Horror for the Holidays
Dusk to dawn with 'Silent Night, Deadly Night'
"What next – the Easter Bunny as a child molester?"
– Leonard Maltin on Silent Night, Deadly Night
While I've always been partial to Bob Clark's seminal Christmastime murderthon Black Christmas – released in 1974, it went nuts years before Margot Kidder and laid the bloody groundwork for John Carpenter's Halloween four years later – I can still recall the yowling protestations that accompanied the release of Silent Night, Deadly Night a full decade later. Catholic groups, parent-teacher associations, Leonard Maltin, and even sporadic horror film devotees Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert went to town on Charles E. Sellier Jr.'s bloodthirsty yuletide freak-out.
In Amarillo, where I lived at the time, picketers thronged the Mann Theatre where the film was showing, and the local, vocal, moral majority (these were the Reagan years, after all) clamored for the film to be pulled from the theatre. No such luck, though: Silent Night, Deadly Night went on to spawn four sequels, all of which will be screened at the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In Theatre this Christmas Eve.
"There's never been a shortage of truly bizarre holiday movies," notes Vulcan Video's Austin Miller, who, along with Blue Starlite owner Josh Frank, will be introducing the frosty, dusk-'til-dawn bloodshed. "[There's everything] from stuff like Black Christmas to the Star Wars Holiday Special and supposedly innocuous stuff like The Magic Christmas Tree."
Well, yeah, there's bizarre, and then there's the ultra-effective, low-budget shocks of Sellier's original, which takes its backstory cues straight from Halloween (innocence corrupted by random familial violence) and then ups the ante by not only kitting out two homicidal killers in St. Nick's crimson garb but by also adding rape and a distinctly anti-Catholic tone to the hellzapoppin' holiday mix. In a borderline nunsploitation role, Lilyan Chauvin's icy Mother Superior ends up being one of the most transgressive characters in the annals of slasher films, and Robert Brian Wilson's deranged, axe-wielding Billy is a walking nature vs. nurture argument from hell. And you thought eggnog was disturbing.
"Silent Night, Deadly Night has always struck me as a pretty dynamic series in the realm of bizarre Christmas films," Miller adds. "The extent to which the first one incurred the wrath of Leonard Maltin has always amused me. It came on the heels of some pretty subversive horror films like Alice Sweet Alice and George Romero's Martin that dealt with Catholicism in a pretty interesting way. I could talk about how [Silent Night, Deadly Night] is a really subversive film, but at the end of the day, it's also just really entertaining and truly weird."
Indeed. But not quite as weird as Monte Hellman's – yes, that Monte Hellman – Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out, which stars future devil's reject Bill Moseley and Robert Culp on opposing sides of total insanity and culminates in one of the series' creepiest (or most laughable, depending on your frame of mind) shock endings.
Miller: "Yeah, and as if that isn't weird enough, [Better Watch Out] features performances from future David Lynch favorites Eric Da Re and Laura Harring. It's arguably not one of [Hellman's] greatest films, but as far as direct-to-video horror sequels go, it's very good."
Viewed back-to-back, this quintet of season's grievings packs an anti-Festivus wallop that has to be experienced to be believed. And speaking of genuinely freakish cameos, Mickey Rooney turns up in 1991's Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker. That's worth the abandonment of friends and family on Christmas Eve alone.
The Silent Night, Deadly Night marathon takes place at the Blue Starlite Drive-In on Dec. 24, starting at 6pm. Reservations required for cars; a $15 pedestrian package is available at the door and includes unlimited popcorn and candy canes, a box of vintage candy, and a soda. See www.starlite.artfilmfood.com for more info.