Written by Michael Hickey from a story (actually, not even a story, just an idea) by Paul Caimi and directed by nature and conspiracy theory documentarian (and the man behind the Grizzly Adams series) Charles E. Sellier Jr., Silent Night, Deadly Night is a cult classic which truly deserves its status among the best bad movies with a Christmas theme.
The movie never takes itself seriously, which makes the furor over its release by parents groups, critics, and journalists even more bizarre in retrospect. Hell, I was allowed to watch horror movies on a regular basis starting at age eight, except for a few exceptions, among which included Silent Night, Deadly Night. Something about purity and the sacredness of the holiday. I don’t know. People just took this shit way too seriously. But, oddly, the controversy probably has a lot to do with the film’s later popularity among VHS fiends in the 1980’s and 1990’s, after the thing got pulled from theaters shortly after it was released. Curiosity, you know? Anyway, yeah, parents aren’t always known for their sense of humor.
The story begins as young Billy (Danny Wagner) gets the shit scared out of him by his grandfather during a visit to his the nursing home. Granddad is supposed to be catatonic, but when Billy’s parents leave him alone with the guy, he suddenly comes to life to tell the kid how Santa punishes bad people. Later, a guy in a Santa suit kills both of his parents as Billy and his baby brother look on. In his late teens, Billy (now played by Robert Brian Wilson) goes on a bloody rampage after his boss at the toy store where he works makes him dress as Santa. Billy’s PTSD kicks in and, well, you can see where this is going.
The movie is full of humor, but it’s not quite a comedy. The whole thing is tongue-in-cheek, but played relatively straight, without any obvious jokes, unless, of course, you consider the fact that Billy shouts, “Naughty!” just before he kills his victims a sort of punchline. Throughout, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a middle finger to middle-class mores and the supposed sacred nature of the holiday. Not for a moment does the movie take itself seriously.
But when it comes down to it, the film does have a lot of important things to say about PTSD and childhood trauma. Just kidding. PTSD is exploited for laughs just like everything else in the movie. Young Billy (who rocks a great 80’s mullet), sees two teenagers having sex (of course) at the Catholic orphanage where he lives and this triggers the memory of his mother getting raped and killed in front of him. The film cuts between the teenage girl’s boobs bouncing and the bouncing of his mother’s boobs as a knife-wielding Santa assaults her. This is only the beginning of a series of incidents that will lead him to become the vengeful axe-wielding Santa that we’ve all come to love. Hell, years later a simple cartoon image of Santa is enough to trigger him. Which makes you wonder how he managed to make it all the way to eighteen without going on a rampage. Speaking of PTSD, those poor kids at the Catholic orphanage get to witness a guy in a Santa suit gunned down by the cops on two separate occasions. On Christmas morning. They’re going to have some issues. Can anyone say sequel? But of course, of course.
The uncut version included on the new Scream Factory special edition doesn’t add a whole lot of footage. There’s mostly more gore. All of the new scenes had to be transferred from video, which is very noticeable when it’s plopped down in the middle of the gorgeous new 4K transfer that was done especially for this release. But the movie is silly enough that these scenes won’t take you out of the film. They actually kind of add to the home-video era charm of the thing.
Oddly enough, the only thing that really took me out of the film were the gorgeous mountain shots of scenic Utah in the spring (though it is, of course, supposed to be winter). Maybe not the best idea to have so much of the movie take place during the day. But even this adds to the curious incongruity of the piece, heightening the absurdity.
Honestly, if you’re a horror fan, Silent Night, Deadly Night should be an essential part of your Christmas rotation.
The special edition contains two commentary tracks. One with Robert Brian Wilson and co-executive producer Scott J. Schneid. Schneid also appears on the other commentary track, which includes the writer and a couple of other guys involved in the production. There were a few interesting things I learned listening to these commentaries.
On both tracks, everyone seems basically taken aback at the controversy over the film. . After all, Santa is a commercial figure, used to sell all sorts of useless junk. He’s not exactly a symbol of religious purity. And they weren’t showing Santa committing murders, just people in Santa suits. A small but crucial difference. It’s almost as if parents in the 1980’s were a bunch of uptight conservatives. Well.
The other thing that was noticeably absent was director Charles E. Sellier Jr. Naturally, he couldn’t be on the commentary tracks since he’s been dead since 2011, but nobody really talks about him either. If he’s mentioned at all, it’s in passing. I guess the cast and crew basically saw him as a work-for-hire type who didn’t contribute much.
The archival interview with Sellier that’s included kind of explains why. The guy was mostly a documentary filmmaker, though he wrote the book that the Grizzly Adams series was based on and had a hand in the movies and TV shows that followed. He seemed like an okay dude, but he keeps talking about the film as if it was supposed to be scary, and doesn’t seem to get the humor of the thing.
Other special features include a new documentary, and a few fun featurettes.
Scream Factory is going to be releasing this sucker in a couple of editions. The first, standard edition includes the two-disc special edition as well as a poster. The deluxe edition includes all that plus an 8” tall figure of the main character designed and manufactured by NECA. It’s quite realist and I’m a little jealous that I didn’t get one of these things to review along with the disc. Either way, I’ll get a lot of use out of this review copy, showing it to friends a few times during this sacred holiday season. I think even my wife will like this one. She’s not particularly fond of horror movies, but she loves a good bad movie, so I think she’ll dig this. It’s really a lot of fun.
Scream Factory’s Silent Night, Deadly Night Collector’s Edition arrives on December 5, 2017.
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