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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night Charles E. Sellier, Jr. 1984

Santa, Baby - Hurry Down My Chimney Tonite

Write this down, perverts: there is nothing hotter than a hot man in a Santa hat. Even as a child, the image of a shirtless, buff hunk sporting a jaunty red cap with white fur trim made my knees weak. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time as a youth haunting the local Spencer Gifts, feigning interest in NKOTB Viewmaster keychains as I secretly cased the dirty holiday cards. Blond, brunette, whatever – as long as they were beefy and had that damned hat on, they could melt a candy cane from 50 paces.

Now let’s be clear here – this fixation does not extend to just any ol’ Salvation Army bell-ringer or toystore lapdance-fetishist: we’re not looking for Wilford Brimley in a thong and a red cap. The hat itself – the Santa Drag, if you will – is the fetishized object here. Maybe it’s because Santa’s hat is a signifier of someone who is giving, who bestows gifts without asking for anything in return (read: pass-around party bottom). Maybe it has something to do with the implied association with all that cheap sweatshop labor, or the obvious connection to assorted “Christmas balls,” “heavy sacks,” and “packages”. Or maybe it’s the dashing fur trim. Whatever the case, the Santa hat elevates the normal semi-nude man to something tinglingly exciting.

The cinema has offered only a handful of hot men in Santa hats for us to enjoy, the most notable of which being the yummy and nasty Timothy Olyphant’s Todd in Doug Liman’s rave-scene comedy Go. See Timothy sell drugs in a Santa hat and pajama bottoms. See Timothy harass Katie Holmes in a Santa hat and pajama bottoms. See Timothy in a Santa hat and pajama bottoms, and everything else fades into the background… Otherwise, the pickins are pretty slim, and we hardcore Santaphiles are forced to stretch our imaginations to satisfy our holiday habit.

Take, then, the notorious holiday shocker Silent Night, Deadly Night, in which the spectacularly scarred teen Billy becomes a self-appointed yuletide executioner, bestowing murderous punishments on all the “bad” kids one fateful Christmas. Brimming with sacrilege, sex, violence, profanity, and fantastically bad taste, Silent but Deadly still manages to somehow elevate itself above general exploitation fare and slide across the finish line an effective and admirably executed slasher.

We begin our twisted little holiday chestnut one fateful Christmas Eve in Utah, as Billy, his parents, and infant brother go to visit his dotty Grandpa in the mental hospital (already, this combination of details is bizarre, if not utterly inspired: children, Christmas, crazy senior citizens, and Utah. A grocery-list of everything wrong with America.). While mom and dad discuss Jell-O rations and conjugal rights with the doctor, Billy is left with the crazy Papa, who turns out to be not as catatonic as everyone believed when he dumps a load of heavy bullshit on Billy about Santa being a punisher of misbehaving children. Understandably freaked, Billy spazzes out completely when the family comes across a Santa with a flat tire on the dark highway (and he doesn’t even know that the guy just shot a Kwik-E-Mart employee in cold blood!), and his worst fears are realized when Santa Felon shoots his father, exposes his mother’s breasts (for no reason other than to provide the editor a clip to repeat about 300 times before the end of the film), and cuts her throat. Billy hides behind a twig in the ditch as Santa hunts for him with the bloody switchblade, his infant brother cries in the front seat, and pseudo-gospel music swells beneath Santa’s frenzied cries.

Folks, we are not in typical slasher territory here – this shit is FUCKED UP. Not only is the subject matter utterly humorless and incredibly disturbing (a child seeing his parents murdered and his mother essentially raped in front of him by Santa is not exactly Hallmark Hall of Fame material), but the stylistic flight of fancy that closes the scene (the “Cry, cry, baby” music), while a bit pretentious, is nonetheless pretty audacious for a psycho-killer horror movie and managed to drop my jaw an inch or so. But don’t worry – this is only the beginning of this tale…

Years later, we meet up with Billy and his brother at a Utah orphanage, which is a positively depressing combination (as if orphanages weren’t sad enough, this one has to be in Utah…). Billy exhibits a healthy loathing of Santa Claus that seems perfectly understandable to me, but which manages to horrify his classmates (drawings of beheaded reindeer don’t exactly make for cheery classroom decorations) and the nuns who run the sweatshop – er, orphanage, especially the dreaded Mother Superior, a pickled old bitch who is essentially the Church’s answer to Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. Mama ‘Sup, a firm believer in punishment (oh, those silly Catholics!), further fuels the fires of Billy’s insanity by instilling in him the belief that punishment is good (by instilling I of course mean “beating into his ass with a leather strap”). Now harboring both the belief that Santa is the Punisher in plush fabrics and that harsh punishment is good, our miniature sociopath is almost complete: add a violent encounter with the Santa brought to the orphanage on Christmas Day, cover, allow to stew for another 8 years, and voila: you’ve got yourself an 18-year-old ticking time bomb set to detonate on December 24th.

Scratch that - you’ve got a fucking HOT ticking time bomb. When we meet Billy again years later, he is applying for a job at Ira’s Toys, with the help of the well-meaning Sister Margaret. In a loving toe-to-head tilt reveal (mimicking the POV of the oddly impressed Ira), we are shown that the somewhat scrappy looking young boy we knew and pitied has blossomed into an absolute studmuffin. Beautiful, clear-skinned, muscular, and soft-spoken, Billy has transformed from one of the urchins from Overboard into an Abercrombie and Fitch model. Commence drooling, and continue story…

Billy gets hired (presumably because Ira finds him such an impressive specimen) and soon becomes a valued employee of what is easily the ghettoest toy store in the history of cinema. Perhaps a Goodwill store or Off-Track Betting parlor, Ira’s soaped-up Christmas windows are just about the most pathetic excuse for set dressing I’ve ever seen. Sure, an uncritical eye may not even blink at the industrial metal shelving that makes up the entire store (stocked with literally tens and tens of toys), but the depressing lack of merchandise only adds to the grim tone that has been thus established. Honestly – couldn’t they have done just a little more to make this seem like anything other than a one-night shoot at a stolen location? I’ve seen warmer DMVs.

Anyway, the criminally attractive Billy starts a wholesome flirtation with the pretty yet bland Pamela (itself a pretty yet bland name), picks up heavy things, and drinks a lot of milk (for healthy skin, strong bones, and a great smile!). Unfortunately, this pastoral low-rent retail paradise is short-lived, as eventually the holiday season rears its ugly head and Billy is once again plagued by the ghosts of Christmas past. Due to an unfortunate accident, Ira’s (notice how I love mentioning the name of the blatantly Jewish toy store that serves as the setting of this Christmas massacre?) finds itself without a Santa Claus, and for some reason only sweet William can fill his patent leather boots.

Cue the carnage.

Now, sadly we are not treated to Billy oiled-up in a g-string wearing his uniform hat. In fact, once Billy dons his costume he actually becomes less attractive, but this is not so much because of the hat and more because he’s killing people. Billy spends the rest of the film in full Santa Drag, dispatching an assortment of “naughty” townspeople with a number of implements, including box cutters, Christmas lights, arrows, mounted deer heads, and his trusty fire axe. Throughout his jolly reign of terror, Billy (who has completely lost his marbles, by the way – there’s really nothing left but a seriously pissed off and horribly maladjusted killing machine under those jingle bells) grunts “Punish!” as he takes his swings at rapists, drunks, thieves, and fornicators, carrying out the true spirit of Christmas originally intended by the Church: peace on Earth, goodwill to all men (except the bad ones, whom we condemn to hell and crush with large stones).

Billy’s bloodbath eventually winds its way home to the Utah Home for Orphaned Extras, where children eager for their SAG cards play listlessly in the small piles of dirty snow in the front yard. The local cops are alerted, and one particularly ambitious boy in blue smokes a Santa Claus as he ambles his way toward a child with outstretched hands, filling him with lead and dropping his twitching, bloody carcass at the child’s feet. Now THIS is a Christmas movie, people. Luckily, it’s not Billy – it’s just Father O’Malley, who was too deaf to hear the warning shouts and now too dead to care. One less Catholic priest to worry about, kids.

Billy arrives on time for hymns and after dispatching of the cop in a prolonged and pointless stalk scene (this is the only sequence that really feels padded for time), he knocks on the door of the orphanage and is let in by a particularly retarded boy who apparently hasn’t noticed that everyone is bivouacked inside in mortal terror from a man in a Santa suit (yes, were I one of these children, I would have been this dim little gem). Santa raises an axe to dispatch Mama ‘Sup (in a wheelchair, which was apparently a cheaper way for them to establish that she has aged than some makeup), insuring without question that no child on-set will ever enjoy Christmas again, and is gunned down by Sister Margaret and a random detective who popped up somewhere along the way. In the final shot, we see that the mayhem isn’t over: younger brother Richard stands above Billy’s axe, muttering, “Punish!”, announcing a long and unwatchable set of sequels that have increasingly little to do with the original.

Whew! Quite a load of psychological hubbub, eh? Thanks to its aspirations to be a serious approach to how a killer can be shaped from the forces that prey upon him as he develops, as well as some good directorial choices, Silent Night, Deadly Night is far more successful than one might expect. Sure, it looks like crap and has cheap effects and no production values. But I just wonder what these guys could have done with a little more time, a little more money, and actual snow. As it is, the story is quite solid, the emotional arc of Billy’s character quite tragic and well-realized, and the basic concept genuinely shocking. Thanks to its unflinching approach to the material, the movie manages to barely sidestep being a crass gorefest and instead skims by as a competent and unforgettable psychological horror drama. I remember refusing to sled at night after seeing the television commercial as a 9-year-old (I also remember being rooted to the carpet in front of the poster at the theatre when I was taken to see Oh God, You Devil -- itself a horrifying thought), and the whole movie still makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Now. On to the good stuff: as the troubled-teen-turned-killer-Kringle Billy, Robert Brian Wilson is simply one of the hottest men in horror history. Sure, his emotional range may be a bit… limited… but he actually does surprisingly well considering he’s supposed to believably transform from an apple-cheeked farmboy to a blubbering nutcase in about 10 minutes of screen time. And in a deliciously shocking move on the part of the filmmakers, we are also granted a long, lingering shot of what I can only describe as his taint-fuzz. As Billy dreams of carnal affairs with Pamela, we see them languishing in a loose embrace, fully nude, and Billy’s leg is bent to display a slightly furry and certainly tender bit of heaven below his asscrack (unfortunately, no chestnuts are visible roasting on this particular open fire). Attractive? Not necessarily. But certainly thrilling enough to merit about 200 replays. Robert also gives us an impressive shirtless torso shot, which is enough to keep my fire stoked through Memorial Day.

Director Charles E. Sellier, Jr., who also produced the equally ugly (thought significantly less disturbing) The Boogens, has given us a gift that changed the holidays forever. Silent Night, Deadly Night also boasts an impressive assortment of highly disturbing original Christmas songs -- you'll be singing the theme song "Santa's Watching, Santa's Waiting" for weeks after watching. And, of course, we've got a dozen nasty killings, a Final Nun, enough psychosexual intrigue to give Freud a tension headache, and a hot man in a red fuzzy hat. Fuck Miracle on 34th Street, people -- there's a new Santa in town.

Rating (out of 5):