It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or so we’re told. While it’s got its share of big family fun and lovely gifts, Christmastime is also when families get together to brawl, rehash our fights of old, and let trauma run amok. In other words, it’s kinda a mixed bag–much like Christmas movies are. Some are fun and entertaining as all hell (Jingle All the Way and Just Friends), some are classics (It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street), and some we grew up on on repeat for 24 hours straight (well… duh… A Christmas Story). On the other hand, some straight up suck. And, then there is the whole subset of “holiday horror,” which is actually a personal favorite of mine. From the whimsical Rare Exports to the insane Santa’s Slay to the fun and bloody French Christmas caper Dial Code Santa Claus, holiday horror has become my favorite sub-genre in the entire genre film world over the past few years. There are so many great horror films about and/or set around the holidays that I discover more gems every year.
But the highly revered Silent Night Deadly Night and its sequels are not among those gems. In fact, the third film in the series concludes the original interconnected trilogy and is only marginally more interesting or fun, so we can easily throw that one on the funeral pyre, as well.
The original film is pretty dark, pretty nasty, and yet somehow still as boring as you could imagine. The sequel rehashes the first, then tacks on a second story that has its comical moments but mostly falls flat. The third film at least features Bill Moseley as a crazy mental patient, but even squanders that exceptional premise. Thankfully, the bonkers 4th and 5th installments are a blast, but that’s mostly because they are in no way connected to the original film in any way, shape, or form. Let’s start with the 1984 slasher that undeservedly gets held up as the pinnacle of Christmas horror film…
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
If you’re somehow unfamiliar with Silent Night Deadly Night, it focuses on a young man named Billy who witness the brutal murder of his parents and is subsequently brought up in a Catholic orphanage by abusive nuns. His upbringing leads to deeply seated trauma and upon growing up and moving out, he is faced with the opportunity to play Santa at the store where he works. This causes him to snap and take out vengeance on all of the “naughty” people who cross his path.
Billy certainly gets in a few good kills, but nothing that warrants the bulk of this boring and generic slasher film. At only 79 minutes, it somehow never feels brisk or breezy, instead being a slog to finish. It has some brief moments that are squandered by being in this film, but never fear…its “greatest hits” will be replayed in the 1987 sequel.
Far more interesting than the film itself is the controversy surrounding it. The film’s marketing showed the killer Santa Claus on national television commercial spots and parents went crazy. While this wasn’t the first killer Santa film (we’ll mention that a bit later), it was the first to advertise a killer Santa during family programming. Commercial spots during shows like Little House on the Prairie got local and national organizations around the country angry enough to demand the film not be released.
The film initially remained out in theaters, but the ads were pulled. A few days after the film’s release, however, TriStar pictures succumbed to the pressure and pulled the film. The film was rereleased independently in May of 1985, but with a wholly different ad campaign. This re-release was underwhelming in the box offices, to say the least.
There is some good coverage and interesting discussion of the controversy surrounding the film in several documentaries and shows about horror, but the film itself remains mostly an overhyped dud.
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987)
The original film sets up the sequel with Billy’s death and the indoctrination of his younger brother Ricky into the idea of expelling all of “naughty” people from their existence, yet this film decides the better idea than to just pick up and go is to rehash the entire first film. We’re introduced to the now 18-year old Ricky, but then shown so many flashbacks that the entire first film is literally retold in this sequel. This, of course, goes on for what feels like forever.
After the entire retelling of the first film, we get to learn more about what happened with Ricky during the four years in between the stories of the two films. Admittedly, the Ricky story definitely has some more fun and funny moments than Billy’s boring ass, but it still fails to fully capture in the way so many other better holiday horror films do.
The film is probably most known for the “Garbage Day” scene, and rightfully so. This particular scene is truly a riot. It makes little to no sense and that is largely why it has become a classic in cult film and horror circles. The scene has become a meme in the past few years and I’m all for that. But even in saying that, watching this scene and a few others on YouTube is probably a better choice than actually watching the entire film.
The film ends with Ricky’s death…or does it…
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT (1989)
The third and final film in the Billy/Ricky trilogy is the 1989 sequel subtitled Better Watch Out. In this one, the role of Ricky is assumed by the great Bill Moseley, in a mostly silent role. This Ricky was braindead in a coma until they use some pseudo-medical experimentation to revive him and try to repair his brain. The experiment is centered on using a clairvoyant girl to contact his no longer dormant brain to see what they can accomplish with it. It’s the type of experiment that only really makes sense in a horror film.
We eventually find out that the reason for the experiments is to “cure people of killing,” which – of course – is not going to work and is clearly a bad idea. When Ricky awakes, he escapes and kills, while trying to track the clairvoyant blind girl they’d previously connected to him.
This type of batty premise and involvement of Moseley should spell something that may not be a “good” film, but should at least be fun in an insane type of way. Sadly, the premise is better than the film in virtually every way you could think of. There are a few decent scenes and a couple of good kills, but that’s mostly all that can be praised here. Alas, the trilogy of Ricky and Billy ends without anything worthwhile truly coming of it… except that “Garbage Day” scene in the second film and the weird Krang-like exposed brain helmet thing on Moseley’s head in this one.
WATCH THESE INSTEAD
If you must watch a Silent Night Deadly Night film, it’s totally acceptable to watch one of the weird sequels following this trilogy, as they are the type of weird fun that the third one fails to be. However, they still don’t get my full seal of Holly Jolly Horror approval. Instead, there are two options that have some things in common with this trilogy, but do it better.
The first is a cult classic and John Waters’s favorite film, Christmas Evil. It’s the film I briefly mentioned in the discussion of the controversy on the first Silent Night Deadly Night film. It came first and it did it better. It manages to be just as filthy and nasty, while retaining the fun and even a bit of wacky whimsy at the end.
If you want something more updated, there is the 2012 loose remake of Silent Night Deadly Night entitled Silent Night. It has some of the same story elements, while building a more entertaining plot, connecting loose ends, and featuring great use of a flamethrower.
With that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and recommend you avoid Billy and Ricky. Instead, watch these two gems, drink some spiked cocoa, and try to avoid stabbing anyone with a sharpened candy cane or chopping them with an axe. Ho ho ho, ya filthy animals.