There aren’t enough hours in a lifetime to see every ’80s slasher movie, but trying is a hell of a lot of fun. You got your essentials, such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween 2, Sleepaway Camp, etc… You have the perpetually-worse sequels for most of the aforementioned titles, although I’d argue the Friday the 13th franchise didn’t peak with its first or even second entry.
Then you have your straight-up b-level slashers, many of which went straight to video. The amount of movies in that last sub-category is staggering and a large number of them you can’t even find anymore.
I’m a fan of just about every subgenre of horror, but my honorary favorite is the ‘80s slasher movie. Now, there are some slasher movies from the ’70s I love, and even a couple from the ’90s, but for the most part, I like my slashers confined to the decade where hair was huge, long jeans were indiscriminately cut into shorts, and Def Leppard was non-negotiable. Why? I haven’t the vaguest clue. I was born in 1985, so I remember a collective seven minutes of the ’80s; my mother wasn’t really into horror, so this wasn’t something I was subjected to; and approximately 0.1% of these movies contain a single original idea to boast about.
But despite these facts, watching ’80s slasher movies is one of my favorite past-times.
My favorite motif of the ’80s slasher era was the need to associate movies with a holiday. Halloween gets credit for starting this trend, but it probably started with Black Christmas in 1974. Still, Halloween was a force to be reckoned with in the ’80s slasher department, despite the technicality of having been released in the ’70s. Friday the 13th is considered the prototype for most of the slashers that followed it, but Friday the 13th isn’t exactly a holiday, is it?
It’s a day of the year considered unlucky by… apparently someone, but it’s occurs more than once per year, and rarely in the same month as the Friday the 13th prior. What does this mean? It means Friday the 13th isn’t really holiday horror. What is the theme exactly? Bad luck?
“Vera got shot in the face with a speargun, so therefore it must be Friday the 13th, her unlucky day.”
I don’t follow the logic, and I love Friday the 13th, it just doesn’t feel like a proper holiday-themed slasher movie. Now My Bloody Valentine, Halloween, April Fool’s Day are full-on holiday horror slashers.
Of these ’80s slasher holiday murder-paloozas, the best is Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Silent Night, Deadly Night caught a lot of flack in 1984 for being a horror movie that had the audacity to actually scare people. Parents across the country complained to Tri-Star Pictures about the tv-spots scaring their children to the point of being terrified of Santa Claus. Seems to me like an opportune time to ease them into their inevitable disillusionment with the world, the kickoff of which, is often the discovery that Santa Claus is not real.
“You don’t have to be afraid of killer Santa, Chad, because killer Santa is just a Paul Caimi and Michael Hickey’s take on regular Santa, and regular Santa isn’t real, so killer Santa certainly isn’t.”
It would have been bittersweet in that it’s a disappointment to find out Santa isn’t real, but it would also be a relief in knowing he isn’t going to kill you. Right now might not be the most convenient time for a parent to deal with that kind of disappointment, but that’s life, isn’t it? The real world inevitably seeps through the cracks of even the most sheltered childhood and almost never at an agreed-upon time.
Let’s take Silent Night, Deadly Night out of the equation.
Suppose you’re out eating with your kids and they see a homeless person vomit in the street. You now have to explain alcoholism, addiction, and the prospect of being homeless to your children. Explaining the horrors of the world is just one of those things that comes with being a parent. No parent gets the luxury of scheduling their child’s exposure to inconvenient truths. So while I empathize with the plight of a parent trying to have a good old-fashioned family Christmas with Santa—a Christmas tree, eggnog, and a gigantic ham—I’d invite that parent to ask Clark Griswold about how much control someone really has over that going off without a hitch. Life is chaos, get used to it.
The irony of all this is, most of the people who were appalled by the trailer, never saw the movie, and so they don’t understand that the movie basically agrees with their chief complaint: Seeing a murderous Santa Claus would traumatize the ever-loving shit out of a child. Silent Night, Deadly Night doesn’t glorify killer Santa–although the trailers kind of did–it demonizes him.
Billy Chapman witnesses both his parents being murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus, this fucks him up beyond all repair. Is the violence gratuitous? Yes. Does the movie provide any insightful social commentary or deeper meanings? I can’t think of a single one. That said, it’s not really a movie about a killer Santa Claus, it’s a movie about a child tortured by the images of his parents’ murder at the hands of a psychopath dressed as Santa Claus. And just like in real life, the child equates the image of Santa Claus with the actual Santa Clause because no one is around to tell him “Hey dude, Santa isn’t even real, that was just some psycho. Sorry about the confusion.”
Instead, the Mother Superior at his orphanage sees fit to make Billy embrace the idea of Santa and behave himself or face punishment. Yep. insisting that a child continue believing in a concept that is detrimental to his mental and emotional wellbeing is very never the correct route to take.
To Billy’s sadistic-but-maybe-well-intentioned Mother Superior, and to all parents, I say to you, allow kids to believe in Santa for exactly as long as it takes to become a source of negativity, rather than positivity in their lives, then pull the plug.
And just as every single parent has already assumed, I’ll go ahead and confirm what you already know: No, I don’t have children.
That aside, I have a lot to say on Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Silent Night, Deadly Night and the Extinct Past Time of Perusing The Horror Section In A Video Store
One thing that will never be replaced is the feeling anyone gets while walking through the horror section of a video rental store. Truth be told, that experience died even before the advent of digital downloads and streaming platforms; the ubiquity of DVD killed it.
One of the first things that happened when DVD became the new sheriff in town, is movie studios wanted to remaster everything. Not only that, but they wanted new, fresh artwork for their newly remastered DVD. The horror section of every video store gradually got a facelift. The artwork for horror DVDs was much cleaner and sharper. People wanted an update for a new decade, century, and millenium. Now days you have throwback VHS-style artwork for Blu-Ray releases like Stranger Things, and while the artwork is truly a thing of beauty, it’s inauthentic. VHS-style artwork is retro now and people love it, but nothing quite captures the feeling of being in a VHS horror section of a local video store.
I’m not talking about Blockbuster, by the way. One thing I’ll never understand is the romanticism for Blockbuster by people my age and older. It’s a good thing that Blockbuster is gone. I’m not the biggest defender of unfettered capitalism, but the phasing-out of Blockbuster video stores was a beautiful example of the free market deciding what stay and what pounds sand. Really, every video store had a terrible business model of screwing customers over with late-fees in order to make money, but at least the independently owned ones gave their patrons a decent selection. Blockbuster removed back stock like it was a race to see how fast they could get rid of your favorite movie. Not only that, but they refused to carry certain titles to promote their “family values.” Hey, it was their business to run into the ground and they can run it how they want but in the heyday of video rentals, there were at least six video stores in my small town and Blockbuster was absolutely the worst one.
We used to have a video store called Fox Video. It’s way defunct now, but it had the best horror section I’ve ever seen in my life. The owner didn’t get rid of anything. His shelves were a bleeding clusterfuck, but the movie you wanted was in his inventory and he didn’t mess around when it came to returning tapes. If you hit two or three days past due, he’d call you. If you hit a week or so, he’d send certified mail. If you got over 30 days past due, the guy would straight-up file charges with the local police department.
How do I know this?
In 2009 I rented Phantasm from his store. Somewhere down the line the video was placed on a shelf and I completely forgot I had it. He probably called my house but I never checked my messages or caller ID. He probably even sent me some certified mail, which I doubt I ever opened. I’m not the most attentive person on the planet. But he got my attention one afternoon when I was watching television and I heard an urgent knock on my door. I opened it to be greeted by a smiling police officer who informed me that I was under arrest for “failure to return rental property.” What’s funny is, as soon as he told me the charge I started going back through the last few months trying to determine if I’d somehow rented a car or backhoe and failed to return it, despite having never rented either of those things in my life. As it happens, no, I was not under arrest for failing to return a vehicle, I was under arrest for failing to return a copy of Phantasm on VHS to Fox Video.
The cop was actually very nice and told me he wasn’t taking me in, but rather was just going to book me on the porch. So he took my fingerprints, wrote down a description all of my tattoos, and asked me all kinds of questions right there on the porch, then handed me a criminal summons with a court date.
I immediately went to find the video, returned it, paid a bunch of late-fees, and the store owner dropped all the charges. He just wanted his copy of Phantasm back. That was it. There’s no animosity on my end, I’m the one who screwed up, but wow, what a display of tenacity.
I didn’t stop going to the video store until he finally closed it. The last day Fox Video was open, he was selling a ton of movies off the shelf, except for the horror. None of the horror was for sale, in fact it wasn’t even on display anymore. However, he did have a copy of Silent Night, Deadly Night on DVD that was still sealed with an asking price of $3.99. I bought it, having never seen it before. I still remember what I said when I picked this up.
“Ya know, I’ve never seen this, and I don’t know why. I’m sure it’s amazing.”
That night, a friend and I got drunk and watched Silent Night, Deadly Night in my living room. We laughed a lot and made stupid commentary like we always do. I absolutely loved it. It was everything I was looking for in a slasher movie and then some. I must have watched it 7 or 8 times over the course of the next few weeks, playing it for any friend who visited, forcing them to sit down and watch this amazing piece of ’80s cinema. Then it went in with all my other DVDs never to be watched again.
Revisiting Silent Night, Deadly Night
It’s 2018 and Fox Video is long closed. Now it’s a Christian thrift store that I’ve never bothered to visit. Blockbuster closed its doors a long time ago and my DVD collection I sold long-ago so I could invest in Blu-Ray. Somehow in the last 9 years, despite owning a Silent Night, Deadly Night t-shirt, I’d forgone re-watching it at all. Recently Shudder announced that Silent Night, Deadly Night would be streaming on demand for the month of December and suddenly my love for the movie came flooding back. I decided as soon as it was available, I was rewatching it and writing a review.
Prior to said rewatch, I did a little reading to refresh myself with the movie’s history. It struck me as interesting that the movie caused so much controversy as, to my memory, it wasn’t that depraved. We’re talking about a movie that was outright denied a video release in the United Kingdom until fairly recently. Parents protested outside the theaters, demanding that it be pulled from release. They pretty much won that fight, too.
This didn’t make a lot of sense to me because, to my recollection, Silent Night, Deadly Night was just another cheeseball slasher movie containing no scenes I’d really been bothered by. Granted, I’m a horror nut, but believe it or not, I’m pretty easily rattled. Hereditary messed my head up and I’m still a little afraid of Candyman. I love horror, but I’m somehow not desensitized to it.
Still, I just didn’t understand all the outrage. Gene Siskel endlessly reviled the movie and I think wanted Charles E. Sellier Jr. to be murdered with a hammer before a crowd of very pissed-off livestock. But why? Surely one the greatest movies critics of all time can recognize a goofy slasher flick when he sees one and ignore it if he finds it tasteless. Surely he knew his insincere contempt for the film would only draw people to see it out of morbid curiosity, if for no other reason.
This time when I watched Silent Night, Deadly Night, I wasn’t drunk. I was stone-cold sober. Furthermore, I didn’t make a bunch of commentary. Conversely, my girlfriend and I watched in our bedroom with the light off and remained silent for most of the movie’s runtime.
I have to say, in retrospect, it’s actually pretty messed up. I wasn’t disturbed or upset and I still laughed a lot, but the movie makes some horrifying suggestions.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the movie is seeing Billy Chapman have his childhood ruined in a matter of seconds. Whether intentional or not, Silent Night, Deadly Night represents a befoulment of innocence. It’s something we all experience in one way or another and to varying degrees of intensity. To top it off, Billy ultimately grows up to become the very thing he fears most, a psychotic Santa Claus who murders innocent people. Perhaps that’s why people reacted so harshly to the movie. No one wants to think about that.
I think the best horror movies ask tough questions and remind viewers of inevitable truths they don’t want to face. Once you melt it all down, horror movies are about accepting that we’re not always in control. Sometimes bad things happen and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. In this respect, Silent Night, Deadly Night succeeds as a horror movie.
Was I scared? No. Do I think that in the ’80s, this movie tapped into some repressed fears of a lot of parents? Yes I do. It’s funny to me that so many parents were undone by a silly slasher movie, but no one gets to choose what scares them.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is about a killer dressed as Santa Claus who is set off by the sight of bare tits.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, I highly recommend watching the movie. If it doesn’t, clearly we have a fundamental disagreement about what constitutes “damn fine” entertainment.