Sunday, December 16, 2012

DVD REVIEW: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PT. 1&2



SILENT NIGHT,  DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987) 
CHRISTMAS SURVIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE 

Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Region: 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated l R
Duration: 85 Mins l 88 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono 
Director: Charles Sellier, Jr. l Lee Harry
Cast: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormich, Toni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson l Eric Freeman, James L. Newman, Elizabeth Cayton, Jean Miller

In 1984 when I was 11 years old I remember Siskel & Ebert shaming the filmmakers behind this sleazy killer Santa nugget on TV and thinking to myself that I just gotta see this piece of Christmas trash, yet somehow 24 years later this film had remained in my yet to be seen file until just now. The fact that the films have gone twice out of print and were fetching major dollars on eBay probably had something to do with not catching up with it so I am quite thankful that Anchor Bay whom have re-issued this double feature to coincide with the remake starring Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) and directed by Steven C. Miller (AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION). 

The year is 1971 and young Billy (Jonathan Best) and his family are driving to see grandpa at an asylum on Christmas Eve. Gramps is in a catatonic state, that is until his family steps out of the room and Billy is left alone with him, then the creepy elder awakens to warn the boy that Christmas Eve is the scariest night of the year, that old Saint Nick not only gives gifts to children who've been good but severely punishes the naughty ones, too. Of course Billy is super-creeped out by the odd event and no one believes that Grandpa talked. Later that night on the way home the family encounter a man in a Santa suit on the side of the road next to his broken down car, what they don't realize is that this Santa just robbed a store and shot the clerk three times. Dad rolls down the window to offer assistance and is  shot dead, mom is dragged from the car and Santa attempts to rape her, ripping open her blouse exposing her breasts - which we will see many times throughout not just this film but it's sequel as well. All the while Billy's infant brother Ricky is left in the car screaming and Billy has run off to the bushes and  witnesses the costumed criminal slashes his mother's throat, scarring young Billy for years to come. .


Now three years later eight year old Billy (Danny Wagner) and his brother are living  at St. Mary's Orphanage where the traumatized Billy draws macabre pictures of a bloody Santa and a decapitated reindeer in class to the ire of the stern Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin, PREDATOR 2) who scolds Billy mercilessly while Sister Maragaret is a more caring and sympathetic force in his life. Mother Superior's brutal lessons in right and wrong inform Billy's twisted perception of how the naughty must be punished and that punishment is good. Billy is further traumatized on Christmas at the orphanage when Mother Superior cruelly forces him to sit on Santa's lap whom Billy immediately punches in the face, the film really does set about to build some character development for young Billy to help explain what transpires a bit later, but it's slow going after the initial Santa attack at the start of the film, particularly when you take into account that the film in only 82 minutes long. 


Flash forward 10 years and the now strapping 18-year-old Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) with the help of Sister Margaret secures a job at a Ira's Toy Storre. Things go relatively well for the young man, we even get an goofy montage set to a corny tune of Billy working around the store. He develops a crush on co-worker Pamela  (Toni Nero) and fantasizes about fucking her and then being knifed, that's a pretty terrible sex dream by the way. Things become unhinged when he's asked to step in for the store Santa on Christmas Eve, yeah that's gonna be trouble, he tells a young girl how Santa punishes the naughty, uh-oh. 


When the store closes that night Billy get snockered at the office party, later he  walks in on a co-worker attempting to rape Pamela which spurs a flashback to the traumatic events of 1974 and he snaps killing the co-worker by strangling him with xmas lights declaring him "Naughty" and also stabbing Pamela with a box cutter. Now it's Christmas Eve and the death of his mother and father, the years of abuse at the hands of Mother Superior and his twisted sense of punishment all come to the forefront and now there's a psycho Santa on the loose and no one is safe. Billy continues his spree of punishing the naughty until he finds his way back to the orphanage to punish Mother Superior. The film's ends with Billy's younger brother Ricky looking upon the dead brother and uttering the "Naughty" thereby setting up the sequel. 


SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a fun, sleazy slasher with some decent kills, perhaps the most elaborate features 80's scream queen Linnea Quigley (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) being impaled through the abdomen on deer antlers which was just a very cool kill. There's also a memorable decapitating of a bully  on a sled, his headless body continuing down the hill on the sled and his severed head rolling down after a few moments later, fun stuff. 


The acting here is pretty terrible through and through and the film's cinematography and editing are workmanlike, it's not exactly the best looking film you will ever see but as early 80's slashers go this is fun stuff, just keep in mind there's some real pacing issues and large swaths of screen time where nothing much of note is happening or is just happening for far too long. Despite the notorious controversy the film is petty tame by even 80's slasher standards of the day but apparently the idea of Santa with an ax killing the naughty was pretty offensive in '84, surely there were more than a few upset kids watching these trailers on TV which I think is just hilarious. The idea of a killer Santa was not exactly new at the time, it was done 12 years prior with the "All Through the House" Segment of the horror Amicus horror anthology film TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) starring Joan Collins. 


Special Features: 
- Audio Interview with Director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. (25:39)
- Poster and Still Gallery

- Santa’s Stocking of Outrage (Screen Text) 

Not surprisingly the sequel picks up some years after the original film as Billy's younger brother Ricky (Eric Freeman) is committed to an asylum while awaiting trial for several murders. Apparently the traumatic experiences at the orphanage and his super-human recollection of his parents death as an infant fucked him up, too. Psychiatrist Dr. Henry Bloom (James L. Newman) is interviewing Ricky and through this device we get numerous flashbacks to nearly every scene from the first film as he explains the traumatic events of '74, the orphanage and Billy's psycho-Santa killing spree. Heads up, seriously more  than half of this film is just a re-edit of the first film and oddly enough I think it works better than the original film by excising the filler stuff that slowed it down. 

After all the flashbacks we get to Ricky's own story and his life after Billy's death, his adoption by a sweet couple. We get a super 8mm montage of Ricky's happy new life and all seems great. However, his traumatic childhood has left him with a few psychological scars and a phobia of nuns. The death of his foster father for some reason spurs his own killing spree punishing those who've been naughty, including a young couple fornicating a wooded clearing which induces a flashback to his mother's assault - which is really odd as he was an infant and there's just no way he could remember it. Regardless, he flips his wig and repeatedly runs over the man with his own Jeep until he is nothing but a grease stain in the grass. Another memorable kill comes when Ricky happens upon a loan shark strong arming someone in the alleyway, he steps in and runs the umbrella right through his abdomen which opens comically, this film is definitely more comical than the first and I am not entirely convinced this is done purposefully either, there's some serious filmic ineptness on display here, but it makes for some entertaining viewing, that's for sure. 


Eric Freeman as Ricky is just awful in the best possible way, a jocular meat-head with a stilted line delivery, intensely arched eyebrows and a hilarious maniacal laugh that had me rolling on the floor, his laughter was just the gift that just kept giving throughout the film. 


Ricky falls in love with a woman named Jennifer (Elizabeth Cayton) whom he takes out the theater and guess what they're watching? SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, of course! Things are going swell but a chance encounter with her ex sends him off the deep end.  We get a scene I saw once but for the life of me could not place and as it turns out it's from this psycho-Santa 80's gem, the scene is question features Ricky electrocuting Jenny's ex via battery jumper cables attached to the ex's sunglasses electrocuting him and causing his eyes to burst, let me just say it's not quite a gooey as my 13 year old self remembered but it's still quite a sight. A cop arrives on scene and attempts to apprehend the lunatic but he turns the gun on the officer shooting him through the head, from here he begins a hilarious suburban rampage shooting a neighbor who's putting his trash can  on the corner while comically yelling "It's Garbage Day!", definitely the best line in the film. He continues his killing spree shooting a car which overturns and explodes in a fireball until he is apprehended by police.


Keep in mind this is all being shown through flashback and we now come back to present day and Dr. Bloom lies dead, strangled by his own reel to reel tape, and Ricky is on the loose and his first order of business is to swipe a Santa suit from a Salvation Army Santa and to visit Mother Superior to punish her for what she did to Billy, not quite the end but check this one out for yourself, it's awful and amazing. 

Special Features:  
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Lee Harry, Writer Joseph H. Earle and Actor James Newman
- Trailer (1:57) 16:9
- Poster and Still Gallery
- Screenplay (DVD-ROM) 

Verdict: So awful, so good, so much fun these two psycho-Santa slashers are a scream to watch and while they're definitely lower tier slasher fare I still say this set is a must-buy, a true cult classic of the highest order, a schlock-mas masterpiece. I am of the opinion that you could watch the sequel and skip the first film, trust me you're not missing anything, but since it's a double feature watch 'em both. Get it now before this set goes out of print for a third time and once again is fetching exorbitant prices on eBay. Next up for review is Steven C. Miller's loose remake of this Christmas classic! 3.5 Outta 5 


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