Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

He knows when you’ve been naughty

A young boy witnesses the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of a thief dressed up as Santa. After being homed inside a Catholic orphanage, he is gradually taught that being naughty deserves punishment, Now a young man, he still hasn’t forgotten his past and when he is forced to dress up as Santa to work in a shop, he snaps and sets about punishing all of the ‘naughty’ people who don’t deserve Christmas presents.

 

One of the more infamous slashers of the early days, Silent Night, Deadly Night had the dubious distinction of being one of the few films with people actually protesting outside, shocked and disgusted at the images of Santa Claus being turned into a homicidal maniac and carrying a bloody axe. The film was pulled from its cinematic release and wound up in limbo for years. Fast forward over twenty years later and no one would bat an eyelid but back in the 80s, this was a big deal and Silent Night, Deadly Night was banned. Certainly the ban gave this film a lot more notoriety than it truly deserves. At its core, it’s a plain slasher film with a rather mean-spirited anti-Christmas message and is going to offend anyone who thinks of Christmas as a sacred time of the year that should not be treated with bad taste.

One thing it does well is develop its protagonist and the film spends the first half of the film showing you the appalling life that this sorry little young boy has gone through. You can actually sympathise with the character of Billy. After getting a rather harsh warning from his grandfather that “Santa punishes naughty people”, seeing his parents murdered and mother raped by a man dressed as Santa and after receiving years of abuse in the Catholic orphanage, it’s no wonder the guy is a little quick to snap when he’s forced to dress as Santa. The film spends a lot of time developing the character of Billy but one has to wonder whether it was designed to make us feel for him. When he starts his killing spree, are we then supposed to cheer him on as he murders innocent people? As good as some of the kills are, he still targets people at random who have been naughty. With a cry of “punish” or “naughty” he then reigns down the ultimate Christmas present – death!

Once he snaps, the film drifts into gimmicky slasher mode as the deaths all feature Christmas related instruments of death. He strangles people with Christmas lights. He impales a naked woman onto a stuffed reindeer head. He beheads someone sliding down a snowy hill on a sledge. He goes around killing random people for a while until finally the film realises that it needs to go full circle with his character and he returns to the orphanage to get his revenge on Mother Superior. The film borders on black comedy at times with Billy giving a young girl a penknife for Christmas after she’s sat on his knee. In another scene, the police mistakenly shoot dead an elderly priest dressed up as Santa in front of a group of young children. I bet a bit more of this would have worked to the film’s advantage. Playing the whole Christmas angle straight was a bad idea because the film constantly pushes its anti-Christmas message to the point where you switch off.

The film has some shockingly low production values though. The film just reeks of low budget and has an amateurish feel from the lighting down to the muffled sound. To say it was picketed by disgusted parents, the film is also relatively blood-free compared to some of its slasher brothers. The acting is really bad across the board, particularly from Robert Brian Wilson as Billy. The character was there for the taking for some proper actor but instead this meat head gets the role. He has been cast because he’s quite a big, imposing chap and at least gives some physical presence to the role, even if he’s charisma-free. Lilyan Chauvin at least provides her Mother Superior character with all of the stereotypical harshness of a disciplinarian nun. Silent Night, Deadly Night tries to throw in a more caring, moderate nun to try and counteract Mother Superior but is ultimately overshadowed and she ends up as some female version of Donald Pleasance’s Dr Loomis from the Halloween films. There’s also an entirely predictable ending which sets up the inevitable sequel.

 

I can see where some people would take offence to the film. If it’s not the negative light in which it portrays Catholic orphanages, it’s the mean-spirited ‘screw Christmas’ sentiment that is continually shoved down our throats more than Santa’s bloody axe. Silent Night, Deadly Night is a decent enough slasher let down by many things. But it’s got a killer Santa in it, what more do you want from your Christmas themed horror?

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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