SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT **** USA 1984 Dir: Charles E. Sellier Jr. 86 mins
“So it’s not all phoney sentiment, is it? A lot of it is genuine greed…” Although various other movies had already featured a homicidal Santa (Amicus’ 1972 flick TALES FROM THE CRYPT uses the idea to creepier effect, to be honest), the publicity for this low-budget, late-period slasher movie ensured parental outrage and, er, free extra publicity. In truth, although it has a high sleaze content (the female victims usually have their breasts exposed before being offed), it’s arguably no more mean-spirited than the same year’s mainstream GREMLINS. Unusually for a slasher pic, it spends around a third of its running time telling the killer’s backstory: young Billy suffers a life-long trauma when, as a kid, he witnesses his Mom raped and killed by a robber in a Santa outfit. To reinforce his future psychopathic status, he’s also regularly spanked by the Fascist Mother Superior at the orphanage where he spends the rest of his childhood, emerging as a disturbed hunk whose job as a toy store Santa seems under threat by his tendency to butcher fornicating teenagers, intoning “Punish!!” Punctuated by festive-themed kills (everybody remembers Linnea Quigley impaled topless on antlers), this has a marvellously misanthropic attitude toward Yuletide (“Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!”) and a memorably cynical climax in which a group of horrified, orphaned kids witness two successive “Santas” blown away by cops, one of whom is a kindly, deaf priest!
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 *** USA 1987 Dir: Lee Harry 88 mins
An infamously cheap, cheeky sequel, this was the result of director Lee Harry’s assignment to effectively re-edit considerable footage from the 1984 original into a brand new, sparsely budgeted feature. The first half is almost entirely footage from the earlier film as Billy’s disturbed incarcerated brother (Eric Freeman) reflects on his own damaging upbringing and murder rampage before killing his shrink and donning a Santa suit. Once Freeman’s story proper begins, the movie becomes an engagingly warped black comedy, with deliberately absurd killings involving car batteries, aerials and a terrific gore-parody of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (“I think you’ll enjoy this”, Freeman’s self-conscious voiceover notes). For all its flaws, PART 2 is a deliciously undisciplined early example of a self-aware slasher flick, with the new killer commenting on scenes from the earlier film and constant winks to the audience. Freeman, whose sneering, OTT performance is either brilliant or awful depending on your mood, says things like “Oh good, I love a chase!” during otherwise straight suspense scenes. The movie breaks the fourth wall entirely for a cinema sequence that sends up SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT’s notorious ad campaign before Freeman comically kills an annoying back row heckler while SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT itself plays on the big screen! In this sequence and in other ways, this seemingly disposable movie surprisingly foreshadows post-modern horrors to come including ANGUISH and SCREAM.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III: YOU BETTER WATCH OUT * USA 1989 Dir: Monte Hellman 90 mins
Well regarded counter-culture filmmaker Monte Hellmann (TWO LANE BLACKTOP) somehow ended up directing this final straight slasher entry in the series before the franchise transformed into unrelated straight to video titles cashing in on the SILENT NIGHT brand name. Beautiful blind Samantha Scully has a telepathic connection to comatose mass killer Ricky (Bill Moseley) whose head is encased in a fruit bowl-like device after brain reconstruction surgery. Ricky wakes up from his six year sleep and casually wanders around town in his hospital gown and brain-bowl, again triggered by the colour red. The movie is more concerned with post-ELM STREET surrealism and dream scenarios than it is with the slashing of the earlier films, with off-camera kills and leaden pacing. It also appears to be unfolding in an alternate universe where Christmas means everyone shows hospitality to the meandering maniac, including Scully’s ill-fated Granny. The psychic link between heroine and killer (equally bungled in the same year’s HALLOWEEN 5) smacks of desperation, as does the bizarre buddy partnership between Scully’s pervy doctor and a clichéd detective played by Robert Culp. Highlights include nudity from a young Laura Harring (later of MULHOLLAND DRIVE) and the ultimate 80’s kiss-off line: “Is it live or is it Memorex?”
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: THE INITIATION ** USA 1990 Dir: Brian Yuzna 87 mins
Investigating the mysterious apparent suicide of a young woman, Neith Hunter locates a peculiar bookstore owner (Maud Adams) with ties to a sinister bug-fancying cult. Shedding the slasher format of the first three movies, Brian Yuzna’s fourth entry only has a token, barely noticeable Christmas backdrop to connect itself to its predecessors. (If you’ve ever really wanted to see PHANTASM’s Reggie Bannister in a Santa hat, this is your chance). Sadly, despite Yuzna’s far better directorial work elsewhere, the movie is mostly dreary, enlivened only by the filmmaker’s fondness for perverse body horror (showcased in the previous year’s SOCIETY to unforgettable effect) and the fine, icky FX work by that film’s Screaming Mad George. Some good ideas are largely wasted, though the heroine does give birth to a mutant slug at one point…so it’s not a complete loss. Featuring footage from SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III watched on a TV by cameoing Clint Howard.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER *** USA 1991 Dir: Martin Kitrosser 90 mins
Reviews by Steven West