The Silent Night time, Lethal Night time franchise is one in every of horror’s strangest and boldest. It’s wildly uneven in tone and high quality, whiplashing between lethal critical and excessive camp, dizzying heights and the bottom depths typically throughout the identical film. However from its infamous authentic to its bonkers direct-to-video finale, the collection is unquestionably one of the crucial distinctive in all of horror.
Although it begins with the comparatively easy premise of a traumatized individual snapping and occurring a killing spree whereas dressed as Santa Claus, the collection rapidly flies off these rails into among the most weird, imaginative, and entertaining territory of any vacation horror movie ever created.
The unique movie was the most recent in a protracted line of holiday-themed slashers initiated by Black Christmas and Halloween and adopted up by the likes of Friday the thirteenth, My Bloody Valentine, New Yr’s Evil, Mom’s Day, and extra. Not like many of those movies, nevertheless, Silent Night time, Lethal Night time follows the killer relatively than specializing in the victims. It defines Billy’s psychology by giving him a substantial amount of backstory, beginning with one of the crucial disturbing kindertrauma scenes in horror: the go to with grandpa, memorably performed by Will Hare. “Christmas Eve is the scariest rattling night time of the 12 months,” he warns younger Billy then provides, “if you happen to see Santa Claus tonight, you higher run, boy. You higher run to your life,” earlier than returning to his catatonic state.
This childhood trauma is compounded to an insufferable diploma when he witnesses his dad and mom brutally murdered by a prison dressed as Santa. He and his little brother Ricky then face additional torment when relegated to Saint Mary’s Dwelling for Orphaned Youngsters the place Billy is routinely punished by the Mom Superior (Lilyan Chauvin). The edicts “punishment is absolute. Punishment is important. Punishment is sweet” are drilled into his thoughts over the course of years beneath her iron hand.
When he turns eighteen, Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) is given a job at a toy retailer. When pressured by his boss to play Santa, nevertheless, all that childhood trauma and angst that has been repressed since early childhood explodes and he goes on one of the crucial vicious killing sprees of any slasher. A few of the extra memorable kills embrace strangling a co-worker with Christmas lights, placing a claw hammer via his boss’s head, and decapitating a bully on a sled with an axe. The very best-known kill is likely one of the most iconic in all of horror with a barely dressed Linnea Quigley impaled on a rack of antlers. The movie additionally options not one, however two males in Santa fits shot in entrance of kids and one other punched within the face. It’s wild, gory, vicious, and about as far over-the-top as 80s slashers get. It is usually a substantial amount of enjoyable, full of unforgettable sequences, quotable traces, and pitch-black humor, all of which contributed to its notorious repute.
Much more infamous than the movie itself is the controversy that erupted surrounding it in November of 1984. Dad and mom teams, non secular organizations, celebrities like Mickey Rooney, and critics like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert got here out in full pressure in opposition to the movie claiming it was damaging to kids. Siskel known as it (together with I Spit on Your Grave—1978) “one of many two most detestable movies I’ve seen” and the earnings “blood cash.” There isn’t a doubt that Silent Night time, Lethal Night time is likely one of the extra mean-spirited slashers of the ’80s, however it was the advertising and marketing of the movie that led most on to the controversy. TV spots, that includes photographs of the Santa with a gun and Billy in full gear wielding an axe, had been run throughout soccer video games and prime-time household viewing hours. Tri-Star ultimately caved to strain and pulled the movie from theaters after two weeks, however by that point the movie had already turned a revenue, due in no small half to the controversy. When it was launched on house video, it discovered its widest viewers and started its ascent as a cult basic.
Silent Night time, Lethal Night time got here proper on the finish of the primary wave of slashers and the protests surrounding it had apparently put the nail within the coffin of the subgenre. Happily for horror followers, an imaginative and complicated movie launched on the identical day as SNDN would breathe new life into horror: Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Road. If not for Nightmare and its first two very profitable sequels, there might by no means have been a return to this franchise or a number of others that obtained their first sequels within the late ’80s. Silent Night time, Lethal Night time Half 2 is a really unusual entry within the collection and comprises a few of its greatest and worst moments. It’s infamous for being made up largely of footage from the primary movie and even a lot of the brand new footage treads comparable floor to the unique. That mentioned, it does so with tongue firmly planted in cheek and a substantial amount of twinkle in its eye.
The movie begins with Billy’s little brother Ricky (Eric Freeman) recounting the occasions from the primary outing, even these he wasn’t there for or apparently remembers from infancy. When the story of the primary movie is exhausted and Ricky’s story takes over, the movie actually takes off. We be taught that the colour crimson has a Manchurian Candidate-like impact on him, awakening his traumas and driving him to homicide. The movie options a number of imaginative kills in its second half together with one with an umbrella and one other involving a set of jumper cables. This results in the film’s most iconic sequence: Ricky’s memorable taking pictures rampage and supply of the road “rubbish day.” The final act of the movie on the Mom Superior’s home (#666—an odd selection for a nun) is impressed madness.
Eric Freeman as Ricky offers one of the crucial memorably over-the-top performances in horror historical past, leaving no surroundings unchewed and delivering some top-notch eyebrow appearing. The movie takes itself far much less severely than lots of the movies within the franchise making it maybe essentially the most enjoyable entry. It will be a stretch to name it “good,” however it’s most definitely entertaining and my private favourite of all of them.
By the third installment, it was clear that the franchise was not notably profitable on the massive display screen, so the producers opted to bypass that part (together with the horrible critiques the primary two obtained) and go straight to video. It was the logical option to take this route because it had at all times been the place the SNDN movies had thrived. By the late ’80s and early ’90s, direct-to-video titles had been turning into extra frequent in horror and discovering fairly a cult viewers.
Silent Night time, Lethal Night time III: Higher Watch Out is a wierd mixture of slasher, Frankenstein movie, A Nightmare on Elm Road, and Wait Till Darkish. In it, Ricky now performed by Invoice Moseley, is woke up from a coma by his psychic hyperlink to a younger blind girl named Laura (Samantha Scully). Ricky’s mind has been reconstructed by Dr. Newbury (Richard Beymer of the unique West Facet Story) and is now seen beneath a glass dome encasing the highest of his head. Ricky escapes and, because of a psychic connection between them, follows Laura, alongside together with her brother and his girlfriend, to the secluded house of her grandmother. Dr. Newbury pursues Ricky with the assistance of police Lieutenant Connely, performed by Robert Culp, who apparently has a facet hustle promoting mobile plans.
The movie takes itself far more severely than both of its predecessors, an odd selection contemplating the killer has a jar on his head. The one exception to that is Culp who utterly understands the film he’s in and appears to be having the time of his life. All in all, the movie is usually a boilerplate slasher with a couple of surprises and gonzo inventive touches alongside the way in which. The sheer audacity of turning Ricky right into a cross between Michael Myers and the Frankenstein monster makes the movie at the least price a glance.
Of Bugs and Bond Women
The fourth installment, Silent Night time, Lethal Night time 4: Initiation, is the Halloween III of the Silent Night time, Lethal Night time franchise. It actually has nothing to do with the killers of the earlier movies and offers with historical cults and witchcraft. To borrow a phrase from Tommy Lee Wallace, the director of Halloween III, that is very a lot a “pod” film relatively than a “knife” film.
It stars Neith Hunter as Kim, an aspiring reporter for a small Los Angeles newspaper, who takes it upon herself to research a mysterious dying, apparently by spontaneous combustion. As she searches, she meets a bookstore proprietor named Fima, performed by The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy Bond lady Maud Adams. From there we’re handled to pagan rituals, an Achilles heel biting, loads of goopy sensible results courtesy of Screaming Mad George, and Clint Howard as a personality named Ricky who might be not (although could possibly be) a continuation of the character from the earlier motion pictures.
Initiation is essentially the most bonkers movie of the collection, with the attainable exception of the final act of Half 2. The truth that it takes place at Christmas is pretty incidental to the story, giving the viewer the sensation that it was most likely written as a stand-alone venture and grafted into the franchise. Directed by Brian Yuzna on the heels of Society and Bride of Re-Animator, the movie has lots of large concepts and wild results, but in addition a clearly smaller finances than both of these movies. Regardless of its limitations, Initiation has some jaw-dropping moments and returns to among the enjoyable of earlier movies.
Possibly the largest shock of the unique SNDN franchise is that it ends on such a excessive notice with the fifth installment: Silent Night time, Lethal Night time 5: The Toy Maker. Like Initiation, it’s unrelated to every other entry within the franchise, however it does seize the vacation season greater than every other within the collection because the first. The truth is, it’s actually the one movie apart from the unique that has to happen at Christmas as an integral factor of the story. Its common references to Pinocchio make it one thing of a darkish and twisted fairy story, giving it a mythic high quality even inside its relatively confined house and timeframe.
Younger Derek (William Thorne) is woke up one night time not lengthy earlier than Christmas to discover a wrapped present addressed to him left outdoors the entrance door of his home. He then witnesses his father killed by the toy Santa that was contained in the field. A mere two weeks later, his mom appears to have already begun to maneuver on, however Derek has not spoken a phrase because the traumatic incident. She takes the boy to Petto’s Toy Retailer in hopes to make him really feel higher. In one in every of horror’s nice meme-able “the way it began—the way it’s going” moments, outspoken opponent of the unique movie Mickey Rooney performs Joe Petto, the titular toy maker. Because the movie goes on, a number of killer toys discover their option to varied victims and dispatch them in memorable methods. Crammed with misdirects and crimson herrings, The Toy Maker isn’t solely an entertaining vacation horror movie, however a reasonably efficient whodunnit that culminates in a weird and memorable remaining reveal.
The movie additionally has a number of in-jokes and callbacks to the earlier movie together with three actors from it: Neith Hunter, Clint Howard, and Conan Yuzna all enjoying characters with the identical title as Initiation however decidedly totally different in each different method. The toy “Larry the Larvae” can be a transparent reference to the enormous bug larvae in Initiation, and a bit lady sitting on Santa’s lap asks him for “the tape of Bride of Re-Animator,” a reference to Brian Yuzna. These sorts of meta-details are one thing of a working joke all through the franchise. Beginning with Half 2, characters in every of the movies are seen watching clips from the earlier installment both on a film display screen or tv. That is particularly mind-bending within the second movie the place Ricky and his date Jennifer (Elizabeth Cayton) are apparently watching Silent Night time, Lethal Night time despite the fact that they’re residing within the direct sequel to that movie.
It’s quirks like this that make this unusual franchise so endearing. It’s at its greatest when it lets us in on the joke and permits us to have time. Through the years, all 5 movies have continued to develop in cult standing with the unique typically considered an necessary slasher to the horror canon. Every movie has its charms and its warts however all are important vacation horror viewing. In a wierd method, they remind me a bit of the Christmas tree ornaments I made as a child. Some turned out fairly nice whereas others are a bit misshapen, however yearly, all of them find yourself on the tree. The Silent Night time, Lethal Night time movies might not precisely be masterpieces, however they’re definitely key fixtures of any vacation horror custom.