Thursday, December 18, 2014

#1,585. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Directed By: Charles E. Sellier Jr.

Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero

Tag line: "Santa's Here!"

Trivia: This film was known as Slayride throughout its production. Tri-Star decided to change the title to Silent Night, Deadly Night at the last minute

Condemned by parents groups and critics alike for its depiction of a killer in a Santa suit, the Christmas-themed slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night has gone down in history as one of the most controversial movies ever produced. The outcry was so big, in fact, that Tri-Star Pictures, the studio behind it, pulled the film from theaters after only a week. That was thirty years ago, and even though the public uproar has quieted down some, Silent Night, Deadly Night remains every bit as intense as it was back in 1984.

Ever since he witnessed the murder of his parents (Jeff Hansen and Tara Buckman), both of whom were killed by a psychotic in a Santa suit (Charles Dierkop), Billy Chapman (played as a kid by Danny Wagner) has had a problem with Christmas (he breaks into a cold sweat whenever he sees a picture of Santa Claus). The Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) of the Christian orphanage where he was raised believed all the boy needed was some good, old fashioned discipline, while his teacher Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) felt that Billy’s aversion to the holiday masked a much deeper problem, one that, if not handled properly, could cause him to lose control. Sister Margaret’s worst fears are realized when, a few years later, a teenage Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) takes a job at a small toy store. With Christmas just around the corner, Billy’s boss, Mr. Sims (Britt Leach), asks Billy to dress up as Santa for the kids, at which point his mind snaps, turning what had been a docile young man into a homicidal maniac.

Unlike John Carpenter’s Halloween, which gives us a killer (Michael Myers) whose motives are a complete mystery, Silent Night Deadly Night reveals the traumas that contributed to its lead character’s mental collapse. While a very young boy (played by Jonathan Best), Billy’s family paid a Christmas Eve visit to his grandfather (Will Hare), who tells the impressionable youth that Santa is someone to be feared (“You see Santa Claus tonight you better run boy”, the old man says, “You better run for your life!”). Alas, the very night Grandpa said this to Billy was the one on which his parents were murdered by that guy in the Santa suit (who shoots Billy’s father through the head, then, after trying to rape her, slits his mother’s throat). His psyche is further damaged by the severe treatment he receives at the orphanage, where the well-meaning but strict Mother Superior lives by the credo “punishment is good” (at one point, she whips the boy for leaving his room without her permission). With so many painful memories, it’s no wonder Billy eventually loses his mind.

Like most ‘80s slasher flicks, Silent Night, Deadly Night features a number of gruesome kills, with Billy using everything from Christmas lights to the claw end of a hammer to get the job done (in one of the film’s more memorable scenes, he relies on deer antlers to take out a victim). With its creative kills, powerful story, and an early appearance by Scream Queen Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead, Nightmare Sisters), Silent Night, Deadly Night did more than survive the onslaught of negative criticism heaped upon it (even actor Mickey Rooney came out against the movie in 1984, saying the “scum” who produced it should be “run out of town”); it has become a cult classic.

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