Terror Tuesday: The SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT Films

Have you been naughty or nice? Most of the films in the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT series - you know, the infamous films about a killer Santa Claus (although only one is really about a killer Santa Claus)  - have been quite naughty. And that’s just how Brian likes them.

Anyway, we flash to a few years later, when Billy and Ricky are tossed into a Catholic orphanage run by a nun who is sadistic even by nun standards. At one point she whipspoor Billy just for watching two other kids getting it on, and beats him again after various other Christmas-related infractions (drawing bloody Santas, punching out the Santa they hire to come on Christmas, etc) that I think would be par for the course for a kid who watched Santa kill his parents. Give the kid a break, lady! There is one nun who seems to understand maybe whipping the poor bastard every time he freaks out isn’t the best approach, but Mother Superior overrules her (it’s more than a clever name, you see).

Flash forward ten years later (so we now have a 3rd set of actors playing the brothers, if you’re keeping track), and Billy, now 18 or so, is employed at a toy store. He seems to be well-adjusted, or at least not-likely-to-murder-everyone, but alas, when the store owner makes him play Santa at Christmastime, he snaps. He keeps it more or less in check until Christmas Eve, when all hell breaks loose at an office party and the movietruly goes into “awesome” mode. Now completely unhinged, Billy massacres everyone at the toy store (often saying “Naughty!” or “Punish!” as he kills) and then heads toward his old orphanage, slaughtering everyone in his path. Luckily his path is far from direct, allowing him to kill folks more or less at random, including the film’s most famous victim – Linnea Quigley.

This scene is probably the most memorable in the film, due to Quigley’s frequent co- stars (her breasts) and the way she is dispatched – lifted up and impaled on some antlers. From there the scene just gets hilariously insane, with her boyfriend (who despite being one room away didn’t hear any of the commotion) going to look for her and demonstrating his complete lack of peripheral vision:

Once the guy finally looks roughly 10 degrees out of his direct line of sight and sees his dead girlfriend, Billy steps out and they fight, the boyfriend now shirtless somehow. Spoiler - Billy wins. Then Quigley’s little sister comes home and thinks Billy is the real Santa and tells him she’s been good. In response, he hands her the box cutter he used to kill one of thegirls at the toy store (best “get rid of the evidence” maneuver ever!).

A few kills later, Billy finally makes his way to the orphanage, but not before the cops gun down the local priest (also dressed as Santa) right in front of all the kids. Billy evens things out by killing a snowman in cold blood, and then enters the building, intent on killing Mother Superior (most audience members should be on his side there), but he gets shot by the cops before he can strike. And a true holiday classic comes to a close.

Witness to all of the carnage in the final 5 minutes is Ricky, Billy’s younger brother who would take center stage for the next two sequels (and possibly appear in 4 and 5 – it’s up for rather pointless debate). Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 is best known for the legendary “Garbage Day!” internet meme, but it’s also (somewhat incorrectly) known for being made up “almost entirely” of footage from the first film, as the plot involves a now 18ish Ricky (legendarily terrible actor Eric Freeman makes Ricky #4!) telling the story of the 1st film to his new psychiatrist. Most of his “memories” involve things he wasn’t even present for, and the filmmakers were so hell-bent on reusing scenes from the first film that at one point they actually RESHOT part of a scene because the original actors wouldn’t allow their footage to be re-used! But the amount of flashback footage is often quite exaggerated; in reality, Ricky stops “remembering” the events of the first film by the halfway mark of SNDN2, and there’s a lot of new footage (of him and the shrink) up until that point as well. It’s still excessive, sure, but I’d say at least 60-65 minutes of the 88 minute film is new footage (I’ve read criticisms that claim it’s the other way around).

Ricky also has some “new” flashbacks, which include yet more actors playing the character at different ages, and this allows the filmmakers to present kill scenes without any of that nasty context, character development, or suspense. The scenes are often riddled with continuity errors and other gaffes (the entire crew can be seen in the background of one shot), but it just sort of adds to the film’s borderline surreal nature – at one point Ricky goes to see the original Silent Night Deadly Night, a plot point that can easily make one’s head explode. Finally, he breaks free from the institution and sets out to “avenge” his brother by killing Mother Superior, who is inexplicably covered in burn scars (we’re told she had a stroke – huh?). He has better luck, but he too gets gunned down by the cops.

But he doesn’t die! Silent Night Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! follows a now fully adult Ricky (played by Bill Moseley – Ricky #7), who has an exposed brain due to his injury at the end of 2. He forms a psychic link with this one girl and follows her to her family home at Christmas time, slowly stalking them (mostly from outside) while Robert Culp tracks him down with the help of a psychiatrist. So it’s sort of like a combination of Halloween 4 and 5, but not nearly as good as either film. It’s also probably the weakest of the entire series; Moseley’s half-exposed head (protected by what looks like a salad bowl) notwithstanding, it’s got too low of a body count and not nearly enough of the mean-spirited batshittedness of the first two films to measure up, and besides the opening nightmare scene, doesn’t have any memorable setpieces either. And Culp appears to be edited in from a different movie entirely – I think he only appears with the main actress once in the film. Lesson to learn – don’t attempt to make a real movie. The Silent Night Deadly Night series deserves better than that.

Clint Howard appears as “Ricky” in Silent Night Deadly Night 4: The Initiation, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be the same guy; I think it’s more like how every Final Fantasy game has a dude named Cid. Finally dropping the Chapman family saga for good, this entry (directed by Brian Yuzna, best known for producing Re-Animator and other Stuart Gordon films) follows a reporter who is investigating a cult in Los Angeles, one that practices witchcraft, indulges in minor lesbianism, and somehow has the power to seemingly control cockroaches. Its connection to Christmas is incredibly minor, but otherwise it sort of reminds me of Halloween III, both in its cult plot and how it’s telling a stand-alone story with the titular holiday as a backdrop. If you know your Halloween movie history, you’d know that the plan was to make an anthology series of unrelated films that all took place on Halloween, but the backlash on III kept that from happening (which paid off, sort of, since Halloween 4 was so damn good). With this film, Yuzna and co. adapted that approach for the Silent Night Deadly Night series.

The stand-alone concept continued with the next film, Silent Night Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker. This one stars Mickey Rooney (!) as, yikes, Joe Petto, a toy store owner who makes killer toys and unleashes them on those who do him wrong. He also has an android (and androgynous) son named Pino, who does some of his dirty work but mostly just wants to be loved and have a real family (this leads to one of the creepiest scenes in the entire series, when he malfunctions and begins dry humping the heroine while shouting “I’ll be a good boy, mommy!”). Add in the fact that Clint Howard appears as another Ricky, despite dying in the previous film (and acting like a completely different person anyway) and you have a perfectly good Silent Night Deadly Night movie – a weird, somewhat incoherent movie that gleefully bastardizes just about everything people love about the Christmas holiday, much to the delight of assholes like me. Also part of it was shot a couple blocks from where I now live, so it adds to my enjoyment.

Rooney’s casting is a particularly inspired decision, because he was a vocal critic of the first film, saying the filmmakers should rot in hell and what not (his letter, along with several others, appears on the special edition of the first film). Amazing what 7 years of lousy work options can do to a man, I guess. But it was the outcry of folks like him that led to the first film being pulled, Hatchet II

style, after less than 2 weeks in theaters (Tri-Star had pulled the advertising for the film shortly after its opening weekend, which didn’t help). The 2nd film also briefly appeared in theaters, opening in the middle of April (!) on 15 screens, a mere three months after the film was shot. Needless to say it did not break any box office records, failing to even recoup its meager $250,000 budget. The three following films all went direct to video, no surprise there.

A remake has been threatened for years, but honestly I don’t see why they don’t just make a 6th film (maybe drop the 6 and go for a colon-ized pointless subtitle) and do whatever the hell they want. As far as I’m concerned, there is almost zero chance of a modern day film living up to the crass awesomeness of the original, unless of course the new filmmakers actually TRY to “top” their predecessor, which will just be annoying. I honestly think that the original film was made sincerely, without the filmmakers laughing at the insanity of it all and/or purposely trying to be hateful – it’s just awful and crass in the way that a lot of early 80s horror films are. Purposely going into it with the intentof being offensive would be a detriment, I think. And since the series went in so many directions (back in a time when most series more or less stuck to the proven formula), they aren’t tied to any particular character or even subgenre (1-3 being slashers, 4 being a supernatural cult film, and 5 being a mad scientist/revenge type deal) – no one would blink an eye if Silent Night Deadly Night 6 came along and involved murderous elves or maybe a forest full of deadly Christmas trees. Besides, the Black Christmas remake (aka Black Xmas) took the plot of its namesake film but imbued it with the offensive glee that is a trademark of the SNDN series – if you ask me, that film was a combo remake of both.

Sadly, the original film seems to be once again out of print on DVD. It was released a while ago with SNDN2 on the flipside (Silent Night Deadly Night 1&2

), and that one went out of print years ago. It was re-released (without part 2) in 2007, but even that one is now OOP as well (either edition will set you back quite a bit via Amazon or Ebay). However the new set, with 3-5, is still available (Silent Night, Deadly Night 3-5

), and if you already own or at least have seen the first two and appreciate their tactless insanity, you’ll find much to like in the 4th and 5th films, at least. Plus, since all 5 films are spread across two standard DVD cases, it’s the least shelf-hogging franchise in horror history!

So while there are plenty of legitimately good options if you want to blend your holiday with horror Black Christmas

, Gremlins

, Inside

), I urge you to check out one or all of these movies if you’re in the mood for something a little more, well, terrible. The original is a total blast to see with a crowd, and the others, while overall less offensive, are definitely the weirdest Christmas-themed horror movies I’ve ever seen (though Santa’s Slay

tried – and mostly failed – to join the club).

Beats watching Elf for the 39th time, that’s for sure.

You can read Brian Collins every day at Horror Movie A Day.