Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night

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.

Silent Night, Deadly Night
Photo: TriStar Pictures

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.

 Cast: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Britt Leach, Nancy Borgenicht, H.E.D. Redford, Robert Brian Wilson  Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr.  Screenwriter: Michael Hickey  Distributor: TriStar Pictures  Running Time: 85 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1984  Buy: Video

Eric Henderson

Eric Henderson is the web content manager for WCCO-TV. His writing has also appeared in City Pages.

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