By Steve D. Stones
Just how sleazy is the holiday horror film SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT? Paige Hurley, a concerned parent from Minnesota said: "My 3-year old son saw the television commercial for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT last week and now refuses to sit on Santa’s lap for our annual Christmas picture this year. What next? A marauding turkey at Thanksgiving?" Roxanne T. Mueller of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said: "SILENT NIGHT, DEALY NIGHT is a sleazy, miserable, insulting piece of garbage!" Actor Mickey Rooney said: "How dare they! I’m all for the First Amendment, but … don’t give me Santa Claus with a gun going to kill someone. The scum who made that movie should be run out of town." As you can see, critics were not very kind to this movie.
Like DON’T GO IN THE WOODS . . . ALONE, this film has a special appeal to me because it was filmed locally in Heber City, Utah. In fact, directors James Bryan and Charles Sellier Jr. both worked on the Grizzly Adams TV show of the 1970s.The story begins with a young family traveling to a Utah mental facility to visit their grandfather on Christmas Eve. For years, the grandfather has pretended to be unconscious and mute. After greeting the grandfather, the parents leave the room to attend to some formalities with the superintendent while Billy stays to watch his grandfather. The grandfather begins to warn little Billy that only good children can receive gifts from Santa, and Santa severely punishes all naughty children.
On their way back home, Billy expresses a lack of interest in Santa visiting their home on Christmas because he is afraid of being punished. Soon they encounter a man dressed in a Santa suit pulled off the side of the road with car trouble. The Santa has just robbed a local convenient store. The father pulls over to offer help, but the man points a gun at him. He quickly puts the car in reverse, crashing into a nearby ditch. The father is knocked out unconscious. Santa pulls the mother out of the car, raping and murdering her. Billy witnesses her murder after fleeing from the car and hiding in the brush near the ditch.
Four years later in December 1974, Billy is now living at Saint Mary’s Home For Orphaned Children. Mother Superior disciplines Billy for showing a violent crayon drawing of Santa to his classmates. While walking in the hallway to his room, Billy witnesses a young couple having sex in their room. This triggers a flashback in his mind of the rape and murder of his mother. Even sitting on Santa’s lap at the orphanage seems to trigger the violent flashbacks of his mother.
It is now Christmas time 1984, and Billy is a grown up teenager working at a toy store. One of his co-workers constantly teases and bullies him at work. He develops a crush on a pretty brunette girl who also works at the toy store. He even has sexual fantasies about her in his dreams. His boss insists that he dress up as Santa to greet costumers. He is very hesitant to take on this assignment because of what he witnessed of his mother many years ago, but soon agrees to dress up as Jolly O’ Saint Nick.
One night while leaving the store, he witnesses his bully co-worker raping the pretty brunette girl in the back storage room. Once again, this triggers another flashback of his mother being raped. This time he becomes violent and kills the man by hanging him with Christmas lights. For the rest of the film, Billy goes on a murdering rampage with an axe and dressed in his Santa suit.
One particularly sleazy and gratuitous scene in the film shows Linnea Quigley, the most famous star of the film, having sex on a pool table with her boyfriend. She hears a cat outside the house and decides to open the front door topless to let it inside. How many women would really open the front door topless to let a cat in the house? This is not very believable. Soon Billy enters the home and picks Quigley up, impaling her on the antlers of an antelope head hanging above the fireplace. The real Santa will have quite a surprise when he comes down this particular chimney tonight!
Although I’m a fan of this film, I do have my criticisms of it. This film is an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween some six years earlier. The 1980s ushered in the "slasher genre" as a result of Halloween, and this is one of many 1980s films that fits this category.
What makes Michael Meyers such a believable killer is that we really do not know why he kills, and we never see his face. Plus, we feel Meyers is evil and has no remorse for his actions because he is not aware they are wrong. The Billy character in this film is not quite believable because we are given a long history into his life, and he appears to be the typical all American boy up until he witnesses the girl at the toy store being raped by his co-worker. He does not come across as being evil and seems to be killing for only the sake of witnessing a rape. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why parents all across America were protesting and banning movie theatres for screening this film.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a film I would only recommend to fans of the "slasher genre" of the 1980s. If you’re looking for a well-made, classic holiday horror film, I would highly recommend BLACK CHRISTMASfrom 1974. BLACK CHRISTMAS pre-dates the "slasher genre" by nearly a decade, and is said to be John Carpenter’s inspiration for Halloween.