Junkfood Cinema: Silent Night, Deadly Night

By  · Published on December 24th, 2010

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; ho ho holy shit. Just because it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean you get a break from me. I will invade your home with utter disregard for personal boundaries…much like Santa Claus. But unlike the big guy, I only deal in lumps of coal, cinematically-speaking. Every week I stuff your stocking with a rancid little sapling and mock it mercilessly. But then, like a Christmas miracle, I dress it up with misguided praise until it shines like a tiny little beacon of the season. Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? Well save the tears for your lost physique because I promise to then pair the bad film with a stomach-defiling snack food aimed at making your insides a little less merry.

Today’s yuletide snack: Silent Night, Deadly Night…

Basic premise here is that a young boy witnesses his parents’ brutal murder at the hands of a criminal dressed as Santa Claus. This turns out to be really inconvenient timing as the boy’s grandfather had recently burst out of his supposed catatonia to tell Billy that Santa not only brings toys to good children but brutally punishes those who have done the slightest thing wrong; sending Billy into a full-on Santa panic. He and his brother are then sent to live at the world’s preeminently shitty orphanage run by cinema’s most preeminently assholish Catholics. They find the best course of action to correct elder brother Billy’s pathological fear of Santa Claus, you know from the hellish trauma of watching Santa KILL HIS PARENTS, is to force him to sit on Santa’s lap. Years later, he gets a job in a toy store and, wouldn’t you know it, they make him dress up and play Santa. Before you know it, Billy is murdering anyone and everyone he deems as naughty.

What Makes It Bad?

This is the perfect example of pure exploitation. Although not the first Christmas horror film to be conceived, Silent Night Deadly Night really pushes the limits of decency. Its subject matter of a Santa Claus that kills was so explosively incendiary that it shook Siskel and Ebert to their very cores. They were so offended by the material in the film that on their televised review series they read names aloud from the film’s credits following each name with a chorus of, “shame, shame, shame.” While this seems no small overreaction, it’s not hard to understand why people were so put off by Silent Night, Deadly Night. Here we have Santa Claus, the nondenominational icon of the season, suddenly portrayed as a mass-murdering sociopath. As if seasonal affective disorder, elevated suicide rates, and fruitcakes weren’t scary enough, Silent Night, Deadly Night decides to give us one more thing of which to be festively terrified.

This film has no shortage of silliness to accompany its exploitative tone. The scene with the grandfather is unsettling, but also laughably ridiculous. First of all, the man reminds me of Grandpa Seth from Troll 2, and his leap back to consciousness the moment the adults have vacated the room is only slightly less absurd than the fact that the parents would deem it appropriate to leave their young child in the company of a demented old man. There’s also the scene wherein the cops chase a man in a Santa suit as he climbs a ladder into a child’s bedroom. When they burst in, the Santa is revealed to be the child’s father and everyone seems relieved…at no point questioning why the father was sneaking around in the dark in his own daughter’s room. And again, you’ve got to love the nuns in this film that remind everyone of the true meaning of Christmas: fostering broken psyches. Billy may have been traumatized, but he was a perfectly nice little kid that the penguins managed to transform into a serial killer…with the help of the Lord. And with every utterance of the word “naughty,” from killer Santa’s lips just before a slaying (hehe), I could not help but giggle at its lunacy.

The music in Silent Night, Deadly Night is horrid. I know what you’re thinking, “aren’t you just criticizing Christmas music at this point?” Far be it from me to call into question the artistic merit of songs about talking snowmen and rosacea-afflicted reindeer. But the recognizable Christmas songs don’t make an appearance until just before the film’s conclusion. Prior to that, for reasons unfathomable to human brains, the filmmakers opt for creating a slew of original, if soul-numbingly terrible, Christmas music. I don’t know if I liked the sexy “Merry Christmas Baby” playing while the young couple is having sex on the pool table or the followup “Merry Christmas Baby” that plays as they are waiting for more sex on the pool table. Two different songs by two different artists with exactly the same title. Not to mention the fact that the Santa song with the lyrics, “Santa’s watching, Santa’s waiting,” is creepy in a way that borders on too-on-the-nose-ishness.

Why I Love It!

Despite its being made for the price of a cup a coffee per day, for 12 days, Silent Night, Deadly Night is strikingly competent. Sure it has some silliness and comic relief characters that make you hate laughter, but it also has an interesting story and performances that, despite their best efforts, aren’t terrible. The opening of the film is bone-chilling in its brutality and perfectly implants the characters blossoming psychosis. There is decent cinematography as well; the film compensating for its meager budget with a series of playful camera tricks. I also love the ending and how it perfectly sets up the sequel, though the sequel didn’t live up to the promise of its predecessor’s final shot. But if you really like Silent Night, Deadly Night, you’ll love the sequel as it is nothing but a clip show of the first film with a whopping 8.5 minutes of new content to wrap around the stock footage.

The actor who plays Billy may look like a Campbell’s soup doll after undergoing Chinese gene therapy, but he is super creepy and his sheer size affords him a suitable level of intimidation. The scene wherein he wraps the Christmas lights around the guy’s neck and holds him aloft until he is hanged is astonishing. He also makes great use of a mounted deer head as a victim rack. In all fairness, that girl was better off impaled. How many silk tiger paintings does one family really need? I also love the makeup on the young boyfriend that gets thrown through a window and ends up a Christmas shish kabob. What I’m trying to say is the true meaning of Christmas, serial murder, is well represented here.

I absolutely love the scenes in the toy store where Billy works. It may seem an especially esoteric aspect of the film on which to lavish praise, but I wish I could reach through the screen and loot that toy store. The shelves are swimming in G.I. Joes, Star Wars playsets, Tron kites, and full-sized Muppets. It is the amalgamation of everything I love and a reminder of my unchecked angst over not being old enough to appreciate these toys when they were readily available. This one toy store is like the ultimate mystical receptacle for all that is awesome, and the scariest part of axe-wielding Billy chasing a woman through the aisles is the thought that he may damage the display of Krull board games. Krull board game!

Junkfood Pairing: Milk and Cookies

A classic holiday treat for a classically bad Christmas movie. I would suggest leaving a large portion of the cookies out for Santa even if you don’t believe in him. Something tells me that if you haven’t been perfect all year then Billy/Santa is still going to puncture your eyeballs with jagged candy canes, but your chances are decidedly better if you can distract him with gingerbread and chocolate chips. Might I also suggest warming the milk in the mircowave and dropping a few elephant tranquilizers into the glass.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.