As has been the case lately, I’ve been subjecting myself to marathon viewings of films like the Leprechaun series and an unfinished “War on Christmas” films marathon that started and ended with multiple viewings of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. In an attempt to spotlight another Christmas series, I toyed with the idea of watching a few Hallmark holiday movies and entertained the idea of watching animated Christmas films before finally deciding to revisit a movie I previously disliked.
The year was 1984. Parents were losing their collective crap over a controversial movie that turned Christmas into chaos. That movie was Gremlins. While that particular Christmas-into-chaos film is obviously the greatest movie ever made, there was another nowhere-near-as-great film that year. That film, Silent Night, Deadly Night, was notorious when it arrived in theaters. Aside from the one-two punch of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins freaking out parents and the simmering satanic panic, there was a growing awareness of the sleaze making its way onto cable and into video stores opening up across the nation. The promotional blitz for SNDN yielded the ire of moms and critics alike. You would expect as much when your advertised monster is a slasher dressed as Santa Claus whacking the head off of a teenager as he rides his sled down a hill. When America’s favorite movie critics, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, sauce their figurative drawls with disgust over the film’s content, a budding movie enthusiast can’t help but have his curiosity piqued.
Many years after the controversy had come and gone, I finally rented the original film. I recall not liking it, even being surprisingly mortified by it. In fact, it’s safe to say that the only thing I think I liked about the film may have been its poster/video box cover of Santa going down a chimney with an ax in hand. In fact, I’d say that the lurid imagery is one of my all-time favorites. In fact, I even own a Silent Night, Deadly Night hoodie that I truly dig. It, like Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, promises B-movie goodness, albeit on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Recently, I decided maybe I should revisit the film, which spawned a remake and four sequels, to see if maybe I was in a different headspace from then. When I pressed play, I found myself thinking I was wrong and that this was B-movie stupidity that I’d enjoy. In one of the early scenes, a not-so-catatonic grandpa scares the bejeezus out of the main character, a little boy named Billy, with cryptic comments about Santa punishing all the bad little boys and girls. Grandpa’s maniacal mirth and the terror in Billy’s eyes are the height of overacting central. Like the poster, it was oh so promising.
Then, a little after the 10 minute mark, it got ugly. Billy’s dad gets shot by a criminal in a Santa suit followed by Billy’s mom being sexually assaulted before having her throat slit. Billy flees while his baby brother cries in the distance.
Cut to a few years later and Billy is living at a Catholic orphanage. Billy gets whacked by Mother Superior whenever he fucks up. One of those fuck ups include him peeping on some teens humping around.
It was at that point I remembered why I didn’t like the movie way back then: It was a couple things rolled up into one slimy little spitball. The sexual assault of the mother followed by her immediate death was always disconcerting to me. Back then, like most pubescent boys in the VHS era, I knew horror movies were great for mind-blowing effects, creepy thrills, and monsters, but they were also a covert way to marvel at the female form (aka boobs). Usually in films of a similar nature, the nudity revolved around coupling, strip poker, or the always-reliable skinny dipping plot points. This scene was different. It wasn’t fun.
Next was the frequent appearance of that cruel penguin, Mother Superior. As a Catholic school student, I have bad memories of getting whacked a few times for not sitting up straight by a nun I’ll just lovingly call Sister Shithead. So I guess maybe PPSD (Post Penguin Stress Disorder) keeps me from enjoying the film as well.
In less than 20 minutes into the 84-minute film, I wanted to turn it off. But I powered through until the very end. Beware of the following spoiler: It still wasn’t fun. I didn’t feel the moral outrage that 1984 parents felt, I was just bummed that they took a mischievous premise with such fun potential and decided to just turn it into that. The first film’s tone is what makes its notoriously silly sequel, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, a movie that fills almost half of its 88-minute running time with scenes from the original, only half fun.
As I type, I glance at the numerous movies I have on my shelf. A couple of them are darker, more distressing, and have even have less artistic merit. But for some reason, I still dislike this movie. More than anything, like Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, I abhor Silent Night, Deadly Night for its wasted potential.
Whatever. That poster still kicks a lot of ass.