Running time: 79 mins
Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson
There are some films that genuinely have more to them that what’s expected, even more than what was intended. There’s always room for academic reading of a film but every once and a while a film comes along that’s so Freudian you could set your complex to it. The sixties had Psycho the eighties were awash with pseudo science horrors (including two Psycho sequels) and the most Freudian of them all Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Driving home from visiting his mentally unwell Grandfather Billy’s parents are assaulted and killed by a man dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve. Traumatized and orphaned Billy
is sent to live with some exceptionally strict nuns including Sister Margaret (McCormick) and the tough Mother Superior (Chauvin).
The script has some seriously heavy psychoanalytical undertones throughout the film. Billy witnessing the murder of his parents and the exposed breasts of his mother leave him psychologically fractured. He is frightened yet aroused by the sight of his mother’s breasts which is evident when he witnesses two people having sex as a child and later as an adult when he dreams of intercourse with Pamela (Nero) it is interrupted by a brutal attack on him and again when Andy attempts to force sex with Pamela in the store. This trauma has also created a deep routed fear and hatred towards the idea and representation of Santa Claus, evident when he attacks the Santa at the orphanage. When made to dress up as Santa he is forced to direct his hatred towards himself and, as Freud would say, because he is unable to do such a damaging thing to his already fragile psychological state, projects the hatred, fear and violence outwards into the world. All this plays out under the surface of the highly theatrical classical narrative that is the costumed horror slasher.
Notionally the idea of evil is one that has been explored countless times in horror cinema. Where Silent Night, Deadly Night differs from the vast majority of horrors is in it’s basic level of debate. How many times have you heard that someone was “born evil” in a horror film? Billy (Wilson) is most definitely a creature of his experiences and has been made ‘evil’ through nurture (or the lack of to be more specific) and it’s definitely a more interesting take on it as the “born evil” antagonists are usually two dimensional and a little disappointing. This is where the originality ends however as the story of SNDN treads the ground with the greatest traffic on it’s way through the Christmas rampage. This is not necessarily all bad though, it’s comforting to know what your horror films are going to deliver it allows you to trust that you will be taken on a thrill ride. Regrettably the majority of what’s visually great about the film is diluted and bludgeoned to death by the overwhelming, overpowering and over audible score. What started out as acceptably theatrical transforms (in moments of what’s supposed to contain horror) into ear drum injuring thrashing of whatever instrument was used to blow any and all tension possible.
Lilyan Chauvin (Mother Superior) is a remarkable piece of casting, the woman has a cast iron look that could tame a demon child and is exceptional in the small role she has. Robert Brian Wilson (Billy/Deadly Santa) is unfortunately horribly miscast, he would probably be better suited to playing the pool room boyfriend type as he doesn’t have the depth you’d like to see in the role. Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger, Jason Voorhees have a certain screen presence that allows them to strike fear into the audience, even in the most hyper-theatrical scenarios (in the early outings of their respective franchises). Place Billy alongside these horror antagonists and you see just how far out of his depth he actually is. Place him alongside Chucky and he’s still coming up short. Toni Nero seemed to be a good idea only for her to check out stage left early on. The rest of the cast put in good performances and help to round off the film nicely.
Having bah-humbugged all over the film it’s worth pointing out the qualities that Silent Night, Deadly Night have as there are some. The theatricality of the film, with the exception of the score, works well for the film. It’s obvious it’s a slasher and the director makes no illusions towards being anything else, you can clearly see the fun that was had in the making of the film. With it being the 1980’s there’s some excellent dialogue and the innuendo one liners in the pool room make you laugh and cringe at the same time. The greatest thing about the film is the killings. Whether it’s death by Christmas lights, deer antlers or bob slay limbo it’s comforting to know that it’s not just the sociopaths in the audience who are laughing at murder. They also go a long way to helping you to identify with Billy as the best horror films allow you to connect with the antagonist and even cheer for them. Not everyone will feel good about it but there’s always a handful of scenes were you want the ‘baddie’ to win.
This is the bit were it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s a great deal of problems with Silent Night, Deadly Night but for all it’s faults and shortcomings Charles Sellier Jr. has made a film that’s extremely entertaining in it’s violence. It has a lot in common with The Spider Labyrinth, New York Ripper and just about all the best Giallo films in that respect, events that would be terrible in actuality have a beautifully comedic touch to them that endears the film to you.