Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

D: Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

S: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Roni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson, Britt Leach

First and foremost, I admit that I went into this movie with perhaps the lowest expectations that I've had for any of the classic horror films that I've been finally catching up on.  I expected so very, very little from a movie that's all about a guy dressed as Santa going on a killing spree on Christmas Eve.

And this movie quite simply blew me away.  I would add this to my must-see list of horror movies for anyone who wants to enjoy the classic feel of an 80s slasher film.  Granted, the acting in general isn't exactly the best, but for the time and budget, what can you really expect?  The real genius in this film is, quite simply, the main character.  You know who the killer is from the very beginning - there are no pretensions, there are no Red Herrings.  You watch as the poor little boy gets to be subjected to perhaps the most horrible vision he can see - his parents are viciously murdered by a guy in a Santa suit.  "Where ARE you, you little bastard!?" he screams into the bushes as poor little Billy hides.

Fast forward a few years, and Billy and his brother are now in the care of a stereotypical Catholic orphanage, complete with a caring Sister of the order and an overbearing, mean-as-nails Mother Superior.  Billy behaves himself well enough, but every year around Christmas, he suddenly gets worse...drawing horrible pictures of Santa and refusing to sit on Santa's lap (even punching a visiting "Santa" at the orphanage).  For each of these acts, Billy is punished for being naughty.  When he catches two teenagers in the orphanage in an act that's frowned on by the Bible (undoubtedly, they weren't attempting to procreate), he finds out that is naughty too...and worthy of punishment.

All of this is in place merely to set Billy up for the inevitable...and really the setup is economical, taking only 20 minutes or so.  Then you see Billy as an 18-year old, strapping, hunk of a boy, who the caring, compassionate Sister sets up with a job at a toy store.  Yes, let's ignore the inevitable question of whether it's smart to do so, knowing what happens at EVERY toy store around Christmas...but if not for this small lapse of judgment, the movie would be very boring indeed.

Let me tangentialize for just a moment here - in addition to the story and the gore and the nudity, another little fun part of this (for me, at least) was seeing all the old toys in the store - you have the Jabba the Hutt playset in one scene, Mousetrap in another, even a giant Castle Greyskull playset in another.  Seeing all these great 80s toys in their original packaging made an aging toy geek like me giddy with excitement. you can probably guess, Christmas rolls around.  Billy's making eyes at a female co-worker, and getting under the skin of his supervisor, a gaudy Lothario-wanna-be.  The boss, however, seems to like him, and when the regular Santa is injured, who does he turn to to take his place?  Why, Billy-boy, of course...who uses his knowledge of Santa as a punisher of the naughty to tame the wildest of children who cry and scream on his lap.

Of course, scaring little kids into complacency isn't what a slasher film is all we have to have something trigger little ol' Billy-boy into a homicidal rage...and what better than some alcohol?  Yep, that's right - after all the little buggers have left the store, Mr. Simms breaks out the booze and everyone starts to celebrate.  Everyone in the store has way too much to drink, and Billy watches his Lothario and female interest sneak back into the back of the store.  Needless to say, he catches Lothario being "naughty" and this is the trigger that causes Billy to begin hunting down and punishing those who are on the Naughty List.

I don't want to spoil everything for you - suffice it to say that the movie is a great watch from beginning to end.  There's no suspense about who's doing the killing, but who and how are always up for grabs.  Hearing Billy grumble "NAUGHTY!!" and "PUNISH!!" in a voice that's not quite his own is just awesome (though I will admit that without context it sounds horribly cheesy!), and seeing everyone else put the pieces together is a pretty good use of dramatic irony.

Overall, this movie is HIGHLY recommended for anyone who is looking for the thrill that only a good 80s slasher flick can bring!