Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) – By Joshua Samford

 Well, with the painstaking holidays now settling behind us all, I figured I would play "catch up" and actually take a ‘stab’ (oh yeah! Pun city!) at one of the best "killer santa" films ever made. Being that the "killer santa" genre was pretty much invented by Silent Night, Deadly Night – and the subgenre (if it really even exists) is dominated by garbage – there really isn’t much competition, but SNDN actually plays out as a fairly decent 80’s slasher film. It’s a film that I have put off seeing for far too long and just recently (hey, it was Christmas) I sought it out to finally give it a whirl. Did it live up to my expectations? No, I actually liked it! Yeah, I wasn’t insanely enthusiastic about it beforehand, wasn’t expecting anything on par with the original Black Christmas – but SNDN is one of those slasher flicks that are either the entire reason you hate the genre, or all the reasons you love it. Yes, this is one of those non-stop, braindead, cheesy flicks about some guy dressing in an absurd costume and slaughtering teenagers who are often topless. It was popped right out of the cloner, but at least SNDN has some style. A little bit of pizzazz. Something that separates it from the rest, and of course 90% of that is due to the killer being in a santa suit. Not to mention his catchphrase, "Punish!", which I think just about EVERY ONE laughs at when they hear it. We aren’t talking about the most creative flick you’re going to find, even produced on a low budget during the 80s, but there is a reason for all the hoopla surrounding it. It may not break new ground, but for a quick nostalgia rush or a view into just what the eighties were all about in terms of mainstream horror – Silent Night, Deadly Night really is a great place to start.

The film revolves around a young man by the name of Billy who had some pretty unfortunate luck as a child. For one, his insane grandfather puts a wild idea in his head at a young age that Santa Clause may hand out presents to all the good little kiddies of the world, but the ones who were naughty during the year – he punishes. Having his head crammed by the insane old coot, Billy becomes paranoid of Santa and on his way back from visiting the crazy-people home where his grandfather filled him with all of this new knowledge; on the side of the road sits Jolly ol’ Saint Nick. Only, this isn’t the hefty old man we all know and love. This is a psychopath wearing the red suit who just so happens to have just robbed a convenience store and killed the attendant. Santa does what any Grand Theft Auto inspired lunatic might do, he kills Billy’s father for the car keys and rapes Billy’s mother and cuts her throat. Billy watches from the bushes, and luckily survives the incident along with his brother, but the two are sent to a foster home where they are looked after by a group of nuns. Mother Superior in the convent looks at Billy, and pretty much all kids of the world, as naughty – and thus he is punished quite often; until Mother Superior trains Billy and hides all of that aggression and naughtiness inside of him. Being that this isn’t a crazy-people home like ol’ grandad lived in, Billy isn’t restricted to living inside of the dormitory as he grows older; and at 18 he gains his first job. Working at a local toystore, Billy seems to be doing really well for himself. That is, until the boss, not knowing Billy’s condition, forces him to take over for their local Santa who has become ill. Billy slowly begins to lose touch with reality, and before long, he finds he can no longer hold back his rage towards the naughty people of the world. It is time to punish.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is the sort of flick you turn on when you have friends over and everyone is wanting to feel witty. It’s perfect for the "MST3K" treatment, because it doesn’t take itself very serious and neither does the audience. It’s a fun, slightly adventurous little cliche horror flick that delivers enough nudity and enough violence to please the majority of the audience. It’s the little things like the catchphrase, the goofy plot, the incredibly creepy grandfather and the slight innovations that it does make that give it an edge above the competition. I know I’ve made it clear that the film is pretty much your standard genre picture of the slasher variety, but it does deviate from the beaten path in that it lets the audience get inside the head of the killer as he goes around committing his atrocities – and gives plenty of in-depth character study on just what makes him flip his lid; instead of taking the Michael Myers of Jason approach of giving very little in the terms of a "face" behind all of the killing, and a true explanation as to what makes a killer a killer. Granted, this isn’t "Maniac", but there is enough character brought out in Billy that you at least get to know this character and his turn into a psychopath is probably the least disjointed thing in the film; something a lot of other flicks of this variety seem to get wrong. Focusing a lot more on the killings themselves rather than the motive. Well, of course there’s no REAL reason to explain why a guy has to go around murdering tons of people with an axe for being "naughty", but the backstory and the portrayal of his fall into dementia really works. Bah, who am I kidding? I’m just making up excuses because I love the catchphrase just like everybody else. PUNISH!! I definitely recommend those unfamiliar with the series go out and pick it up. It’s definitely worth owning on an entertainment level, and what the heck, if you’re a horror buff you might as well have it anyway to fill out the collection.