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Scary Xmas: 'Silent Night, Deadly Night' - A Look Back

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It's amazing to me how much of a reputation the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies has amassed over the course of the last several years, especially considering most people haven't seen them; let alone realize that there are 5 films in the franchise! I think it's because Silent Night Deadly, Night Part 2 has become something of a "cult" classic, primarily notorious for reusing a good chunk of footage from the first film and also for the now infamous You Tube favorite clip "garbage day"! But with Christmas upon us, we thought it'd be only fair to revisit all 5 movies in the Silent Night Deadly, Night series and give you a breakdown on each and every one. Throw a log in the fire. Prepare to roast some chest nuts and let's curl up on the couch with a hot cup of cocoa or tea and check out the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies in order!

Silent Night, Deadly Night

It's been years since I've revisited the original Silent Night , Deadly Night and now that I was able to watch & analyze it as an adult I have come to one simple conclusion - This is arguably one of the most mean-spirited, vile pieces of horror trash to ever come out of the 80's "slasher" boom. I've heard people refer to it as "fun" campy horror flick, but I think they're confusing it with the second film in the series. Let's run through the plot of this one and then I'll elaborate on why I feel that way.

The film opens with the Chapman family on their way to visit Grandpa who's living a fairly catatonic life at an old folk's home. The entire ride there, the young mother & father keep teasing their son Billy (riding in the back with his baby brother Ricky) that "Santa's going to have a big surprise for him" later that night; foreshadowing some really horrific stuff to come. The second the parents step out of the visiting room, Grandpa springs to life to creepily tell Billy about how dangerous Christmas night is and how he should be "afraid" of what's going to happen. On the ride home, the family stumbles upon a guy in a Santa Claus costume that just robbed a local convenience store and who proceeds to shoot the father and decloth mom before slitting her throat. Billy runs out into the woods and sees the whole thing while his baby brother Ricky screams & cries from the back seat of the car. Now mind you, Billy's like 6 years old at this point. So we spend 10 minutes of the movie with his parents telling him that Santa's got a special surprise for him and then his freaky Grandpa tells him the same thing and it turns out that Santa's surprise is that he'll be murdering his parents for the holidays. Sheesh, this movie plays more like a masochistic tale of child abuse more than anything else.

Cut to Billy (and Ricky) now living in an orphanage run by a group of nuns; the main one being the stern and strict Mother Superior. For an art assignment in class, Billy draws a picture of Santa Claus dead (um, well yeah!), so the nuns report him and Mother Superior scolds him for being naughty and warns that he will be "punished" if he continues this behavior. Later on, Billy stumbles upon a young teenage couple having sex in one of the bedrooms and Mother Superior catches him and gives him a spanking. Ya know, for walking in on other people being naughty even though he had nothing to do with it. Did I mention that Billy has nightmares of the night his parents were murdered so he wakes up screaming and running through the halls in the middle of the night? What does Mother Superior do? Ties him to his freakin' bed so he won't get up again!

It gets better. (Or worse, depending.) Christmas time rolls around and Mother Superior forcibly makes Billy get on Santa's lap, the guy (or so he thinks) who viciously and brutally killed his parents in front of his eyes. So when little Billy knocks ol' Santa out, he again gets punished and cries in the corner repeating "I don't want to be naughty." Not for nothing, but when he freaks out and starts doing his thing, I'm siding with Billy.

Ok. So 10 years pass by and even though Billy is only 18 years old, he now looks like a 30 year old construction worker. The nuns help him get a job at Ira's Toys where we get a montage of him lifting heavy boxes, helping little girls, making friends at work and crushing on his female co-worker. Every thing seems fine and dandy and Billy's finally living a normal teenage life, right? Wrong! Christmas comes along and the Santa hired for the toy store calls in sick, so what does Ira do? He makes Billy wear a Santa costume to entertain the children. Guess the nuns never mentioned that Billy saw a guy in a Santa Claus outfit kill his parents at age 6 and that you probably shouldn't bring that up to him.

Anyways, Billy surprisingly makes it through the work day alright, but during the after hours holiday party when one of his sleazy co-workers tries to rape his girl crush, he has a mental break down and chokes the dude out while screaming "naughty"! Whew. Hero, right? He just saved this gal from a pretty horrific incident, no? She instead starts calling him crazy, so Billy continues his freak out and kills her, followed by the two store owners before taking to the streets to continue his killing spree.

What's great too is that one of the nuns back at the orphanage finds out way earlier in the day that they plan on dressing him up as Santa and decides she has to go there to warm everyone, yet she doesn't show up until several hours after the holiday party when Billy's already started his bloody rampage. Oh well.

From here on out, there actually are some cool murder set pieces. Billy stumbles into a nearby house where he finds a topless Linnea Quigley and impales her on a deer head hanging on the wall. Two bullies hijack some sleds from some younger neighborhood kids and get decapitated via axe by Billy. And the mean spirited nature of the movie just never stops. While on the hunt for the "crazed Santa Claus killer", two cops burst into a little girl's bedroom, guns drawn and almost blow away her father dressed in Santa garb. Not to mention the deaf priest who gets gunned down in front of little Ricky's eyes because he couldn't hear the policeman's shouts to "stop".

The movie ends at the only logical place it should – with Billy coming back to the orphanage to bury that axe right in Mother Superior's face, where it belongs. But before he gets a chance, he too finally gets gunned down by the police and in front of his little brother Ricky. His last words are "you're safe now. Santa Claus is dead." The axe points towards Ricky's feet and he looks up at Mother Superior and simply utters the word "naughty". (Sequel set up!)

Now here's the thing – you've got a pretty great premise centered around a holiday that hadn't been fully exploited yet back in 1984 when the movie was made. But judging from the interviews and notes I've seen from director Charles E. Seller Jr and writer Michael Hickey, they really didn't want to make this movie, specifically because it was a horror movie. I can tell from the way they speak about it in interviews and just from the general tone of the film that they have nothing but contempt for the horror genre; they probably thought they were all sick nonsense and hence they put a lot of horrific and disgusting things into their movie because that's probably what they thought horror fans like. And I always get a little insulted when someone looks at my beloved genre with that kind of contempt and disregard. I will say this, the trailer they put together for it, complete with the tagline "you've made it through Halloween, now try surviving Christmas" is pretty bad-ass. They really play up the angle in the trailer that it's the Santa Claus killing people and not necessarily a guy in a Santa costume. The sequel on the other hand…

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2

Ah bliss. Now this is one of those rare movies that absolutely works on a technical level; the filmmakers employed some interesting filmmaking techniques considering their initial assignment which was to re-edit the first film into a new film, but every once in a while, a movie transcends things like being good or bad and becomes simply 88 minutes of sheer entertainment. And that's what Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is somehow magically able to do. Because of the controversy of the original film, it barely got a legitimate theatrical release. So director/editor Lee Hardy was brought in along with co-writer Joseph H. Earle to re-edit the footage from the first movie so they could release it as Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, even though… errr, it was re-used footage from the first one. Naturally, after cleaning up the pace and removing a lot of the nastiness from the original's story, the duo went about shooting all new scenes and truly making this a continuation of what was set up in the original. So, the little brother Ricky is now the central character and he's reciting the events of the first movie to a psychiatrist in prison, a clever way to weave in and out of new material and previously used footage from Part 1. Once you get past the fact that Ricky was a baby for his parent's death and couldn't possibly remember the majority of the events he's recounting, the film does pick up and present the first movie in a much more brisk and appealing pace. But the real gold here is when it gets to the all original material.

That portion of the movie comes in around the mid-way point and starts with Ricky recounting his upbringing with his foster parents, becoming a teenager and eventually confessing to his first kill, another would-be date rapist he stumbles upon in the woods. His second kill happens in the back alley of his diner job with a mafia bully thug who gets it via an umbrella! Eventually he meets the love of his life Jennifer (played by Friday The 13th 7's Elizabeth Kaitan!) and starts to settle down. That is until one fateful night, they go to see a movie about a killer Santa Claus (Actually, more footage from the original film) and Jennifer runs into her former flame Chip again.

The most talked about scene in the movie is when the couple bump into Chip in the street and it sets Ricky off on a murdering rampage with a police officer's gun. It has to be seen to be believed but it's got the quote you've heard from a bunch of your friends "garbage day!"

Now there's a moment in that rampage I want you to take note of – a little girl on a bike bumps into Ricky, but apologies. So he let's her go. And after this, he decides he has to go axe down Mother Superior since she's to blame and Billy never got the chance to. Once again, I'm kinda siding with Ricky on this one! Point being, with the exception of a few random people during his freak-out, everyone else he kills kinda deserves it in a way and thus this makes Ricky the first real anti-hero of a horror franchise.

And to give credit where credit is due, it's because of Eric Freeman's performance as Ricky which just wouldn't have worked if it were any other actor. Sincerely, eye brow acting aside, that dude is so darned committed to that role that I completely believe he's a psychopath that thinks he's doing the right thing in honor of his deceased brother and family. The entertainment value of SNDN 2 comes from the somewhat ludicrous story concocted by Harry and Earle, but also by Freeman's portrayal of Ricky. If only they had gotten him back for the next sequel!

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out

Ok, check this out. You've got a Silent Night, Deadly Night sequel picking up where the last one left off with Ricky as the "Santa Claus" killer and this time he's played by genre fave Bill Moseley. The director of Two-Lane Blacktop Monte Hellman is at the helm. You've got a great character actor like Robert Culp as the lead lieutenant on the case and a young Laura Harring (billed as Laura Herring) in one of her first supporting roles. And the sequel will attempt to combine elements of A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th and Halloween! Sounds good when you read it, right? Well, somehow it's not and it baffles my mind, even after having not seen it for over a decade now.

Laura (Samantha Scully) is blind, but she's got telekinetic abilities and is undergoing an experimental treatment where a doctor is trying to mentally connect her with a comatose patient. Unbeknownst to her, the patient is Ricky (now referred to as Ricky Caldwell for whatever reason), the "Santa Claus killer" from Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2. Now, what doesn't make sense it that Ricky wears what looks like a clear fish bowl on his head that exposes a good chunk of his brain because he had most of his head blown off several years earlier at the end of his killing spree according to Lt. Connelly (Robert Culp) who was there. (In actuality, Ricky never got shot in the head at the end of SNDN 2, just in the chest, but umm… OK.)

The point of the experiment (I think) is to find a cure for the type of mental illness that Ricky suffers from. But by connecting with him, Laura manages to somehow awaken Ricky and he sets off on a murderous quest to find her, killing anyone that gets in his way. It's the holidays so she's off with her brother (a dead ringer for Kip Winger) and her brother's girlfriend (Laura Harring) to celebrate Christmas with their grandmother. Why does Ricky has this mental connection to Laura? Who knows? What does he plan to do when he gets to her? Also a mystery. The point is he wakes up from his coma, kills a bunch of people at the hospital and makes his way to the girl.

What's interesting is the attempt to throw in elements from all the other popular horror franchises at the time. There's the blind girl with psychic abilities (Friday The 13th Part 7: The New Blood). There's surreal and odd dream sequences where Laura keeps seeing Ricky (A Nightmare On Elm Street) in these elaborate set-ups & sometimes with a Santa Claus running around. And occasionally when Ricky walks around at a snails pace, there's a synth-style theme that plays. (An attempt at a Halloween-esque theme for Ricky perhaps?)

The kills are minimal, for the most part unimaginative and few & far between. Hell, some of them don't have any score elements playing at all when they happen which just makes them even more awkward. There's no real "Santa" style killer, unless you consider Ricky wearing a silly red hat over his fish bowl a "costume". The movie is also padded out pretty much from the 40 minute mark right down to the ending making it feel like an eternity.

After all the interesting directions they could've taken after the conclusion of Part 2, it seems like they went with the least interesting possibility. Disappointing. Then there's that beyond weird last shot where one character says "Merry Christmas" and it cuts to Moseley/Ricky in a tux saying "and a happy new year!" What the?! Although 2 sequels would follow, this would be the end of the Billy/Ricky Santa Claus killer story.

Silent Nigh,  Deadly Night 4: Initiation

Ah, a fresh new start! Much like Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch was intended to start a new series of horror stories that only shared the holiday in common, the latter two Silent Night, Deadly Night films were both completely separate stories that just happen to take place around the Christmas holiday and bare no connection or resemblance to the previous entries. This can go either way…

Initiation proves this idea to be a bad one. Brian Yuzna was the director (and producer) on this sequel. He helped produce the original Re-Animator and directed the sequels in that franchise and this is on par, if not worse then those sequels. Honestly, I'm not even sure what the hell is going on in this one. From what I can gather, Kim (played by Neith Hunter, a dead ringer for horror fave Erica Leerhsen) is a struggling reporter trying to get her break at her paper and be taken seriously by her primarily male co-workers. She latches onto a story of a woman on fire who leaps to her death from a building complex not too far off. Once she starts snooping around, she uncovers some kind of strange witch-like cult dedicated to the Egyptian God Isis. And from what I can gather, they're trying to impregnate Kim with a bug. (Hence why the European title of the movie is Bugs. I imagine it was released there as a separate movie rather than a Silent Night, Deadly Night sequel).

There's not much I can say about this sequel other than we've got appearances from Phantasm's Reggie Banister and Clint Howard.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker

Last but not least is Toy Maker, a far more successful attempt at telling a stand-alone Christmas themed horror tale without referencing the "Santa Claus" killers of the original. Martin Kitrosser makes his directorial debut with this one from a script co-written with Brian Yuzna, who once again produces.

In the opening moments, a little boy finds an anonymous wrapped gift at his doorstep which turns out to have a killer toy in it. (Killer toys?! Now we're in Full Moon territory!) His father opens the package and he witnesses his death at the hands of this bitchin' little Santa toy. Traumatized by the event, Sarah (Jane Higginson) does her past to cope with the loss of her husband and help her little boy overcome what he saw.

A year passes (I think, they never make that clear) and a stranger comes to town who's keeping tabs on Sarah and her son, as well as local toy maker named Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney) and his son Pino. It seems that Joe is crafting out these killer toys. (Or is it Pino?) What follows is an interesting little mystery as we finally learn the stranger's connection to this family and there's a pretty sleek plot twist involving who's truly responsible for the killer toys, which I won't spoil for you here.

While not great, it is an interesting enough horror story and a welcome change of pace from the previous fairly boring entry. Both Neith Hunter and Clint Howard re-appear in this sequel, Hunter as a character named Kim (her name in the fourth. Same character?) And Howard briefly shows up as a mall Santa named Ricky, no doubt an homage to Part's 2 and 3.

Overall, Silent Night, Deadly Night makes up one of the oddest and inconsistence franchises in horror history. The packaging for the Part 3, 4 and 5 pack is fairly misleading considering there's a killer Santa with an axe on the front and back cover, yet none of those entries features anyone in a Santa costume at any point. The first 2 movies were released on a double feature from Anchor Bay but have been long out of print and sought after. (It runs about 50 bucks used on Amazon) Regardless, for sheer entertainment value, the 2nd film will always be my favorite and go-to Christmas horror movie. If ever they were to relaunch this franchise, I say start by remaking Part 2 and make Ricky the central Santa killer!

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