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December 2011
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Silent Night Deadly Night is like therapy for people like me around Christmas time. As shoppers panic over what to buy for people they don’t like, as people write hundreds of Christmas cards to people they don’t really know, and as everyone pretends to be nice to each other under the guise of “Christmas cheer,” I sit back and watch Silent Night Deadly Night, satisfied that watching Santa Claus get gunned down in a playground full of orphans is as Christmassy as I’ll get this year.

When released six weeks before the holidays in 1984, the film caused an enormous stir with the general public and was condemned by families and film critics alike. The film is an all out attack on Christmas, boldly offending every holiday tradition and proudly becoming the most anti-Santa film ever made.

The film follows Billy Chapman, a little boy who visits his grandfather in hospital with his parents and little brother. As his parents leave the room, his grandfather wakes up from his catatonic state and tells little Billy the awful truth about Santa Claus; that he not only rewards well-behaved children with presents, but also punishes the ones not so well behaved. Meanwhile, across town, a man dressed as Santa holds a liquor store at gunpoint and kills the clerk. On the way back from the hospital, the Chapman family spot Santa at the side of the road and before they can help, dad is shot in the face, mum has her throat cut and little Billy runs screaming from the car, witnessing the Christmas-carnage from a hiding spot.

Billy and his brother are sent to live in an orphanage, where Mother Superior’s beliefs in absolute punishment are beaten into Billy time and time again. After ten years of abuse, nightmares and panic attacks, a now 18-year-old Billy is forced to work in a toy store. Christmas time rolls round again and with the store Santa off sick, Billy is forced to don the suit and beard, prompting him to dole out some punishment of his own, dressed as Santa and carrying a sack full weapons for naughty boys and girls.

What makes Silent Night Deadly Night stronger than other entries in the onslaught of 80’s slasher films is that we actually care about our killer. A great deal of time is spent focussing on Billy’s unfair and cruel childhood and just as he is about to adjust to his new normal life, the past rears its ugly head and Billy finally snaps. And boy, does he snap. The film in no way holds back as he slashes, slices and dices his way through his victims in a Santa Claus-psychosis, brutally taking the most holy and happy character of our childhood and turning him into a lean killing machine.

Although the gore is a-plenty, some of the more disturbing qualities Silent Night offers is Billy’s interaction with the children. On his first day as an in-store-Santa, Billy balances a scared seven-year-old girl on his lap. Wriggling and trying to kick her way away from Santa, Billy whispers to her “Do you have any idea what you’re doing? You’re being naughty, right on Santa’s lap. And I don’t bring toys to naughty children…I punish them”. The threat of child abuse works a treat for Billy and is something I’m sure every in-store-Santa has wished they could get away with after hours of bouncing ungrateful kicking screaming children on their knee. After brutally murdering a teenage babysitter and her boyfriend, Billy even goes as far as to give a child his murder weapon as a Christmas present. What child wouldn’t want a retractable knife for Christmas? Now you know what to fill your kids’stockings with, parents.

The film reaches its climax where, back at the orphanage, the kids wait for Santa to visit. As the kids play in the playground, local priest Father O Brien shows up in a Santa suit to give them their presents. As he walks into the playground, a police officer mistakes him for Billy and shoots him repeatedly in front of all the children. Blood and snow mix together with the children’s screams in the most dazzling and Christmassy climax there is. Finally, Billy shows up to collect his little brother and extract bloody revenge on Mother Superior…

Film critic Roger Ebert publically condemned the film (immediately making me add it to my must-watch list), even going as far as to read out the names of the production team on air and say “shame!” after reading each name. Other film critics such as Leonard Maltin also condemned the film, asking, “What’s next? The Easter Bunny as a child molester?” Personally, I think that’s a great idea. He could team up with the tooth fairy and start a heroin ring in inner-city elementary schools.

With all the controversy aside, Silent Night Deadly Night still holds up as not only a solid slasher film, but also the perfect film to sit down to on Christmas Eve. Families, I urge you, forget “White Christmas” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” – Silent Night Deadly Night will teach your kids to be better behaved at the holidays. Let’s remember, Santa spends all year making toys in the freezing cold, only to have to fly around all night and visit ungrateful children who only care about presents. If I were him, I’d have an axe hiding in my sleigh too. Merry Christmas.

Review by James Alexander

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