A killer Santa roams a small Utah town on Christmas Eve in this evergreen slasher flick…
“Christmas Eve is the scariest damn time of year,” announces five year-old Billy’s grandfather, bursting abruptly from a catatonic stupor. “You see Santa Claus tonight, you better run for your life!”
Prophetic words. A film that does for jingling bells what Jaws did for violins, Silent Night, Deadly Night begins with Billy’s parents getting casually murdered on a lonely highway by a disgruntled stick-up artist dressed in an Father Christmas outfit. After shooting the father point-blank, the foul-mouthed Santa molests Billy’s mother on the blacktop and slits her throat.
Billy’s understandable trauma is only deepened by the strictures of the Mother Superior (Lylian Chauvin) at the orphanage which subsequently takes him in. A firm believer that “discipline is necessary, discipline is good,” she strives to eradicate his violent fantasies of monstrous, scarlet-suited figures with regular doses of corporal punishment, but only succeeds in driving the demons deeper.
They explode thirteen years later, at what has to rank as the most ill-fated office Christmas party ever. By this time, Billy – now a hulking eighteen year-old played by Robert Brian Wilson – is working in the storeroom of Ira’s Toys. When the store Santa breaks his ankle, Billy is the last-minute replacement. In a genuinely chilling moment, he dons the dreaded costume and his eyes go dead as his fragile personality gives up the ghost.
All is definitely not well in Santa’s grotto, but the final straw is drawn when the drunken Billy sees a cute female co-worker disappearing into the storeroom with an unpleasant colleague for a bit of kissing under the mistletoe. With a cry of “Naughty!” he goes on the rampage. Unfortunately, Ira’s Toys is unaccountably well-stocked with hammers, axes and hunting bows, as poor, gin-soaked Mrs. Randall finds out to her cost when she takes an arrow between the shoulder-blades.
Pursued by the compassionate Sister Margaret and swelling numbers of police, the homicidal Santa goes door-to-door punishing the wicked, before a final climactic return to the orphanage and a last confrontation with Mother Superior.
A lurid storyline, splashes of gore and plenty of nudity give Silent Night, Deadly Night a video nasty edge, but in all actuality director Charles Sellier, Jr.’s approach harks back to a much earlier age of horror films such as The Wolf Man. Muted and neutral, the film is as much case study as it is slasher flick. The bland TV movie-style camera work by Henning Schellerup, the meagre sets and the almost featureless Utah locale add to the feeling that you are watching a low budget docu-drama. Like The Wolf Man, Billy is a sympathetic, even likeable figure, unable to help himself, while the real villain of the piece – and his true creator – is the life-sucking Mother Superior.
Situation comedy of the blackest kind relieves the bleakness and creates some of the film’s most memorable moments. Billy’s Santa proves to be an unlikely hit with one parent when he quells a naughty child with whispered threats, while a much sweeter child is about to shake another, friendlier Father Christmas’s hand, only to see him fall in a hail of police bullets due to a shoot-to-kill policy on roaming Santas.
Despite its crudities, variable acting and a skimpy running time of 79 minutes, Silent Night, Deadly Night is well worth a look during the festive season, if only because nothing relieves the pressure of a heavy Christmas dinner like an axe to the chest.
Creepiest festive tune: ‘Santa’s Watching’ by Morgan Ames
Best line: “Santa knows if you’ve been bad” (see above)
Most gratuitous death: let’s just say topless girls and stag antlers don’t mix.
Among Billy’s victims is ‘Fangoria’ favourite Linnea Quigley, who went on to make such B-movie gems as Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama(1988).