Silent Night Deadly Night Review
Christmas Eve, 1971. Young Billy is taken on a trip to see his Grandfather who has been incarcerated in a secure unit for persistent over-actors. Granpa, who manages to ham it up even when he's sitting motionless, warns Billy that, when Santa Claus comes, he punishes bad children and that anyone catching sight of Pere Noel should run. No sooner have these words been spoken than Billy's parents are killed by a petty criminal wearing a Santa Claus costume. Billy escapes and, three years later, turns up in the kind of Catholic orphanage which makes you long for the friendly warmth of a Magdalene laundry. His trauma over seeing his parents murdered - and his mother's breasts exposed by a fat bloke in a cheap nylon costume - has affected Billy deeply and matters aren't helped when his various hang-ups about sex and Santa are met with punishment from the Mother Superior and loud Germanic assertions that sex is very, very naughty - and if it isn't, you're not doing it right. Ten years later still, Billy is working in a toy store and seems to have grown into a well adjusted young man. But come Christmas Eve, his obsessions start to come out in a murderous rampage - accompanied by cries of "Punish! Punish!", even when he's just cutting the head off a snowman - which leaves numerous people dead, Siskel and Ebert shocked to their very bones, and the American PTA demanding that the negative of the film be burned.
Silent Night Deadly Night is a late entry into the slasher cycle but displays the crudity and cavalier approach to sexual politics which characterise the lesser products of the genre. The acting is no more than competent and the direction only comes to life when some sex or violence is on display - some of the establishing character scenes are positively somnolent and the decision to include a montage scored to a treacly Christmas song is laughably misjudged. The frequent close-ups of bare breasts are tenuously justified by the plot but still look like a sop to the teenage drive-in market and the lack of attention to detail elsewhere is demonstrated by the flaws in the portrayal of the nuns - the allegedly sympathetic nun not only stands by and observes some outrageous abuse in the orphanage but also doesn't seem to age a day in ten years, and the nasty Mother Superior becomes a very unlikely heroine for reasons which escape me. Come to think of it, why build an orphanage in the middle of nowhere in the first place?
However, this being Christmas and everything - I'm writing this on Christmas Eve 2009 surrounded by a beautiful snowy Yorkshire landscape - I'm inclined to be sentimentally indulgent to this kind of silly nonsense. Silent Night Deadly Night isn't a masterpiece of any kind but nor does it deserve the opprobium heaped upon it when it was first released. It's a reasonably fast paced horror flick which has some excellent set pieces - Linnea Quigley being punished for her recidivist non-acting by antler impalement is the best - and an enjoyable smattering of gory deaths. Sellier also proves quite inventive in keeping the movie going with a series of mistaken identities that should give warning to anyone tempted to go out in a Santa Claus costume that they might find themselves at the wrong end of a police bullet - "My God, it was Father O'Brien; he was our Santa this year!" says Sister Margaret before making the apt observation, "Of course he didn't respond, he was dead." Ahh, the insight provided by religious faith is indeed a miracle.
Arrow's DVD of Silent Night Deadly Night represents the first time that the film has been legally available for home viewing in the UK. It was never caught up in the 'Video Nasty' furore, coming a good year after that wave of hysteria, but the frequent visual combinations of sex and gore would no doubt have led to some serious cuts before a BBFC certificate was granted. Now, unsurprisingly, it's presented uncut and is relatively mild compared to the sort of material which has been passed over the last few years.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 transfer is generally excellent. There's a small amount of print damage in places and an obvious variance in source material resulting from the efforts made back in 2003 to create a restored version of the film. However, it's a deep, crisp and even picture which has strong colours and a good level of detail. Contrast varies with the restored sequences looking noticably darker than the other material. No problems at all with the eminently clear mono soundtrack which is particularly pleasing when it comes to the dynamic music score.
The only extras are an original theatrical trailer - with the TriStar logo which was lost after the film was withdrawn from US release - and a phone interview with director Charles E. Sellier. In the twenty five years since the film was released, Sellier has found God - although one is tempted to ask whether God paid him fifty dollars to go away again. He now regrets making the film and remembers what a difficult shoot it was given the cold and inhospitable conditions. There's also apparently a booklet which comes with the DVD but I didn't get this.
Last updated: 27/05/2018 14:44:48