Sunday, December 20, 2009

Movie Notes: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

In the present day, in which it's impossible to think of Christmas without thinking of the "War on Christmas", it's hard to remember that bygone era in which the war on Christmas was over whether or not adults would be able to go see an R-rated movie about Santa Claus as a psycho killer. Far be in from me to suggest that some people were stupid in the 1980s; but indeed, adults went out and picketed this movie because they did not want other adults to see a film that made Santa Claus look bad. The 80s, you see, were a time in which mental giants walked the earth.

Technically, however, Silent Night, Deadly Night is not a movie in which the real Santa Claus kills; instead, a psycho killer who fancies himself Santa does the killing. And, I should mention that, technically, this movie sucks. Silent Night, Deadly Night clearly came in the midst of the 80s slasher cycle, and it hews pretty closely to the slasher formula: a horrible event that happened on a holiday several years ago, young people who screw and get killed, a psycho killer who does the killing, and remarkably flat acting, framing, writing, and direction. Why this film never became a holiday tradition is beyond me.

Christmas Eve, 1971, something terrible happened. A family went to visit their insane grandpa in the insane asylum (hard to believe anything might go wrong, eh?) with their young children. They're in a festive mood and the radio is playing lots of Christmas songs that you've never heard before. See, most of the Christmas classics are copywritten, so the producers had to hire struggling bands to write new Christmas songs and have the actors pretend to recognize them from days gone by. "OH! Is that 'Christmas Rockin' in Havana' by Troy Cunningham and the De-Troy-ers? Turn that up!"

Anyway, the family goes to visit Crazy Grandpa who subsequently freaks out the young son, Billy, by telling him that Santa Claus is an angry, jealous Santa who smites the naughty children with terrible vengeance. This is supposed to be scary; but it's hard not to think Grandpa is actually pretty awesome because the kid is a bit annoying, and the scene is sort of funny. But, now, the seed is planted in young Billy's fertile mind.


Meanwhile, a guy dressed as Santa holds up a liquor store and kills the clerk. Santa's car gets a flat tire, the family stops to help, and he kills Dad and slits Mom's throat. Before doing so, he rips open Mom's shirt so that young Billy will forever connect breasts with killing- and so the producers can shoehorn lots of tits into the film for no apparent reason. Oh, and the kid hides from Evil Santa about three feet away, but Santa doesn't see him. This happens a lot in the movie: people do things mere feet from other people who don't notice them. The film apparently takes place in an alternate universe in which everyone is nearsighted and all of the songs on the radio are by the same shitty bar band from the Midwest.

Now orphaned, Billy and his baby brother grow up in an orphanage run by Nuns and a bitchy Mother Superior. He has Christmas Issues, naturally, and Mother Superior responds by beating him. He receives a grand mal ass-whupping after seeing a young resident and her boyfriend screwing (Oh, no! Tits! Tits make Billy go crazy!), and comes to associate punishment with Christmas. In case you don't get that point, Billy will say "Punish!" repeatedly throughout the film. He also learns that meaningless sex is deeply wrong, a serious problem since this is the 80s and, if you've watched a lot of these movies, you know that young people screwed a lot in the 80s.

Billy grows up to be a strapping man and gets a job at the local department store. He's "making it" now, as evidenced by an inspirational power rock montage about making it. I realize that the American economy is currently in the shitter, and it's possible that the prosperity of the 1980s boom was largely due to power rock theme song montages. Countless 80s movies feature montages in which people make it in the world while forgotten bar bands play power chords to push them onward. I suspect this is what is missing today. I would like to suggest that the Obama administration pay me stimulus money to follow around Americans who are out of work and depressed, playing them 80s power rock songs on a boombox. Rahm Emmanuel- look me up here!

Unfortunately, there's trouble in power rock montage land. Adult Billy still has Christmas Issues- in fact, he's a ticking Christmas package primed to explode. You can see what's coming and only have to wait through interminable scene after interminable scene to get there. Oh. there's a subplot in which Billy has the hots for a a co-worker and fantasizes about her breasts, and a rivalry with a bizarrely hostile co-worker who always wears polo shirts. Also, the boss at the store gets the bright idea to have Billy play Santa.

So, you really know where this is going. The store has a Christmas party one evening. They're all drinking and dancing to all those classic Christmas songs like, "Christmas is Keen" by Kitty Calloway and the Jingle Sluts, and the hot co-worker nearly gets raped in the backroom by the polo shirt prick. Billy sees tits, Billy goes crazy, and you know the rest.



The movie does pick up in the last act. Linnea Quigley has a bit part in which she gets impaled topless on a trophy buck's antlers, while her teenage boyfriend misses all of this from ten feet away. A drunk bully out sledding gets decapitated while his oblivious friend is twenty feet away but somehow also misses it. The police kill the wrong Santa Claus. There's a dramatic final speech from Billy, who finally gets killed. And the final obligatory scary twist.

Silent Night, Deadly Night has its moments. But there's no suspense, the acting is terrible, and the direction is pretty stock. So, the only way to watch it is with friends and alcohol, laughing at how dumb it all is. It never reaches the realm of so-bad-it's-good. Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, on the other hand, is deliriously stupid, and well worth renting.


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