crowbait: It’s nearly impossible to talk about Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 without talking about 1, especially because half of 2 is 1 in recap, so we sat down to watch both films, back to back. The experience was . . . interesting? The first is a grim story of a serial killer in the 80’s slasher style but lacking any “good guys.” The second is a retread of the first but with additional scenes that rest on performances that are inappropriate at best and laughable at their worst. Seriously, there are times when this thing is on par with Troll 2. We couldn’t stop laughing. And neither could our murderous Santa.
The story surrounding the release of Silent Night, Deadly Night may actually be more interesting than the film itself. The original was despised well before it was released. The image of a murderer Santa set off a storm of controversy that involved the PTA and personal censure from Siskel and Ebert. Silent Night, Deadly Night was not the first film to feature a Kringle-garbed villain but it became the focus of wrath due to its wide release planned for the Christmas season. As a result the film was pulled almost immediately. Another distribution company picked it up for a limited release in ’86 after gutting the kill scenes with heavy, heavy edits. It’s still a difficult film to find owing to the strange nature of ownership rights with the second film for reasons that will become clear.
The film itself is about a boy named Billy. He witnesses his father shot and mother assaulted and stabbed by a crazed criminal in a Santa suit on Christmas Eve. Billy and his infant brother Ricky end up in an orphanage run by the iron fisted Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) who applies the Catholic psychological practice of beatings when Billy does not “get over” his fear of Christmas and Santa. The lesson Billy learns is that bad things happen to bad people, punishment is always righteous and sex is always sinful, willing or forced. At the age of 18 Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) gets a job at a toy store. Everything is peaches until Christmas rolls around.
The store’s Santa has called in drunk (as is the rule in film) so Billy must don the red suit and beard to placate the children and slowly freak the heck out. After the store closes a Christmas party ensues. Billy’s crush goes off to the back room with his boss and he creeps after them in time to witness the attempted rape. This is the trigger for Billy and he decides it is time to punish the naughty, as Santa should. A killing spree begins that would make Jason Voorhees proud as victims are strangled, sliced, shot with arrows, beheaded with axes and impaled on reindeer antlers for crimes real or imagined by Billy’s fevered mind. His path of destruction eventually leads him “home” to punish Mother Superior for what she has done to warp and twist this victimized boy.
There is no hero in this film. No final girl, and only Sister Margaret, played by Gilmer McCormick does anything to help Billy or stop his violence but she is a poor excuse for a Dr. Loomis and has no real effect on the outcome. The closest thing we have to a protagonist is Billy. We watch him grow up and suffer and break and rampage. This makes the overall tone of the film nihilistic and exceedingly dark. We lack the positive staples of an ’80s slasher, the good guys, and we’re left with Friday the 13th by way of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The kills themselves are entertaining but the extreme editing done to tone down the violence and placate the film’s detractors (obvious due to the extreme change in film quality between the edited material and the surrounding print) render them mostly gore free and toothless. It’s kind of a shame actually. It’s not a good movie but it’s good enough to earn its place among the other cheaply made and kitschy horror films of the decade.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 has its own strange origin story. The filmmakers were given a pittance for a budget and told that they should just re-cut the first film and release it as a sequel, since no one had seen it the first time anyway. Director Lee Harry refused and wanted to make a full sequel but in the end we have a strange pastiche of the two. This film is probably best known today for a clip from Ricky’s spree killing rampage that is the source of the youtube meme “Garbage Day.” Yes, this one:
Billy’s little brother Ricky has grown up and followed the same path of violent rampage and Christmas hate that Billy took. Played by Eric Freeman, he spends the first half of the film being interviewed in his cell by Dr. Bloom (James Newman.) Before coming to his own punishment-inspired suburban spree killing he recounts to Bloom the actions of his brother in a series of flashbacks that are the first film, start to finish, cut down to half its length. Once that recap is complete Ricky escapes and goes on a Santa spree of his own, trying to finish the job his brother started. The nun and police are even less effective this time around but Ricky meets his Michael Myers-y end.
It’s kind of unfortunate that this film relies so heavily on the acting prowess of Freeman. He plays a cagey psycho for the first half of the film and a cackling murderer for the second but always with eyebrows flapping like he’s trying to take flight. Lines are hamfistedly written and poorly delivered and the low budget shows through in their quality. Where the film does succeed is in its gore. The few exotic kills it features have some good electrocution and beheading effects, so I guess that’s where the money went. Still there’s plenty of amusement to be had from the ridiculous and hammy performance of Roberts:
In all, I think that both films are worth watching though the sequel could almost be considered a strange parody of the first, lightening the absurd brutality with so-bad-it’s-good performances. And thanks to the miracle of the internet, these films will always live on through their legacy:
Does it pass the Bechdel? Well, the nuns debate about how to raise a child, through temperateness or brutality. That’s about it.