Silent Night Deadly Night is a mean-spirited film that revels in its own bitter nastiness. For someone who has had to endure 53 Christmases, It’s a welcome catharsis. The very first amendment to the constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion“ and yet Christmas is a national Holiday. I grew up Jewish but eventually came to reject all religion. As a Jew or an atheist or anything other than Christian, Christmas time is a time when Christianity's dominance is relentlessly thrown in your face until you want to hide under a rock. If there actually was a war on Christmas as the republican’s so dearly believe I would be in support of it.
I don’t generally submit people to my Scroogian humbug but it is exactly this feeling that underpins Silent Night Deadly Night. It’s not a subtle or fair film. It is not nuanced. It hates nuns, and Santa Claus, and God and vomits its anger up in splashes of blood and gritted teeth.
People did not react well to the film upon its release. Parents protested that the film would ruin the magic of Santa. The film was pulled from the theaters after only a week. Pearl clutching aside Silent Night Deadly Night managed to turn a tidy profit, grossing 2.5 million dollars after costing only 750,000. Gene Siskel said the profits were “blood money.” Both Siskel and Ebert published the names of the cast and crew and told them they should be ashamed.
I will say that the way women were depicted in the film is pretty shameful, but no one was worried about that, it was the besmirching of Santa’s good name that mattered. Cutting up bare-breasted women with a utility knife is apparently fine.
The film fits easily into the 1980s style. Like Friday the13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street, the film centers around an outcast who is reaping their revenge upon bourgeois society. There are no supernatural forces at work in Silent Night Deadly Night just a cute but severely traumatized and abused boy pushed into a psychotic killing spree.
Silent Night Deadly Night lays bare the power dynamic behind not only Santa but god as well. Santa, Jesus, and God are all part of a surveillance state that sees all, knows all, and measures everything in absolute black and white terms. You are either naughty or nice, a sinner, or saved, good or evil. There are no half measures. One peek at your neighbor in tight jeans and it’s off to the lake of fire for an eternity of torture. This is all meted out by a judge who can not only see every move you make but read your mind. It’s worse than Foucault’s panopticon. In The Sermon on The Mount Jesus explains that thinking about adultery is the same as committing adultery. That’s pretty rough.
To drive all this paranoia home they now make “the elf on the shelf.” As if an invisible disciplinarian isn’t terrifying enough your parents can buy a large-eyed doll that sits on your shelf as a constant reminder of the imminent judgment hanging over your little head like the sword of Damocles.
In the Silent Night Deadly Night, little Billy is driven mad by a mixture of this oppressive surveillance and the shocking rape and murder at the hands of a psychopath dressed in a Santa suit. Billy might have healed from this event but he was sent to an orphanage run by nuns. The nuns are bitter, and cruel and only compound the damage caused by the crime.
There was a catholic school next to my school when I wa
s growing up. I remember every morning before school the kids would play outside and then the bell would ring and the nuns would come pouring out of the building like a murder of crows and snatch up the children, pulling their ears and swatting their behinds. I would often lean out the window and yell “Turn the other cheek!”
The first half of the film is a clumsy psychological origin story explaining why little Billy has become a crazed murder. There is a montage that sets up connections between Christian sexual shame, violence, secrets and sin. We watch Billy peep through a keyhole while two teens secretly have sex in a room upstairs. Images of the amorous couple mingle with flashbacks of Billy witnessing his mother getting raped by Santa Claus. Also inserted into the montage is footage of The Mother Superior walking down the hall on her way to catch the couple red-handed. When she bursts in she beats them both with a leather belt and then starts in on Billy. We get a fetid melange of pleasure, guilt, indulgence, violence, authority, attraction, and repulsion all in nasty little series of prurient images.
After explaining Billy’s psychosis we get to follow him on his killing spree. We have a variety of colorful killings using a variety of objects but the most interesting one is his impaling a naked woman on the horns of a mounted stag head in a suburban rec. room. He presses her body against the horns and we get to see them stretch and then penetrate her stomach leaving her bloody visage hanging in the air like the crucifixion.
Just moments ago she had been having sex with her boyfriend and so crucifixion is a punishment for her sins, but also for being female. It is a misogynist sacrifice to a misogynist god. All the while Billy yells a single word refrain, “Punish!
As the police become aware of a killer Claus on the loose they start shooting and arresting Santas all over town. The trauma that Billy associates with Christmas has become a contagion, terrorizing kids everywhere. The police even shoot poor Father O’Brian in the playground of the orphanage. He was dressed as Santa and the children were excitedly receiving him when he was gunned down in the snow.
Christmas time is often a time of trauma and pain. Everyone knows that suicides increase during the holidays. Christmas is a time where families are obligated to enact an intricate and complicated ritual. Each year there is a list of elements that must be arranged in the exact same way. You have to have Mom’s cranberry sauce, and there has to be grandpa’s ornament on the tree, and you have to sing carols. Each year the family must endeavor to summon a nostalgic reverie of the perfect Christmas free of any strife or faux pas. The weight of this obligation is stressful for many people and so Christmas is often a time of heightened anxiety and depression.
Silent Night Deadly Night is an awful film. Its production value and performance are fine but its intentions are cruel. It’s an angry film for people who are tired of Christmas cheer. Christmas movies often decry consumerism and plead for more lofty ideals. Silent Night Deadly Night just barges in, guzzles down your egg nog, slaps aunt Pat on the ass, and pisses on your Christmas tree, but it just wouldn’t be Christmas without so you might as well invite every year. I’m sure it’s available for purchase on Amazon. It’ll make a perfect stocking stuffer.
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