When most of us think of Santa Clause we picture the familiar image of a jolly fat man in red overalls, squeezing down chimneys so he can bring presents to all the good boys and girls all over the world. However the schlocky, Christmas-oriented slasher flick Silent Night, Deadly Night attempts to soil that image with its own unique interpretation of Santa. Instead of delivering toys and bringing cheer to those around him, SNDN’s Santa prefers far more unsavoury activities, namely mass murder. So controversial was the film’s depiction of a deranged Kris Kringle obsessed with punishing the ‘naughty’, that angry parents actually picketed out the front of movie theatres playing the film in an attempt to have it banned. I guess parents didn’t want their children to grow up under the mindset that if they misbehaved Santa would lop off their heads with an axe. I can understand in theory why that would upset some sensitive folks, however the beauty of Silent Night, Deadly Night is its ability to turn into a tongue-in-cheek comedy in the blink of an eye. The film is frequently so absurd that it’s impossible to take seriously even for a second.
Poor little Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) is one seriously messed up kid. But who can blame him. Like every other eight year old, his innocent love for Christmas is only matched by his desire to catch a glimpse of Santa himself on Christmas Eve. Well, unfortunately he gets more than he bargains for when a deranged murderous thief dressed in a Santa Clause outfit murders his parents in cold blood. Billy is lucky enough to escape intact, but after witnessing this horrid event, he’s understandably distraught. Things only get worse for poor Billy when he’s placed in an orphanage run by the iron-fisted Mother Superior, whose harsh methods of punishment teach Billy a powerful lesson — the naughty must be punished… Cut to ten years later and Billy, now a fully grown eighteen year old with the build of a professional wrestler, seems to have been cured of his disturbed mindset and is now happily working in the storeroom of a toy store. Things are looking up for Billy, that is until the lead up to Christmas begins its rapid approach. It seems Billy hasn’t left his demons completely behind. Flashbacks to his parent’s murders start plaguing his mind once more and leave him feeling scared and on edge. All this pent up fear and rage is finally unleashed when Billy’s boss makes an innocent yet colossal mistake, asking Billy to dress up as the store Santa. This is the final straw for Billy’s already fragile mind, it doesn’t take long for his mind to finally crack after donning the iconic Santa suit. Now thanks to his troubled upbringing, Billy truly believes he is St Nick himself, only instead of bringing happiness and joy to those around him, he has another single minded goal; to punish the naughty with extreme force.
For the very B grade slasher movie that Silent Night, Deadly Night presents itself as, it’s actually relatively impressive how much build up they inject into the first half of the film. So when previously nice little Billy transforms into a murderous sociopath, you can almost, just almost actually buy into it. However that aside, SNDN is all about two things and two things only; excessive violence and frequent nudity. And lets face it, what other two things could bring more joy to everyone all over the world? In the violence stakes, SNDN really doesn’t hold back. Billy is the creative type and he displays this by unleashing his form of Christmas carnage with a wide variety of objects. Box cutters, axes and even mounted deer heads are all put to good use on those he deems as naughty, all the while punctuating these kills with a cry of “Punish!” However nothing can compare to the beauty that is the infamous sledding scene. A cruel teenager gets probably a little more than he deserves when after stealing a sled from some younger kids. Pleased with his new possession, he decides to put said sled to good use and races down a hill of freshly laid snow. His fun is quickly cut short when Billy steps out mid sled run, and with a swing of his axe, leaves the teenager speeding down the rest of the hill sans head. Cue his friend screaming in a hysterically inept fashion, followed by decapitated head rolling down hill, followed by more hysterical screaming, all capped off by my own fits of uncontrollable laughter at the ridiculous spectacle taking place on screen.
There’s no hiding that SNDN is a pure exploitation movie at heart. There’s no deep-seeded message here, nope, instead you’re paying for the seedier elements on display. And with that being the case, it probably comes as no surprise that the acting on display is laughable. There’s overacting galore on parade that evokes much unintentional laughter all round. However, it’s strange to say this, but Robert Brian Wilson actually suits the character of Billy perfectly. Maybe it’s just because he looks menacing in a Santa suit while holding an axe, but I really enjoyed his role. He’s still very over the top, but appropriately so. Since everything in SNDN feels like it needs to be over the top in order to avoid travelling down an uncomfortably sleazy route, and instead stays on the right side of hilariously sleazy.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is what it is and nothing else. A seedy, tongue-in-cheek slasher film that’s equally fun to laugh with and, as it is to laugh at its inadequacies. In some ways I can understand why parents were so outraged when the film was released, but they’re totally missing the point (as well as being devoid of any sense of humour). The film is the ultimate anti-Christmas film. For all those out there who find themselves sick of the holidays, or just wanting to watch a very un-jolly Christmas flick, then SNDN is their ticket. It’s a cheesy, sleazy and gory romp that’s completely unapologetic in its attempts to provide a trashy alternative viewing experience for the holidays.
Guiltiest Moment: Nothing comes close to the tasteful and poetic depiction of a teenager being decapitated whilst sledding down a hill. It’s a sequence that pretty much sums the film up as a whole. Plus it’s awesome!
Guiltiest Dialogue: Billy’s frequent cry’s of “Punish” cracks me up a little every time I hear it.
Guiltiest Performance: Nobody comes close to matching Robert Brian Wilson’s insane portrayal of Santa on a rampage. At the same time, he kind of does look reasonably intimidating. So while I may chuckle at his overboard delivery, if I ever saw this guy trudging around on Christmas Eve, I’d be so out of there!
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