The eighties are a movie decade synonymous with the horror genre. Thanks to the rise of VHS, the genre underwent a massive surge in popularity and the market was flooded with all manner of macabre. The biggest sub-genre of them all was the slasher, and whilst many of us are familiar with the likes of Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine, most will not have heard of the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies. The series, which eventually included five films, began in the year 1984 and was fairly controversial on release. It arrived in cinemas in the US the same day as A Nightmare on Elm Street and actually outperformed Freddy the first week of release. However, the film was quickly whisked out of movie theatres after only a week due to numerous complaints about it featuring a murderous Santa Claus.
Silent Night, Deadly Night actually begins quite strongly. I was expecting the typical silly slasher, and whilst that is where the film ultimately ends up, it begins with a much more serious tone. Young boy Billy, his baby brother Ricky and his parents, go to visit Billy’s grandfather on Christmas Eve. The old man warns Billy that Santa is evil and punishes those who have been even the slightest bit naughty. This strikes fear into Billy’s heart and his anxiety about an evil Santa is proved correct when his parents stop to help a broken down car on their journey home. The car belongs to a dangerous criminal who, whilst clad in a Santa outfit, proceeds to kill both of Billy’s parents before leaving Billy and Ricky for dead. This sequence is incredibly hard to watch, it’s steeped in violence, with a string skew towards sexual violence as the offender thrusts himself upon Billy’s mother. What makes the whole scene that much worse though that it is accompanied by the screams of the baby. These screams instantly induce stress and make for some really uncomfortable viewing.
The story then jumps forwards a year where we meet Billy at an orphanage run by nuns. It’s the lead up to Christmas and Billy, unable to cope with the trauma of his previous not-so-festive experience, is acting out. His unruly behaviour garners the attention of the Mother Superior who sets out to rehabilitate him with her own violent brand of punishment and teachings. Here the film becomes an ‘origins of a killer’ type story. Watching it back now in light of Rob Zombie’s Halloween, it’s clear that this film may be one of the many that influenced his take on Michael Myers.
Finally the film jumps forwards again, this time by ten years, where we meet Billy just as he is let out of the orphanage and starts work in a toy shop. All appears okay with the young man, that is until he gets made to pose as Santa by his new employer. The experience is too much for Billy; after experiencing a psychotic break, he begins a murderous rampage and starts punishing those he deems to be naughty. It’s here that the film veers into traditional slasher movie territory, complete with over-the-top deaths, fornicating teenagers, and scantily-clad women. It ticks off all of the boxes mentioned by Jamie Kennedy’s Randy, in Scream, and is most certainly one of the archetypal slashers that films whose conventions filmmakers of today try to subvert. As a modern audience it’s hard to see these deaths as anything but silly, but there is at least still a fun factor that keeps the viewer watching. Whilst it may not hold up as well as some of its peers, Silent Night, Deadly Night offers a sleigh full of cheesy slasher thrills.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is out to own now.
This review was first published on THN.