Silent Night, Deadly Night DVD

Saturday, 21 November 2009 08:54

Some children fear men with beards – I know I did when I was younger. That fear does not extend to Santa Claus though, perhaps because traditionally he is old, his beard is white, he is rotund and always bears gifts. “Silent Night, Deadly Night” aims to banish this “exception that proves the rule”, and portray Santa as the scariest beardy of them all!

Charles E Sellier Jr’s film opens on Christmas Eve, 1971. The Chapman family are driving through the snow on their way to see Grandpa, an inhabitant of the charmingly named “Utah Mental Facility”. On arrival, Grandpa is seemingly unaware of his guests, but when they leave young Billy alone with him for a moment, Grandpa starts spouting some threatening mumbo jumbo about Santa punishing any kids who have been naughty. Moments later, the family are ambushed on their way home, and Billy witnesses his parents’ horrific assault and slaughter at the hands of none other than Santa himself!

Silent Night Deadly Night on DVDWhen we next catch up with him and his brother Ricky a few years later, they are living in a Catholic orphanage run by a fearsomely strict and devout Mother Superior. Mentally scarred by his traumatic past, Billy understandably gets very agitated every time Christmas comes around, and is unceremoniously punished by the Mother Superior who apparently has all the sensitivity of a cold stone. Flash forwards to 1984, and a happy-go-lucky, 18-year-old Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) is working in a toy shop.

This environment is all well and good until - you guessed it – 'Holiday Season' approaches, and the store is outfitted with masses of festive decorations. Comforting to others, the rigidly animated Santa and elf models give Billy the jitters. On top of that, he is asked to fill in for the sick store Santa, tipping his fragile mental state over the edge, and turning him into a blood-thirsty killer determined to 'punish' everyone in sight.

“Silent Night” apparently caused a storm of controversy in the USA when it was originally released, with overly sensitive adults across the land up in arms over the corruption of Santa’s pristine image. The movie was pulled from cinemas, but by then it had already made a handsome profit (it cost $750,000 and made $1.4 million in the first three days alone!). Today, such public outrage seems vaguely quaint as it is basically a pretty standard, albeit well-made slasher flick. It has all the necessary ingredients for a successful horror film – horrific opening, traumatised child who grows up to fill the shoes of the murderer, a quiet town with nobody about, seasonal radio excerpts to help set the scene, utterly oblivious/semi-naked/repugnant folk close to the killer who are ripe for the slaughter, and one clued-up person (Sister Margaret – Gilmer McCormick) who might just put an end to the carnage before there is no one left.

The director and cast generally keep things light and frothy, with everyone delivering decent if slightly caricatured performances. The action is very predictable but if there are not going to be shocks around every corner, this is how we horror fans like our movies. Deaths are telegraphed well in advanced, so the anticipation can be savoured!

Most of the slaughter is delivered in a typical manner, with axes, knives and hammers, but there are one or two gloriously innovative examples, including an extremely unpleasant encounter with a hunter’s reindeer trophy-head. Wilson is not particularly frightening as the demented Santa (his youthful age feels wrong for starters), but he evidently relishes the chance to stomp around like a Terminator in a red suit and false beard, yelling “PUNISH!” at his would-be victims. The gory effects are competently handled, and a few of his quarry put up a bit of a fight before they succumb, which prevents it from becoming a completely one-sided affair.

“Silent Night, Deadly Night” comes recommended to fans of the slasher sub-genre. The DVD (Certificate '18') is released by Arrow Video on 23 November, with an RRP £15.99, or less from The disc features a very comprehensive 35-minute audio interview with the director (which covers the fascinatingly chequered history of the movie) and a trailer, while the box includes a poster and a two-article collector’s booklet.


Movie Review: "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984)


Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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