Originally unleashed back in 1984, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” was the subject of great controversy due to its premise of a serial killer dressed as Santa Claus, with outraged authorities and parents protesting its US release. The film encountered similar moral panic in the UK, where the ever-wise British Board of Film Classification refused it a certificate, effectively banning it. Inevitably, this has led to it building up a considerable cult following over the years, with many fans considering it one of the better films of the golden age of mid-80s slashers, and with it inspiring no less than 4 sequels of variable quality and tenuous linkage. Now, the film is finally available on region 2 DVD in its most complete form, just in time for Christmas, thanks to Arrow Video, coming with a jolly host of extras including an interview with director Charles E. Sellier Jr. and a booklet containing various pieces of production information.
The film starts with a young lad called Billy Chapman witnessing his father being killed and his mother being raped and murdered at the hands of a manic wearing a Santa Claus outfit. Understandably traumatised by his ordeal, he and his younger brother Ricky are sent to an orphanage, where his psychological trauma is only worsened by the nuns’ preaching against the evils of sex. Fast forward ten years, and the now eighteen year old Billy (played by Robert Brian Wilson, who went on to a fairly low key television career) is released from the orphanage, and gets a job at a toy store in the run up to Christmas. Inevitably, the impending festivities trigger madness in the troubled young man, and when asked to don a Santa Claus suit he goes on an axe wielding rampage, deciding that the time has come to punish the naughty in the only way he knows how.
It’s easy to see why “Silent Night, Deadly Night” has won itself such a place in the hearts of genre fans, with its gleefully tasteless killer Santa gimmick making for a great deal of homicidal fun. The film certainly packs in plenty of gore scenes, most of which are the equal of those in the likes of the “Friday 13th” series or its many imitators, with a handful of spectacular money shots, including decapitations and an amusing eyes-pushed-onto-antlers gag. There’s also a fair bit of sleaze, with some welcome splashes of gratuitous nudity, though given the film’s theme of obsessive sexual dysfunction these come across as vaguely uncomfortable rather than titillating. Aficionados should also note that the film features an early appearance from scream queen favourite Linnea Quigley, who basically turns up and does what she does best by giving viewers an eyeful.
All T&A and gore groceries aside, what really makes the film stand out is Charles E. Sellier Jr’s surprisingly accomplished direction, which has a stark, grim feel, which in its own way is almost reminiscent of Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”. The film benefits from a depressingly rundown atmosphere, which gives it the feel of being seen from the sick Santa’s point of view, something which gives the killings more impact than they might otherwise have had. Robert Brian Wilson is entertainingly enthusiastic in his role, howling ‘naughty!’ at potential victims at every given opportunity and staring menacingly at the world in a way which should probably have alerted people to his obvious craziness long before his killing spree begins. This does make for a good number of amusing moments, which further ups the entertainment factor without undermining the general nastiness of the proceedings. Although the film should not be accused of having any real psychological depth, it does take a stab at giving Billy some motivation for his murders, and this at least makes him a more interesting figure than some of his more faceless lunatic peers.
All of this combines to confirm “Silent Night, Deadly Night” as indeed being one of the better films of its type and time and as being a must see for all genre fans and anyone fed up with the festive season. It’s certainly great to see the film finally appearing on DVD in uncut form, giving a new generation the chance to enjoy some friendly yuletide slaughter.
Charles E. Sellier Jr. (director) / Paul Caimi, Michael Hickey (screenplay)
CAST: Lilyan Chauvin … Mother Superior
Gilmer McCormick … Sister Margaret
Toni Nero … Pamela
Robert Brian Wilson … Billy Chapman
Britt Leach … Ira Sims
Nancy Borgenicht … Mrs. Randall
H.E.D. Redford … Captain Richards
Linnea Quigley … Denise