I Finally Watched: Silent Night, Deadly Night

Back extensions have become a way of life as I deal with this SI/piriformis/nerve issue. I lie on my stomach and prop myself up on my elbows or a stack of pillows. It’s a comfortable position that counters slouching and the poor sitting posture that is likely an aggravating issue. It is also suitable for writing by hand, so it’s time to write.

Before I finished Cheerleaders: The New Evil on Christmas Eve, I finally watched a movie I have been meaning to watch forever, one that has been on my DVR for over two years: Silent Night, Deadly Night.

I remember seeing the disturbing VHS cover of Silent Night, Deadly Night—Santa descending a chimney with an ax in hand—at the local movie rental stores when I was a kid. It freaked me out, and I’m sure it gave me pause or nightmares around Christmas—which is one reason why the movie’s release was protested. Even though I did not know exactly what the movie was about, it was plain to see it depicted Santa as a psychopath. I wondered why anyone could make such a sickening movie, how they could smear Santa’s good name and frighten kids like me. It was no doubt a horrible movie.

On Christmas Eve, I found out just how horrible it is—in that cheap, drive-in-release-only, absurd, and laughable way. It makes My Bloody Valentine look like an Oscar contender.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is not for children, obviously; no one who believes in Santa should watch it. It is, however, perfectly safe for knowledgeable adults who have a soft spot for cheesy horror movies from the eighties. (Am I one of those now? Maybe. I need to watch more of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise to make it official.)

So, here’s the story of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Christmas is forever ruined for Billy when he is told that Santa punishes those who have been bad, and his parents are murdered by a thief in a Santa costume. Despite the tough love he receives at a Catholic orphanage, he cannot overcome the trauma and continues to fear Christmas and Santa. The movie then jumps to Billy’s teen years, when he has landed a job at a local toy store. When the store’s regular Santa can’t make it for the last day of the shopping season, guess who is forced to don the red suit and fake beard?

Does Billy flip out? You bet!

I did not know what to expect from Silent Night, Deadly Night, but I still expected too much. I thought it would be on par with the Friday the 13th franchise, but it is more like a cross between those really bad animal-attack movies from the seventies—Night of the Lepus and Orca come to mind—and Friday the 13th knockoffs like Terror Train. It’s akin to Avis not trying harder. The story itself is not horrible—the premise is another question—but the movie is cheap and poorly made. Suspense is what drives the horror. The rest of the movie is tasteless and pure cheese. It’s funny at times, though, especially when Billy exclaims “Punish!” before dispatching his victims, one guy in particular.

Though I’m glad I finally watched Silent Night, Deadly Night (and deleted it from my DVR), the movie left a bad taste in my mouth. No, it did not give me nightmares—the only thing that disturbed my sleep on Christmas Eve was my SI/piriformis/nerve issue—but Silent Night, Deadly Night is reprehensible. Perhaps its locally made quality is endearing in a way, especially after all these years, but it is uncool and borderline demented to depict a serial killer in a Santa costume. (Perhaps the alarm and unease I felt when stumbling across its VHS cover at Hagen’s all those years ago is resurfacing, tainting my opinion and reaction.)

The film’s Wikipedia page notes that a contemporary critic “argued that whatever arguments the film was making on the commercialism of Christmas was overshadowed by the graphic violence....” I did not detect any deeper meaning or subsurface commentary about commercialism, but that’s not saying much: I’ve never been one to clearly see symbolism (it is not how I read or watch things; I’m too much of a literalist by nature). Another viewing may be in order—perhaps next Christmas Eve. However, the movie does provide a disturbing insight into the American psyche of the 1980s—or at least the entertainment industry’s effort to quench the desires of the American psyche. What does it say? Probably the same thing Human Centipede says about the 2000s. (No, I have never watched that movie and don’t ever want to.) As the cemetery caretaker in Friday the 13th Part VI says, “Some folks sure got a strange idea of entertainment.”

On that note, Silent Night, Deadly Night spawned four sequels—none of which I plan to watch.

I bet if you take away the Santa suit and connection to Christmas, nobody would give Silent Night, Deadly Night a second thought. It would be a completely different movie, but it would be a poorly made, run-of-the-mill slasher film and likely have been forgotten long ago. The red suit is what makes this movie what it is: a scandalous cult classic.

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