A while back I watched the fanboy doc Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006). It was pretty poor as a documentary, but it did pique my interest when it showed vintage news reports of concerned Christian parents picketing the film Silent Night, Deadly Night, condemning the film for portraying Santa Claus as a deranged killer who wields an axe and gives a little girl a bloody box cutter as a Christmas gift. I also found a clip of Siskel & Ebert reviewing the film, reading the names of the producers, muttering “shame on them” after each name, and making the ludicrous claim that they money they made from the film was “blood money.” (No, Gene and Roger, I do not think they actually killed anyone to make the film.) I love it when parents trying to protect their children from something only draw more attention to it, and when critics condemn a movie because it is “bad,” without explaining why it is so bad. I just knew I had to see this exercise in holiday exploitation, preferably around Christmas, and put it on my “to watch” list.
No, it does not show Santa as a deranged killer, but rather a small boy who is spooked by his creepy mental patient grandfather on Christmas eve and then later sees his parents killed by a gun-wielding robber using a Santa Suit as a disguise. He grows up in an orphanage and gets a holiday job at a toy story, where he is a last-minute replacement for Santa. Slipping on the red suit he still associates with his parents’ violent death pushes him over the edge, and he goes on a killing spree, strangling a man with a string of Christmas lights, among other crimes. While Silent Night, Deadly Night is no masterpiece, but in the standards of ‘80s horror films, it is average in terms of story and direction. It would sure make very young children afraid of Santa Claus, but no more so than Psycho would make kids afraid of skinny motel keepers.