Friday, December 2, 2016

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night
Charles E. Sellier Jr.

At a young age, Billy Chapman (Robert Brian Wilson) witnesses his parents murdered at the hands of a drunk madman in a Santa Claus suit. Billy and his brother Ricky are sent to an orphanage, where under the iron fist of Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin), Billy is further traumatized. Billy gets a job as a stock-boy at the age of 18, and finally snaps after being forced to put on a Santa suit for a holiday party. After murdering his co-workers, Billy steps out into the cold night to dispense punishment upon the ‘naughty.’

By 1984, the slasher movie was hitting its mainstream peek. On November 9th, two slasher films were released, one would go on to be a worldwide cultural phenomenon, the other would cruise by on a notorious reputation more than anything contained within the film. Both films would launch numerous sequels and a remake. One of those films was A Nightmare on Elm Street. (1984), the other, Silent Night, Deadly Night.

"Ya, gotta couple of blubs out ther.....urrrk."
Interestingly, Silent Night, Deadly Night would outgross A Nightmare on Elm Street during their opening weekend. Although killer Santa Claus movies were nothing new by this point (Christmas Evil (1980), Tales from the Crypt (1972)), Silent Night, Deadly Night boasted a particularly memorable ad campaign with an axe wielding Santa climbing into a chimney. Couple this with the moral crusades against horror in the 1980s, and the film arrived hot with controversy. Critics condemned it, the film was censored, banned, and eventually pulled from theaters. The idea of a murderous Santa Claus was thought to scare children too much, even though no children are harmed at any point in the story. Compare this A Nightmare on Elm Street, which centers on a child murderer who would later go on to be a cultural icon and celebrity in his own right.

So the question remains, was Silent Night, Deadly Night worth all this controversy?

The answer is:  Not especially.

At its core, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a gritty and bleak story about a young man’s descent into madness. The holiday trappings feel cheap and flimsy, and all the characters are one-dimensional. There is an air of hopelessness throughout the film, even the kills that are supposedly ‘fun,’ such as a sledding decapitation, are played out with a kind of grim remorselessness. Walking into the movie, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you are going to be seeing something very subversive. Possibly a story of a Santa who isn’t above taking an axe to naughty girls and boys. Instead we are given a standard psycho-sexual backstory for a killer set within a holiday theme, something we’ve seen done better in things like My Bloody Valentine (1981), and Black Christmas (1974).

"Hey, wood paneling doesn't grow on trees, you know!
Is Silent Night, Deadly Night worth watching? I’d say yes. Even though it is an unexceptional holiday slasher movie, it does occupy a unique spot in horror history as one of the most reviled films of the early 1980s. Silent Night, Deadly Night is a movie that does tap into the dark underbelly of despair that you can find around in the holidays, just don’t expect to enjoy the experience.

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