How does one classify, categorize and review SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT? Can you really compare it to a legitimate slasher film? Can you put it up against Jason Voorhees innovative body count and see who comes out on top? Can you even take it seriously? But, most importantly, can you forget the onslaught of impossibly atrocious and pointless sequels that followed it? In the pantheon of poor horror franchises SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT reigns supreme. Imagine a world where all the FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels were JASON X, or a plane of existence where the LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD is the best we’re ever gonna get. That’s the reality of Parts 2, 3, 4 and 5 in this series. In the end, the eventual outcome never even resembled the original production.
I’m not here to tell you that SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is an overlooked gem of holiday horror. If you want that, see CHRISTMAS EVIL or Bob Clark’s original BLACK CHRISTMAS. I’m here to tell you that SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT holds a place in my collective film-watching experience that is irreplaceable. It’s the first “Christ-Massacre” film I ever saw. I rented it as a double feature many, many a year ago with its incredible sequel “PART 2”. I say Part 2 is incredible because for a film that’s less than 90-minutes long it uses some 40-odd-minutes of footage from the first film as filler! That takes balls as big as sleigh bells!
Anyway, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is the catalyst for seeing all those other warped Christmas films that I love so much, and for that reason, reviewing it feels like bashing extended family members skulls in with a Yule log—something that might sound good in the thick of the usual holiday madness, but wouldn’t be advised under normal, saner conditions.
Back in 1971 little Billy Chapman’s Christmas Eve turned deadly as his father and mother were brutally attacked and murdered by a robber wearing a Santa Claus suit. A few years later we catch up with Billy and his little brother Ricky in an Orphanage run by nuns. The Mother Superior is very strict teaching that punishment for being naughty is the perfect course of action. Billy is showing signs of his past trauma, manifesting itself as rage toward the image of Santa Claus. Eventually, as the Mother Superior forces Billy to sit on Santa’s lap as a form of therapy, Billy hauls off and decks the old mans halls with a mean right hook. 10-years after that incident, Billy has grown up to be a seemingly well-adjusted, muscular and handsome young man. 18-years old, Billy gets a job at a local Toy Store just in time for the holiday season. When the stores local Santa can’t make it in, the shop owner innocently convinces Billy to don the red and white suit and help to spread the holiday fear (I mean cheer). At an after work office party, Billy finally begins to succumb to the horrors of his past—embarking on a festive rampage through his snowy little town exacting his own brand of punishment to the naughty.
The defining hallmarks of slasher cinema are boobs and blood. And while many others talk a good game, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is the only one that delivers its seasonal sea of red in the same manner as Freddy, Jason or Mike Myers. Director Charles Sellier Jr. manages to transplant a textbook 1980’s horror film to the relative sanctity of the holiday spirit. Billy dispatches his victims with Christmas Lights, an Axe, a Bow and Arrow and by famously impaling a naked Linnea Quigley on a pair of Reindeer Antlers. This is a film where Billy—dressed as Santa Claus—bestows a good little girl with a bloodied utility knife. A film where not one, but two Santas are gunned down in front of a group of kids. A film where every major actress doffs her top before being systematically slaughtered. And, for added cheer the film even includes two rape sequences! It’s no wonder that parents groups protested like mad and that Tri-Star cancelled entire runs of the theatrical release. The guys that made this flick were slitting the throat of Christmas. Even Hollywood veteran Mickey Rooney said “the scum that made this picture should be run out of town” – a sentiment that might be best remembered for its hypocrisy, considering that Rooney starred in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER!
The Uncut DVD edition of the film that arrives this year, promises, and delivers a whole host of previously clipped horrors. Including the aforementioned reindeer antlers slowly pushing through the soft flesh of Quigley’s tight tummy. It features a few decapitations and expands the sequences that lead to Billy’s ultimate breaking point. It won’t be hard for you eagle-eyed genre fans to figure out where the trims took place as Anchor Bay used two wildly dissimilar prints to construct the film. To their credit Anchor Bay disclaims the variation in quality before the film commences, still, the cut footages looks like it came direct from an E.P. recorded VHS copy that has been sitting in an abandoned video store for the better part of 20-years! The rest of the DVD release is rounded out with a 35-minute telephone interview with director Sellier—who tells us that he regrets making the film. An interesting emotion coming from a man who—although he claims he was a “gun-for-hire” on the project—clearly had to know what he was getting himself into. A still gallery and a selection of hostel clippings from angry film critics and even angrier parents round out the release. It’s not the ultimate edition of the film and it really demands a retrospective documentary on the aftermath of the production, but it’s probably the best we can ever hope for.
Ultimately, the legacy of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT isn’t in that it’s a great film—it’s formulaic at best, and TV veteran Sellier’s direction is unbelievably flat and uninspired—it’s that, thanks to the controversy that surrounds it, it’s the poster child for Holiday horror films. The sequels that followed it were blatant exploitation, designed solely to cash in on the name recognition and infamy of the original. In the end, it’s a real shame, because, in some ways those lesser films have tarnished the already sullied reputation of what is quintessentially the ultimate anti-holiday film.
So, how do you review it…who knows! The 2 ½ Skulls up there are too keep your expectations in check. Despite the reality of the films shortcomings, I really do love this sick and twisted flick. Now, who’s the naughty one?