Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) - So this will be the last of the Christmas themed horror films covered this December. If there is one thing I have learned this month it is that Christmas is traumatizing to a lot of people. This final entry is the much ballyhooed film from the 80s that had parents up in arms. Imagine Santa on an advertisement for a movie with an axe in his hand. How Shocking! I can't say I remember this one, it came out a couple years after I graduated high school and I think I was living in Jamaica Plain (Boston) and if the is one thing about JP it has no movie theaters. I would have to travel if I was going out to the movies and with all the drugs and alcohol abuse of my youth I can't remember a single trip to the movies. This film was remade this year and titled Silent Night. I watched that version also but I will save that review for next year. It was pretty much the same film in principle but instead of learning of the trauma of poor Billy you find out he was the killer just at the end of the film. Also the focus in that film shifts from the killer Billy and how he got to that point to the cops trying to stop him. It is a quality horror film relying on great gore effects to make up for the lack of background on the killer. The predecessor is what I am here to talk about today though. It is all about the events leading up to Billy flipping out and killing.
Billy, traumatized as a boy when his family was killed by a man in a Santa suit on Christmas Eve grows to be a big strong young man. Through his childhood living at an orphanage the harsh Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) reenforced his trauma. The good Sister Margaret tries to get him the help he needs but can not do enough. When a young man working at a local toy store Billie has a mental break when he is forced to play Santa Claus for the store setting off a killing streak. Dressed in his Santa costume Billie moves through the town and punishes those he sees as naughty.
First off let me say things have changed since this movie was made. The opening scene is of a family traveling through a countryside, Jimmy Chapman, his wife Ellie, little Billy at age 5 and little infant Ricky, Billy's brother. They are driving in a big old station wagon in 1971 and not one person is wearing a seat belt. Billy is in the middle of the back seat asking about Santa Claus and could he stay up to see him. The beauty of the scene though is when the pan to the front seat and Mom is holding the infant in her arm. No baby seats here, just Mom holding baby Ricky. Now I remember the 1970's and I have to say this scene is pretty accurate. I remember many days driving with my Mom and sisters in our station wagon. Me and my sisters all laying in the very back of the wagon playing games. It was so common to just move about the car. Lucky for us we never had the bad luck this family has though.
They head out to visit Ellie's Dad who is a patient at the Utah Mental Facility. He seems pretty comatose just staring off into space while the family tries to engage him. The family leave little Billy with the old man while they go off to talk to the doctor. This is another strange happening. This is a mental institution and they leave a 5 year old alone with a patient. Immediately after the adults leave Gramps shows us he was just faking and looks right at the poor little boy and says, "Santa only brings presents to them thats been good all year, to them that haven't been naughty. All the other ones, all the naughty ones he punishes. What about you boy? You been good all year? Scary as shit to a little boy, poor little Billy has to shake his no to Grandpa, so the old man continues to terrify. "You see Sants tonight boy you better run. You better run for your life." So we have the first foreshadowing of the horrors that are to come for this family. The first incident with Grampa does save little Billy's life though because when the family is driving home everything changes.
Little does the family know there is a killer Santa on the streets. When the creep robs a gas station he kills the cashier when the cashier went for his weapon, but the director Charles E Sellier Jr. makes a point of showing the guy as heartless. Killer Santa finishes his kill with a bullet in the brain. Now he just happens to flag down the Chapmans while they are driving home. They try to drive out of the situation but he shoots killing Jim. Billy runs from the car and hides in a ditch where he can still see the car. I guess Grampa's advice really saved his ass. Unfortunately he watches as Santa pulls his Mom from the car with intention to rape? Ripping her shirt open so that for years any time poor Billy sees a woman on her back with exposed breasts he flashes back to this scene. When Mom struggled Santa killer slits her throat and so the trauma for Billy the murder of his Mother and Father are burned into his being.
This film takes its time to make sure we see that Billy does not recover from this incident either. We join him four years later living in a Catholic orphanage. He when asked to think about Christmas only thinks of death, and since a religious Christian organization is running the place they can't get enough of the holiday. Forced to participate little Billy is not doing so well. He has a healthy fear of Santa Clause and a negative state during the holiday. Considering his passed this makes total sense and you would think his care givers would be cautious around him this time of year. Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) notices his struggles and how each year it gets harder and harder for him. She advocates in his behalf but Mother Superior is a believer in facing your fear and continues to re-traumatized the poor kid by making him participate in everything including sitting on Santa's lap.
We flash forward having established Billy's deterioration around the holiday and rejoin the story when he is eighteen years old. He gets a job with the help of sister Margaret at a local toy store working for Mr. Simms (Britt Leach). He works in the back room with lazy coworker Andy (Randy Stumpf) and has taken a fancy to female coworker Pamela (Toni Nero). All seems to be going well and then the holiday season arrives. Now next to the North Pole the worst place to work if you hate Christmas has to be a toy store. Poor Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) now a big strong young man, but he gets depressed and his work suffers as the holiday closes in. When asked to play Santa after the first guy is injured he does it but is not the jolly old soul we all know and love. It is the first step in his downfall.
When the shift comes it is at the drink filled Christmas party the store has on Christmas Eve. Billy already far down the road to crazy sees the lovely Pamela being roughly groped by his jerk off coworker Andy and all hell breaks loose in his head. He knows now like his old grampa told him as Santa the naughty must be punished. His killing spree is everyone he works with and then he heads back to the orphanage where he grew up. At the same time Sister Margaret is trying to find him with the help of the police. The practical effects are good in this film but the one tone acting of Wilson as the killer is a bit off putting. Like so many slashers the killer eludes the police long enough to do some serious damage to the community but in the end he must go down. I have to say I liked the bit in the film where the police shoot down the deaf preacher dressed as Santa at the orphanage. Poor guy just could not hear the cop yelling at him. This film is also great in that it sets up a whole troupe of kids to be the next Santa killer as they all are traumatized and re-traumatized in this film.
Rating (5.9) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others