Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Let's get this out of the way:  first and foremost, Silent Night, Deadly Night is not a very good film.  While I like it, it's definitely not one that I find myself running back to again and again for repeated viewings, as it usually only gets played during the Christmas season.  While I was too young to remember its theatrical release controversy, I can easily recall seeing its ominous "big box" video tape in video stores throughout my youth. 

That image is what sold me on the film.  It's just so iconic and states exactly what you're gonna get with a title like Silent Night, Deadly Night!   Here is a film that goes balls out to add its own twisted take on the Slasher Killing On A Holiday subgenre . . . and does so with the sort of glee and shock value one might expect from a classic grindhouse picture!

My original big box VHS copy of the film.
The plot is pretty simple:  as an 8yr old, after a twisted "Santa Claus punishes bad little boys and girls" warning from his dementia-fogged Grandpa, Billy watched his parents get brutally murdered by a gas station robber dressed in a Santa Claus suit.  Billy and his infant brother are sent to live in a local orphanage, where he continues to act out around Christmas time, having not really coped with what he saw that fateful night.  Billy's sense of reality continues to crack as he then witnesses two people making love and then is promptly caught by Mother Superior, who immediately punishes him for having witnessed such filth (and the couple for doing the deed).  At the age of 18, Billy has started working at a small toy store, where he quickly becomes a favorite good guy employee...until the Christmas season arrives and he's forced to fill in for the store's Santa.  From that point on, all hell breaks loose as Billy sets out on a yuletide murder spree.

Look, we don't watch Silent Night, Deadly Night for the smart decisions that its script doesn't make -- having someone traumatized by Santa Claus get a job at a toy store is bound for trouble around the holiday season!  We watch it (and love it!) for the over the top kills, carnage and distorted Christmas spirit that it conveys!  For someone with a slightly dark sense of humor, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a perfect fit when it comes to Christmas movies. 

Yes, that's Back To The Future's Mr. Peabody as Grandpa!
Acting-wise, Silent Night, Deadly Night was never going to win any awards, though Lilyan Chauvin is excellent as Mother Superior and character actor Britt Leach (Weird Science, The Great Outdoors) is effective as doomed toy store owner Ira Simms.  As a matter of fact, its star, Robert Brian Wilson, was initially said to be so ashamed of the film that he avoided talking about it for years after, only recently showing up at Horror conventions and eager to greet long time fans!  Genre favorite Linnea Quigley also shows up . . . to take her top off and quickly get impaled on a set of mounted antlers in one of the film's crazier kills!

Lilyan Chauvin as Mother Superior
Britt Leach as doomed toystore owner Ira Simms
What really helps sell a film like Silent Night, Deadly Night is its premise and the over the top kills that occur throughout its running time!  Also helping it along was the controversy surrounding its original -- and brief -- theatrical release from TriStar Pictures; the fury over it was so great, the film was pulled after two weeks, shelved, and eventually dumped on home video a year later, where its legend continued to grow.  Throughout the 80s and 90s, many kids like myself would frequent local video stores and see USA Home Video's big box cassette on shelves and react with a combined sense of fright, intrigue and awe.  It was almost a right of passage to see this film...though I ultimately cannot recall the first time I saw it myself. 

Robert Brian Wilson punishes the naughty as Billy
Speaking of over the top kills, this is probably the only movie where a cop guns down a deaf Santa Claus in front a bunch of kids!!  Come on man! 

Of course, the film was successful enough to spawn four sequels; the first of which, 1987's Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, itself became an internet sensation with its hilarious "Garbage Day" murder sequence.  A loose remake even followed in 2012, but you're better off just sticking to the OG as it's pure grindhouse trash, perfect to keep you toasty by the fire on a cold December night.

Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!

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