Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

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review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Christmas Evil

The Dorm that Dripped Blood


Silent Night, Deadly Night

Lava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

"They'll love you in Atlantic City."
Slasher villains usually fall into one of two camps: supernatural demons and psychotic killers. Sometimes the line blurs and the human killers are given unusual strength by dint of a murderous rage or deals with Satan, but for the most part the "insane serial killer" types are regular Joes with events in their pasts that have changed them into knife wielding maniacs.

Rarely, however, do we see the progression of that madness as intimately as in Silent Night, Deadly Night. An intricate (and not always believable) series of events unfold on screen, transforming our poor antihero Billy from cute little tyke to Santa suit-clad axe murderer. It's a nice change of pace in a genre where a killer's motives are often explained in a voice-over or related between teenaged delinquents in excited whispers.

Unfortunately, this well-painted portrait of a young man's road to madness is about all that's remarkable about the film. It's not as if a killer dressed as Santa was an original idea -- Christmas Evil did it four years prior -- although it must have still held some novelty value, because it was apparently quite scandalous and has spawned four sequels. Even with its gimmick, the movie fails to tell a story, instead merely detailing the birth of a serial killer.

Decorating is always the
best part of the holidays.
Young Utah resident Billy (Jonathan Best), aged 5, is on his way to visit his Grandpa on Christmas Eve. In the front seat is Dad, accompanied by Mom and little Ricky, the baby brother. Billy, bright-eyed with the magic of Christmas, is happy to hear that Santa will soon be leaving him presents, but his opinion changes after he meets Grandpa. The old coot is being held in a mental home, where he is apparently catatonic. But when Billy is alone with him, Grandpa tells Billy that Santa actually punishes bad children. This might be bad enough to scar a young child, but on the drive home from the visit Billy's parents stop to help a man who has broken down on the side of the road. The man is wearing a Santa suit, and he's also a raving psycho. Billy's parents are slaughtered while Billy watches, though the children escape harm.

A few years later we see Billy and Ricky in a Catholic orphanage. There Billy learns about sex (thanks to one of the largest keyholes ever installed in a door) and the accompanying shame and punishments when Mother Superior catches you doing the horizontal mambo. The sadistic Mother Superior ("Punishment is good!") also insists that Billy learn to love Santa Claus, no matter what. This involves tying the poor kid to the bed overnight and immersion therapy every Christmas.

"Santa isn't real? But Pikachu still
lives under the house, right?
In our second and final flash-forward, we see Billy as a young man. At 18 years old, he works in a toy store, as arranged by the kindly Sister Margaret. Sister Margaret does everything she can to help Billy -- except to get him some therapy. The toy store was probably the most fun we got from this film. For one thing, it was stocked with all sorts of toys and costumes we remember from our own childhoods. (The original Jabba the Hutt playset!) Then there's the fact that the store is devoid of customers, yet Billy is employed to work in the stockroom moving huge boxes. He even has a supervisor!

One might think that putting Billy in a toy store during Christmas would be a bad idea. One would be right. Not only is the poor slob forced to contemplate St. Nick's cheery mug every day, but when the actor who plays Santa in the store breaks his leg (get it? He's an actor and he broke a leg! oh, never mind), guess who is tapped to take the role? The winds of fate blow Billy towards his bloody destiny, and if you're not checking your watch by this point, you're either asleep or laughing hysterically.

If you are thanking us for the picture
of Jabba in the box instead of
cursing us for not showing the
woman's cleavage, you may be a geek.
Because this is a movie, things come to a head on Christmas Eve. After a hard day of selling those last-minute Christmas gifts (oddly, the store still has Easter bunnies and Halloween costumes on the shelves), the store manager closes the doors at 7:30 p.m. (what kind of store is this, anyway? At 7:30 on Christmas Eve, some parents are just getting started!) and the annual Christmas party begins. This is one of those creepy movie Christmas parties with only five or six celebrants because the budget wouldn't allow more actors. Billy, experiencing the joys of his first bout with alcohol, and rejected by the girl cashier he loves, reacts to the festivities as only a wacko can: he starts on a bloody rampage, throttling his fellow employees with strings of Christmas lights and impaling them on the world's deadliest toys. Honestly, who keeps an axe in the stockroom of a toy store?

Billy doesn't stop with the inhabitants of the toy store; he moves on to the neighborhood, bent on punishing the naughty (including a young Linnea Quigley, strutting her naughty stuff in yet another slasher flick) and rewarding the nice. But mostly punishing the naughty.

The acting is dismal. Robert Brian Wilson plays the psycho mostly by staring and sweating. It could be worse, but it really isn't very interesting. Most of the actors play stereotypes, but no one embarrasses himself or herself as much as Lilyan Chauvin, who plays the Mother Superior of the orphanage. She plays her whole part at such a high volume we kept hoping a tornado would drop a Kansas farmhouse on her.

The Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise has limped along like a lame reindeer on its half-clever title and supposedly intriguing premise for sixteen years. Don't let the shiny wrapping fool you, kids -- in Santa's parlance, there's coal in this cinematic stocking.

Review date: 12/19/2000

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