Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984, dir. Charles E. Sellier Jr.) follows the life of a boy named Billy (played by Jonathan Best, Danny Wagner, & Robert Brian Wilson) whose parents are mercilessly killed by a man in a Santa outfit on Christmas Eve. Not to mention the murder happened just moments after Billy’s frightening interaction with his grandfather who warns Billy about how severely Santa punishes bad children. Talk about trauma. The film showcases Billy’s childhood as an orphan and his new, strange relationship with not only Christmas, but with the idea of punishment and good versus bad behavior. As expected, Billy grows into a young man with unresolved issues surrounding the holidays and his parent’s demise. After getting tipsy at a work Christmas party, Billy decides it’s his duty to run around town punishing those who don’t fit into his moral compass the way Santa did to his parents over a decade before.
Although this is my first year watching Silent Night, Deadly Night, I have heard about the film almost every year since I first started expressing interest in horror from my dad. Silent Night, Deadly Night might live rent-free in my father’s mind despite how adamant he is that it’s a horrible movie because every Christmas when the horror genre is brought up the first film my dad mentions is this one. For this reason, I’m glad to have finally watched it so I can go home and say to dad, “It’s actually kind of good” just like I did with Halloween III: Season of the Witch. That’s right, I’m saying it – Silent Night, Deadly Night is a good movie with a thoughtful plot despite being silly at times.
I found the plot of Silent Night, Deadly Night to be incredibly unique and interesting, though I understand many do not feel this way. While I understand the sentiment of watching a Christmas slasher with the hope of seeing Santa Claus himself being evil and not just being a guy dressed as Santa, I believe it narratively makes more sense the way it’s executed. In order to make Santa evil, there needs to be a story and reason for why he, or some version of him, has suddenly become the opposite of everything he stands for. There are questions a writer must ask themselves such as is this the real Santa, or an imposter? If it is the real Santa, what is the reason behind him changing? If it’s an imposter, are they supernatural like Santa? Also, where did this Bizarro Santa come from and why are they coming forth now? By making the murderous Santa in this film just a guy with trauma dressed as Santa, it simplifies a lot of the “why” questions a writer might ask themselves when formatting this narrative. Likewise, I honestly really enjoy the direction the writers decided to go when deciding the reasoning for Billy’s behaviors and actions. Unlike a majority of slashers, the audience gets an in-depth backstory on Billy’s development from childhood to young adulthood and the additional factors such as religion which led Billy to becoming a murderous Santa Claus. In fact, I was shocked at how much effort was put into both the backstory and the themes of this film in regards to punishment and what is good versus bad conversations. Especially as religion gets mixed into the topic, I would be interested to know what analytical pieces exist out there on Silent Night, Deadly Night and the philosophies it holds. There are many aspects of the story which I did not expect to be so thought out, well-written, and deep.
However, I’m not going to boldly lie and say that Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t a goofy movie. As deep as it can be, the film is also filled to the brim with moments that are comedic, whether they were meant to be that way or not – and for the most part, it does seem as if the comedy is intentional. Billy becomes such an unhinged person that nearly every interaction he has catches the audience off guard. Some of my favorite moments of Billy being unhinged are his interactions with children, such as when he’s first dressed as Santa and telling kids on his lap to stop misbehaving or he’s going to very severely punish them. Or, later in the film when a little girl comes up to him Cindy-Lou Who style and he gifts her with a box cutter. There are also several moments that feel as if they could be part of an Adult Swim skit, such as Billy’s “new job” montage. Here, the tone of the film momentarily changes to that of a television family skit-com. The audience is watching Billy put away inventory, help customers, straighten shelves, and everyone has a warm, friendly smile on their face as a man sings with his soul about being on the “warm side of the door” – as if this is the movie’s theme song. Then it happens, the montage leaks into the Christmas season and as the happy go-lucky music is still playing the audience gets a shot of Billy shaking and acting nauseous at the sight of a painting of Santa Claus. Not a man dressed as Santa, but an image. Then, the montage continues on as if the strangest and funniest action didn’t just take place. I also love the inclusion of many characters unintentionally egging on Billy’s behavior, such as when Billy’s boss Mr. Sims (played by Britt Leach) drunkenly takes Billy aside and gives him a pep talk about what Santa does on Christmas Eve, ending it with, “You better get started…Go get ‘em, Santa.” Silent Night, Deadly Night truly is filled with goofy, cheesy, and comedic moments – so many it’s impossible for me to list all my favorites here – but all of which feels intentional and as if it’s meant to be within the film. Or, as if the film is purposefully poking fun at itself, which is almost always a positive in my book.
My only real complaint with the film is how slow the pacing is. After the opening sequence, audiences can guess the direction the rest of the film will head. However, it takes painfully long for us to get into the action of the film. Especially before Billy goes crazy, the film uses a lot of time for random, out of place moments such as the “new job” montage mentioned earlier. While some of these moments do feel like world and character building so that the audience has a well-rounded understanding of Billy’s character, a lot of them can be cut out or shortened. I especially noticed the film’s slow pacing during the final 30 minutes. It was evident how the film might end, but the chain of events were stretched too thin to hold my attention. I wanted the final 20-30 minutes of this film to be over so badly that I increased the playback speed, or in other words I watched it sped up. The movie was taking way too long to get to where it was trying to take the audience and I found myself frustrated and somewhat hardly paying attention.
I also briefly would like to touch on the fact that I hated Billy’s brother being a character at all. Ricky’s only purpose in the film is his “plot twist, I’m crazy like my brother” style line at the very end of the film. He has almost no lines except for this moment and it really gets under my skin. The character was created out of the sole purpose of speaking one line of dialog. I believe Ricky could have been deleted entirely and there’s not a single moment of the film that would change in the slightest. Delete Ricky, and make the ending align with the overarching themes of good versus bad that the film already has. I thought a more fitting ending might be for Billy to have a moment of clarity that he has become the very monster he feared, or that he himself has been “naughty” while punishing the naughty citizens of the town. Either way, I think it could have been interesting to see Billy’s high moral code being finalized in suicide at the realization of his own misdeeds or naughty behavior.
Silent Night, Deadly Night -- B Tier
Honestly, aside from the pacing I had a lot of fun watching this movie and can see myself watching it every year around Christmas. Like Black Christmas (1974), Silent Night, Deadly Night succeeds at encapsulating the safety and comfort that Christmas is meant to provide and completely perverts it. It’s a film that has a creative and lively plot while also not taking itself too seriously. As inventive and unique as the film is in some aspects, it’s equally dorky and goofy in other aspects – all of which seems to be intentional. Overall, this is a Christmas slasher flick with a great balance between having a thoughtful narrative and being fun.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is available to rent through Amazon Prime Video