Horror People reference this film, but until 2020, I'd never watched it. I'd heard it was quite rape-heavy and as a rule I do not voluntarily submit myself to rape-y horror films.
But in honour of putting together a Christmas triple bill, I thought it was time I engaged. I'm assuming you all know Gremlins and Krampus and Nightmare Before Christmas (and even the original Black Christmas probably, but I couldn't resist that one). So.... here we go.
As with everything I seem to watch at the moment, Scream Factory have put this film out in a Collector's edition. They pitch it thus:
Community leaders tried to stop the release. The P.T.A. fought to ban it. Now one of the most controversial slasher films of all time is back in a new high-definition release! This new edition of the horror holiday favorite has been restored from the original vaulted film negative.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is the heartwarming story of little Billy Chapman who was traumatized by his parents' Christmas Eve murder, then brutalized by sadistic orphanage nuns. But when grown-up Billy is to dress as jolly St. Nick, he goes on a yuletide rampage to "punish the naughty!" Santa Claus is coming to town ... and this time he's got an axe! Robert Brian Wilson and Scream Queen Linnea Quigley star in this jaw-dropping horror classic that a nation of angry mothers still cannot stop!
But why should you care?
There's a tediously long first act on Billy's childhood, when a Bad Santa murders his parents and he goes to an orphanage. The script editor bit of my brain is this all could've been cut. The film starts properly much later on when the Helpful Nun Who Does Proper Acting at the orphanage wangles him his first job in the stockroom of Ira's Toys.
THIS is how the film should've been pitched. Toyshop slasher!
Early scene from the toyshop. PLEASE NOTE THE AXE.
I would wear this excellent pastel skirt with my Joy Division Unknown Pleasures black tee and my Grenson Nanette boots.
Billy really enjoys his first job. And it goes really well - to start with. The initial harmony between toy shop and traumatised man is demonstrated through montage.
This is my favourite thing about Silent Night, Deadly Night; the choice of actions for the sequence:
Billy picks up a box
Billy picks up a girl (escalation!)
Billy clocks out (I am obsessed with people clocking out)
Billy picks up a Poochie annual
Mr Sims is satisfied by Billy's picking up ability
Soundtracked to Morgan Ames' 'The Warm Side of the Door'. So 80s.
That's how we all perform workplace satisfaction
I really love Dian Perrymen's production design of the toyshop.
Look at this pale yellow counter!
Axe is still there, lurking. I'm glad they've made sure the foreshadowing isn't too much on the nose
I'm getting distracted by Mr Sims' red velvet bow tie though
Billy - who, lest us forget, as a child watched his father and mother murdered by Santa - now gets to play Santa in his first ever job. Yay!
Art director Linda Kiffe has totally been at those Mickey masks with a red marker haven't she? You can imagine the director: Mickey isn't frightening enough Linda! do something about Mickey!
In case we're not getting it - cutaways on toys, doing their inanimate thing - audience! this is a horror film
but shots like these are usually reserved for supernatural worlds. Meh.
Obviously Billy - dressed as Santa - slaughters everyone at the toyshop.
Just your standard work Christmas party: 'Mr Sims!'
After the toyshop slaughter, Billy goes to this random house, where this random woman Debbie is babysitting. Now, maybe Debbie was in it earlier and I just didn't notice. Hmm.
Debbie has been getting it on in the basement pool room with her man, and clambers off the pool table to let the cat in, who she claims she can heard upstairs.
This raises two problems.
One. Debbie's hearing must be supersonic. Her man had some sexy music playing on his cassette recorder and everything.
Two. Debbie opens the front door, on Christmas Eve, in the snow, topless and wearing denim hotpants. The hotpants I can forgive (the house might be toasty). But no self respecting woman opens the front door topless, when it's snowing. No-one. It's not about the potential for flashing. It's oh god how would that feel your breasts would shrivel into nothingness; your nipples inverting so fast they shoot at your back. Again, this feels like one of those moments when you can't help but recognise an all-male director, dop, editor and producing team.....
Meanwhile, downstairs Debbie's man is posing amongst the coolest wall hangings ever
I'm glad Debbie's man is topless. There's a lot of women topless in this film and a lot of rape, all of which starts with women having their blouses ripped open. When it is consensual sex (as with Debbie) it also starts with her blouse being opened in exactly the same way.
There's something deeply wrong about filming rape and consensual sex in exactly the same way.
The cat did need to come in, incidentally. But so did homicidal Billy (poor Debbie).
Soon after, the cat signals intently to Debbie's man:
"your girl is dead! Billy hung her on some deer antlers! Jesus! How can you not see her!"
But Billy doesn't speak cat. And thus: pathos.
TAKE CARE WHEN SLEDGING
please me with your horizontal lines across multiple planes
There are moments when Silent Night, Deadly Night gives me an almost Fargo vibe with a nun Frances McDormand
Billy fails to triumph over a cruel world of Bad Santas, orphanages, and toy shop owners with red velvet bow ties. As he lies dying on the floor, we cut to a canted angle of Mother Superior in her wheelchair gazing down at him. She was never afraid of Billy. She always had her God.
This is, hands down, the most chilling bit of the whole film.