While Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year” for some, it’s a nightmare for others. This year, the holidays will definitely boast a unique set of challenges. Things may not take the turn found in Christmas slashers like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot of people won’t struggle through the season.
In any event, this 1984 horror was quite the controversial release at the time. Many didn’t like the implications of a bludgeoning Santa Claus, regardless of the context, and even the mere advertising of this Charles E. Sellier, Jr. flick made bloody waves.
We first meet Billy in 1971 when he’s a five-year-old (Jonathan Best) visiting his apparently comatose grandfather (Will Hare), but the scene turns terrifying when the old dude starts spouting off about Santa. Horrifically, the ride back features rape and murder at the hands of a dude in a Santa suit. Naturally, Billy is traumatized and orphaned along with his little brother.
During a stint in an orphanage, eight-year-old Billy (Danny Wagner) is exposed to the sex and discipline cycle by Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin). The Santa trigger is still dynamic, but the old bat thinks pitiless exposure therapy will fix the boy. Is it any wonder 18-year-old Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) would snap on Christmas Eve?
Written by Michael Hickey with a story by Paul Caimi, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a surprisingly comprehensive look at post-traumatic stress disorder and how the road to hell is paved with Christmas ornaments. This assessment of mental illness is somewhat unsophisticated, but there’s a lot to parse about how those put in Billy’s life to “help” come up short.
The movie’s exploration of how a killer becomes a killer takes us down a bunch of different roads, all of them disturbing. Various secular and religious authority figures push punishment of the “naughty” or immoral as righteous, fashioning a pretty uncompromising vision of justice for child.
Billy becomes an angel of vengeance in his own mind, but he knows he’s trapped. His final lines denote a sacrificial perspective, as though by representing Santa and dragging him to hell he’s able to consecrate his memories. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT doesn’t fully explore these overtones, but it lays out enough sugary crumbs between the macabre kills.
You could get caught up in the ho-ho-horrific visuals and how it’s “improper” to showcase Santa in such a grisly way, but that misses the point. Sellier, Jr. isn’t exploiting Santa any more than he’s manipulating the notion that anything, no matter how esteemed, can turn wretched given a push in the wrong direction.