Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Santa Claus is coming
to town
Ho,  ho, holy fuck!...... It’s taken me some time to get to this rather infamous little killer Santa title but it dropped through my post box this morning just in time for me to give it a viewing and to offer up this written review. Sorry it’s not a video review but I’m away from my computer for the next week and my humble laptop is unlikely to be able to handle video editing. But anyway.
Killer Santa movies aren’t exactly a rarity, I reviewed the very enjoyable Christmas Evil last year and this year it’s time for what is probably one of the most notorious of the slightly bizarre sub-genre.
Your insults only make me stronger!
Silent Night, Deadly Night as many will know caused a huge shit storm to be whipped up by the morally indignant in the US causing the film to be withdrawn for some time by it’s distributors and initiating a mental meltdown of several notable critics and Mickey Rooney. Yup, enough said there, I shan’t elaborate any further on the controversy here other than to note that on its return the following year the film proudly bragged about its war wounds from the battle, as well it should. I love it when the negative hype has the reverse effect on censorship. The protests and hysteria are well documented and it’s outright hilarious to hear Siskel and Ebert sticking the boot in with their usual slasher hating rhetoric. They may have been critical icons but they were just as susceptible to loosing their critical faculties as the Daily Mails film critics are when faced with something a little tasteless.
And this isn't the Mail for a change

Since tasteless is what I specialise in lets have a look at this naughty little number.....

The first thing that seems to strike home about Silent Night, Deadly Night is it does take a very much more straight faced approach than a film like this would be expected to. Don’t get me wrong it does have moments of humour, some of it very dark, other times, like the Christmas Party being opened to a cry of ‘Lets get shitfaced!’ are very lighthearted but there are occasions to indulge in a guilty snicker or two along the way however the overall tone of the film leans towards the meaner side of attitudes as is demonstrated in scenes like when Billy’s parents are murdered by an astoundingly overzealous killer Santa. This scene is pretty uncomfortable to sit through despite its slightly ludicrous circumstance. The sexual side to the violence, something that will be a fairly strong theme throughout the film, does feel somewhere between rather sleazy and Gratuitous though in some respects it does belong considering how much of a component of the killer this stuff is.
Dream on Santa boy!
And this is the thing. Silent Night, Deadly Night is not a film that should be written off as being simply another bog standard slasher and this is because it really takes time out to set up the killer. We follow the formative events such as his Granddads creepy mind games with him and the subsequent (and a little too convenient) attack by the Santa-suit clad arsehole. Then there’s Christmas in the orphanage run by the nasty disciplinarian nun who reinforces his fear of and reaction to Santa and sexual behaviour and years later his breakdown at the Christmas party after having to not only witness his crush get hit on by his piece of crap co-worker but also having had to spend his entire day traumatised by being made to dress up as his worst nightmare. While it’s all a bit episodic, propelled by extremes of convenience and a bit of a clusterfuck of circumstance, stupidity(by the characters) and paranoia (from Billy) it is quite extraordinary the length this film goes to to build a sequence of events that makes him what he is. This does build an empathy with the killer though that is very quickly dampened when he loses his shit at the office party killing the deserving and commendable along side each other. 

Witness the worst Robin Hood costume ever!
This is also the point that the film goes into overdrive though this is a hefty chunk of the run-time in at near 40 minutes of a film that is only just over twice that and it’s not like its been an uneventful ride up until now. His first kill seems justifiable, after all the guy  was attempting rape and the memory was brought back to the fore, but when he turns on his crush and then his boss who have looked out for him up until this point then we can’t really be on board and he’s now become an irredeemable evil guy.  His choice of victims from this point is a random selection. Billy kills starts off with an unforgiveable crime...... He offs Linnea Quigley. This does not ingratiate me towards him. Back in the film world Billy is killing very much at random for perceived naughty behaviour and given Linnea Quigley is around then it’s not a stretch for any imagination to realise that it’s sex and nudity that flips his Santa lid this time and before we know it  Ms Quigley gets nailed... to the wall....with the horn, that’s animal horns... damn it it’s Linnea Quigley, innuendo is unavoidable, I’m sorry.
Joking aside, this is really another time when we can’t like Billy, and this is something that the film plays with quite often, juggling our sympathy with Billy with the desire to see him stopped. One minute he’s slashing up perfectly innocent folks then he’s decapitating bullies, then he’s turning up at the orphanage, he is a killer with a very unreliable compass and after dispatching the young couple he has one of those desperately uncomfortable film moments where he is in the position of menacing a young child, something that he first does when working as the store Santa.  What is more interesting though is how the other characters react to the fact that there is a killer Santa running around and paranoia kicks in when it comes to dealing with what should be a familiar and friendly character. Of course there is the inevitable near misses and friendly fire which is bizarre when you think of Santa being gunned down by the police. It’s funny in a rather dark way, the paranoia and fear that Billy has it passed on to everyone else including the policemen, to the point that they are prepared to shoot any Santa they find....
Open season on Santa!
 ...... I take it back, it’s not necessarily so funny, it’s actually unintentionally satirical on today’s  police profiling. By the end of the film there is mostly satisfaction though one character that probably should have been topped off survives, much to my annoyance.Some have seen more satire in the film than I have. For me Silent Night, Deadly Night is a pretty straight forward film in terms of what its doing but it does do it really very well. It is of course some way short of greatness but it does have conviction and is genuinely uncomfortable in all the right places, occasionally it’s even rather disturbing. For a movie that has a premise that so easily can become silly Silent Night, Deadly Night is very determined to ditch the comedy and get serious when it feels it necessary and that’s where it manages to succeed where others have failed. It spends time developing the important character to a point where he is more than simply a monster like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees is for instance but what it truly excels at is presenting the Santa myth  from a very dark point of view, after all there are many reasons why Santa can be seen to be incredibly creepy and this film keys into those ideas, such as him punishing the naughty and having his house breaking activities have a more sinister spin. With the central performance by Robert Brian Wilson there is a sense of his escalating breakdown and his threatening the squirming, crying girl at the store does feel desperately uncomfortable, as does his later crazed rampage on occasions. The occasional humourous moments such as the bullies demise do keep things from getting too heavy which makes this one of those few occasions where comic relief is pitched at just the right level, thank god.
Not all the performances are particularly strong but overall this film doesn’t exactly suffer too badly at any point from the performances which at worst get a bit shaky but not offensively bad.  It’s thoughtfully directed, playful as well as being in your face and bothers to give us insight into the murderous maniac for once. I’ve never seen the sequels and frankly given what I have read and seen of them they rather seem to divert from how this one is in many ways particularly in their tone so maybe that’s for the best. The original is a worthwhile film and deservedly has a loyal core of fans, and it’s an interesting and worthy alternative to the usual Christmas movie choice for slasher fans.
The making of a future Tory MP

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