SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT
Director: Charles E Sellier Jr
Year of release: 1984
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 79-82 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "He knows when you've been naughty" and "You've made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: This notorious festive classic follows a young guy named Billy who due to a very traumatic childhood centering around Christmas snaps as an eighteen year old and goes on a murderous rampage dressed as Santa Claus. We first meet Billy as a young kid where he is visiting his grandfather with his family. The old man is seemingly in a daze or near catatonic state but he soon comes to life once left alone with his grandson and scares Billy with tales of Santa bringing severe punishment instead of presents to those who have been naughty throughout the year. A rattled Billy is left confused and wary of Santa Claus, a situation which is compounded ten fold when Billy's parents later stop to help an apparent stranded motorist dressed as Santa who turns out to be a fleeing robber who kills the parents as Billy looks on.
We then flash forward a few years to where Billy and his young brother, both orphans, are living in a strict Catholic orphanage run by a stern Nun. Billy has a tough time here and in his suffering at the hands of the Mother Superior his fear and hatred of Christmas grows.
Things then jump forward a further ten years to where Billy is now a seemingly normal happy teen who has just started a new job in a toy shop. Things go well for a while but as Christmas arrives Billy becomes frazzled and when the regular store Santa is ill Billy is asked to don the suit himself. Being forced to dress as the figure so instrumental in his troubled upbringing sends Billy over the edge as he begins killing left and right, seemingly intent on making his way back to the orphanage to seek revenge on the Nun who contributed to his fragile mental state growing up.
Good points: This film is a little more story driven and character based than many others of its kind with a solid amount of thought and effort going into Billy's backstory. He is someone we can sympathise with as we see that he is really a product of circumstance and his environment growing up. Not only do we get very early scenes when he was a young kid at which point many slashers would just have skipped to the present day but also the orphanage parts as well which add more layers to the character.
There are some good kills on display with the impaling of a woman on the deer antlers probably being the highlight but some other good ones include a decapitation while sledging and someone being strangled with Christmas lights.
As well as Billy himself being a great character there are a couple of other good ones as well in the store owner Mr Simms and the head Nun at the orphanage both of whom are fun to watch. Interestingly there is no real final girl in this one with a younger more sympathetic Nun at the orphanage probably being the closest thing but the film is none the worse for this and does well with what it does have.
The climax is exciting when Billy finally arrives at the orphanage which of course is filled with young children so we are kind of uneasy as to what he is going to do and whether or not he intends to hurt them. Even if he left them unharmed it would still be terrible for him to kill the Nun in front of them so it is kind of an edge of your seat sequence.
This is a very seasonal slasher as we get to see not one but three separate Christmas Eve's/Christmas Days (well perhaps just Christmas Eve when Billy was a very young kid) plus obviously the whole killer outfit of the Santa suit ties in very nicely with the holiday and adds a festive flavour. The Christmas toys in the shop are also very creepy at one point and are very effective at building up the mood.
Bad Points: Unfortunately the film isn't the best in terms of picture quality. Though most of it is fine there are some portions here and there where the quality deteriorates. This is probably because they are trying to restore bits that were perhaps edited out or removed in previous releases but it makes for a slightly disjointed experience and can be a bit of a distraction. There has recently been a new Blu Ray of this released though so maybe that finally addresses this problem.
There are some unrealistic things in the film that I wasn't keen on. Firstly I thought it was unlikely that the nice Nun wouldn't have warned Mr Simms about Billy's past and that he was likely to be agitated around Christmas time. It was kind of a bit far fetched that he actually had to play the role of Santa himself.
The kill with the girl in the stockroom was a bit weird looking as well as Billy only seemed to cut her a little bit in the stomach with the Stanley/box knife yet it seemed to be enough to kill her. Also when he attacked the couple in the house that were baby sitting it was odd that he knew to target them as he wouldn't have been able to see from outside the house that they were having sex and not watching the kid. And how come the boyfriend couldn't hear the struggle upstairs between his girlfriend (Denise) and Billy when minutes before Denise had heard bells from outside which would have been much quieter and harder to hear? (Bells on the cats collar I assume or on Billy's Santa costume).
The scenes at the orphanage as enjoyable as they were to watch were unrealistic in a sense as you would think with Billy's behavior and the picture he drew etc that it would be very apparent to the staff that he had physiological issues and was struggling to deal with what happened to his parents. Despite this though he received no counseling or special attention. I know it was supposed to be the eighties where mental problems wouldn't of been as known about as they are today but it still comes across as a sort of hard to swallow.
Verdict: A very enjoyable festive slasher with a lot to recommend it. It does a great job in particular of showing us what led to Billy's troubled mind and his stress relating to Christmas and Santa Claus. Compared to many slashers it takes a much more thoughtful and methodical path in the pacing and although far fetched at times the story is generally better for it. An excellent film to watch around Christmas for horror fans without a doubt and definitely one to add to the collection if you haven't yet seen it. Nine out of ten may be a bit overly generous looking back on this. I find it hard to give out scores sometimes and there are probably films I've given an eight to that I liked just as much as this but a nine was my first thought so I'll stick with that for better or worse.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Clerk: Shot by robber dressed as Santa.
2) Billy's father: Shot by the robber.
3) Billy's mother: Throat cut by the robber.
4) Andy: Strangled with Christmas lights set up like a noose.
5) Pamela: Stomach cut with a knife.
6) Mr Simms: Hit in the head with the claw end of a hammer.
7) Helen: Shot with a bow and arrow.
8) Denise: Impaled on deer antlers.
9) Tommy: Thrown through a high window/impaled on glass.
10) Bully Mac: Beheaded with an axe while going down a hill on a sledge.
11) Father O'Brian: Shot by Officer Barnes in the back in a case of mistaken identity.
12) Officer Barnes: Hit in the chest with an axe causing him to fall down some steps.
13) Billy: Shot in the back by the Sheriff.