We are up to day 16 of our Awful Advent calendar. Behind door 16 is a classic Christmas slasher from 1984 – Silent Night, Deadly Night. We checked out Silent Night, the loose remake of this, just a few days ago. It was a perfectly adequate festive thriller and quite enjoyable. Having watched that I figured I would take a look at the original as well. You know, as something of a comparison.
Whereas the remake features far less back story and more of a focus on kills. The original places a lot of emphasis on telling a story. We learn a lot about our Santa Claus cosplaying killer. From his origin to his time as a young man. It’s quite different and a stark reminder of how older Slashers did things a little different. Without further ado, Let’s take a look.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. Check back every day of December for something new.
Silent Night, Deadly Night follows the story of Billy Chapman. Billy was in a car driving home with his parents one Christmas eve. Having been to visit his grandfather. He was warned that Christmas eve was the scariest night of the year. Billy’s new found fear of Santa Claus will soon prove justified. His parents spot a man standing in the middle of the road wearing a Santa outfit. Fearing that Santa will judge him as naughty, Billy begs the family not to stop. They unfortunately do and are brutally murdered by the man.
Years later we see Billy is now living in an orphanage. It is Christmas, once again, and the kids are drawing festive pictures. Billy’s picture is a depiction of Santa lying dead, stabbed repeatedly. Concerned, one of the teachers relates her fears to Mother Superior. Mother Superior believes she can recondition Billy to like Christmas again. Unfortunately for Billy, this involves him having to sit on Santa’s knee. Terrified and unable to get over his trauma. Billy punches the Santa and is harshly punished by Mother Superior.
Years later, we see an adult Billy. Employed at a local grocery store. Having grown rather tall, Billy’s hired to lift boxes in the warehouse. Unfortunately, his boss is a bit of an arsehole and nothing Billy does is quite enough. Still, Billy lusts after one of the girls who works there so it isn’t all bad. On Christmas eve, the Santa who they hired to be at the store can’t work. Billy has to take his place. Bringing back horrible memories. The Santa costume proves to be a horrible mistake. Billy witnesses someone being very naughty and has to punish them.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a good old fashioned Christmas Slasher. In a similar vein to Black Christmas and the like. It sees a bunch of random people slaughtered by a marauding killer wearing a Santa outfit. Heading out on Christmas eve, it is clear that this Santa has a lot of coal to hand out. Deciding who is naughty and who is nice. Billy Chapman murders those he deems to be badly behaved. Dispatching of his victims with ruthless efficiency. Billy wields an axe to cause mayhem and little else.
Kills are fairly brutal with some of them being legitimately quite funny. Victims range from a babysitter and her boyfriend. To a couple of bullies and even Billy’s own co-workers. It’s an absolute hoot for the most part and very typical of what you might expect. The usual slasher tropes are all here. There is lots of blood, limbs are removed and inventive slayings abound. On top of that, there are more boobs than you can shake a candy cane at. You know how horror got down in the 80s.
Released around the Christmas holiday. Silent Night, Deadly Night caused an absolute uproar back in 1984. Times were a little different back then and people were even more sensitive than they are today. Well, with regards to religion they were, anyway. Silent Night, Deadly Night’s Christmas theme was already going to be a bit of a problem. Any religious theme was something of a touchy subject. The problem with Silent Night, Deadly Night, in particular, was the marketing. It heavily focused on the fact that the killer wears a Santa outfit.
It’s hard to imagine something like this causing a stir nowadays. I mean, it is hard to imagine any horror causing any kind of controversy in the 2020s. Back then, however, this was an incredibly hot button topic. With that being said, the release of Christmas Evil a few years before didn’t cause so much as a ripple. Silent Night, however, was almost deliberately poking the bear. I mean, can you believe that they actually advertised this during Little House on the Prairie? Surely they must have realised this was asking for trouble? Throwing fuel on the fire, the Parent and Teacher Association were up in arms about it.
Parents complained saying that their children were now terrified of Santa. Protesters picketed theatres singing Christmas carols. Groups of angry families crowded malls to show their disdain for the film. Tristar pulled ads almost immediately and shortened the movie’s cinema run drastically. Naturally Siskel and Ebert pissed blood about how awful the movie was which didn’t help. It all seems a bit farcical and hilarious in retrospect but it was a different time. It is funny how nobody cared about the scenes of sexual assault, gore and nudity. Put that in a normal horror and it is fine. Have the person who is killing people wear a Santa suit and it’s no bueno. Context is key! The 80s were a crazy time for cinema.
Needless to say. This isn’t a particularly controversial movie when viewed through a modern lens. Despite only getting a rating in the UK back in 2009. It is a fairly run of the mill horror with nothing too explicit to mention. Held up against things that come out nowadays, it is extremely middle of the road. It is fun to look back on these types of films and see how things have changed. I am willing to bet that one of the only reasons people still remember this. What is, essentially, a plain as white bread slasher, is due to the controversy. Obviously the Christmas theme puts it in a small group of genre films. There isn’t really anything else to make it stand out. In the long run, the censors did it a bit of a favour.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a bit of a strange movie. For half of its run time it is a story focusing on the childhood of our eventual villain. Full of exposition. It feels quite different from many of the more recent slashers doing the rounds. Billy had a complicated childhood. His parents were murdered on Christmas eve by a man dressed as Santa Claus. What makes it even worse is that his catatonic grandpa briefly regained cognition. During this moment of lucidity, he warns him. He tells Billy that Christmas eve is the scariest night of the year. Santa is evil and only exists to judge those who are naughty. A little foreshadowing I suppose but a fun scene nonetheless.
Billy is haunted by memories of that night. Having spent his childhood in an orphanage. A mean old Mother Superior tried to force him to accept Christmas, once again. She gave him presents and forced him to sit on Santa’s lap. Reacting violently and being harshly punished. Billy has retained a level of resentment for the old nun ever since.
Fully grown into a tall, strapping man. One of the Nun’s gets him a job in a grocery store. Billy still can’t shake the memories, though, and struggles mightily. As I mentioned above, it’s quite strange to see this amount of backstory for a killer in a slasher movie. The remake definitely didn’t go into this amount of detail. I actually quite like it. It does mean that the actual killings only begin half way through, though. This might be a big issue for some people. Plenty of viewers are going to get bored pretty quickly. I think it is fair to say that it doesn’t feel much like a slasher for at least 40 minutes.
Once the movie gets going, the kills are a tremendous amount of fun. I laughed out loud at a few as they are, visually, quite silly. It’s actually quite strange to watch a movie like this and see the killer’s face. Billy is not your typical slasher villain, either. He is a rather handsome guy with blonde hair and something of a baby face. It’s hard not to feel a little bit sorry for him, given his back story. Some of the people he kills are absolute asshats as well. You actually find yourself rooting for him in a few points.
It’s established early that Billy is a hulk of a man. Standing quite tall, he manages to lift people up with ease. This leads to a number of unique kills. One of which had to be heavily edited for the censored American release. He never really feels super human, though. In fact, at least one person puts up a hell of a fight and Billy takes a fair bit of damage. Again, this is another way in which Silent Night, Deadly Night feels quite different.. It really stands out from other similar Slashers.
Acting is hammy as hell, as you might expect. Robert Brian Wilson, as adult Billy, is absolutely fine. Standing at around 6 foot 3 and having a fairly muscular build. With his combination of blonde hair and baby faced aesthetic. Wilson doesn’t look at all fitting as a terrifying villain. Still, given the backstory of our character, he entirely fits the part. His sympathetic portrayal of the traumatised character is easy to feel sorry for. As he loses control, he gradually becomes less communicative and less animated. It’s a nice performance and very fitting for this type of film.
Lilyan Chauvin is bags of fun as the cruel Mother Superior. Relishing the chance to play a harsh, domineering woman. I think most viewers would be suitably terrified of Chauvin in this role. She might be the meanest character in the movie. Britt Leach, as Billy’s boss Mr Sims, has a great turn as a festive drunk on Christmas eve. Again, it’s hammy but a hell of a lot of fun.
Horror vet Linnea Quigley has a fun but brief role. She ends up naked on a pool table but, this is Linnea Quigley, you probably could have guessed that. The rest of the cast are pretty much what you would expect. Most of them are victims in waiting and asked purely to scream and try to look scared.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is something of a weird movie to recommend as a slasher. It almost feels as if it has too much backstory to recommend it to fans of pure slashers. It doesn’t feel at all like a slasher for at least half of its length. On the other hand, it is also difficult to recommend to fans of horror. If you have a low tolerance for slasher nonsense, the second half is not going to be for you. The movie spends half of its time building a fleshed out, well developed story. Only to throw it in the bin and transform in to a kill fest. It’s a weird film from that perspective.
With all of that being said. If you are looking for a pure slasher, this might actually be a bit slow for you. It has everything you might expect from a slasher, decent kills, lots of nudity, comical quips, tons of gore. It just takes awhile to get there. As far as Silent Night, Deadly Night goes as a pure horror. It is very middle of the road.
Without the controversy, we might not be talking about it now. It came out during the dying days of the Slasher Golden Era. Silent Night, Deadly Night was actually released on the same day as A Nightmare on Elm Street. To be honest, it probably should have been sent to hell by that. It doesn’t stand out from other slashers in any major way. It certainly isn’t as good as some of its contemporaries. What it is, however, is a perfectly watchable film that does things a bit different. The kills are fun, there is some interesting backstory and a unique killer. Just don’t expect anything ground breaking and you will have a good time.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a Christmas Slasher with a bit of a difference. Its commitment to expanding on the backstory of our villain is quite unique. The makers spent a great deal of time developing a story and it takes a long time to get to the action. Once the kills start, however, the story goes out of the window. It is just pure slasher mayhem. Probably a bit too slow for a lot of slasher fans. The best parts of this film are the actual plot development. That doesn't stop the kills being hilarious, however. Fans of lots of nudity are in for a treat. Very controversial back in 1984, it is fairly tame by today's standards. Not the best slasher in the world but works great as a fun Christmas horror.