Dec 15, 2019


Silent Night, Deadly Night is an unremarkable, yet fun and unapologetically gimmicky slasher movie whose late-1980s presence at theaters was very brief; lame parents with lame ideals protested the movie’s depiction of a killer Santa offing “naughty” people and had the movie successfully banned from all theaters. For a long time, Silent Night, Deadly Night was a mirage until it was released on VHS years later and became a cult favorite. The flick isn’t groundbreaking in any way, and compared to today’s standards, where we’re able to see testicles ripped off a man and fed to wild dogs in theatrical films preceded by commercials for Fanta, the idea of a man in a Santa costume offing people doesn’t just pale in comparison—it’s become its own punchline. During the time it was released, and for several years after, Silent Night, Deadly Night was more well known for the controversy it caused in featuring a killer Santa Claus than by its substance as a reasonably well made slasher movie. Over the years, it’s been whispered about in the same breath as other post-Halloween holiday-exploiting slashers like My Bloody Valentine and April Fools Day –– which are fun and well made in their own right — but it’s not really deserving of their company. For genre fans who aren’t necessarily slasher fans, I can picture them turning down their noses at such an odd declaration and shutting it down with “but all slashers are the same.”

Not remotely true.

To be fair, Silent Night, Deadly Night offers the viewer a fairly standard slasher experience, and on paper, it offers a typically hokey premise: a young boy named Billy witnesses the death of his parents at the hands of someone dressed like Santa Claus and he loses his mind, eventually donning the garb himself as an adult and wrecking the halls with an ax. But there’s an inherent sleaze in Silent Night, Deadly Night that threatens to diminish its overall fun tone (and it is fun, don’t get me wrong), which gives it kind of an icky feeling. John Carpenter once “sincerely apologized” for inadvertently creating the trope that sexual active teens in horror films are the first to go, and Silent Night, Deadly Night seems to be the most directly inspired by that concept. The Santa assault against Billy’s mother, which revealed her glory to his young eyes, remained ingrained in him just as much as the imagery of Santa itself. That he spies sexual trysts several times throughout Silent Night, Deadly Night and mutters “punish!” or “naughty!” to himself seems to be a direct response to that Carpenter trope.

But hey, this is Silent Night, Deadly Night — we’re only here for effective murder scenes and a reasonably engaging plot, and we definitely get both. There are additional and unexpected touches that also offer something a bit out of the norm in this subgenre — consider the pre-Santa massacre opening scene where the family visits Billy’s deranged grandfather in a convalescent home where he somehow has the foresight to warn young Billy that Santa Claus is evil and Christmas Eve is the “scariest damned night of the year.” This makes absolutely no sense and is way too convenient; it only exists to arbitrarily manufacture foreshadowing, but something about it still manages to establish a bit of an edge.

Silent Night, Deadly Night would somehow go on to birth a franchise, which maintains one linear story line until its forth entry, after which the series enjoys a series of very different one-off adventures. (The fifth entry stars Mickey Rooney!)  As a member of the holiday-slasher ’80s craze, it’s mid- to upper-level B team, which is fine. It’s entertaining enough to justify existing, and when you’ve got a headless body sledding down a hill followed by its bouncing, rolling head, well, I guess I can’t be too hard on it.

A few years down the road, folks decided that Silent Night, Deadly Night—the movie that no one saw—needed a sequel, anyway. And with an entire first film from which to haphazardly pluck footage, a lazy and monotonous wrap-around story was written so audiences could see the original movie that disappeared from theaters, but in a new way.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (longer examination here) is absurd in every way, from its Frankensteinian presentation to an exercise in how to make a tone-deaf horror film whose new footage is completely unlike the older footage it’s desperately depending on to help tell its story, all while not looking to it for any kind of guidance on how the new portions should feel. It's as if the cult horror film spoof Silence of the Hams was actually a sequel to Silence of the Lambs and borrowed footage from the famed horror thriller to piggyback off and make an entirely new movie. Silent Night, Deadly Night is silly, sure, but it was trying to be visceral. Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 knows right off the bat that it’s dumb and doesn’t try to hide it. Every single moment of Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 could be capped and turned into a gif or a meme (or both). This sequel's killer is Ricky (Eric Freeman), Billy's brother, who is apparently cut from the same Santa cloth and dons his own holly jolly murder outfit to commit the end of the movie, anyway. Up until then, he's just...some guy. Killing people. It's weird and inconsistent, but Freeman's performance is astounding terrible. His eyebrows do all the acting, and every single line-reading from his mouth sounds like he’s saying his dialogue out of spite instead of menace. It’s truly a thing to behold.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is a silly good time, and has a nice little body count for slasher flick aficionados. It’s not taking things nearly as seriously as its predecessor, but it’s also not out-and-out going for humor, either; it exists in a weird no-man’s-land where the film it’s following is its own kind of silly, but which isn’t nearly as silly as its sequel that is wholly incomplete without that old footage. It’s an odd way to construct a sequel, but it is unique — I have to give it that.

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