Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Genre: Slasher Running Time: 1 hr. 19 min.

Release Date: November 9th, 1984 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr. Actors: Gilmer McCormick, Lilyan Chauvin, Robert Brian Wilson, Toni Nero, Danny Wagner, Linnea Quigley, Leo Geter, Randy Stumpf, Britt Leach

 


 

“C

an’t I stay up and see him?” On Christmas Eve, 1971, a station wagon carrying a happy family (a young son, a baby, and a mother and father) heads to grandfather’s home, located at the Utah Mental Facility. Jimmy (Jeff Hansen) and Ellie (Tara Buckman) are unable to communicate with grandpa, as he’s suffering from some form of dementia. But as soon as they step out of the room, the creepy, elderly man begins terrorizing Billy, the small boy, in a spectacularly unnerving scene. The old man’s warnings suggest that Santa Claus is going to punish everyone who has been bad – in the worst possible way.

“What’s the matter? You don’t like Santa Claus?” Moments later, a man dressed in a large white beard and a jolly red jacket holds up a convenience store, mercilessly gunning down the cashier when he attempts to defend himself. As luck would have it, the killer stops the station wagon as it heads back down the road, shooting Jimmy and sexually assaulting Ellie – before slashing her throat – all in front of little Billy, who hides in a snowy bank on the side of the road. This introduction is quite brutal, though it sets the tone for a serious horror film that hides its B-movie status with unwavering ferocity.

Three years later, at Saint Mary’s orphanage, Billy still can’t shake the trauma of his parents’ murder. This psychological damage is reflected in his drawings of death and violence, which enrage the perpetually bristling Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin). Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) is more lenient, allowing the youth to play with the other children even after being reprimanded, but this only results in the cold headmistress doling out lashings with her belt.

The setup is unusually bleak, yet it’s quite fitting for a picture about serial killers and tormenting nuns. Chauvin is particularly effective as Billy’s barbarous ward, who fails to realize that her methods only provoke further rebellion. There’s a bit of a gap between Billy’s constant castigation as a child and his emergence into adulthood in 1984 (18-year-old Billy is played by Robert Brian Wilson), which would imply that he was somehow able to function like a normal teenager through his formative years. He eventually acquires a job at Ira’s Toys, where he’s bullied by stockroom manager Andy (Randy Stumpf), and fantasizes about friendly coworker Pamela (Toni Nero) – and where he’s soon asked to don a Santa Claus outfit to entertain feisty toddlers.

“He sure knows how to handle kids.” Despite the film’s consistent sincerity toward its dark subject matter, unintentional humor can’t help but to surface via Billy’s fears – and frequent flashbacks – toward images and impersonations of Santa Claus. It’s almost laugh-out-loud funny when Billy is forced to look at himself in a mirror the first time he slips on the puffy beard and jingling red hat. And countless other elements trigger Billy’s mania, from merry songs to passing comments to sexual harassment – leading to a killing spree of significant destruction.

As a low-budget ’80s slasher, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” is remarkable. It boasts effective cinematography (the camera following the action down a flight of stairs, and a transition from gaping nutcrackers to festive carolers are especially clever), gruesome bloodshed (hammers, axes, and boxcutters offer up gnarly demises), and exploitative sex and nudity (scream queen Linnea Quigley features in some extensive toplessness). Even the standard sequences of a lumbering antagonist slowly stalking his victims harbor a certain graveness not often found in schlocky thrillers.

Wilson is suitable as the wayward orphan, but the film is lacking in the hero department. Since the main character is both the initial source of sympathy and then the monster at the heart of the mayhem, a bevy of supporting roles turn up sporadically, solely to become prey for grisly executions. And many of these sequences have minimal impact, considering that they involve victims with nonexistent development. Of course, they’re included just to increase the body count – and to stretch out the running time, due to the lack of a worthwhile story once the murder spree commences. Nevertheless, the false alarms (such as the accidental shooting of a deaf Santa Claus), the climactic canvassing of the orphanage, and the showdown with Mother Superior are magnificently fitting. It’s not high art, but it’s a surprisingly memorable slasher endeavor.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10