Christmas in July: “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (1984) Review

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This notorious Christmas slasher hit a handful of theatres at the very ass-end of the early 80s slasher craze (just before the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series would simultaneously revive it and beat it to death again), and it arrived in a shitstorm of yuletide controversy that had church groups and parents picketing outside theatres and screaming bloody murder on national news broadcasts. Of course, this is the kind of fabulous publicity money can’t buy, but the distributor (Tri-Star, who had a notably troublesome time with horror product all through the 80s) caved in and quickly yanked the posters, finally about a week later yanking the film itself. The fantastic poster was probably the main offender, as it featured Santa disappearing down a chimney with an axe, an image which no doubt went over like a dick-shaped fruitcake with the soccer moms who caught sight of it at the mall.

Of course, thanks almost entirely to the outbursts of its detractors, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT would go on to become one of the biggest money-makers of the year when it was finally released on videotape, raked in a sleigh full of cash on cable and spawned no less than four sequels (so far). Bottom line, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a mediocre slasher movie that would have absolutely sank like a cast-iron wreath after one week in theatres, rented for a couple of weeks on home video and been forever relegated to cut-out bins at drugstores. So the delicious irony in all of this is that the church groups and parent protestors single-handedly turned their monster into a monster hit.

Perhaps SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT isn’t so much a terrible slasher movie as it is simply a bland one. Its reputation stems almost solely from the controversy created by people who never even saw the picture. This is not to say it doesn’t have its moments (intentional and unintentional), but most fans who finally saw the actual movie on video rightfully wondered what all the shouting was about.

In the film’s admittedly tasteless and disturbing opener, young Billy sees his parents murdered (complete with sexual assault on the mother, in an extra bit of naughtiness I could easily have lived without) by a thief in a Santa suit, and winds up spending the rest of his childhood at an orphanage where he is tormented by the iron-fisted Mother Superior. Now a teen, Billy (the impossibly good-looking Robert Brian Wilson) gets a job at a local store, but it’s obvious the events of his childhood left a little crazy on his face, and he eventually snaps. In a psychological profile only found in slasher movies, our hero Billy becomes the villain and decides to don a Santa suit and go on a killing spree.

The fact is, all of that is a lot more complicated than this genre requires, and having our hero turn into the villain and not providing the audience with a core final girl or boy really depletes any suspense or tension the filmmakers might have created using the potentially effective Christmas atmosphere. A couple of central characters tormented by an unknown killer in a Santa suit could have made for some simple chills. Instead, the screenplay is compelled to provide a story no one wants to hear and the talent involved can’t support.

The direction by Charles Sellier is flat and obvious. The Christmas season makes a wonderfully atmospheric backdrop for a horror movie, but Sellier doesn’t take advantage of any of the colorful opportunities, and for the most part keeps his camera nailed to the floor; everything is presented bluntly and in the foreground. The dialogue is, of course, not very good, but thankfully the film gets some mileage out of a few simple lines (after seeing the film, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid shouting “Naughty!” or “Punish!” with B-movie glee). The cast is made up mostly of amateurs who suit the project fine, and hunky Robert Brian Wilson is so miscast and awkward in the role as our hero and villain he somewhat unintentionally becomes a memorable movie character.

Truthfully, though it’s obviously not a good movie, it has enough moments to keep most genre fans diverted. Linnea Quigley (along with both her always-on-display Quigleys) has the most memorable scene in the movie, where her character (in what seems to be a bit of a nod to SALEM’S LOT) is impaled on antlers. There’s some decent splatter that’s artlessly but efficiently on display, and the scenes with the hateful Mother Superior do manage to squeeze out a little bit of drama and tension late in the movie.

It’s just that, with that awesome poster, all the controversy, and all the possibilities for a great atmospheric seasonal slasher, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is just a mildly entertaining direct-to-video feature that should have disappeared a long time ago. The whole plot should have been dropped, Wilson should have been kept shirtless under the mistletoe and terrorized by an unknown slasher, Linnea Quigley should have played the naked slut who finally gets it good in the end, and it all should have been directed by someone who knows what to do with a slasher movie.

But there aren’t that many shopping days left ’til Christmas. SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT plays like that bright, tempting package under the tree that you couldn’t wait to open, only to discover after all that time it was just socks.

This review comes courtesy of Kaptain Killdare’s Spooky Movie Reviews. Like the page on Facebook for some more killer reviews.

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2 thoughts on “Christmas in July: “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (1984) Review

  1. I think the two important things you left out are

    1. The scene right before his parents are murdered. The grandpa scene. It’s one of the creepiest scenes in the history of anything ever.

    2. He didn’t so much decide to put on a suit and start a killing spree, he was forced to put on the suit, and that’s where he went fucking wackaloon.

    Good write-up though.

    PUNISH!

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