Good old Santa Claus, culturally appropriated by capitalism, earned his trademark redness thanks to the USA’s metaphorical territorial expansion of marketing power. In Silent Night, Deadly Night however, “red” has a new meaning: Christmas bloodshed.
The slasher movie genre has always been fond of commemorative dates: Friday the 13th, Halloween, New Year’s Evil, My Bloody Valentine… But perhaps none of them fit the bill quite as well as Silent Night, Deadly Night, abiding by the 1980s horror rulebook: sex and murder in healthy doses. Albeit less-known than Jason’s, Freddy’s and Michael Myers’ sagas, the movie’s visual composition and entertaining direction and screenplay is not, by any means, inferior to its genre brethren, even outranking them in certain aspects.
The storyline follows a number of traumatic events suffered by little Billy Chapman. It all began in 1971, with the Chapman family going off to visit a catatonic Grandpa who’s been institutionalised for quite some time. Billy is left alone with Grandpa, who decides to go full-on Crazy Ralph (Friday the 13th) for a few moments, telling him that something terrible is going to happen, and that he should be wary of Santa; here’s trauma no. 1. Somewhere else, a thief dressed as Santa robs a shop and kills the shopkeeper. A little later, the same man asks the Chapman family for help off the road, and here comes trauma no. 2: Billy watches his parents’ murder at the hands of the figure he idealised so much. Off he goes to an orphanage, where he lives under the care of a sinister Mother Superior created only to be hated, who condemns sex and preaches chastity (trauma no. 3).
Years go by, and a grown-up Billy working at a toy shop seems to have overcome his childhood traumas. All is well, until Christmas arrives and Billy has to dress up as Santa at work. Combine traumas no. 1 + 2 + 3, and the result of this bloodthirsty equation isn’t hard to guess. Billy fills the streets with blood and terror… Promiscuous girls? Big bad bullies? People who have generally misbehaved throughout the year? Those whose dubious actions go against Christian morals? There’s no escape: they all become prey at Billy’s hands, a creative murderer, who is able to use bows, arrows, axes, knives, hammers, and a whole assortment of other naughty tools (no, not Se7en’s kind of naughty).
Silent Night, Deadly Night doesn’t have a particularly surprising plotline: a traumatised individual goes in search of revenge, whether voluntarily or not, as a means of purging what others have done to him/her in the past. This has been seen before a million times. What makes this film different is its courage to appropriate Santa, in a bloody ritual of de-sacralisation, which ultimately cost the production a lot. Jason murders on Friday the 13th; Michael Myers attacks on Halloween. These are dates that deal with the dark side of our imagination, thus differing from Christmas, a classic time of the year during which we spread our best love and kindness, despite our continuous prayer of “give us this day our daily hypocrisy”.