Silent Night Deadly Night 1 & 2
By: Devon B. on December 25, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Anchor Bay (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 1.0. 173 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr./Lee Harry Starring: Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Linnea Quigley/Eric Freeman, James Newman, Elizabeth Cayton
Screenplay: Michael Hickey/Joseph H. Earle, Lee Harry
Music: Perry Botkin/Michael Armstrong
Tagline: He knows when you've been naughty
Country: USA
Year 1984/1987
Silent Night, Deadly Night caused quite a stir when first released. Rumour has it a protest started with all sorts of angry old biddies picketing theatres showing the movie, mad as heck that the film had a psycho dressed as Santa as the slasher. This reaction never made much sense to me, as both Christmas Evil and Tales From The Crypt seemed to have gone by unnoticed. Evidently, the difference was people thought the killer in Silent Night, Deadly Night was the real Santa, thanks to the poster of "Santa" descending a chimney with an axe. Youngsters saw this and began asking what Santa was doing, while other children were scared by the TV ads for the film. As far as I know the real Santa didn't start maiming until Santa's Slay, though one could certainly argue that it might have been the real Santa in Christmas Evil thanks to that film's bizarre ending.

Anyway, I've always thought Silent Night, Deadly Night was a hugely underrated film, with even director Charles "Grizzly Adams" Sellier, Jr. lambasting it. Not that it's perfect. Good God, I'd never claim that.

The movie is about a young lad named Billy who goes with his parents to visit his creepy old grandfather at Christmas time. Grandpa puts the frighteners on the youth, instilling a fear in Santa Claus. This fear is not abated when the boy sees his parents brutally slaughtered by a man dressed in a Santa suit later that night. He and his younger brother are placed in a Catholic orphanage, and Billy naturally has problems whenever the holidays role around. The stern Mother Superior thinks the best way to rid Billy of his Christmas issues is to be insanely strict with him. This plan isn't entirely successfully, because when Billy grows up he slips into an insane, murderous rage while dressed as Santa. It might seem odd that Billy wears the Santa suit, but the film does an effective job of setting up why he would.

While no one can deny Silent Night, Deadly Night is a slasher, there is something odd about it too. The film really, really delves into the psychological factors that cause its killer, making Billy the most sympathetic slasher I've seen. Even more unusual is that secondary characters are also developed! Not since Nurse Ratched have I so loathed a character like the Mother Superior (brilliantly played by Lilyan Chauvin), but she's also not just a total bitch. She clearly wants what's best for the children at the orphanage, and also holds herself to her own strict rules, much like Inspector Javert from Les Misérables. A much nicer, empathetic nun is also given some depth, which makes for three somewhat rounded characters in this "gratuitous slasher." The film's well built characters also lead to its downfall, as the only ones that are of interest are 1) the killer, who you know isn't going to be doing so well by film's end 2) the Mother Superior, who you want to not be doing so well by film's end and 3) the nice nun, who is safe and secure out of Billy's path until the film's end. So while the film builds and builds, it loses tension once Billy snaps, and sadly turns into exactly what everyone criticizes it for being: a mindless slasher.

Not that that's entirely a bad thing, as I am a fan of slashers, and particularly 80s ones. And if you're not interested in the better aspects of the film, it can also be viewed as a cheese fest, because even in the character development bits, unintentional humour can be found. Once Billy's making the rounds on Christmas Eve, the film is brimming with ridiculousness, so fans of stupid 80s slashers will enjoy it.

Silent Night, Deadly Night became a standard holiday feature in my household, a film I annually foisted upon my prudish mother with the cry, "But it's a Christmas movie! We have to watch it!" Silent Night, Deadly Night isn't just a tame slasher, either. It was one of the first examples of the extended video version, the videocassette cover proudly touting the tape having footage you weren't able to see in theatres. The full strength version has plenty boobs and blood, if not too much outright gore, enhancing the sleazy feel of the film.

A mostly topless Linnea Quigley makes an appearance, as do some Jabba the Hutt play sets in the toy store (which would probably be worth more now than the film's whole budget).

You may not develop the affinity for it that I have, but Silent Night, Deadly Night is an absolute must see.

Which would make you think that I'd say the sequel is equally good, since almost half of it is made up from footage of the first film via flashbacks. In this instalment, Billy's younger brother Ricky is telling a psychiatrist about Billy's life. When he FINALLY gets done with that, he moves on to his own little hiccup with reality. Ricky doesn't dress as Santa until the climax, and even then lacks a beard.

Not that everything is the same as it ever was. Billy has aged two years for some reason when his family was attacked by Santa, but is still 18 when he gets his job at the toy store. Ricky's age changes, too. He's now been adopted out at an age younger than he was shown to be at the end of the first film. Billy also evidently had full recall of his parents' murders despite what's shown in the first movie, as he's told it all to Ricky. And Billy must've psychically communicated the details of his own rampage to Ricky, as Ricky knows all the details. There're a few other odd changes, like a character previously a priest being changed to a janitor in the flashback, but most of the footage is like it was in the first movie, except missing the payoff in a lot of the murders. Seems the MPAA still wouldn't let the uncut version through. Perhaps the stupidest thing about the flashbacks is that new footage of young Ricky was shot for Part 2, so there are two distinctly different actors playing Ricky at roughly the same age! Clauvin also obviously wasn't interested in reprising her role, so the Mother Superior's portrayed by Jean Miller in heavy post stroke makeup. I didn't realise strokes could make people look like the melting man in Robocop, but there you go.

There is some funny stuff here, but this movie is very padded. Yeah, there's a movie theatre (showing Silent Night, Deadly Night, actually) that is incredibly bright. Yeah, Ricky evidently is also able to recall his parents' deaths, despite being an infant at the time. But what's really a hoot is the performance of Eric Freeman as Ricky. Okay, he's just pleasantly bad, but his eyebrows deserve some sort of special Oscar. Maybe the Groucho Marx Award?

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 has been labelled the "so bad it's good" champion of the 80s, which is silly because that title obviously belongs to Breeders. Too much footage is recycled in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, which is just distracting, and if you've seen the first movie, it's also boring. Some amusing bits, to be sure, but if it wasn't packaged with the first film, I would never own the sequel.

If memory serves, the younger bro is also the killer in part three, but this time without a Santa suit. Thankfully, part four went in a whole new direction under the helm of Brian Yuzna, paving the way for a Mickey Rooney Christmas in part five.
Video
Both films are presented at 1.85:1 in 16x9 enhanced prints. The first film is pieced together from two source elements to get a fully uncut print. The main print is pretty clean and sharp, but does have some spots and light grain. The extended footage is much darker, a bit grainer, and has more spots and specks. Not all of the extra stuff is gore, but most of the kills are extended, with some extra dialogue in the toy store prior to Billy's rampage. Part 2 has some grain, and looks a bit soft, but I think that's the source material, not the transfer. Some scenes also have a light flicker, which is generally a fault with the source material. The flashback footage doesn't stick out too bad, but can be slightly grainier in a few instances, and sometimes clarity gets lost in the blacks.
Audio
Both films are presented in with their original mono soundtracks. In the first movie, the levels fluctuate a bit and the dialogue is slightly muffled in the sound scape in the in the beginning car scenes. Otherwise, the mix is fine, and all dialogue is clear. Part 2 also has a fine mix.
Extra Features
The main extra on the first film is a 35-minute audio interview with director Sellier. It's an interesting conversation, even if he keeps referring to movies as "shows." The other, smaller extras are a poster/still/video cover gallery and Santa's Stocking of Outrage. The latter is a disappointing collection of snippets from angry letters, reviews, and one article snippet about the film. Oddly, the trailer isn't included, as that seems to have been a big part of what started the controversy.

Despite being the lesser film, 2 gets more extras. There's a trailer, storyboard/pre viz/art gallery, and a PDF screenplay so you can see how short the script was. There's also a commentary featuring writer/director Lee Harry; Writer Joseph H. Earle; and James Newman, who played the psychiatrist. They explain a few flashback anomalies, but run out of steam a bit while watching the early scenes made up of the prequel, as they weren't involved with it. Once their footage kicks in, they pick up again, ripping on both the prequel and their film. Some of the jokes are good, some are bad, but it's overall not a bad commentary.

There's also a booklet with notes by Adam Rockoff.
The Verdict
I believe the transfers of the films are identical to the Region 4 release, so the only reason to get this is for the additional extras. Silent Night, Deadly Night isn't worth importing for it's rather meagre extras, so unless you really want the commentary for Part 2, the local release should be fine. In terms of the overall set, my only complaint is the mix-and-match nature of the footage in the first movie, but I much prefer having the uncut version of the film, and Anchor Bay did the best they could with what was available.
Movie Score
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