After the success of Halloween, all a slasher pic producer needed to concoct a new franchise was to pick a holiday and go from there. As if invoking this long-standing trend, Silent Night, Deadly Night appeared in 1984 almost anticipating the notoriety that dogged it: a low-budget, cakewalk-crashing hodgepodge that called dibs on Christmas before it even knew what to do with the holiday. Though Christmas had already played prominently in previous horror classics (the first segment of the exemplary Amicus horror anthology Tales from the Crypt, to name cinema’s finest “homicidal Santa” moment), angry mothers who objected to the film’s decidedly un-Norman Rockwell portrait of the Yuletide season came out of the woodwork to protest its very existence. Here was a film with an eye-catching (and even still admittedly iconic) ad campaign featuring Santa’s ax-clutching arm sticking out of a snow-laced chimney. Even worse, it featured not one, but two deranged men in red fat-suits raping and slashing their way through a winter wonderland before being shot down by cops in front of an orphanage of wide-eyed cherubs. Perhaps most outlandishly, the audience is meant to identify (or at the very least empathize) with Billy, the screwed-up kid who sees his parents raped and killed by the first “naughty” Santa and then grows up (and strappingly fine) to become a deranged serial killer himself come Christmastime. As it was made in the locked-down ‘80s, the controversy was not too surprising. (Also indicative of the conservative times it was created in: the violence is kept to a bare minimum.) But lost in the controversy is the film’s unmistakably savage (and sadly archetypal) presentation of women’s death scenes, which are distressingly juxtaposed with the exposure of their breasts in a manner that implicates their sexuality with their “naughtiness,” or original sin as it were. This was obviously not new territory for the slasher genre, mind you, but Silent Night, Deadly Night brought the idea to new levels of cold sleaziness.
The second Silent Night, Deadly Night film was actually supposed to be a mere re-cut of the first film, in an attempt to finesse a few more dollars from a film whose impending success was stopped cold by the public outcry. But, as is often the case with no-pressure sequels to underground cult horror hits (Critters 2: The Main Course, The Bride of Frankenstein), the filmmakers used the original’s legendary framework as a jumping-off point into far more interesting territory. Though the film opens with the promised re-cut of the original (staged as a flashback that lasts an astonishingly lugubrious 40 minutes), director/editor Lee Harry manages to both tighten up the original (and cleanse it of most of the unsavory rape-evisceration fantasies) and then make mischievous mincemeat of the first film’s sequel-inviting doormat finale. Part 2 finds young Billy’s brother Ricky following directly in his older sibling’s carnage-spreading footsteps. Harry and co-scripter Joseph H. Earle show little-to-no reverence for the original film, gleefully trashing or blowing out of proportion nearly everything they can think of. For evidence, look no further than their choice of leading man. Whereas Robert Brian Wilson’s Billy was a handsomely cut but hammy lead, Eric Freeman’s Ricky is a fucking muscle monster who takes overacting to eyebrow-lifting new levels. The original’s skeptical (to say the least) take on Catholic schooling is made excessively clear in the sequel when the gargoyle-like Mother Superior is now slathered in horrifying scar make-up and resides in apartment number 666. Though Part 2 isn’t much more dignified than its predecessor, at the very least its isolated pleasures have a culminating effect (climaxing with a truly disturbing gun rampage and the most insanely dangerous car stunt ever seen in a Z-grade film). But it won’t make you feel any better than the first film. Both share the same Achilles’ heel: all throughout the supposedly subversive Christmas image-destruction, the audience is being led to identify with and eventually cheer on the actions of their doomed protagonists. Naughty indeed.
Nice. Except for a few naughty passages that were obviously snipped out at one point (likely under threat of censorship) and have been reinserted at the expense of film quality, the transfers for both films are remarkable. Even if neither film is particularly cinematic or aesthetically pleasing, the clean video transfers will let people discover on their own just how shitty some of the camerawork is. The sound is even one step better. Purists will likely rejoice that Anchor Bay has refrained from commissioning an unnecessary 5.1 stereo remix and instead opted to stick with the original mono, which is clear and uncluttered. In fact, it's so nicely presented that Michael Armstrong's score reveals itself to be quite the affecting piece of music.
You just knew the crew commentary would mention CSI to show how far the taboo against on-screen gore has been pushed back. Fortunately, we only have to hear it once, since only Part 2 has a commentary track. Harry and Earle (along with the chatty actor Newman) explain that the original assignment was to re-edit the original film for a pseudo-re-release and that's it, which explains the infamous first act recap. It's a great deal of fun to hear the three of them pontificate on what might have gone through the original filmmakers' minds for the first half-hour. Still, their anecdotes are at least as entertaining as the film itself, as when they explain that footage of a lovemaking couple from the original film had to be re-shot when the actors started making outlandish financial demands. Unfortunately, there's a bit of a schism between talking seriously and popping fresh with wise-ass MST3K-isms. Splitting the difference is the original film's director Charles E. Sellier, who doesn't do a commentary track but does acquiesce to a telephone interview that lasts for over half an hour and covers myriad topics, not least of which was the controversy that overshadowed (and continues to overshadow) the film's dubious merits. Sellier is in good humor and provides an intelligent, reasonable case for the film. Rounding out the package is a theatrical trailer and DVD-ROM screenplay for the second film, a collection of outraged correspondence in reaction to the first film, and galleries that are advertised as "posters and stills" but also include behind-the-scenes photography and storyboards.
If the Silent Night, Deadly Night series has taught us anything, it's that underneath the padding, Santa is one hot piece of ass. Sit on his lap and teach him what it means to be "naughty."