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SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is the Most Feel-Bad Christmas Movie Ever

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas to a degree people might find unhealthy. I was full of cheer and good tidings and unbridled happiness. While I still love Christmas, I recognize it’s not for everybody and that just because it’s generally a festive time doesn’t mean there’s no room for darkness. In recent years, I’ve written extensively about Christmas-themed horror movies (like Gremlins, Silent Night, Bloody Night, and of course Black Christmas) and even about the tradition of ghost stories at Christmas. But I hadn’t yet attempted what might in fact be the least cheerful Christmas movie of all time… 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, out now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

The above theatrical trailer for Silent Night, Deadly Night is incredibly effective, while also showing you the set up for just about 100% of the movie’s kills. All you’re really missing is the gory aftermath and the suspense before. Still, this trailer proved especially evocative to people at the time and this low-budget movie was protested and picketed extensively by parents groups who saw it as an affront to their children’s delicate constitutions and to the very idea of Christmas. I believe censorship is inherently a bad thing and people getting up in arms about art–even trashy art like a sleazy slasher movie–is precisely the purpose of art. But here’s the thing: I get it. Silent Night, Deadly Night is rough.

The movie is not paced particularly well but it starts in 1971 when a five year old named Billy is heading to an old folks home on Christmas Eve with his parents and baby brother to see his catatonic grandfather. When the parents leave Billy all alone with Grandpa, the geezer suddenly turns to him and warns him that Christmas is the scariest day of the year and while Santa brings presents to good little children, he punishes the naughty ones. “If you see Santa Claus tonight, run away!” he says, insanely. Billy is of course scarred by this and his fears are only multiplied when, on the drive home, the parents stop when a man in a Santa suit appears to have car trouble. Problem is, the man is a murderer and thief who kills the parents for the car and comes after Billy.

We then cut to three years in the future when 8-year-old Billy is in an orphanage run by a horribly strict Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) who couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about Billy’s history with Christmas, and punishes him for drawing violent Christmas drawings, for leaving his room, for spying on a pair of–I guess–teenagers having sex in the orphanage (they get whipped too), and for punching a Santa in the nose. Clearly, kid’s got some issues with Christmas.

Smash cut to even further in the future, 10 years now (so it’s 1984) and 18-year-old Billy (now played by hunky, buff Robert Brian Wilson) who gets a job at, of all places, a toy store. Things go fine for awhile until the Christmas season hits and he starts freaking out and messing up at work. When the store’s Santa calls in sick on Christmas Eve, Billy is convinced to step in and then it’s all downhill from there. After seeing┬áthe store’s resident jerk make out with and then brutalize girl he has a crush on, he goes insane and begins killing people. First in the store, then in the surrounding neighborhood, and then on his way back to the orphanage. It’s up to the one nice nun (Gilmer McCormick) and a grizzled old cop who I swear shows up 75% of the way through the movie to stop him.

So this movie is clearly ridiculous, but most of that is only the second half. The first half, when Billy is a child, is absolutely horrendous in its content. The aim by the writer Michael Hickey was to show all the events that would lead to a young man becoming a Kringle-clad ax murderer, and boy does he ever succeed. This poor kid. And because it’s an ’80s exploitation movie, you’ve got a great deal of sleaze to go along with the upsetting story. But once we get to what the movie promises, it’s a lot of…I hesitate to say “fun,” but it’s enjoyable in the way slasher movies often are.

Billy is weirdly funny when he’s a grown up; before he kills everyone, he judges them to be naughty and then shouts “punish!” as he’s killing them. These deaths include: hanging the store jerk with a string of Christmas lights; driving the claw of a hammer into the top of his boss’ head; chopping off the head of a bully going downhill on a sled; and most memorably/absurdly, impaling a topless teen girl on the antlers of a mounted elk head. And just to pad out the runtime, we also get scenes of two dumb local cops stopping anyone in a Santa suit, to hilarious and in one case tragically stupid results.

Even with the stoppage time, the film is incredibly brisk. Scream Factory offers both the 79 minute theatrical cut and the 85 minute extended and unrated cut. The latter, it should be said, was made using extended footage from a VHS release in the late-80s. The original film elements don’t exist so they couldn’t be restored to HD. Even with the change in picture quality, the extended cut is the one you want to watch, as the original cut was hacked up (pun intended) due to the outcry.

In addition to both cuts of the movie, the Scream Factory Blu-ray contains a retrospective documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew, a separate interview called “Oh Deer!” with scream queen Linnea Quigley who played the antler-skewered babysitter, a visit to the movie’s Utah filming locations, and a new audio commentary by lead actor Robert Brian Wilson and co-executive producer Scott J. Schneid. Among these–plus commentaries and interviews from earlier releases–you should have all the information you could possibly want about Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Not all Christmas horror movies are created equal and in terms of sheer shock and insanity, Silent Night, Deadly Night has to be the yuletide equivalent of Sleepaway Camp, minus the twist ending. You’ve no doubt seen the sequel’s infamous “Garbage Day!” moment, but it’s the original that has what horror fans truly want for Christmas.

Images: Tristar Pictures/Scream Factory

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He is the writer of 200 reviews of weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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