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The Corpse’s Five Days Of Christmas — SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

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Silent Night, Deadly Night – 1984

Here on the third day of our Christmas-themed horror rant, instead of a jolly old elf, we present an axe-wielding one!

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984): the movie with the killer Santa Claus.  That’s how it was as a child for me, glaring at that oversized big box VHS on shelves at any video store cool enough to carry it, simply Santa heading down a chimney with an axe, nuff said.  But it’s a bit more than that.  It has surprisingly more story than you’d ever expect, and wasn’t just “Friday the 13th with Santa Claus”, as assumed by the general movie going audience at the time.  It doesn’t necessarily open like a typical slasher flick either; aside from the blood splattered opening title, it’s all pretty serene and Norman Rockwell-esque.  No doubt is there a sense of foreboding, but it’s not until Gramps looks to his left that shit starts to get real.  As to why poor Billy’s parents would leave him alone with the insane grandfather is beyond me, and it’s not really clear if grandpa is just faking his catatonic state, but his spouting of twisted visions of deranged sugar plums slaughtering in their heads is a genuinely terrifying moment, as laughable as it may be.

Thankfully, we’re not left alone with Gramps for too long, and we’re back in the car…

…except now there’s some creep dressed as Santa robbing a convenience store, and from this moment on the movie just gets vulgar as fuck. Can’t recall the differences in the R-rated vs. unrated versions, but the sourpuss behind the counter gets shot in the chest, then again in the head just for good violent measure.  Foul language and brutal sentiment abound, he heads in the direction of Billy and his family.  Needless to say, after the encounter with grandpa, Billy is scared shitless and wants no Santa, not now, not ever, so you can imagine his terror when there’s a Santa Claus flagging down his parents’ car in the middle of a dark back road.  Gullible, they stop, Santa shoots Billy’s father in the head, then attempts to rape his mother before slitting her throat, in front of Billy, who luckily hides and avoids detection, and the movie isn’t sinister enough to do any harm to Billy’s infant brother in the backseat.  With his parents dead, we shift years later to Billy and brother Richard (“Ricky” in the sequel) at a home for orphaned children; not exactly what I envisioned “Friday the 13th with Santa Claus” to look like.

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Billy’s idea of gift-giving is a little skewed…

I think the problem, if this movie has one, is the bad taste it ultimatlly leaves in your mouth.  It’s hard to really kick back and enjoy this “Killer Santa” flick after such a brutal and disturbing opening sequence.  It’s not uncommon for people to be brutally murdered at the start of a horror film, but Silent Night, Deadly Night never attempts to not be offensive in its delivery, and you almost have to admire that about it.  If it really was more silly in scope, and perhaps the insane grandfather donned a Santa hat and sledged people to death, it wouldn’t have infuriated such a legion of angry parents and disgruntled critics.  And this is only the first ten minutes!

Billy’s pseudo Dickensian lifestyle at St. Mary’s Orphanage is disturbing in a completely different way, as Billy is physically and psychologically abused by extreme hard-ass authority, led by the incomparable Mother Superior.  Played by legendary actress Lilyan Chauvin, her portrayal of Mother Superior is one of the best performances ever in a slasher movie.  There are so many things she does, and they’re some of the scariest things in the movie.  Billy survives the hellhole conditions and with the help of kindly Sister Margaret, he’s able to get a job at a toy store when he’s 18.  Only it soon turns Christmas time, and still traumatized by the sight of Santa (I mean, who wouldn’t?) Billy more or less falls apart, dons the suit, and starts slaying.  In fact, he starts out as a sort of hero, rescuing an attractive co-worker from being raped by a demented co-worker.  Only thing is he then turns on the innocent victim, kills her too, and the rest of his toy store family.

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Please, no shark jokes…

At this point, it has turned into “Friday the 13th with Santa Claus”, but again, that brutal first act, followed by the emotionally disturbing first half of the second act, we’re sorta bordering on too little too late territory.  I suppose Billy felt since he killed a good handful of people at work already, he might as well continue killing more innocent people to ring in the holiday he doesn’t want to celebrate, so he kills some punks sledding, a couple having naked pool table sex (Linnea Quigley!), a cop, a snowman, and inadvertently a poor deaf priest.

The final showdown takes place back at the orphanage, as he confronts Mother Superior one last time.  Again, as hate-able as Chauvin makes the character, she’s brilliant in this scene, how she closes her eyes in anticipation of impending axe, how she rips her arm away from a dying Billy, disgusted with him, brilliant.  I can’t tell how predictable the hook at the end with Ricky actually is, because I didn’t see this movie until it had already spawned plenty of sequels, but now it seems like a natural story development.

As classic and infamous as it became, Silent Night, Deadly Night never reached the same level of pop culture status as other slasher franchises, particularly Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), but to most horror enthusiasts, it’s usually welcome with open arms.

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Linnea Quigley certainly isn’t having a “silent night”…

It actually opened the same day as Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street, and even outgrossed it in it’s opening weekend.  After a while, I stopped seeing the original Silent Night, Deadly Night on shelves at video stores, only the sequels were present, as though the first was too vile to stock.  For me, it’s a solid and classic slasher flick which deserves to be stocked in any horror section.  Brutal and disturbing, yes, but it makes it stand out all the more.  It’s not exactly a holiday horror tradition for me, like John Carpenter’s original Halloween is every October, but when the season is right and there’s a bleak chill in the air, there’s a certain spot only Silent Night, Deadly Night can hit.

 

 

 

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Peter DiGiovanni

Freelance writer and aspiring filmmaker, lover of all things horror and wishes it were Halloween every day

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