Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas and Bloody Boxcutters For All, Silent Night Deadly Night

My normal Christmas viewing tradition, once all the presents are wrapped, is to snuggle up with a mug of spiked eggnog and the grandfather of American slashers, BLACK CHRISTMAS.  But this year I decided to change it up and go with the other even more Christmas-y classic, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT.  

It’s a lesser movie, in my opinion, it doesn’t sustain the suspense nearly as well, but it has its charms.   One is the meticulous How-to-Guarantee-a-Kid-Grows-Up-to-be-a-Mass-Murdering-Santa-Claus setup.  Honestly, the way this movie piles on the trauma, there is no chance the kid could avoid becoming a Kringle Killer.  More importantly, there is one scene dear to my heart that pretty well defines a schizocinema moment.  But first, the capsule:

Eight year old Billy spends Christmas Eve being left alone with his crazy old grandfather, who proceeds to scare the shit out of him with grave warnings of how Santa punishes naughty children.  On the way home from the mental hospital (it wasn’t a euphemism, the grandfather is certified insane), Billy’s parents stop on the side of a deserted road to assist a Santa with car trouble.  This is, in fact, not the real Santa, but a sleazebag who just knocked over a convenience store and shot the clerk.  The good Samaritans are promptly assaulted and murdered before Billy’s young eyes.  Adding insult to injury, he spends the next ten years in an orphanage run by nuns, being tormented by the punishment loving Mother Superior. Despite all this, Billy grows up to be a well-mannered, if terribly shy and laughably square, young adult. No odd behaviors at all, as long as he stays the hell away from Santa Clauses.  The one nice nun from the orphanage tries to get him a job, but the only one he can swing is in the stock room of a local toy store (not off to a good start).  Everything is going fine until he is forced to dress up as Santa for Christmas Eve.  After boozing up at the store Christmas party, he stumbles on his dream girl in passionate throes with his jerk supervisor.  Actually, the jerk is trying to rape the dream girl, but Billy’s faulty psycho-sexual wiring just interprets it as them being naughty.  The last straw finally broken, Billy’s yuletide rampage begins.  Drunken bosses are hammered (not figuratively), cavorting babysitters are impaled, bullying tobogganers are beheaded.  Billy eventually ends up at the source, or one of the many sources, of his childhood trauma, the orphanage.  

On the whole, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a pretty entertaining early '80's slasher with weird pacing.  It certainly has the most pre-rampage backstory I’ve ever seen.  Billy is obviously not justified in decking the halls with pints of blood, but you can at least see where it’s coming from.  He showed remarkable restraint just keeping it together this long.  The sex = death cliché was over-applied to horror in the ‘80’s, but it's apt here.  The film got into a lot of trouble with outraged prudes, presumably for desecrating the loving, non-murdering image of Santa (though it’s been pointed out that 1972’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT did it first).  It’s fairly bloody, with a few good set pieces, and some weird touches.  The crazy grandpa is great.  A cop kills a perfectly innocent Santa (who also happens to be a deaf priest!).  Everyone sings off-brand Christmas carols, some I hope were made for the movie because they are kind of creepy.  But it’s not even my favorite killer Santa movie, I prefer the nuttier and more creative DON’T OPEN ‘TIL CHRISTMAS.  I hold SNDN in high regard for one scene in particular.  Just after the Linnea Quigley vs. Mounted Deer Head Antlers scene (point - Mounted Deer Head), the angelic faced little girl she was babysitting wakes up and sees our psycho Santa.  Absolutely thrilled, despite the fact Santa is holding an axe, she asks what he has brought her.  Billy leans down and asks her if she’s been good or naughty, pulling a bloody boxcutter from his pocket in anticipation of the answer.  Right away, she says she has been good.  “Are you sure,” Billy presses.  The girl again says she's been good, smiling sweetly the whole time.  There is an awkward beat, then Billy hands her the boxcutter like it was a candy cane.  The girl doesn’t scream, or gasp, or drop the bloody thing, she just looks at it, puzzled.  Then she give Billy a look that says, “Well, okay, I was hoping for a Barbie, but this is good too, I guess.”  Billy leaves without another word, looking rather proud of himself.  He's a well-rounded Santa.

It’s such a weird scene, and oddly sweet.  The bloodbath pauses for just a moment to become something twistedly tender.  I love Billy’s hesitation when faced with someone who doesn’t trigger his seriously lopsided naughty meter.  He’s completely unprepared for that, so he improvises.  My favorite part is the girl’s reaction, though.  She doesn’t show the slightest hint of fear, only awe at meeting Santa and bewilderment at his choice of gift, but she is polite enough not to complain or seem disappointed.  Obviously some elf worked very hard making this boxcutter and she’s is going to be grateful.  There are no screams when Billy is walking out of the house, either, so I envision the girl just getting back in bed, putting the boxcutter on her nightstand beside her Strawberry Shortcake clock, and happily drifting off to sleep.  I would like to have seen the sequels focus on her character as a grown-up, sneaking into people’s homes and leaving kitchen knives and ninja throwing stars for good little boys and girls.

And in the end, isn't that the true spirit of Christmas?  No, no it isn't .  But it is a pretty fun movie.

C Chaka

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