For those of you who aren't in the know, Silent Night, Deadly Night proved to be quite controversial when it was unleashed into theaters in 1984. In fact, the promotional materials caused just as much of an uproar as the actual movie did. You see, the poster features a particularly sinister image of Santa creeping down a chimney with an ax in hand. As a result, parents around the world pitched a fit, claiming that Hollywood had forever ruined the innocence of Christmas for their children and for future generations. Mickey Rooney went on record saying that the "scum" who made the film should be properly taken out into the street and shot. In an interesting turn of events, Rooney would later appear in the fifth installment of the Silent Night, Deadly Night saga, entitled "The Toy Maker".
Controversy aside, you have to admire the audacity of the filmmakers for putting this thing out there. It is an absolute blast from start to finish - one of those unintentionally hilarious oddities that never fails to deliver the goods.
The film opens as a young boy named Billy goes to the nursing home with his parents to visit his grandpa, who is supposedly catatonic. But it turns out that grandpa is an old trickster, because as soon as Billy's parents leave the room to speak with the doctor, this happens. Suffice it to say, after all of that, Billy's fascination with Santa Claus comes to a screeching halt. He tells his parents of the recent conversation with grandpa. Mom gets a little raddled, but Dad seems pretty neutral about it. Grandpa's crazy, after all. All of a sudden, the come upon a man in a Santa suit whose vehicle has broken down on the side of the road. Billy begs his parents to get the hell out of dodge, but being the kindly folk that they are, they stop to see what the trouble is. It turns out that Santa is a psycho. He pulls a gun on Billy's dad, who attempts to escape and ends up getting killed. Billy runs out of the car and hides, leaving his baby brother in the back seat. His mother is then drug out of the car, raped, and murdered. Billy hides in the bushes and witnesses the whole massacre.
Cut to years later. Billy and his brother have been sent to an orphanage. The sadistic Mother Superior rules over the place, and regularly punishes Billy for his increasingly rebellious and violent behavior. When he witnesses two teenagers having sex in a back room, the Mother Superior gives him the following advice: "When we do something naughty, we are always caught. Then, we are punished." She beats him, sends him to his room, and ties his hands to the bedpost. Suffice it to say, this is a recipe for disaster.
Billy grows into a strapping young lad, and soon lands his first job as a stock boy at a local toy store. When they ask him to fill in for the store Santa one Christmas, he flips. Santa-related imagery brings out the crazy in him. When he dons the Santa outfit, his personality shifts. He goes on a murderous rampage, screaming "PUNISH!!!!" to all of his victims, right before he kills them in increasingly gruesome ways. In a memorable scene, one chick gets impaled on a set of deer antlers on a mantle above the fireplace.
It all leads to a showdown between Billy, the cops, and the evil Mother Superior.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is the rare horror film that can be fully enjoyed on both Halloween and Christmas. It is so unapologetically bonkers, and there is a sense throughout the film that the director knew what kind of material that he was working with, and so he decided to have as much fun with it as he possibly could. I keep going back to it year after year, and I love springing it on my friends. Looking back at the controversy, it's kind of silly now. One thing is for certain, and that is the fact that Siskel and Ebert were not impressed at all. However, over time the film has gained a cult status and has been reevaluated as a true eighties horror classic.
If you've never seen it, please, do yourself a favor and seek it out!