Respectful Reel Review #23: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

MOVIE TITLE:

Silent Night, Deadly Night

IMDB YEAR RELEASED:

1984

GENRE:

Christmas Slasher / Psychological Horror

STARRING:

Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Linnea Quigley, Britt Leach and Leo Geter

DIRECTED BY:

Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

SUMMARY:

A young man named Billy suffering from the post-traumatic stress of watching his parents killed by a man dressed as Santa Claus and the repeated abuse of living at a Catholic orphanage has a psychotic episode on Christmas Eve when he is asked to wear a Santa costume for work.

TAGLINES:

You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas

Santa’s Here!

He knows when you’ve been naughty

Shocking… disturbing… The movie they tried to ban.

If “A Nightmare on Elm Street” gave you sleepless nights, or if “Halloween” made you jump in every shadow or if every “Friday the 13th” was more frightening than the others… THEN BEWARE!

PLOT:

The movie begins with Billy Chapman, a 5-year-old, in a car with his Mom, Dad, and infant brother on the way to visit a Utah nursing home where grandpa is staying. While the parents consult the staff, they leave Billy with the supposedly catatonic old man who revives long enough to tell Billy that Santa gives presents to good kids, but that he also punishes the naughty.

On the return trip home, the family is stopped by a man dressed as Santa who had just robbed a convenience store. He quickly kills Billy’s father, and proceeds to attempt to rape his mother while Billy runs into the bushes where he sees everything. Eventually, the costumed Santa cuts his mother’s throat.

Three years later, 8-year-old Billy and 3-year-old Ricky are living in a Catholic orphanage run by a strict Mother Superior with rigid rules of discipline. When “Santa” shows up to the orphanage in order to provide a bit of seasonal joy, Mother Superior believes it an opportunity for Billy to get over his childhood Santa trauma by witnessing Santa’s goodness while sitting on Santa’s lap.

Both, Billy and “Santa” are none too appreciative of the surprise. When, Billy is forcefully placed on Santa’s lap, he rebels and punches Santa. When he flees to his room, where he curls up into a ball, the audience hears Mother Superior’s approach as she threatens discipline with the words, “Punishment is good.”

Fast forward again, now ten years later and Billy is 18. He is still ward of the orphanage and Sister Margaret, a kindly nun, has helped him find employment as a stock boy at a local toy store. A co-worker, Pamela, has interactions with him and we see that Billy visualizes having more intimate interactions that are interrupted by the horrific visions of his parents’ murders. The man-child is messed up.

On Christmas Eve, the employee that plays the store Santa can not come to work and Mr. Sims, the store manager, asks Billy to play Santa (Uh-oh!). Remarkably there are no major issues that occur. After the store closes the employees start to enjoy a little after-hours party. Billy, still wearing the Santa costume attempts to enjoy the party, but he continues to flashback on his parents’ murders.

When one of his co-workers, Andy, after making out with Pamela invites her to the backroom and she goes, Billy follows. When Andy makes his move on Pamela, she refuses and Andy insists by ripping open her sweater. He begins to climb onto Pamela, as if to rape her and that is the final straw. Billy loses himself in the role of Santa as instrument of punishment and does what everyone in the audience expects to happen.

Clearly, mayhem ensues, but in order to refrain from giving spoilers I will close the plot here and proceed to my review.

REVIEW:

All right! I am going to be completely honest with you, because I know that readers of the blog would expect nothing less of us. This movie is not a good movie. The acting is abysmal. You read that right. The acting is not just bad. It’s really bad with a few exceptions.

Lilyan Chauvin is perfect as Mother Superior. She plays a very nuanced nun. You know that she is trying to be kind, but fears that Billy will take her kindness for weakness and so she overplays the discipline. Her foil is Sister Margaret played by Gilmer McCormick who is the kind nun that recognizes that Billy’s psychological issues border on the pathological. Her role is easier than Mother Superior, but still she is the heart of this tragedy.

Also Robert Brian Wilson as Billy is a really strong serial killer who plays at your heartstrings, because you witness his trauma. For most of the piece, he is flat and almost emotionless. He would have to be. In order to contend with such unbelievable pain, dulling your affect would be essential.

I know that I can not talk about this movie without talking about its controversial themes. In 1984, I was starting my first year of college, and before winter break, I came home early to attend the funeral of one of the members of my youth group who had been murdered. After the heart-wrenching funeral, my brother and I, went to the theater to watch a movie together. It was just a way to kind of do something normal after a traumatic true life event.

We watched Silent Night, Deadly Night because we always watched slashers. It was our normal. We were more affected by the real-life situation that we lived than what we were watching on-screen. Imagine our surprise when the following week it was removed from theaters for cultural insensitivity issues. Catholic groups protested. Parents protested. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert called this movie shameless.

This movie, in effect, was canceled. However, this movie has spawned a franchise of four sequels, a loose remake in 2012, and a reboot has been greenlit for release in 2022. Like I said, the original is not great, but there is something special about this movie that resisted its cancelation, that resisted all the negative publicity, that thrives despite what many would say run counter to typical family values.

With that having been said, I would call this film a cinematic oddity. The week that it was released, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was also released and this movie beat that one for those six days before it was removed from theaters. Clearly that should say something about this movie.

This is not a good movie, but it has several things that make this a special film. Therefore 2 and a half out of 5 Grey Geeks

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