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MOVIE REVIEW (RETRO): Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

By Kev B.

Silent Night Deadly Night poster

 

My favorite holiday horror flick is another one that brings me back to my awesome childhood, growing up in the 80’s with one of the coolest Moms on earth. Way back then, before the internet, we had a show with two opinionated douche nozzles who did movie reviews, called Sneak Previews and later At The Movies. A week before Halloween back in 1980, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert had declared war on horror movies, and dedicated an entire episode of their show to a disturbing new trend in Hollywood, the slasher film. How douchey were they? Well, Siskels review of Friday the 13th for the Chicago Tribune included this gem of a quote "It has been suggested to me that a great way to keep people from seeing a truly awful movie is to tell them the ending" so he spoiled the reveal to discourage readers from seeing it. He also encouraged a letter campaign to harass the studio, producers, and even Betsy Palmer for taking part in the film.

Silent Night Deadly Night Controversy

In 1984 Siskel and Ebert reviewed Silent Night, Deadly Night. They said it was crude and mean spirited and that the profits made from the movie were blood money. They read the names of the film's production crew on air, shaming them and again encouraging viewers to send hate mail. Whenever they were outraged, Mom and I knew we had a winner and ran off to the theater to check it out. The more disgusted and repulsed they were, the more excited I would get. In fact, they’re the reason I write reviews today, as I had always wished I had a like minded critic whose opinion I could trust. And it really is all a matter of taste and opinion, including the debate on artistic merit. Ya ever heard the old saying: Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one… and most of them stink.

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity, but the shit storm that ensued and the protests at showings of the film caused the studio to pull it from theaters a week or so after its release. Had it not been for that TV commercial running at dinner time across America, the movie probably would’ve had a moderate run in theaters and went unnoticed. And despite Silent Night Deadly Night out-grossing Wes Cravens A Nightmare On Elm Street, also released on the same day, they listed the film as one of the worst of 1984. The major fatal flaw was that 30 second television commercial, not the movie itself, as most of the outraged protesting parents didn’t even see 30 seconds worth of the movie.

"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. How dare producer Ira Barmak rob my child and others like him of their fantasy. Make the splatter films, if you must, about adult subjects and leave our holidays alone. What next? A marauding turkey at Thanksgiving? Think of the children!!!"

The subject of the controversy is almost more interesting than the movie itself, and in the long run it’s helped more than it hurt this fun little slasher. It put the movie on peoples radar, and actually solidified and justified its mark in horror history. It wasn’t the first killer Santa movie, and it aint the last, but its my favorite and it’s become a holiday tradition for me and many others out there.

Silent Night Deadly Night protest

Poor Billy Chapman never had a chance, he had that perfect storm of consequences that effected his life and mind so deeply it would’ve been a miracle if he turned out a well adjusted young man. The movie begins, Christmas eve 1971, with Billy at 5 years old visiting his grandfather at the Utah mental facility with his parents and baby brother Ricky. Grandpa seems catatonic until poor Billy is left alone with him for a few minutes, he snaps out of it and tells the young boy “Santy Claus only brings presents to them that's been good all year. All the other ones, all the naughty ones, he punishes! What about you, boy? You been good all year?” “You scared, ain't ya? You should be! Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!”

With that still fresh in his young mind, the ride home is cut short by a chance meeting with a derelict on a crime spree dressed in a Santa suit. After witnessing his parents murdered at the hands of Santa, Billy and little brother Ricky are sent to St Mary's home for orphaned children and subjected to the strict disciplinary guidance of Mother Superior. Her sadistic abuse accompanied by noteworthy quotes like “Punishment is absolute, punishment is good!” and “When we do something naughty, we are always caught. Then we are punished!” Not the best place for a kid to grow up with a possible hereditary mental illness and extreme childhood trauma.

Billy gets a job at Ira’s Toy store as a stock boy, but when the holidays come around his attitude becomes a little erratic. Add to that the need for someone to fill in as the store Santa, and before we know it Billy is all dressed in red and white and looking a little stressed. The store closes and the bottle opens and the celebration begins, Christmas party at Ira’s. Turns out alcohol is the final trigger when Billy gets a few drinks in him, and before you know it holy holiday hell breaks loose. Billy goes into full on punish mode, and punish he does!

Maybe I give this movie extra credit for the nostalgia, but I still think it has a solid story, some interesting kills, and enough gratuitous sex and violence to get me thru most of the holiday season. He beheads a dude riding a sleigh. He strangles someone with a string of Christmas lights, He impales Linnea Quigley on the antlers of a taxidermied deer head, and if that don’t make you want to see it then disregard everything I’ve said and go watch Jim Carrey as the Grinch. I highly recommend you make Silent Night, Deadly Night part of your movie collection, and a holiday tradition in your home too. If you can find the double feature DVD it includes the sequel featuring Billys little brother Ricky, all grown up and crazy as hell. “Garbage Day!”

Depending on how much cheese you like with your horror there are 5 SNDN movies in the original franchise, and part 5 has Mickey Rooney in it too.

And remember… “You see Santa Claus tonight you better run boy, you better run for your life!”

Posted by Alan Smithee

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