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Overall Rating
3.03

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look40%
Average: 11.43%
Pretty Bad: 2.86%
Total Crap: 31.43%

2 reviews, 23 user ratings


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Silent Night, Deadly Night
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by Jack Sommersby

"An Amusingly Nasty Yuletide Tale"
4 stars

More humorous than scary, it's a welcome antidote to all of the "nice" cinematic Christmas fare.

While it's not particularly scary or inventively staged, Silent Night, Deadly Night makes for an enjoyable slasher flick that's hardly ever nice and almost always naughty. Those with fragile sensibilities and staunch religious convictions won't likely find anything even remotely redeemable about this horror tale involving a killer Santa who wreaks merciless havoc upon a small town in Utah. But for those who harbor even a tad bit of resentment toward the consumer-is-king holiday season -- along with an affinity for good gore and nudity -- it goes down with the satisfying kick of a whiskey-spiked eggnog.

The story opens on Christmas Eve, 1971, as a station wagon carries a family (husband and wife and two sons, an infant and preteen Billy) toward a visit with ol' Grandpa at a mental facility. The man is supposedly comatose, but when Billy is briefly left alone with him, he grabs hold of Billy and tells him with a vein-bulging intensity that Santa punishes all who have been naughty; when Billy is asked if he's been good all year, he's mortified at his recollection. Cut to a convenience-store robbery where a thief dressed in full-mode Santa garb guns down the clerk ("Thirty-one bucks!? Merry fucking Christmas!"), and then to the family as they're driving back home, and then, of course, to the inevitable: the thief, pretending to have car trouble at the side of the road and managing to get the station wagon to stop, slaughters the parents (shooting the father; half-raping the mother before slashing her throat), while a horrified Billy (who's hid out in some nearby bushes) looks on with the realization that Santa really does enact punishment on all who've been naughty. This isn't quite the stocking-stuffer tale penned by Hans Christian Anderson, to say the least.

Right from the very onset, the director, Charles E. Sellier Jr., shows that he's not into this for subtlety and wit. The music score is agreeably bombastic in its quintessential obviousness, with what sounds like all keys on a piano being slammed down at once in an attempt to evoke suspense. The dialogue, which is of the tin-ear variety to be heard only in a schlocky fictional medium, is given uncommon respect; where most directors would glide over it, Sellier luxuriates in it. The rock-bottom lighting has nary an iota of stylishness; its grainy unremarkableness has a lived-in quality that refuses to aesthetically distance the viewer from the goings-on. The bleak atmospherics in general are drained of vital primary colors and exude a doom-laden aura, with the gray skies and snow-capped mountains encompassing the town with ominousness. The violence is explicit of the take-no-prisoners variety. And the character of the caring mother isn't above being exploited for a bare-breast money shot, even while she's in the throes of unspeakable terror.

What you see is what you get in Silent Night, Deadly Night, and if you're turned off by its opening fifteen minutes, then you're certainly better off switching over to Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite, for the proceedings do not grow into anything stoic or moral; rather, director Sellier and screenwriter Michael Hickey take the story progressively through their own twisted sense of what Beezlebub's version of Noel might turn out like. More of the black-comedy variety than a nerve-jangling one, the film is playful and self-knowing in its humor, using it both reflexively and reflectively in keying the audience onto certain Yuletide traditions that have been itching for a good skewering for years.

The story flash-forwards three years to the scene of the St. Mary's Home for Orphaned Children. There, Billy (looking like an adolescent version of B-movie villain-actor Billy Drago) is having a tough time dealing with the Christmas season in light of the tragic event from before. Not helping matters is an abusive Mother Superior, possessor of a zero-tolerance behavior policy and Nurse Ratched-like demeanor only John Ashcroft could possibly love; she also offers an uncannily similar warning to Billy to that of his grandpa's, "When we do something naughty, we always get caught...punishment is absolute." When Billy spies on a young nun having highly audible sex with a man in her room, Mother Superior subsequently exacts punishment by lashing the poor lass, as well as Billy for leaving his own room in the first place. Other punishments lie in store for Billy, but he manages to get one good lick in, literally: when forced to sit in Santa's lap on Christmas morning, after struggling mightily, he cold-cocks the white-bearded impostor with a mean uppercut. (This grown man doubling over from a blow from this youngster is a riot, as is Mother Superior's droll observation of the childrens' rabid unwrapping of their packages and nonchalant concern with writing thank-you notes: "I see nothing but greed when there should be gratitude.")

Most slasher entries spend only an obligatory amount of screen time laying out the tumultuous events of causation in establishing its killer's twisted mind-set; here, the time spent layering Billy's underlying emotional turmoil is inordinate, sure, because it's all leading up to a standard inevitable (a grown-up Billy slashing away), yet there's an acceptable reasoning to it -- the filmmakers genuinely like the character and wish not to hurriedly detour to a predictable inevitable.

We flash-forward again for the final time, to the spring of 1984, ten years later. A well-muscled eighteen-year-old Billy has finally emerged, and, with the help of a nun, he succeeds in landing a stocking job at a local toy store. His life is getting 'on the right track', we're led to believe, what with his good social manners and beaming expressions of happiness conveyed to us through a dopey montage showing him helping customers and charming coworkers, with it all overlaid with a cringe-inducing feel-good song titled On the Warm Side of the Door.

But, in adhering to the rudiments of this particular sub-genre, a catalyst needs be introduced, and it comes in the form of the store's Santa spraining an ankle while ice-skating, propelling the owner to enlist Billy as the substitute St. Nick. His mood already darkened by the holiday season, Billy's downright malevolent when dealing with the squirming kids in his lap (he imparts his grandpa's Christmas warning onto them to calm them down), but he gets through it and grudgingly partakes in the after-work party ("It's over! Time to get shit-faced!", cries the owner -- pricelessly acted by the great Britt Leach). But certain naughty actions by his coworkers coupled with some recurring flashbacks bring out the devil in the already-unhinged Billy, and he proceeds to take out not only everybody in the store, but naughty-doers elsewhere in town.

Yep, horny teens and abrasive bullies beware, as well as family-oriented fathers who dare'th entertain the notion of sneaking through their child's bedroom window dressed as Santa Claus, because an APB has been issued for the jolly and chubby guy, and no one -- not even a wheelchair-bound Mother Superior, still turning out her much-disciplined flock at St. Mary's -- can hide.

Silent Night, Deadly Night doesn't have the filmmaking fervor of John Carpenter's Halloween, the creative murders of Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th, or the palpable sense of menace of Bob Clark's Black Christmas, but it's considerably better than the majority of its ilk in that just about every moment is consistently fun, with a welcome absence of padding (i.e. needless, boring exposition) in between the murders. Rather than rushing onward to the murder spree that makes up the film's last third, the filmmakers spend time with their lead character, getting as much mileage as they can out of a tot who reacts as antagonistically toward Christmas as a Southern Baptist would a Muslim prayer. It's a goofy little piece that's more concerned with humor than suspense, and its ability to sustain itself, to grab absurdity by the reins and incorporate it into the slasher venue without uncouthly going over the top is admirable. (You laugh with Silent Night, Deadly Night, not at it -- well, occasionally.)

Some will mistakenly label the first two-thirds as "establishing" sections, when in fact they're as substantial, if not even more so, than the last third; there's an element of surprise in wondering where the story will lead, because we're so used to getting to the "good stuff" (i.e. the murders) so soon that we're a bit baffled as to why so much screen time has been allotted for many scenes without blood and corpses. Two things become readily apparent once the all-out murder spree ensues, though: one, the element of surprise in the plotting goes out the window when the action (most of which has been formerly confined to two specific locations) ventures off into hodgepodge territory where the killer strikes anywhere, anytime; two, the director's skill at conjuring up suspenseful set-pieces is direly lacking.

After Billy issues permanent pink slips to his fellow employees, we quit watching things develop (not to mention, envelop) from a one-person's view and switch over to the view of the soon-to-be victims, and it's a bit of a letdown. It's too damn easy to discern that these people we're watching are doomed because, well, why else are they occupying the screen? And the selection of victims seems to have been pulled out of a hat -- the anti-social, reclusive Billy couldn't possibly locate people he knows to be sinners deserving of punishment within the quiet suburb neighborhood he picks. Ironclad logic isn't exactly a necessity here, but there needs to be some semblance of internal logic; after all, Jason knows Camp Crystal Lake is crawling with nubile teens, Michael Myers was privy to which houses along a certain Haddonfield street contained babysitters, etc.

Sellier prolongs the obvious with a nonsensical connection to a film-audience's apprehension: he's oblivious to what we're liable to easily pick up on -- not just who's going to be offed, but, at times, exactly when -- so we've too much downtime to contemplate how inferior these sections are, opposed to the ones preceding them which were atypical in their focus yet sometimes-surprising in their outcome. (When a cop is walking back up a staircase from out of a basement, you know the moment he clears the doorway he's toast.) And Sellier can get unnecessarily distasteful, too: having Billy wait a considerable amount of time before intervening when a coworker is being raped is one thing, but to interlace it with flashbacks of his mother being near-raped is highly questionable and just plain icky. (And, hey, why can't people smell the stench of a recently slain body when they walk into a room? Just wondering.)

But, for the most part, Silent Night, Deadly Night entertains, even if it's not really inspired stuff. The violence is plentiful, all right, and though the special effects are limited, a decapitated body is better presented than expected. There's some sneaky humor, too, like when Billy, in full Santa garb and in the middle of his killing spree, hands a little girl a Xacto knife rather than a toy; just when we think the film's going to temporarily soften, it slaps our wrist from even thinking such a thing. The performances are atrocious across the board, yet in the engaging kind of way that they were in Herk Harvey's 1962 classic Carnival of Souls. And when I insist that the dialogue is a scream, I'm not kidding. When a teenage couple is engaging in some serious foreplay on top of a pool table, and the girl yells to her nosy little sister that if she doesn't go to bed, Santa won't come, the boyfriend quips, "He won't be the only one"; and when they're ready for more action, the boyfriend says, "Two-ball in the corner pocket." And, yes, there's nudity! Boobies, in fact -- lots and lots of very nice boobies! No killjoy, when Seiller puts a good-looking woman on-screen, he eventually has her display her breasts -- a more noble virtue I cannot think of.

Toss in some perfectly awful sexual innuendo (a ready-for-action blonde, clad only in panties, interrupts her lustful tryst to let her cat inside the warmth of the house!), and you have yourself what's best described as a 1950s-style "comedy chiller" updated with all of the necessary goodies for a delectable '80s treat that, while imperfect, sates the appetite of a filmgoing Scrooge who likes their holiday tales evilly funny and delectably dirty.

If you can get hold of the out-of-print Anchor Bay double-feature DVD that includes the first sequel, it's well worth it.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3194&reviewer=327
originally posted: 12/02/03 02:46:18
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User Comments

9/25/17 morris campbell worthless slasher flick 1 stars
2/21/17 morris campbell sorry holiday horror sadistic and stupid 1 stars
8/02/15 mr.mike Ok horror flick 3 stars
4/12/13 cr a great horror movie surprising and mosy conversial films. worth your time folks 4 stars
1/10/10 art good horror films on holidays,FRIDAY the 13TH,april fools day AND THIS at XMAS! 4 stars
9/26/09 art FINALLY A HORROR FILM,WHERE THE KILLER IS AN ORDINAIRY man,NOT A HOBGOBLIN!,my hats is OFF! 4 stars
3/16/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess creepier then i thought i would be 4 stars
2/16/09 action movie fan not great bhut not terrible, traumatized child becomes ruthless killer-decent slasher film 3 stars
10/25/07 art an outstanding slasher movie 5 stars
6/05/07 Benny G. I thought this movie would be dumb, but it was fairly good and delivered old-time gore! 4 stars
1/11/07 Michael Cox Opening is disturbing, mother superior is good casting, Santa is great 4 stars
11/25/06 David Pollastrini needs more gore! 2 stars
11/22/05 Darren O while not great, it was unfairly picketed, though it wasn't the first of it's kind 3 stars
12/22/03 Ravenheart How can you not like a killer santa!!!! Screw political correctness!!! 5 stars
7/07/03 Chainsaw Slasher Amazing Film, Just absolutely brillant 5 stars
6/29/03 Geo78665 "I'm looking for the warm side of the door." "Punish!" Good slasher fun. 4 stars
5/21/03 Sugarfoot So predictable and corny that It's like watching your blender at work. 1 stars
3/01/03 Richard Castillo A sad excuse to cash-in on another Hallween rip-off 1 stars
12/07/02 Kyle Moronic? Well, maybe. But still kinda fun for a slasher movie. 4 stars
10/29/02 Charles Tatum Moronic horror for morons 1 stars
1/24/02 Andrew Carden Pleasing Horror Movie. Quite Scary Also. 5 stars
10/15/01 ElephantShoes umm yeaaaaaah.right. now who's heard of any of these people. Anthony Perkins, 'nuf said 3 stars
4/21/00 Mary Lou So good!Better than Psycho! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Dec-1984 (R)
  DVD: 07-Oct-2003

UK
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Australia
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