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SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT
Uncut and Uncensored

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero
Directors:  Charles E. Seller, Jr.
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 185:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay:
Features:  See Review
Length:  85 Minutes
Release Date:  December 11, 2007

“He certainly knows how to handle children.”

Films *** (on the cult scale)

I’ve thrown the word ‘chutzpah’ around a lot in my time as a review, but I probably never meant it so wholeheartedly as when I use it to describe Silent Night Deadly Night.  Turning Santa Claus into a psycho killer?  It’s still the most sick, twisted, demented idea I think I’ve ever encountered in the history of movies.  I guess that’s why I like it so much.

Horror movies have always been an affront to parents, but there was arguably never one so reviled as this one.  When my parents owned a video store, my mother refused to stock this title just for fear that the picture on the box of Santa going down a chimney wielding an ax would freak children out.  Then the controversy made this a must-see film, and suddenly, we very quietly added it to our shelves.

When I first saw it, I was a little disappointed only because my imagination had led me to believe it was going to be something much worse…namely, I thought it really was going to have THE Santa Claus murdering kids.  It’s not about the real Santa, naturally, nor are there any kids that get hurt…like most slasher movies, the victims are pretty much all promiscuous teens.

We open with little Billy making a Christmas Eve trek with his parents and baby brother to visit Grandpa in a mental hospital.  Grandpa sits still and silent, never responding.  But when left alone with Billy for a moment, he comes to life, and spins a horrifically dark tale of St. Nick.  Yes, old Kris Kringle brings presents to good children on Christmas Eve.  BUT…he also punishes the bad ones.  Then Grandpa goes vegetative again before anyone else can see what happened.  What would make a comatose old man suddenly animated at just that time?  Well, without it, we wouldn’t have a movie.

Now Billy is scared about Santa’s visit.  His fears are compounded when a psycho dressed as the kindly old elf brutally murders his parents in front of him on the way home.

He and his baby brother are sent to a religious orphanage, where the Mother Superior is a cold, callous bringer of discipline and punishment.  “Punishment is good,” she tells Billy, just before whacking him pitilessly.  “Punishment is inevitable.”  Another nun worries about Billy’s constant nightmares and disruptions of behavior patterns every Christmas.  She fears something terrible resides within him, waiting to be triggered.  She’s right, of course.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a movie.

Flash forward to 18 year old Billy (Wilson) leaving the orphanage.  He’s tall, strong, handsome, and sweet, and he gets his first job as a stock boy in a toy shop.  All seems well, until Christmas comes around.  Not only are the nightmares still prevalent, but to make matters worse, his boss persuades him to take over as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve when his regular man gets injured.  Then he goes so far as to invite him to drink that night after the store closes.

Billy’s encounter with a near rape in the backroom finally brings all the psychological pieces together, and Billy, dressed as Santa and believing Santa’s job is to punish the naughty, begins a hideous bloodbath of carnage and mayhem.  If he didn’t, we wouldn’t have a movie.

There’s plenty of gratuitous nudity and violence to go around here.  Anchor Bay managed to reassemble a pretty complete and uncut version of this film from a couple of different sources, so you can experience every grisly detail.  By and large, this is a standard sort of slasher picture made more weird and disturbing by the fact that you have a Santa Claus figure doing the killings.

It’s also a bit unusual in that it inspires you to feel a little pathos for the villain, if you want to call him that, by showing so much of the horrors of his childhood.  When he finally snaps and goes a-hunting, we’re horrified, but still strangely sympathetic.  Robert Brian Wilson gives a decent performance, considering the basically thankless role he has to fulfill.  Without it, we wouldn’t have a movie.

The murders are good and gruesome, including an impaling, a bow and arrow trick, using the business end (the claw) of a hammer, and so on.  Perhaps even more disturbing is that a Santa figure gets gunned down not once, but twice, in front of a group of children.  Yikes.

The response to the movie when it first appeared was swift, vigorous and merciless.  It was frequently pulled from exhibitions, banned from city to city, and quickly built up a hate campaign like few had ever seen before.  It’s no wonder the movie has earned such a cult devotion over the years.  If I were a parent, I wouldn’t want my kid anywhere near this picture.  But I’m not, so I cling to it as one of my closet horror fan guilty pleasures.

I even love how the filmmakers were so blatant in the way they left the door open for a second movie with their final shot.  Without it, we wouldn’t have a sequel...but that's a story for another time.

Video ***1/2

This is an impressive anamorphic transfer from Anchor Bay.  Silent Night Deadly Night begins with a warning that the studio had to use composite elements from different prints to create an uncut version, and that some of the difference in footage may be apparent.  Frankly, it’s not that bad.  In fact, for the most part, the film looks really good, with clean images, good coloring, and none of the problems usually associated with 80s movies on disc.  Even the darker scenes are clear and free from undue grain or murkiness.  You can see a marginal difference in the edited-in clips; they weren’t quite as well cared for.  But they bring on the added gore, so I’m glad to have it.

Audio **

As typical of mono soundtracks, this offering is suitable, inspiring neither complaint nor compliment.  Spoken words are clean and clear, dynamic range is minimal, effects and music play equitably.

Features **

I wish there could have been a little more, but the film contains an audio phone interview with director Charles E. Seller, Jr., a poster and photo gallery, and “Santa’s Stocking of Outrage”, where you can read comments about the movie from angry parents and others (even film legend Mickey Rooney...ironic, considering he appeared in Silent Night Deadly Night Part V!), plus the critical “raves”.  You gotta love a movie that revels in its bad publicity.  One letter mentioned a TV commercial that terrorized the writer’s child…why couldn’t that spot have been included?

Summary:

He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so PLEASE be good for goodness’ sake.  Anchor Bay once again caters to the horror aficionado with the release of a controversial cult classic in Silent Night Deadly Night.  Reviled, banned and boycotted, it’s just about everything a horror fan could ask for.

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