Christmas set horror movies with a message are nothing new. Years before Black Christmas was remade for a second time, filmmakers were already churning out holiday horror on a regular basis. As we all know, the horror genre is a touchy subject for a lot of moviegoers. For some, the idea of setting a horror movie during the Christmas season is pushing things too far.
A lot of people reasonably argue that Christmas is the time for the joy of friends and family, not fear. But in many instances, like that of Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker, they are missing the point. Not only is the basic structure of most horror movies almost always an example of good conquering evil, but there are also other recurring themes of endearment (albeit a blood-soaked and terror-filled ones).
“For some, the idea of setting a horror movie during the Christmas season is pushing things too far.”
The Silent Night, Deadly Night movie series kicked off in 1984. Upon its release on November 9, the original movie was greeted with controversy because of the marketing campaign that focused heavily on the killer being dressed as Santa Claus. Groups like the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) protested and wanted the movie taken out of theaters. Right out of the gate, Silent Night, Deadly Night pulled in $2.4 million at the box office during its first ten days, even earning more during its opening weekend than Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street which began its theatrical run the same day. Because of the hoopla surrounding the release, Silent Night, Deadly Night was pulled from theaters and never even made it to the west coast.
Despite the controversy, or maybe because of it, the movie was a big enough hit on home video to warrant a string of four sequels over the next seven years, with Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987) being the only one to be released theatrically. Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: You Better Watch Out (1989), Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990), and Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991), each went directly to video.
Similar to Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker is a standalone story within the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise. With a tagline referencing the mega-hit Home Alone which hit theaters the year before, “He’s home… but he’s not alone”, accompanied by VHS cover art that barely has anything at all to do with the film itself, The Toy Maker was released by Live Home Video on November 7, 1991. Riding on the recent success of Full Moon Video’s Puppetmaster series, the film follows an evil toymaker who is building toys that kill.
The Toy Maker stars Mickey Rooney, who interestingly enough appeared in several Christmas movies over the years, as well as voicing Santa Claus in the stop motion animated Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970), Jane Higginson (Slaughterhouse), Van Quattro (End of Days), Tracy Fraim (Fear), Neith Hunter (Near Dark), Conan Yuzna (Society), Brian Bremer (Pumpkinhead), and horror regular Clint Howard (Evilspeak). The movie was the directorial debut by Martin Kitrosser, who had recently worked on the screenplays for several of the Friday the 13th films.
“For both casual and seasoned horror audiences, the third act is wildly unexpected and features over-the-top visuals with a wild explanation sequence that brings everything together.”
The high points of The Toy Maker are largely attributed to the screenplay, which was co-written by Kitrosser and Brian Yuzna. At the time, Yuzna was fresh off directing and co-writing Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990), and he already had several horror hits under his belt as writer, producer, or director, most notably with The Bride of Re-animator (1989). With The Toy Maker, Kitrosser and Yuzna have crafted a story full of twists and turns that keep the viewer engaged and wondering where exactly the story is headed next.
For both casual and seasoned horror audiences, the third act is wildly unexpected and features over-the-top visuals with a wild explanation sequence that brings everything together. As mentioned before, the story of The Toy Maker is a standalone story within the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise, but the writers have interestingly written in cameos for several characters from Initiation, including Neith Hunter’s Kim, Conan Yuzna’s Lonnie, and Clint Howard’s Ricky. Die hard fans of the series should have a blast making connections to the previous entries.
While never pretending to be anything other than a fun piece of horror entertainment, The Toy Maker is not heavy handed in beating viewers over the head with any sort of straightforward message. But for those looking for a bit more depth, the movie offers plenty to analyze. The theme of family plays an important role in the story line of The Toy Maker. From the get-go, a big portion of the screenplay focuses on “growing up” and the importance and need of the traditional family unit. The central mystery of The Toy Maker is that of the villain’s identity. Through a series of purposefully vague scenes, viewers are led one way and then another until the essences of several key characters are revealed.
Christmas horror naysayers will be rather surprised at the final result. Without giving too much away, I will say this… in the end, the story of The Toy Maker is actually a rather heartwarming one that focuses on bringing a separated family together during the holidays. It is a fitting conclusion, as the season is a time for putting our differences aside and spending time with the ones we love.
“While never pretending to be anything other than a fun piece of horror entertainment […] Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker is an entertaining and overlooked direct-to-video sequel…”
With shades of Gremlins, Child’s Play, and Halloween, Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker is an entertaining and overlooked direct-to-video sequel that has found its own number of fans over the years. Unfortunately, with the exception of a loose remake in 2006, The Toy Maker marked the end of the Silent Night, Deadly Night series. As of this writing, the entire Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise is available on various streaming services, including Vudu, where you can watch it for free.
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