★★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
This ain’t no Charlie Brown Christmas. Directed by Charles Sellier, Jr.
There’s some of those movies that really put you in a different state. Not queasy or perturbed, but more, let’s say, befuddled. In many cases you’ve seen the film before. You’ve seen the film on cable, on VHS, on 35mm, but you’d swear you’ve never seen the film all the way through. You watch the film for the seventh time but inexplicably it seemingly unfolds with new and unseen scenes. It’s not that these films are so dense that there’s too much to unpack, but they unfold in such a dreamy lulling way that you begin to question their place in your horror-packed memory banks. Repo Man is one of those films, and weirdly, so is 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night.
For the uninitiated, as famed film critic Gene Siskel once opined “There’s no question in my mind that the showing of Santa with an axe on free TV and commercials is sick, sleazy, and mean-spirited.” While I generally like Gene Siskel and respect his place in the pantheon of film, ol’ Gene (RIP) could not be more wrong on this point. Frankly that’s what makes Silent Night, Deadly Night so exceptional — it’s sick, sleazy, and mean-spirited.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a relatively simple film with a fairly clear through line. A young boy Billy (Robert Brian Wilson at age 18) witnesses his father killed and his mother raped and killed on Christmas eve — by SANTA! This entire pre-Christmas event takes place a mere hours after Billy’s told by his “comatose” Grandfather that he will most certainly be punished by Santa to which he quickly follows up with “You scared, ain’t ya? You should be! Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!”
The timid, scared, and meek Billy is immediately shipped off to the local terrifying Catholic charity run by the equally terrifying Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin). As Billy and his kid brother are trying to convalesce from their bent psyches, Mother Superior and society continue to cram the ghastly Santa Claus down their throats. Billy, understandably, is having none of Santa or what Mother Superior is selling holiday season after holiday season. The sadly misunderstood Billy eventually graduates in to a strapping young lad and is given a shot at a life beyond the orphanage at a local toy story — during the Christmas Holiday!
Bashful Billy does his darnedest to keep possibly the sadest toy store ever afloat during the holidays. He’s at the manager, Mr. Sims’ (Britt Leach), beck and call, he’s befriended by cute co-worker Pamela (Toni Nero), and he even dons a Santa Claus outfit for the good of the kiddies. Billy grits his teeth and tepidly agrees to play the part of his psychological nemesis, old Saint Nick. The pre-Christmas shopping spree eventually comes to a halt and Mr. Sims closes up the store and wildly declares “…let’s get shitfaced!” The party kicks off in grand order and Billy reluctantly plays along. That is until he catches his cute coworker being assaulted by his stockroom pal Andy (Randy Stumpf), and beffudled Billy, dressed as a schlumpy Santa, finally loses his cool. There’s arrows, garottes, blood, gore, and one mighty powerful axe wielding Billy.
Bundled up as the horrible Santa Claus, Bill goes on a fierce killing rampage that has little rhyme or reason. Billy’s got it in his mind that it’s Christmas and that’s the time when Santa punishes…and punishes he does. As the local police officers begin to close in on Billy they issue a “kill all Santas” directive, but Billy continues on with chopping, stabbing, and death by antelope antler. Local law enforcement, with the aid of one of nuns who’s Billy’s sole advocate, decide to camp out back at the orphanage. Sure that Billy will return, a Santa is spotted by law enforcement, he’s shouts for Santa to stop as he proceeds to the orphanage and then opens fire. However, this Santa was a local priest who just happened to be deaf, who didn’t hear the officer’s commands, and who dies at the footstep of the orphanage — in a Santa costume. Billy does eventually makes his way to the orphanage and in a final climatic encounter goes toe to toe with the terrifying Mother Superior. The film ends (and we won’t spoil the twist here) with the simple utterance of the word “punish.”
While the LA Times predicted in 1984 that this film would universally be on “everyone’s” worst films of all time, none could be further from the truth. Silent Night, Deadly Night continues to shock, bewilder, irritate, and titillate audiences several decades later. This film really is the embodiment of what you want it to be. If your desire is to be puritanically distressed, this film will do it. On the other hand, if your goal is hoot, holler, and revel in the holiday insanity, then grab some eggnog and get ready for a prolonged howl.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is rated R. It’s available for streaming pretty much everywhere — especially during the holidays.