Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
WRITERS: Based on a story by Paul Cami
Written by Michael Hickey
DIRECTOR: Charles E. Sellier, Jr
STARRING: Lilyan Chauvin as Mother Superior
Gilmer McCormick as Sister Margaret
Toni Nero as Pamela
Robert Brian Wilson as Billy
Linnea Quigley as Denise
Randy Stumpf as Andy
Britt Leach as Mr. Sims
Tara Buckman as Mother
Will Hare as Grandpa
Leo Geter as Tommy
Jeff Hansen as Father
H.E.D. Redford as Captain Richards
Amy Stuyvesant as Cindy
Max Robinson as Officer Barnes
QUICK CUT: After a childhood trauma, a young boy grows up with an intense fear of Santa Claus, a belief in punishment for being naughty, and then ends up working as a toy store Santa. It's "What Could Possibly Go Wrong: The Movie"!
Billy Chapman - Poor, poor Billy. He could have been a nice, normal person, but when he was a kid, he watched a criminal dressed as Santa rape his mother and kill both his parents. That, combined with a religious upbrining in an orphanage, forever damaged the boy, and when grows up, all those chickens come home to roost.
Mother Superior - One of the main factors in breaking Billy. He already had a weird sense of naughtiness and punishment thanks to the killer Santa and his grandfather, but she taught him all about real punishment, as only a nun can.
Sister Margaret - The opposite of Mother Superior in Billy's life. She is likely the rare positive influence, and actually tries to do right by him, and help him lead a good life. But she makes one bad decision....
THE GUTS: Ahh, now this is a nice change of pace. We open up with a happy family on a family drive for Christmas, back in 1971. They're enjoying some Christmas tunes on the radio, and young Billy is reading a classic Christmas tale in the back seat, all while mom cradles their youngest child, Ricky, up front. Such a picture of perfect holiday Americana.
While things don't veer terribly wrong right away, they do stop off to visit grandpa. In a mental institution, so this can't end well, can it?
Grandpa is in a deep fugue state, way more interested in the paint drying on the walls of the day room, so he's the perfect person to watch over little Billy, while the parents check out grandpa's files. Such enjoyable holiday fun!
Once everyone over the age of 6 is out of the room though, grandpa's eyes shift over to Billy, and he smiles. Billy is surprised to see grandpa doing more than his impression of asparagus, and calls out, before the elder quiets him down.
Gramps gets done terrifying Billy with scary tells of the vengeful wrath of Santa Claus, the parents return to take everyone home. Making this one long, pointless trip, other than scaring the bejeezus out of the kid on Christmas. Happy holidays! On the ride home, Billy tries to tell his parents what happened, but they're a little doubtful, and they call grandpa crazy, which just makes Billy declare that Santa will come and punish them too.
Elsewhere, Santa stops by a convenience store to gas up his sleigh, pick up some smokes for Blitzen, and oh nuts, rob the joint. Well, that's not very jolly.
The clerk goes for a gun of his own, Santa plugs him twice in the jelly, again in the head, and rushes off with a whopping 31 bucks. Santa grumps at the paltry amount, but that's not bad for 1970s money.
Back to the Chapmans, they're driving along, most everyone napping that isn't driving, and run into our thieving Santa further down the road, trying to flag someone down from his dead car.
They wake up Billy so he can see Santa, and the kid flips his shit. He is so terrified of being punished, he begs his parents to keep going, and not stop. And considering this is likely a scam to rob them, the kid is probably giving good advice to keep right on driving!
And as I suspected, Santa pulls his gun and shoots the dad before he can drive away. Billy runs and hides, while Santa grabs his mom and drags her out of the car, stradling her on the pavement.
We jump forward three years to 1974, and St. Mary's Home for Orphaned Children, where we find Billy drawing his idea of a Christmas picture for class. Can you guess what it is? If you guessed a stabbed to death Santa and a beheaded reindeer, you win!
Mother Superior thinks Billy doesn't remember anything about what happened to his parents, but one of the other nuns tries to explain otherwise, what with the drawings and all. But that's just not enough evidence for the top penguin, and she brushes it aside.
Billy watches the other kids play their reindeer games outside, and one of the nuns talks him into coming out to join in. He gets dressed and wanders the empty halls, stumbling upon a room where he peeks through the keyhole. On the other side of the door, he spies some guy schtupping a nun. Because he hasn't seen enough things already to warp his mind for one lifetime.
As Billy has a flashback to what happened to his mother, the Mother Superior interupts the coitus, and uses a belt to mete out punishment upon her flock, and Billy zooms off.
Superior catches up with the kid, and explains to him that what they were doing was naughty, and naughty people are always punished. Geeze lady, I think the kid learned THAT lesson good a few years ago! And hitting him for spying won't help matters!
Not surprisingly, the poor kid has nightmares that night, and wakes up screaming. He leaves his room, but immediately runs into the nuns, who has no choice but to tie him down to his bed for breaking the rules. Or rather, she has plenty of choices, and just doesn't care.
But since the next day is Christmas, they decide to be nice enough to actually let him come downstairs to celebrate. Which I am sure he is just dying to do! And just wait until they force him to sit on Santa's lap. What could go wrong?
Then we jump ANOTHER ten years forward. This is like the Worst Hits of Billy's Christmases. At least it's spring. Anyways, we're in a toy store, and Sister Margaret, the rare nice nun, is helping the now 18 year old Billy get a job.
Interestingly enough, the movie then goes to, of all things, a musical montage of Billy being a normal, helpful guy at the toy store. Don't see many of those in horror films. Bizarre.
But it was only a matter of time for Christmas decorations to be broken out, and you can see the change in Billy's face. How could they not see this coming? This is like asking the alcoholic to work at the bar.
One of Billy's co-workers points out his change in attitude, with some very harsh language, and good guy Billy points out it's not nice to say things like that. I see little has changed in ten years.
As if his freak outs weren't bad enough, the toy store has brought in Santa to meet the kids. How could anyone not have seen the badness this would cause?? It's a toy store!
Then we cut to Billy having a nightmare where he's having sex with a woman that gets stabbed to death by Santa. Geeze, this guy is a few eggs short of nog.
I love them cutting between curled up modern Billy and his younger counterpart, both rocking back and forth saying how they want to be good.
Back at the toy store, Mister Sims learns that his Santa has broken his ankle and won't be in for the rest of the season, and has no choice but to play the role himself. Or there's another option...
Fortunately, Simms has a better idea, and gets Billy to do it! Wait, WHAT?! Oh, this is so a road to disaster. You can clearly see the long road of bad decision making. Billy probably can't say no or risk his job, but part of me also likes the idea that he's doing this to try and get over his trauma by confronting it head on.
On the one hand, the kids seem a bit freaked out, but on the other, Billy's deadpan threatening of the kids that if they're naughty they won't get presents actually calms them down. It's hard to argue with results.
Sister Mary Elepehant calls up the toy store to see how Billy is doing, and hears about his new job. And the musical cue is so overstated they may as well have cut to the dramatic chipmunk.
Billy seems to survive the day without slaughtering any children, and at last the holiday season comes to a close, with Mr. Sims locking the store up tight so they can all celebrate a return to sanity by getting shitfaced.
Surprisingly, he even seems to be getting into the Christmas cheer, until Sims' daughter sneaks off with Andrew to find some mistletoe.
Billy stares at the back room for a good long while, and finally decides to see what his friends are up to. What he finds is Andy trying to force himself upon Pamela. Which is sure to cause even more flashbacks.
Santa Billy stands there watching the rape, flashing back in graphic detail to his own mother in a similar situation, and finally he snaps and tosses Andy off Pamela.
He grabs some handy, nearby Christmas lights, wraps them around Andy's neck, and hoists him into the air until Andy chokes to death.. Those wires are stronger than I give them credit for. Weak enough for a cat to chew through, strong enough to hold a man in the air long enough to asphyxiate!
But remember, in Billy's eyes, Pamela was naughty too, thanks to his twisted, broken upbringing. So he grabs a knife from the same place Highlanders keep their swords, and guts her like a deer.
Sims thinks he hears something through his alcohol induced haze, and goes to investigate the double homicide. This scene is hilarious on two fronts, because you have one actor playing goofy drunk, and another trying to sneak around in a Santa costume that has bells on. The only reason it works is because Sims is toasted.
The boss calls out for anyone, and gets a reply in the form of a hammer into his face. His crime of naughtiness was...um...drunken disorderly conduct?
That just leaves one last employee, and she wanders around aimlessly as the lights go out, so she too heads back to the storeroom to say hi to all the corpses.
She runs to try and get out, and make a phone call, but Billy has grabbed an axe and cuts the line, thens stalks her through the darkened toy aisles. While reciting The Night Before Christmas. This is a pretty effective seen, in the dark, with a Santa visual turned on its head, and using the familiar children's poem to creepy effect.
Billy thinks he's found her, but he got tricked by a diversion. She trips him up, grabs the axe, and she tries to use it to smash the front window out and escape. But not before Billy grabs an archery kit and shoots her through the gut. Wow, this place has a lot of dangerous toys.
He takes back his axe, and Sims' store keys, unlocking the door and leaving the Christmas Eve massacre in his wake. And thus my question of what could possibly go wrong is answered. EVERYTHING!
After smash cutting between each of Billy's victims, that's when Sister Margaret arrives upon the nativity scene of the crime. We only get to hear her screams before zipping over to some new cannon fodder carolers.
They're busy annoying some guy trying to get it on with his girlfriend on a pool table, but before he can give her felt burns...hey, it's Linnea Quigley's breasts! Haven't seen you in a few weeks...
As if the carolers aren't bad enough, the couple also have a kid they're supposed to be babysitting, who wants some attention. Quick, shoo her off before she gets warped too! Fortunately they have the threat of Santa not coming to get rid of the rugrat this one night of the year.
Linnea hears bells, and figures her cat wants to come in, and I resist the obvious jokes about that, while she puts her shorts back on to open the door. But sure, let's stay topless! That's perfectly ok to open the door in the middle of winter and flash the neighbourhood.
The cat soon runs in, followed by Billy Claus and his axe. Linnea runs like any sane person would, and Billy huffs the axe after her, embedding it in the wall, just missing.
She tries to run some more, but the only place to go is straight into Billy's arms, and he wrestles her to the ground, and I can't help but notice how this mirrors his own childhood trauma. And I wonder if that was deliberate, or just the way things went.
Billy looks around for something to make stabby with, and his eyes land upon a stuffed deer head hanging on the wall. Since she wanted to be penetrated so badly, he gives her some double penetration by ramming her onto the deer's antlers.
This entire struggle goes completely unheard by Linnea's boyfriend, and he finally comes upstairs to find the smashed door. He either had his stereo turned up really loudly, or all that music has made him deaf. And he must be half blind too, because he walks right past his girlfriend dangling off the deer, and doesn't see her there until he turns around.
But of course, Billy is still there, and tosses this kid around, and somehow the deaf, blind loser actually manages to get in a few good shots with a fireplace poker, giving him enough time to call the cops. At least, until Billy gets back up to throw Tommy around some more.
He tries choking the kid with the phone cord, and eventually ends up defenstrating the poor bastard. Done with punishing the naughty, Santa retrieves his axe and is about to leave when the little girl sees him.
Billy asks the kid if she's been naughty or nice, leaning in menacingly close, asking her if she's sure. All while reaching for a bloody box cutter from his pocket. She says she's sure, and instead of stabbing her in the face with it, he gives it to her as a gift. Yay, incriminating evidence! Also a good turn, as it looks like he's going to make a third victim.
It cracks me up as Billy is leaving the house, you can hear the little girl calling for her sister. Boy, is that gonna be a heck of a thing to find. Dead. AND topless. AND impaled to a deer. Billy thought he had trauma.
Some local cops get called in to deal with the Santa problem, and they see one sneaking in through a window and a conveniently placed ladder. Damnit, Santas use chimneys, he must be a fake!
They bust into the house, rush upstairs, and point their guns at the Santa looming over a kid's bed. But oops! This was all fun and games with the guy's daughter! That's not Billy! Oh, what fun! Someone could have been shot!
Meanwhile, the real killer Claus is aimlessly wandering lonely roads at night, until he finds some sledders getting in some fun. Since the ones Santa Bill finds are a pair of bullies that stole their sleds from another pair of sledders, it's no surprise when Billy jumps out of the woods and beheads one of them as they go down the slope.
We briefly touch base with Sister Margaret and a cop whom we have not seen before, discussing the plot and how it makes a twisted sort of sense. To which I say, no. No it doesn't. And we are way too late in the game to bring in more characters. At least not in any way to make us care about them.
Anyways, they deduce Billy's next move and everyone makes way to St. Mary's. Where there is a major plot contrivance of one of the kids playing with the phone in the nun's offices, and leaving it off the hook, so the cops can't call and warn them. Handy.
The cops hurry to the orphanage with their orders to shoot to kill the crazed Claus, and arrive on the scene just in time to see Santa getting there as well to say hi to all the kids.
Santa gets plugged in the back THREE TIMES by the deputy. Right in front of the kids. Oh man, that is awesomely messed up. This movie will leave so many kids in its world traumatised.
Not only was Santa killed in front of the kids, but one of them is named Ricky. Yeah, that's right. Remember, Billy had a baby brother, 75 minutes ago? Yeah, well, he's gotten a little older, and isn't as traumatised as Billy. Well, he probably is NOW that Santa's blood is splashed all over his face.
And not only did they shoot Santa, but they shot the WRONG Santa. Not only did he shoot the wrong Santa, but it was a priest dressed up as Santa. Oh man, that cop is so gonna have bad karma now.
While Deputy Doofus checks the grounds for more priests to shoot, Mother Superior, now doing her best Charles Xavier impression, leads the kids still inside in singing some carols as a means to distract them.
The cop finds an entryway down to the boiler room or whatever, with a conveniently creepy door blowing open, and goes to investigate. All he finds is dust and spiders, but on his way out, Billy is there to greet him with an axe to the chest. It's probably actually Billy this time, what with the executional. I do appreciate the building of tension up to the axing as well. It was a bit of a pointless scene other than upping the body count, but they play that tension out to good effect.
While the kids obliviously sing their songs, Billy decapitates poor Frosty out in the yard. He comes up to the doors to the orphanage, and one of the kids is so happy to see Santa, he immediately opens it and lets him in. It might have been a good idea to warn the kids, no?
All the kids think Santa showing up is the awesomest thing ever, and only the adults know what's really going on. They really should have had a harder time keeping the kids back, but they all just stand there and stare slack-jawed at Billy the Claus.
Mother Superior starts saying over and over that there is no Santa Claus, which sure isn't going to help these kids any. A better option should have been that's not Santa Claus. I presume she's talking to Billy directly though, trying to break through and convince him that Santa isn't real, and thus he doesn't need to go on the naughty or nice tour.
Billy raises the axe to take care of the naughtiest one of all, but just as he's about to end the reign of terror of Mother Superior, a shot rings out, and ANOTHER Santa gets killed right in front of the kids. Great.
In a weird way, this turns out to be what Billy wanted, Santa Claus dead and gone, so the kids would be safe from him doling out punishments. At least that is how he always pictured the jolly old fat man.
The movie ends as it pans away from Billy, and up to his brother Ricky, staring down at his dead brother, and then turning a baleful gaze to Superior, and declaring her naughty.
TO BE CONTINUED!!
Video: I give it a thumbs up. It's maybe a little dark at times, and there are a few scenes with poor quality, but that latter point is because they edited in some extra scenes to make this unrated director's cut. They only had a poor quality print of the previously unused footage to work with, so I don't ding them any for that. But the movie looks pretty decent, considering we're talking about a low budget slasher film at its core.
Audio: Disappointingly stereo, but it gets the job done. Nothing overly special.
Special Features: A forty minute audio interview with the director of the film, that delves into the history of the film, as well as a booklet covering this and #2, which looks at much of the same material. Still, a good look behind the scenes. Also, a whole ton of comments by critics at the time the movie was coming out, covering the silly outrage contained in the movie.
First Blood: Santa offs the convenient store cashier nine minutes in, and it's almost a bloodbath from that point onwards.
Best Corpse: Oh, so many to choose from. I really like the sledding bully that got his head whacked off. I wish the scene of his head rolling into frame was from the better print of the movie, because it looks like a very well done effect, but hard to seen from whatever print it came from for the unrated version.
Sound Bite: Lots of good tidbits, like Billy's warnings to the squirming kids in his lap, the constant calling of "Naughty" is somehow quotable, but I just love Mr. Sims deadpan, "Try not to scare the little bastards," he says to Billy Claus.
Blood Type - B: There's not a whole lot of blood content, and it doesn't spray everywhere and drown the set, but I like the restraint. It makes the actual gore like Sims' hammered head, the cut off kid's head, Linnea pinned to the antlers, etc...all the better for it.
Sex Appeal: Linnea Quigley's breasts once more, unable to find a shirt to cover up for almost her entire scene.
Movie Rating: What can you say about a movie that racks up a body count like this one? You know what you're getting. A guy dressed up as Santa smashing his way through everyone who's naughty. The plot is surprisingly deep, although you could argue that Billy's motivations are very pop psych type justifications. But for something coming out in the early 80s, in a slasher film? That's still rather surprising to go that in depth into the character's mind. The uproar over this movie is almost silly nowadays, and it looks positively tame, although I don't think all the criticism is unjustified. Maybe a bit hyperbolic at times, but turning a childhood icon into a murderous force is a dicey proposition. The right decision was to limit the advertising to late prime time, and not earlier in the day like some places did. That said, the subject matter was handled well enough. For a slasher film. It's well made, and the acting is, while not great, has a few nice moments. I've heard people pick apart Billy's performance, but I thought it worked for the character. He was quiet, and almost subtle, until he snapped, and you could see the wheels turning in his head. But it still could have been better. For something on this site, I give it a four out of five beheaded snowmen.
Entertainment Value: This was a hoot to watch. So many kills, so over the top, and such a fun movie. I am surprised this movie got such heat for its subject matter, and Don't Open 'Til Christmas went almost unnoticed. That was way more lurid, way more skeevy, than this movie. This was put together well, and has a whole lot of fun with the idea, and tells a good story about the creation of violence. It's a decent movie, and a lot of entertainment all in one package. Four out of five Mother Superiors.