ICFH 2022 Advent Calendar- Day 24
Now it's time for a classic holiday film, one that has defined the season for me for most of my life. It is a film I watch every year, a film I still cannot believe made as much of an impact on both the holiday and cinema upon its initial release. As soon as it was in theaters, you heard about it. Everyone knew it was out there. It went viral decades before "going viral" meant anything more than getting a bad cold and giving it to your schoolmates or co-workers. This is the real deal!
Warning: Spoiler Alert! I'm betting you have already seen this film, but if you haven't you need to watch it. Just because you have heard about it doesn't mean you have seen it. Just because you have seen the memes, doesn't mean you know it. Just because you know it tore everything good and innocent out of Christmas and then stomped the snot out of it, does not mean you've experienced it. Watch it. Do this. Don't be naughty. Please. Trust me. Don't. Be. Naughty.
ICFH 2022 Advent Calendar December 24- Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
It's Christmas Eve 1971 and little Billy is with his parents and baby brother Ricky visiting their demented Grandfather who is locked up in the Convalescent Home of the Living Dead. Grampa just stares at the wall all day but when he's alone with little Billy he warns him, "Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year. If you see Santa, you better run, boy. You better run!"
On their long journey home, they cross paths with a lunatic in a Santa suit who has broken down on the side of the road. He's just robbed a convenience store, killing the clerk in cold blood for like twenty bucks and some Slim Jims.
Billy begs his stupid parents to keep going but being parents they know better than a seven-year-old so they stop and get killed. Billy and his infant brother Ricky are left for dead.
We catch up with Billy a couple years later and he and Ricky are now "in the system." They are living in an orphanage and as Christmas rolls around Billy starts reliving the trauma of his parent's murder. He draws pictures of mutilated reindeer and a slaughtered Santa.
A good nun sees this as a cry for help while Mother Superior knows it is just Billy looking for attention. She's got Lil' Bill's number and he's not getting away with it this year. When Billy has horrific nightmares, Mother Superior ties him to his bed. When he spies a couple of older kids getting it on, he gets caught and Mother Superior beats the ever loving hell out of him with a belt. When he's forced to sit on Santa's lap and freaks out, he's put in solitarily confinement until Mother Superior has enough time to torture him some more.
Flashforward a couple years later and Billy is a handsome, robust lad who lands a job at Ira's Toys, the most broken down toy store cinema has ever seen (at least until the fifth entry of this franchise). Billy is courteous and contentious. He's a good worker who takes pride in doing a good job. Everyone likes Billy except for a Joe Pesci-type storeroom manager who thinks he's a goody two shoes.
Christmas rolls around.
Billy fares well until Christmas Eve when their store Santa cannot come to work and Billy is forced to don the Santa duds and stand in. He struggles, but he manages to get through the day by threatening the kids and basically scaring the shit out of them.
At the Christmas Eve after party, Mr. Sims gets his drunk on and encourages Billy to drink. Actually, he forces Billy to drink. Billy's confused. Nothing makes sense. Mr. Sims says stuff like, "It's Christmas Eve. You know what Santa does on Christmas Eve..."
When Billy sees the gal he likes sneak off to the storeroom with the greasy manager for a little game of Gumby and Pokey, he snaps.
Billy knows what Santa does on Christmas Eve.
Santa punishes the naughty.
With hammer, fire axe and bow and arrow, Santa Billy gets busy on a long night of dolling out punishments to the wicked.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a lot of things, but subtle ain't one of them. It is a perfect slasher movie. I know, that's like saying someone is the craziest person in the asylum. But Silent Night, Deadly Night knows what it is and it doesn't fool around. It spends a good bit of its running time setting up how Billy "got that way," then moves to the big confrontation between Santa Billy the psycho and Mother Superior the lunatic.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is not afraid to be what it is. It's mean spirited and nasty, sleazy and gory, but also fun. It's like a first person shooter video game, only it is a psycho in a Santa suit using hand weapons. Billy cuts a path to the orphanage and leaves a bloody, meaty trail in his wake.
The flick came out on the day of my 15th birthday in 1984. The same day saw the release of Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street. Of the two films, Silent Night, Deadly Night had the bigger opening weekend. It did fantastic. It was on its way to really turning a huge profit, but then angry PTA moms intervened.
A bunch of moms and people for decency, or some damn thing, made a stink about the movie's TV ads and how their stupid kids were seeing the ads and believing Santa was murdering people. There are so many things wrong with that sentence I don't know where to begin.
People began picketing theaters showing the film. It was all over the news. You couldn't buy publicity like this. Unfortunately, Silent Night, Deadly Night was being distributed by Tri Star, one of the majors, and they buckled. They pulled the ads. They pulled the movie. The lazy PTA moms who couldn't be bothered to tell their dumbass kids it's all make believe and there really is no Santa Claus won!
This is amazing to me. To hit theaters with a film no one has ever heard of, only to get everyone talking about it and then pull it... Dave Friedman would never have allowed this happen! Jerry Gross would never have allowed this happen! Terry Levene would never have allowed this to happen! This was a gift from the movie gods and Tri Star pulled the film and dropped it. This was a studio that DID NOT WANT TO MAKE MONEY! It's show business, not show art! Why am I trying to explain that to a studio?!
Because a group of people who never even saw the film found it offensive. Because people who complain about something they know nothing about historically have always had a stronger voice than people in the know. Because Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year.
Silent Night, Deadly Night was not the first film to feature a psycho Santa, it was just the first one to get called out for it. In 1972 a psycho Santa terrorized Joan Collins in an episode of the Amicus anthology Tales from the Crypt. Some people cite twisted Harry in Christmas Evil as the next Santa slasher, but it is not in the same ballpark. Technically, the first co-ed snuffing Santa slasher was To All A Goodnight, from 1980, by director David Hess, which pretty much did everything Silent Night, Deadly Night did but without the mile long mean streak.
Silent Night, Deadly Night was successful enough that the producers paid for a sequel that ultimately utilized forty minutes of the film as flashback. You might not think that sounds all that awesome but Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is its own thing, with little Ricky growing up and avenging his brother's dead, and it kicks ass. Ricky takes out the garbage. (Part 2 is the entry that lives on in meme-land.)
The entire Silent Night, Deadly Night series is notorious for its crazy plots and absolute hatred for the season. No one is safe, whether it's a psycho Santa, a coven of witches or a mad toymaker, the naughty will pay.
Whenever the season gets to me, I know I can put the original Silent Night, Deadly Night in and then come out of it balanced again. Everything will be set right. And when I need a quick pick me up, I just watch the Siskel and Ebert review of the movie, in which Siskel names all the people associated with the movie who are making "blood money" from ticket sales.
I miss 1984.
Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!