Silent Night, Deadly Night

Year:  1984
Director:  Charles E. Sellier, Jr.
Cast:  Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Toni Nero, Linnea Quigley
Fright Meter Award Winner:  Best Supporting Actress

A young boy, Billy, who witnesses his parents brutally murdered by a sociopath dressed in a Santa Claus suit suffers psychological distress at memories of the terrible crime and at the hands of the diabolically stern Mother Superior of the orphanage that he and his little brother are condemned to.   When he turns eighteen, he gets a job at a toy store, which requires him to dress up as Santa Clause during the Christmas season.   This proves to be too much for him, as the trauma from his childhood floods him, causing him to go on one of the most controversial murder sprees in film history to punish the "naughty."

Judged for what it is--a slasher film--Silent Night, Deadly Night is perhaps one of the best post-Friday the 13th clones of the 80's.  Sure, it takes delicate subject matter, Christmas and Santa Claus, and utilizes them for the basis of a bloodbath of almost unprecedented sleaze and controversy.  Cries of protests from angry parents who boycotted and picketed the film upon its release because of its "offensiveness" caused quite a stir and eventually led to the quick removal of the film from theaters.  However, any movie where people get murdered can be viewed as offensive, and just because this film deals Christmas holiday should not make it any more offensive that the countless other horror films released during the 80's because, ultimately, it is a much more effective and memorable film than those countless other films.   First, the tone of this film is unsettling.   It is a gloomy, depressing film and the viewer can easily have sympathy for Billy because of everything that he had to deal with as a child and cannot help wanting the blame the bitchy Mother Superior, played with remarkable ferocity by Lilyan Chauvin, for what transcends.  The films seems to really want the viewer to care about Billy and his past, making everything that happens much more difficult to watch.  This may make some uncomfortable, as sympathizing with a brutal killer is something that is usually not done.   And make no mistake, the murders in this films are extremely brutal and graphic, including the infamous "deer antler" scene.  The problem, however, is that none of these scenes are particularly scary, nor is suspense built during any of the murder scenes.  There is no slow and deliberate stalking of victims that films like Halloween utilized to build tension.  The brutality and goriness of the murders is relied upon to make them memorable, and for the most part this succeeds.   Additionally, besides creating an effective tone, the film succeeds at developing an engaging and somewhat unique plot arc for a film of its type.   Much time is spent on Billy's back story and time in the orphanage in order for the viewer to fully understand his mentality and actions later in the film.   The primary characters are all developed very well and for the most part, the acting is crisp and on point.  With the exception of a few early scenes, the film doesn't feel hokey or low budget.   It is competently made and certainly is not as sloppy and poorly executed as many other horror films from the same era.

Ultimately, if one knows that witnessing a guy dressed in a Santa Clause suit killing people is going to be offensive, then I would simply advise not to watch this film.   But Silent Night, Deadly Night  is easily one of the best and most memorable slasher films of the 80's and remains, even today, a very effective, controversial, and divisive film.  That says a lot for a film so many tried to condemn and label exploitative trash.

Fright Meter Grade:

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