Ho-Ho-Horror!: SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (TriStar 1984)

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Deck the halls with slaughtered bodies, fa-la-la-lala, lala-la-la!

What better way to spend the Yuletide Season than with SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, a movie about a psycho Santa running amok in Utah? This 1984 slasher shocker was directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr., usually associated with wholesome family fare like THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS, IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK, and ANCIENT SECRETS OF THE BIBLE. But Sellier occasionally dipped his toes into exploitation (THE BOOGENS, THE ANNIHILATORS), and hit the bloody nail on the head with this one. The movie was considered controversial in its day, and TriStar actually pulled it from theaters a week after its release due to protests from national PTA groups. Today, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT is regarded as a classic of the slasher genre and holds up quite well next to fright films like FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

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We begin our tawdry little tale in 1971, with the Chapman family driving their station wagon to visit Grampa at Utah Mental Hospital. Gramps is catatonic until mom, dad, and baby sis leave the room. Then the creepy old geezer scares the beejeezus out of young Billy, telling him Santa Claus is going to punish him for being naughty. Billy’s pretty freaked out by this, but the worst is yet to come.

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An armed robber in a Santa suit (the always welcome Charles Dierkop) kills a clerk, and ends up with “thirty-one bucks? Merry fucking Christmas”. The crook pulls the old “broke down by the side of the road” routine, hoping to score, when who should pull up but the Chapmans. The killer Claus shoots dad in the head and rapes mom, slashing her throat in the process. Billy runs and hides, scared to death while Santa searches for him.

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Cut to 1974, where we find Billy and his sister at St. Mary’s Orphanage. Sister Margaret is sensitive to Billy’s fear of Christmas, but Mother Superior is an old-school ogre who thrives on punishment. When Billy’s caught peeping through a keyhole at two teens gettin’ it on, Mother Superior doles out the punishment with an iron hand, her mantra being “Punishment is absolute…punishment is good”. Holy Catholic guilt!!

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Ten years later, Sister Margaret helps Billy get a job at Ira’s Toy Store. Things go well at first, until Christmastime. When Mr. Simms’s Santa breaks his ankle ice skating, he recruits Billy to don the red suit and beard of Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick. At the after-hours Christmas party, the employees get drunk celebrating. Billy follows two of them to the backroom, and catches them in fragrante delicto. This is more than he can handle, and he brutally murders them both. After slaughtering the rest of his coworkers, Billy leaves to go on a killing spree, creatively exterminating another sexually active pair (one of whom is cult movie queen Linnea Quigley) and some punks before heading to the orphanage, axe in hand and ready to “punish”.

Didn’t anyone think of sending Billy to a therapist? I guess we wouldn’t have a movie if they did. Robert Brian Wilson is outstanding as Billy, though the film’s (then) controversial nature kind of did in his career. Wilson got work on soaps and TV episodes, but by the 90s he was out of acting altogether. Seen today, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT is fun, a big hunk of 80s Xmas cheese with boobs and gore galore. The movie spawned five (!) sequels and a 2012 remake, none of which capture the loopy spirit of the original. So snuggle in your beds with visions of sugarplums dancing in your heads this Christmas…

But you better watch out!!

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