Sometimes, I regret not having grown up in the 1950’s and 60’s when impressionable young children could ride their bicycles down to the local theater and see a double feature of cheap grindhouse and bad monster movies. (Everything I know about the 50’s, by the way, I learned in a Stephen King story.)
So I was pretty happy when my theater of choice — the Roxy — started having Cult Film Nights once a week. Last Thursday, I left my comfy couch to meet my friend Lindsey for a showing of Gremlins and Silent Night, Deadly Night.
I had every intention of reviewing both films on this blog, but right now I don’t actually have a lot to say about Gremlins — possibly because I need a second viewing before I make up my mind, or possibly because the insanity that was Silent Night, Deadly Night just obliterated my brain for anything else that came before it.
Oh yes. This was a very special Christmas movie.
Spoilers. I refuse to believe you care.
Billy has issues. As a young child, he watches his parents get murdered by a man dressed up as Santa Claus. Then he’s sent to a Catholic orphanage, where he’s unfortunately subjected to Mother Superior’s particularly unhelpful therapeutic techniques. He seems to turn out okay, though, and even gets a job at a toy store when he turns eighteen — where he’s forced to play substitute Santa Claus for all the little girls and boys.
Things go badly.
1. This was a lot of fun to watch in a theater full of people — I don’t know that I’d have made it more than fifteen minutes on my own, but with a big audience looking for a shlocky good time, it was really enjoyable. People were cracking up throughout the whole thing because it was such a weird mix of psychological melodrama, bloody murder, gratuitous boob action, and Santa Claus. As far as bad horror movies from the 1980’s goes . . . yeah, I had a good time watching it.
2. . . which is why I was surprised to hear that it was hugely controversial when it came out.
If you don’t feel like/can’t watch the video, this is Siskel and Ebert’s review of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Siskel calls out the writer, director, and producer by name, saying that their profits “truly are blood money.” Ebert is equally contemptuous and wants to hear these people explain to their children and their grandchildren that what they’ve done is just a movie. It’s not just these critics who were offended, by the way: families picketed and complained about this film so much that all the trailers were pulled from TV and eventually even the movie itself was taken back from theaters.
And . . . look, different generation, different times, blah, blah, but we’re talking 1984 here, not 1954. I wouldn’t expect any of these people to actually like this movie — after all, it’s not a particularly great movie — but to go so far as to publicly denounce the creators on national television and force it out of theaters? Seriously? You don’t think blood money is a little unfair? I’ve seen horror movies that I would call tasteless too, but unless the director is actually getting rich from real people shedding real blood . . . come on. Save your protests for something that actually deserves it.
Honestly, the outrage — and all the hyperbole that goes hand-in-hand with it — is kind of hilarious, but I think I’m also actually a little bit annoyed on the movie’s behalf too . . . which is ridiculous, but there you go. I think I actually like Silent Night, Deadly Night a little more out of some sort of strange sympathy for it.
(And here’s possibly the funniest thing about all of this — people protested Silent Night, Deadly Night because of a killer Claus and the children, oh, the children; what will the children think? But four years earlier, Christmas Evil came out with a dude dressed up as Santa Claus killing people — and no one even noticed.)
3. But let’s get back to Silent Night, Deadly Night itself, shall we — or the particular version I watched, anyway, which had two different copies of the movie awkwardly spliced together. There would be super grainy footage of a dude walking into a storeroom, right, and then it would cut to the same dude in the storeroom, but the film quality would be all sharp and clear. It was pretty amusing.
4. Sadly, it takes a while for Billy to grow up and start killing people.
The horror begins, as it so often does, at a mental institution. On Christmas Eve, Billy’s parents take him and his baby brother to visit their catatonic grandfather. Billy — with the sensitivity you would expect from a four year old — asks why they’re visiting if the old man doesn’t even know they’re there. I’m a bad person, so I laughed. (This movie plays itself weirdly straight — like someone really wanted to tell the deep, psychological story of why a man would dress as Santa Claus and kill people — but there are also a few moments of hilarity here and there that are clearly intentional. I liked the movie better for these moments.)
Billy’s parents go with the doctor, leaving little Billy alone with his catatonic grandfather because . . . well, because it completely makes sense to leave little children unsupervised in an insane asylum. I mean, I would. Anyway, the second the adults are out of the room, Catatonic Grandfather quite naturally transforms into Scary Grandfather.
Scary Grandfather tells Billy that Santa doesn’t just reward the good children; he punishes the naughty ones. Billy is concerned because he hasn’t been good the whole year. Also, because his grandpa is laughing like the loon that he is and, also, making the face above.
Of course, Scary Grandfather goes back to being Catatonic Grandfather once the adults come back and announce that they are leaving. (They appear to have spent about forty-five seconds with the old man, but I guess it’s the incredibly brief thought that counts.)
On the drive home, Billy tells his parents what Scary Grandfather said, and — shockingly — they believe him. It doesn’t really matter, though, because they run across a robber dressed up as Santa who kills Billy’s father and tries to rape Billy’s mother. He manages to get her shirt off, exposing her breasts, but when she fights back, he kills her.
(I suppose there’s a joke in here somewhere about if you meet a Santa on the side of the road, you should kill him, but I’m too lazy to deliver it properly. I need to work on my Buddhist humor.)
5. Oh, about those exposed breasts — the tit shots in this movie are almost boring. It sounds funny to accuse these scenes of being formulaic when, you know, of course they are, but there’s just something about this movie that makes boobs even more predictable than usual. A woman takes off her shirt — or has it ripped off of her — like four different times in this film, and you can pretty much count the beats before it happens. Like, “Okay, so three . . . two . . . one . . . TITS!”
There is one instance that’s particularly ridiculous, though. Later in the film, when Killer Billy Claus is looking for naughty people to punish, he finds a girl having sex with her boyfriend. The girl hears a noise from outside and thinks the cat wants in, so she takes the time to pull on her Daisy Dukes — and only her Daisy Dukes — to go open the front door. Because that’s something women do. Open the front door while topless and then just stand there for two minutes while waiting on the cat.
Adding insult to injury? When Boyfriend goes to check on Topless Girl, he gets to put on his shirt first. For Christ’s sake.
6. Mother Superior isn’t quite as evil as I was expecting, although she’s certainly not very helpful for Billy’s recovery process.
See, Mother Superior decides that Billy doesn’t remember anything about his parents’ deaths, and never mind the fact that he draws pictures of killer Santas every Christmas. He doesn’t need therapy. He just needs discipline.
Yeah, this won’t have any long-term effects.
7. I know that avoiding the whole Christmas season must be pretty hard in this country, and I’m sure that finding job placement for eighteen-year-old troubled orphans with no prior work experience is difficult . . . but I still feel that a toy store is perhaps not the best place for young, Santa-phobic Billy to work. So thanks for nothing, Nice Nun.
8. The entire “wholesome Billy” montage is pretty genius, though.
See, Billy does fine whenever the Christmas season isn’t upon us, so we’re treated to a two minute montage of Billy manfully helping his coworkers and shunning booze so he can drink a nice glass of milk. It’s another one of those intentionally funny moments I mentioned before — this scene is so wink wink, nudge nudge that I’m a little surprised no one literally winked at the camera. Still, it made me giggle.
9. But then Billy has to wear the Santa suit, and his life is all downhill from there.
Billy’s trigger is two-fold: first, he has to wear the Santa suit and deal with little children squirming about on his lap . . .
. . . and then he sees Seriously Scummy Co-Worker trying to rape Possible Love Interest. (Side note: while nothing excuses rape, nothing, ladies — if a CLEARLY skeezy guy wants to take you somewhere private to give you a present . . . the present is his penis. Seriously. You don’t want it.)
Anyhow, Billy snaps and starts punishing all the naughty people, starting with Seriously Scummy Co-Worker, who he strangles with a strand of Christmas lights.
And — yes! YES! Let the holiday-themed murders commence! What next? Will someone get stabbed with a candy cane? Smothered with a stocking? Cut into pieces and shoved inside a gift-wrapped box?
Anyway, when Possible Love Interest freaks out — as one might — Killer Billy Claus murders her too. He also kills the other two employees — one with an axe, one with that arrow — which is too bad because I liked the drunk assistant manager lady. She set up a trap for Killer Billy Claus to hasten her escape and grabbed the axe on her way out. I like when horror movie victims make an honest effort to survive.
10. The kill count at the end of the film, by the way? Thirteen — including Billy’s parents and (spoilers) Billy himself. The most original death probably goes to Topless Daisy Dukes Denise, who gets impaled on some deer antlers hanging on the wall. (I guess that’s almost like getting impaled by Rudolph, although putting a red nose on the deer head would have made it even better.)
11. Still, the funniest death clearly goes to Father O’Brien. How does Father O’Brien die, you might ask? Well, Nice Nun is very concerned when she hears that Billy is playing Santa Claus, so she drives down to the toy store and discovers all of Billy’s dead coworkers. She tells the police that she thinks he’s going back to the orphanage. (You know, because she Knows things.)
The nearest cop — we’ll call him Trigger Happy Cop — sees a Santa Claus strolling towards the orphanage. Trigger Happy Cop yells at Santa to stop. Santa doesn’t stop or even turn around. Trigger Happy Cop immediately shoots him in the back. Of course, Santa is not actually Killer Billy Claus but kindly, deaf Father O’Brien, bringing presents to orphans.
I about died laughing at this. Trigger Happy Cop is almost lucky he died — if he hadn’t, he’d have been fired and convicted so fast his head would have spun right off. Try selling that in court — gee, your Honor, I didn’t mean to kill a deaf priest on his way to giving gifts to orphans. Er, forgive and forget, right?
12. The best gift a little girl can get, by the way? A bloody box-cutter. Dammit, Mama and Papa! Why did you buy me all those Barbies?
13. Killer Billy Claus leaves behind a ton of traumatized children in his wake. First, there’s the little girl who sat on Billy Claus’s lap earlier — she won’t be too bad off, I suppose, but I doubt she’s gonna want to sit on Santa’s lap next year. Then there’s the girl with the box-cutter who’s about to find the bodies of her sister and/or babysitter and sister/babysitter’s boyfriend . . . yeah, Christmas is about to be ruined for her. And then there are all those orphans who see the police kill Santa not once, but twice.
Yeah, those kids are all going to be fucked up.
14. Especially Ricky, Billy’s baby brother.
You forgot Billy had a baby brother, didn’t you? Well, he does. Unlike Billy, Ricky actually doesn’t remember his parents being murdered, as he literally was a baby at the time. But when he sees his older brother killed in front of him, Ricky goes all Evil Eyes and tells the (surprisingly still living) Mother Superior, “Naughty!” Which is hilarious because it’s such an obvious set-up for a sequel, when clearly this movie wasn’t going to get any — oh. Four of them? Really?
Yup. Four sequels to this movie. Wow.
15. Finally, the last little thing I forgot to mention, the icing on the ridiculous, bad horror cake . . . you know how Freddy Krueger is known for his witty little puns or Ghostface for his on-the-nose horror movie commentary? Well, Killer Billy Claus gets to say something to, yells it, actually, as he slaughters people. What does he yell?
Ah. I smile just thinking about it.
Er, not a good film. But certainly nothing as objectionable as the PTA seemed to think it was. And anyway, I had a good time with it. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find Silent Night, Deadly Night for a quarter someday in someone’s garage and bring it home to torment my sister with!
Not everyone necessarily needs therapy, but I’m pretty sure we can all agree that children who watch their parents get murdered probably should be talking to a professional, particularly if the killer was dressed like fucking Santa Claus.