Welcome back, weirdos! It’s been too long! You might be thinking, “Mac, where was our recommendation for November?” Well, a couple of things happened. First off, November sucks and I will not be participating in it. Second, I got so mad about the twist ending in the movie I picked that I blacked out and didn’t wake up until December 1st. So now we’re in the midst of the holiday season, and we’ll celebrate with Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)!!! It’s a classic trashy slasher movie, but before we get into all the things I like about it let’s cover some ground rules.
NUMBERONE: In this context, terms like “trashy,” or “bad movie” or “this is the exact opposite of art” shouldn’t be taken as slams against the film in question. That’s not why we’re here. NUMBERTWO: If you spill something, clean it up. With that out of the way, let’s get into Silent Night, Deadly Night!!!
“[Silent Night, Deadly Night] has all the hallmarks of a slasher film: creative kills [including] a spooky score that sounds like someone haphazardly spanking a piano.”
If an alien came to earth and said, “Greetings, Earthlings. We have come to your planet to study your ‘slasher films,’ but we know nothing about them. What is a quintessential slasher film we may watch, to fully understand the subgenre without wasting thousands of space-hours watching every single one?” you’d probably suggest Halloween (1978) or Fridaythe13thPart4 (1984). Maybe Scream (1996). Those would all be good suggestions for these aliens. However, if they showed up in the dead of winter, you might pick Silent Night, Deadly Night. It has all the hallmarks of a slasher film: creative kills, a lot of fake blood, gratuitous nudity, and a spooky score that sounds like someone haphazardly spanking a piano. This is a paint-by-numbers slasher flick with a layer of tinsel thrown on top and I’m super, super into it.
Silent Night, Deadly Night opens on a family visiting their old and infirm patriarch on Christmas Eve. When the parents leave their young child, Billy, with his silent, unmoving grandfather, the old man awakens and scares the hell out of young Billy. Santa Claus is coming tonight, after all, and he’s here to PUNISH the kids who were naughty at all this year. Like, even one naughty thing gets you punished by ol’ Saint Nick. Then Billy’s parents come back into the room, and Gramps freezes up like one of the gnomes from Goosebumps. On the way home, Billy asks his parents if he’s going to get punished by Santa tonight. Right about then, they see Santa Claus in the road! Seems like his car’s broken down, and he needs some help. There’s a catch though- this isn’t *the* Santa. This is just some guy in a Santa Claus costume who shot a convenience store clerk for 31 dollars. Then he murders Billy’s parents in front of him on Christmas Eve.
Flash forward a few years, and Billy’s in an orphanage. AND HE HAS A MULLET. After the head nun (MotherSuperior? I’m not sure if that’s a title that lots of people can get or just one person. I’m not Catholic) notices Billy’s got a lot of Christmas baggage, for what you might call obvious reasons, she decides to put him through some immersion therapy. When a man in a Santa outfit comes to visit the orphanage, the nun forces Billy to sit in his lap. Billy flips out and hits him with a left hook that knocks him flat on his jolly old ass.
One more flash forward, and we arrive at the setting for the rest of the film. Billy gets a job in a toy store. At the store’s Christmas party, the employee who should be dressed as Santa can’t make it, so Billy’s drafted into the red coat and hat. His coworkers get really drunk, one tries to assault another, and then Billy steps in to strangle the creep with Christmas lights. That’s all well and good, but it isn’t long (we’re talking seconds, here) before he also kills the other coworker. Then his boss. In Billy’s mind, he’s punishing them for being naughty. If you’re not good at picking up subtext, though, don’t worry. Billy shouts “PUNISH” like, constantly. And that, friends, is why we’re talking about this Awfully Good movie.
Slasher movies, as a horror subgenre, rely on psychopaths and unspeakable acts. That’s what it’s all about. Incredibly, though, these deep dives into the depths of man’s depravity frequently come off as schlocky and campy instead of dark and brooding. There’s nothing super thoughtful about Silent Night, Deadly Night, and any artistic screenwriting techniques, like extremely basic foreshadowing, are spanked with the Subtlety Ruler until the audience says, “okay, we get it.” It’s dumb, it’s trash, and it’s exactly what I’m looking for in a movie.
So when Billy shouts “PUNISH” and impales a girl on a mounted deer head, I’m gonna cheer so loud my cat runs out of the room. If you go into this movie looking for a cheap and schlocky good time, there’s no way you’ll be disappointed. I’m not gonna get into my favorite scenes from the third act, because I don’t wanna ruin anything, but I’ll say this: when Silent Night, Deadly Night works, it works really well. And it works best when it’s just delivering on the promise stated on the box- Santa Claus with an axe. Seriously, I’m not even talking about like 75 percent of this movie, because I want it to be a surprise when crazy dumb awesome stuff happens, and you’re left thinking “but how was it still on the sled?”
“[Silent Night, Deadly Night is] dumb, it’s trash, and it’s exactly what I’m looking for in a movie.”
All told, there are better Christmas movies that are waaaaaaaay less enjoyable, and if you get a chance to check out Silent Night, Deadly Night you totally should. There are a bunch of sequels, if you find yourself immersed in the lore and want to see more. For my money, though, it’s all about Billy shouting “PUNISH!”
Have you been nice this year? Then keep following Nightmare on Film Street for all your horror news and reviews! Have you been naughty? Then get away from me! I don’t want Santa to think I’ve been bad too! And let us know your thoughts on this Holiday Horror classic over on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.