hips and impaled through the stomach on a pair of antlers, is one of the best slasher deaths ever thought up of for the time. Another highlight would be the axe decapitation of a boy while tobogganing down a hill, managing to be hilarious while still keeping the dark vibe of the theme. Santa Billy feels like a totally different character than regular Billy Chapman, but even through the horrendous murders, we feel bad for Billy, especially at the end. Besides, he can’t be all that bad if he’s doing it for the good of the nice children, right? Anchor Bay released this on a double feature DVD with Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, which sadly, I do not own. The DVD I have is from the re-release, which doesn’t have a trailer or Part 2, but still contains the director’s commentary, poster gallery and a fantastic collection of angry critics hating on this loveable feast. The picture, with the exception of the uncut VHS mastered footage, is about as good as we’ll get it. It’s wiped clean of blemishes and spots, and the color has been faithfully restored. The audio is the best that mono can be, and overall, this release has no complaints on my behalf. I say the same for the film as well. It’s not the best made slasher film in existence, and let’s face it – little is powerful in plot except for the torment that Billy endures by Mother Superior. Fun is the word used to describe it. Pure white and red fun, a believable cast, frequent nudity and a history that bites. All is well. The stockings here were hung on the chimney with care, and a new, guiltier, pleasurable Saint Nick, soon entertained there. If you somehow have a problem with Black Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night is the surefire next best thing. Buy it!

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