It’s this time of the year again. The time for giving and for getting, the time for forgiving and for forgetting. The Christmas shopping is soon to go into overdrive. Lights are being switched on everywhere. And in every house in the nation young kids will soon be traumatised by strange old men with white beards asking intimate questions as to whether they were naughty or nice all year round.
1980s slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night is finally seeing an uncut Region 2 release after having never previously been available on these shores before. The at-the-time controversial shocker had only ever been available on Region 1 DVDs that are now also out of print. When released theatrically, it faced critical and parental protests, not because of its gruesome scenes, per se, but because the murders were committed by Santa Claus, or rather by a young neurotic bloke in Santa costume played by Robert Brian Wilson in his debut role. He was soon to vanish into obscurity again.
Young Billy already heard stories about how Santa treats naughty kids. When he travels with his parents and younger brother to visit his granddad, he gets even more freaked out when he listens to the old man’s nightmarish visions of the true nature of Santa Claus. Add a subsequent terrible murder of his parents by a homicidal maniac in Santa Claus costume and you have a seriously traumatised child being sent into the care of an orphanage run by a lunatic Mother Superior.
When he gets a job as a store clerk a few years later, all seems to be going fine, until his manager decides to put a Santa Claus costume on him when his regular store Santa calls in sick one day. While he initially just scares little kids sitting on his lap, all hell will soon break loose after Billy has a drink or two and starts to remember what happened the night his parents got murdered.
The ending easily opened up the door for a sequel and, true to form, this film also spawned four way more inferior follow ups.
So how does Silent Night, Deadly Night fare overall?
Well, there are a couple of moments when the film has visibly aged, though, all in all, this is actually quite a decent production, full of choice moments of gore and nudity and a genuinely good genre classic.
In contrast to a lot of other slasher movies, we are not dealing with a mysteriously hooded menace, but instead with a seriously flawed human being. A lot of time is spent on the initial introduction to the main character and the reasons for his psychosis.
One of the creepiest moments occurs at the start when young Billy visits his supposedly catatonic grandfather in a mental institute, who temporarily wakes up and – with perfect manic but deadpan delivery – exhorts macabre insights into Santa’s vicious nature. A truly superb and spooky performance by character actor Will Hare.
Another excellent performance comes courtesy of Lilyan Chauvin as the Mother Superior who admonishes a vicious penalty when she discovers a couple having sex in the orphanage and advises Billy that “Punishment is necessary, punishment is good” and thereby instilling an even more warped sense of righteousness into the already seriously fragile boy. Together with the other nuns she also ironically appears to be more obsessed with Santa Claus than with celebrating the true nature of Christmas.
Don’t expect too many familiar faces in this production. In actual fact the most recognisable performer is Linnea Quigley in a short but fun supporting role as a nubile babysitter making out with her boyfriend, who opens the door to Evil Santa dressed in nothing but tight hot pants.
Of course, you’re not really going to check out this production to appreciate fine thespian art. You’re there for the gore. And gore you will get by the bucketful. The killings are staged effectively and include decapitations, axe murders and hangings by Christmas lights. It’s a lot of fun watching out for the next person who may unintentionally display signs of ‘naughty’ behaviour, thereby encouraging the wrath of Santa.
The film sure has quite a vicious streak given its subject nature. It is rare that you see little kids being endangered that regularly. And don’t tell me your jaw didn’t drop when it is revealed who gets accidentally killed by the police in the search for Billy.
Yes, the film occasionally does have unintentionally funny scenes, but it also makes up for those by a glut of original ideas and spooky killings. It is, by far, not the disaster and laugh fest that you may have read about elsewhere.
The extras are confined to a trailer and a 20+ minute audio interview with the director, Charles E Sellier Jr, played over some of the movie’s key scenes. Sellier only made a very limited number of movies as a director, but has a large portfolio as a producer and, now that he apparently found God, he seems to regret ever having been involved with the film in the first place.
Cult Hounds like us, however, may prefer watching Silent Night, Deadly Night rather than Sellier’s more uplifting Christian oriented output that includes documentaries such as George W. Bush: Faith In The White House, the subject of which sounds like a real life terror.
If you never had a chance to watch this film, do yourself a favour and check it out. This is the right time of the year to indulge in a dose of red Christmas. Given its relative obscurity before, this is a production well worth a reappreciation and belongs in every genre fan’s Christmas stocking.
Silent Night Deadly Night is out now.