Of all the horror flicks in the eighties, perhaps no other film was associated with such controversy or hostility than Silent Night Deadly Night. Critics & parents alike were truly appalled by the film which perhaps only made the moviegoers worldwide all the more interested. Angry families (mostly moms) everywhere formed at theaters & malls to protest the film in addition to writing bazillions of letters to the film's distributor. The PTA themselves (bastards) fought to have the film banned due to it's subject matter & the mere fact that I was released just a month before Christmas. Within the first six days of release, TriStar pictures (original distributor) pulled all the ads for the film & it was also withdrawn shortly thereafter due to the heated controversy. Hmm, my kind of film.
Thankfully, the film was later picked up by an independent distributor & re-released in theaters making it an easy viewing for me at the local theater in my hometown. In fact, I loved it so much that two viewings on the big screen weren't enough to satisfy my inner craving for brutality & violence although it was certainly a pleasure to have viewed the film that so many people wouldn't watch or the film that so many people didn't want you to see. As my dear readers can probably guess, I'm definitely not subscribing to any form of censorship when it comes to old-fashioned horror flicks. I like my horror to be bloody, disturbing, & downright raw as my reviews might suggest.
In the early seventies, Billy & his family are taking a trip to see grandpa who now lives in a mental hospital. While daddy & mommy are having a private little chat about gramps, Billy finds grandpa fully awake ready to spill the beans about Santa Claus. Being only five years old, Billy is an impressionable young child & he believes everything that his grandfather has to say about how Santa Claus punishes those who have been bad all year long rather than showering them with gifts. He also tells Billy that Christmas evening is the scariest night of the entire year & to run like the devil if you see Santa Claus coming.
Meanwhile, a man in a Santa Claus suit robs a nearby convenience store & kills the clerk before he evacuates the premises. Shortly thereafter, Billy's father sees the man standing outside of his car in the suit & offers his assistance. Santa pulls out a gun & Billy's father puts the car in reverse to avoid being attacked but winds up being shot in the head. Santa proceeds to rape the mother in a brutal scene but ends up slitting her throat leaving Billy & his infant brother to fend for themselves.
A couple of years pass & the two brothers now reside in St. Mary's Orphanage. Sadly, Billy has never been able to completely forget the traumatic experience of losing both parent during the holidays & is emotionally unstable only during Christmas. From drawing bloody pictures depicting Santa Claus as a killer to having horrible dreams, it seems there is no end to Billy's living nightmare. In a scene where the orphanage children are asked to line up & sit on Santa's lap, Billy screams & punches the man before running to his room in complete fear.
Naturally, these episodes do not go unnoticed & Mother Superior is determined to handle Billy even if it means severely punishing him & then advising that punishment is necessary in addition to being good. Sister Margaret tries to help Billy & even invites him out to play with kids but fails miserably in her attempts to comfort the young man & make him feel at home due to Mother Superior's objections. Mother Superior continues to punish the child including a beating with a belt & ties him to a bed.
10 years later, Billy is now 18 & is working temporarily at Ira's Toy Store thanks to Sister Margaret. Things seem to be going pretty well. His co-workers & shoppers alike love him so it would seem that fate has finally smiled on the young chap. Billy even has a crush on the female co-worker Pamela & even has rather sensual dream where he envisions himself making love to her. All goes well until Christmas time rolls around & Billy is asked by his Mr. Simms to play Santa for the little children.
Billy finally snaps after having a few drinks at the store Christmas party when he sees co-worker Andy trying to sexually molest Pamela in the stock room & flashes of his traumatic past flood his mind. In a raging fit, he kills Andy & then proceeds to brutally stab Pamela. From then on, Billy leaves the store & his murderous rampage continues throughout the sleepy snow-covered town throughout the course of Christmas eve. Santa's got an Axe & he's ready to punish all those who have been naughty rather than nice.
Christmas Eve grows uglier & uglier as Billy kills every naughty person he comes in contact with from bullies sledding in the woods to a couple of fornicating teens in a nearby house. Perhaps the most gruesome yet cool death scene involves Denise (played by scream queen Linnea Quigley )being impaled on a deer's antlers. The police are now on the lookout for a man dressed up as Claus with a bloody Axe & it's only a matter of time before Billy makes his way back to the orphanage in hopes of killing Mother Superior.
Although not the most gory horror flick ever made, SNDN works well because of the intense performances & the psychological terror which builds with each scene. Rather than just being a slasher film meant to cash in on the holiday theme, Sellier's work is much more complex & disturbing as it deals with isolated incidents which are not uncommon in everyday life or today's headlines rather than using cartoonish death scenes like one might expect to see in any of the numerous holiday horror film sequels. The writers clearly fleshed out a real human being when they drafted their script & the viewer cannot help but feel sorry for Billy throughout the entire film.
To this day, SNDN is still my favorite Christmas holiday film & I've watched it many times through the years on VHS tapes & I own the uncut DVD which runs 85 mins rather than the 79 min theatrical cut. Not much has changed regarding controversy in horror films since 1984 I'm sad to report but I'm glad we are at least granted the option in most cases to see the films we want to see in the digital world of entertainment. After all, why should someone else make the final jurisdiction on what they deem appropriate for me to watch? Happy Holidays to everyone! Cenobite loves you!
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