Silent Night, Deadly Night
|Director||Charles E. Sellier Jr.|
|Writer(s)||Paul Caimi and Michael Hickey|
This is the 80s horror movie in which the guy with the axe is dressed up as Santa. Indeed, it’s one of the three key Christmas-themed horror films; the others being Black Christmas and Gremlins.
(Yes, I know there are more than three… but this is my review…)
Silent Night, Deadly Night sounds like a nice simple plot
Yes, perfect for squeezing your date tight at the back of the cinema (back then) or mindless entertainment with a beer (now you’re older). But it’s not completely mindless. Unlike many 80s horros, and slashers in general, this isn’t just about attractive people facing the threat of random killings. Silent Night, Deadly Night has a proper plot, and it even starts off establishing a proper backstory for the killer, Billy.
One Christmas Eve, when Billy was a kid, he witnessed his parents being attacked and killed by a man dressed as Santa Claus. He (and presumably his baby brother, who was also present) went to live at an orphanage run by a strict and unsympathetic Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) until he was considered ready for the workplace at age eighteen.
And then one day, something causes his old trauma to come flooding back, addle Billy’s brain, and trigger him into both reenacting that first crime and attempting some mixed-up righting of wrongs at the same time.
Ah, a psychological thing. Like Psycho.
Yeah, kind of. But there’s a major difference: this story is presented in a linear way, observing Billy’s childhood and what he grows into. This means the viewer is drawn to understand and sympathise with him. In Psycho, the story followed a young woman, and the explanation for the creepy/scary things that happened to her only emerged towards the end. So Silent Night is about a nice guy (who ends up doing nasty things), while Psycho is about a creepy guy… all because of the different perspective.
And a nice guy in a Santa suit, of all things!
Right! Those 80s parents were not impressed when they saw the advertising campaign. Santa carrying a bloody axe? Whatever next? I guess they thought nasty films should only feature nasty people, and their traditional good guys were sacrosanct.
(And not only a nice guy in a Santa suit, but a very attractive wholesome looking young man, played by Robert Brian Wilson.)
Anyway, there have been plenty of articles about the controversy around this film, and its place in cinema history… I’m writing this review to give you my opinions.
Go on then: what did you think of it?
Well, I liked the film. It had a good story, it was well made and the actors were all pretty decent. I found it interesting, too, that the writer didn’t hurry with the backstory. From the initial killing of Billy’s parents to when he flipped as a grown-up, at least half an hour of the film had gone by.
But I found it fascinating as a horror showcase, too: if someone took all his favorite elements of the genre in the 80s, and molded them together, you’d get this film. It may not have monsters or aliens, but it has cheesy dialogue, escalating violence, a variety of explicit killings, gratuitous *****, a mean nun, a moral theme and very, very black humor.
Sounds funny, more than scary
Well, it’s definitely not scary. Like many horrors, Silent Night, Deadly Night aimed to shock, thrill and entertain rather than frighten people. Hence the titillating sex scenes and the close-up violence.
And as for funny? Sure, it has plenty of wry, deadpan humor, and a one-liner ending, but little to laugh out loud at. But regardless of the slightly strange tone (that many people disagree about), the film works; perhaps simply because of the subversive nature of the story, which stands out so well due to the plot’s simplicity.
Guess it must be okay if people are still watching it over thirty years later.
Indeed. Horror was plentiful at that time. Filmmakers were stretching boundaries and in love with video distribution. Many films have been forgotten, and those which left a mark have endured. To give you some context, this film was released in the cinemas in the USA at the same time as A Nightmare on Elm Street, and competing was not easy. But both have gained their own cult following, and indeed sequels and imitators.
You’re sounding kind of nostalgic…
Wistful, perhaps. I was a little too young to watch (let alone appreciate) nasty films in the 80s – I was thirteen when this came out – so watching it last week was like visiting a part of that decade I’d never lived in.
Actually, I feel kind of weird reviewing this film now, like I’m lifting it out of its context. I wonder how I would have felt about it if I’d been (age eighteen or twenty) in the cinema when it was new? Maybe it would have grabbed me more if I’d not been touched by more modern, harsh and gory films.
You mentioned sequels. If I watch this, am I committed to more?
This first film is completely self-contained. I’ve not seen the others, but I’ve been reliably informed that – like the Child’s Play series – they get steadily dafter. Alright if you like that kind of thing, but it’s a rare horror comedy that makes me even twitch a smile. Generally, I prefer scary to “fun” horror films, but there are rare exceptions.
If you’re interested in 80s horror films, but tired of monsters and mindless slashers, give it a try. It’s not a brilliant film, but it’s entertaining and a little unusual.
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Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.