Young Billy (Danny Wagner) is excited for Christmas. He talks breathlessly about how he's looking forward to Santa coming, while travelling with his parents to visit his scarily mad grandfather in a mental home.
Unfortunately a thug in a Santa costume (Charles Dierkop) is busy holding up a convenience store nearby. When the robber's getaway car breaks down, he flags down Billy's parents who stop to offer him a lift. But it's their car that he's after. This leads to an altercation that ends with Billy's dad being shot dead and his mother raped then knifed by the moody Kris Kringle.
Billy manages to survive this ordeal by hiding behind a roadside bush. But what he witnesses that night scars him for life, and he spends the remainder of his childhood being raised by nuns in an orphanage.
By the time Billy reaches adulthood (by this point portrayed by Robert Brian Wilson), he's been released into the community and all seems well. He even gets a job at a children's store called Ira's Toys. But early signs are not good: Billy becomes agitated around the store Santa, and whenever he's near the attractive Pamela (Toni Nero) his desire is counteracted by nightmarish flashbacks to his mother's rape and the orphanage's twisted Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) - who further assisted in convincing Billy that sex is evil.
By the time Billy is asked to replace the regular store Santa and dons the famous red-and-white costume, you just know that the shit is going to hit the fan. And so, a long night of axe-wielding mayhem and wide-eyed face-pulling lies ahead - beginning with the unceremonious slaying of a colleague who tries to force himself onto a female clerk in the stock room. Far from being the damsel's knight in shining armour, however, Billy then proceeds to kill the bewildered filly too.
As the red mist descends and Billy's killing spree extends beyond the toy store, Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) rushes to the rescue, hoping that she - as the only person ever to show Billy affection since the death of his parents - can stop his murderous rampage ...
Arriving in 1984 at the tail-end of the stalk'n'slash boom and a full decade after SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT and BLACK CHRISTMAS utilised the festive period as a setting for their horrific stories, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT never found an audience worthy of it's cult-pleasing ingredients. Indeed, were it not for the controversy that met the film upon its theatrical release in America (angry parents lobbying against it for it's depiction of a psychotic Santa) it may have disappeared altogether.
But thanks to that mini-furore and a growing DVD-age awareness of this low-fi curio, the film has now reached bona fide cult status - and has even spawned four sequels over the years.
It's easy to see why this film has its fans, myself included. It's a playful, zesty romp that never pauses for breath while offering scene after scene of choice corny dialogue, boobies (loads of boobies) and blood. There's not much in the way of plot following on from the initial exposition, but that's okay: the film turns into an enjoyable train of increasingly OTT set pieces instead.
Speaking of OTT, Wilson's performance is often unintentionally hilarious. His reaction to all things Santa-related is the stuff of unwitting comedy gold, breaking out in over-acted cold sweats and breathing heavily while the viewer guffaws into their beverage. Elsewhere, performances are sincere but undeniably below par, although it's always a pleasure to see Linnea Quigley turn up - this time as horny babysitter Denise who, naturally, is quick to expose her norks.
Gore-wise the film isn't overly grisly despite offering an array of slasher-friendly kills (axe to the head; decapitation; strangled by Christmas lights; slashed throat, etc). This is no doubt partially down to the low budget necessitating that much of the FX work is of the primitive "stage knife loaded with fake blood" variety. But director Charles E Sellier Jr enjoys furnishing us with stylishly lit build-ups and dark, lingering shots of the bloody aftermaths of Billy's handiwork.
Paul Caimi and Michael Hickey's fun, frequently banal and not altogether logical screenplay adds to the entertainment factor, while visually the film benefits from some surprisingly well-conceived colour arrangements and good lighting. Sellier Jr's direction is pedestrian but this lack of flourish works in the film's favour: the no-frills approach allows for SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT to continue as a straightforward, unpretentious and undemanding body-count workout.
Despite it's wintry premise and mean-spirited vibe early on in proceedings, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT emerges as a film that is easy to warm to. It's daft, fast-paced and chock-full of all the classic 80s slasher ingredients (nudity, shagging, cheesy score, big hairdos, twist in the tale ... and the "you have sex, you must die" principal is sledge hammered home particularly bluntly on this occasion). Better still, the film achieves a palpable atmosphere thanks to the unquestionably striking concept of a doolally Santa brandishing an axe.
Arrow/Cult Labs are to be commended for bringing this film on to UK DVD for the first time. Fully uncut and totally restored, no less (81 minutes 21 seconds, PAL).
It looks very healthy, in a clean and bright anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Colours are strong, night scenes are far easier to decipher than ever before and grain is kept to a minimum. The film looks lovely.
English mono audio offers a similarly clean and trouble-free track.
A nice animated main menu leads into a static scene-selection menu proffering access to the film via 12 chapters.
An audio interview with Sellier Jr is conducted over a telephone line and accompanied by muted clips of the film's best bits. This runs for an impressive 35 minutes, making it a very worthwhile and engaging extra feature.
Of particular interest here is the original unrated US trailer, which was not featured on Anchor Bay US's deleted DVD of six years ago, but has been unearthed from film archivist and Nucleus Films head honcho Marc Morris' collection for this release. It's a fantastically violent, fast-paced 80-second affair that successfully makes the film it's advertising look utterly indispensable.
The DVD packaging also includes a booklet and foldout poster, neither of which were available with the review copy.
As an aside, Lionsgate are releasing a set of three of the woefully inferior sequels - parts 3, 4 and 5 of the series - onto US DVD on December 1st. For completists, the diabolical part 2 can be found on an out-of-print Region 1 Anchor Bay double bill with the first film. Amazon Marketplace has a couple of traders offering this, but it's not cheap.
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT makes it's UK DVD debut in exceedingly fine style thanks to the folk at Arrow and Cult Labs. Shrewdly scheduled for release on November 23rd, this is a great trashy - not to mention characteristic - film to settle into on a cold Christmas night.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|