BY JOHN BILLINGER
It’s December. The waste of calendar space holiday that is Thanksgiving is out of the way, and we can look forward to the time of the year the whole semester is leading up to. Two weeks of finals followed by Christmas a week later. It’s great. I love this time of year (when I’m not working on finals, that is).
I love everything about Christmas: the music (Yes, I love Christmas music, so what?), the snow (when I’m inside), and of course, I love Christmas movies. And there’s a lot of Christmas movies to choose from. There are traditional favorites like It’s A Wonderful Life, cult favorite Christmas movies that play on TV so often you get sick of them like A Christmas Story, to the stop-motion Rankin-Bass specials like Rudolph (which apparently is technically loosely in the public domain as the studio accidentally copyrighted it as being made in “1164” instead of 1964).
Personally, every year, I try to check out strange Christmas movies. The ones you don’t hear about too often. I try to watch different ones every year. such as the film you’re going to be reading about today, 1984’s cult film Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is about a guy named Billy, who, as a kid during the Christmas season, witnesses his parents get killed by a criminal dressed as Santa Claus. He and his baby brother are taken in by a Catholic orphanage where they’re raised by a really brutal nun. Billy grows up, gets a job at a toy store, and a series of unfortunate events leads him to don a Santa Claus outfit and go on a killing spree. Hijinks ensue.
Yeah, sounds like a real holiday classic.
This film was coming on the heels of the 1980s slasher genre, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s basically trying to capitalize on Halloween by setting a slasher during a holiday. Except during the Halloween season, you would normally expect to see scary stuff around. This film is trying to be ironic because no-one expects to see scary stuff around Christmas (unless you’re Tim Burton, of course). This really isn’t even the first Christmas slasher film, for example, 1974 Black Christmas. It’s not even the first serial killer Santa film that’s been made; that honor goes to 1980’s Christmas Evil. But this film was considered controversial back in the day.
The film’s trailer and commercials emphasize the fact this film was about a killer Santa, and for some reason, the advertisers decided it would be a good idea to have some of these commercials play between episodes of shows like Little House on the Prairie. Bad move on their part, as it led to housewives, church groups, the National Parent Teacher Association, and a group called “Citizens Against Movie Madness” protesting against the release of this film, basically all saying, “Think of the children.”
Apparently, some groups gathered around theaters singing Christmas carols in protest. When the film was finally released on November 9th, 1984, it stayed in theaters for one week, and then was pulled due to the protests.
These are the things people used to complain about before video games and the internet. To clarify, I’m not saying that playing previews for this movie in the commercial breaks for family-friendly shows was a good idea. I don’t know what they were thinking, but there certainly could have been a better way to advertise the film. If Christmas Evil was able to avoid controversy, then potentially, this film could’ve done so as well.
Also, if these obsessive parents with too much free time on their hands didn’t want their kids to see a movie about a killer Santa, then here’s an idea, don’t take your kids to see the film. I don’t understand why these people who don’t want people to see something make a big deal about something to try to prevent people from seeing that thing. It just makes more people curious in the long run. Which it ultimately did. Today, the film has a cult following and spawned several squeals and a 2012 remake.
I wish I could say that the film itself was worth all the aggravation it received from the protestors, but no, I would say it wasn’t worth it. Once you get past the whole killer Santa schtick, it’s just another 80s slasher film. There’s not really a whole lot to take note of here. It’s just the story of this kid growing up to be a serial killer. It’s not really particularly good, nor is it really particularly bad. It’s just average, and kind of forgettable.
Sure there’s the whole psychological torment that the main character goes through, but I feel like other movies from the same era, like Taxi Driver, do a better job with that sort of arc. Also, Taxi Driver is a much better-acted movie than this. And better written. And better directed. I wished I had more to say about this film, but my thoughts are just short on it.
I feel like the concept of a killer Santa has been kind of wasted in this film. I guess when I think of a killer Santa, I think of the basic concept of the new film Violent Night starring David Harbour. That one’s actually a dark comedy with Santa killing burglars. Perhaps that’s really the problem with this film, is that it’s a horror film that really isn’t scary. Maybe it was somewhat scary back when most popular fictional characters were more innocent, but in today’s world where we’re getting a Winnie the Pooh horror film, the idea of a killer Santa is just kind of tame in comparison.
1984 Killer Sants vs. 2022 Killer Santa
Also, back then, slasher films were very common, and this can hardly be considered a good example of the genre. Now, I haven’t seen the new Violent Night film yet, but considering that that Violent Night currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 71%, and Silent Night, Deadly Night has a rating of 44%, I’d say that this concept is better suited for a dark comedy rather than a horror film.
I can say that while I don’t really like this film, I can see why this film gained a cult following with several sequels and a remake and I’m willing to bet the makers of Violent Night were inspired by this film. It’s certainly not your Dad’s Jimmy Stewart or stop-motion Christmas film. It does its own thing while being set in the holiday season, and it’s a slasher horror film, and those have their appeal. So, I get why it’s a cult film; it’s just not my cup of tea.
I am looking forward to seeing the new Violent Night. Now that looks like my cup of tea. In any case, stay tuned for more weird films in the future…
If you have any films suggestions to torture me with, please email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Side note: not going to lie, the only real highlight of the film were the scenes where the main character was in the toy store, only because you can see on the shelves in the background real toys from the early to mid-80s. I just looked at the background and thought to myself, “Hmm, did I have that toy as a hand-me-down growing up? Or did my babysitter have that at her house? Or did my grandparents have it at theirs?” I bet everyone who’s seen this film has done the same thing. Even my editor will probably do that when he proofreads this article.