Silent Night, Deadly Night

There are a lot of people who comb through movies and try to spot inconsistencies. I understand why catching editing errors makes people feel good, but that isn’t my bag. To me, a moving prop or a mismatched edit doesn’t really matter, and I don’t feel a need to feel superior to the people who made the film. Mistakes happen.

However, I cannot abide by a film that has an inconsistent tone, because that’s a major error that can completely ruin a movie. If I see a few scenes placed back-to-back that don’t belong together I know that the people who made the movie didn’t nail down their vision of wanted they wanted the film to be. A series of see-sawing scenes is almost always a red flag that the best case scenario is that the movie will be an uneven mess.

For example, there’s a scene early on in Silent Night, Deadly Night that made it seem like the movie would be a silly horror movie - maybe a bit generic, but fun. A family goes to the Utah insane asylum on Christmas Eve so that little Billy can meet his grandfather. When all the adults are around, grandpa is silent. As soon as they leave, he terrorizes Billy with an over the top speech about how Santa Claus is an evil monster who loves to punish the guilty. Then as soon as the adults reappear Grandpa goes silent. It's played for laughs and it works - the crowd I saw this movie with really responded.

A few minutes later, a spree killer dressed as Santa Claus shoots Billy’s father in front of him. Then he rapes Billy’s mother in the middle of the road while Billy is hiding in a ditch a few feet away. That scene is… less silly.

Basically, Silent Night, Deadly Night is as bifurcated as it’s title. On the one hand, it’s a cheesy trifle about a killer who is dressed like Santa Claus. On the other hand, it’s a cynical assault on the iconography of Christmas, made by people who are clearly pretty bitter about our most sentimental holiday. I could have liked the first movie – the second movie not so much. 

I suppose I could list the moments in the movie that work, but you can probably imagine most of them already. There are a few goofy 80’s sex scenes (one of them including a bad babysitter, naturally), and there are a few kills that will appeal to people who have dark senses of humor. But the overall impression that has lingered since I saw this earlier this week is one of darkness. All of Silent Night, Deadly Night's laughs are fleeting, but all of its scenes where small children get traumatized have stuck in my gut. (In addition to the early scenes where Billy has to watch his parents die – which is repeated in flashbacks on a regular basis – there are two (!) scenes where a group of children at an orphanage watch men dressed like Santa Claus get shot in the back.) Yeah, it's fun to get glimpses of how different toy stores looked in 1984, but that fun isn't as durable as the unpleasantness of having to watch orphans watch a murder.

That said, I can imagine a version of this movie that was fully committed to being nihilistic working. It would be an uphill battle – after all, I was already unsettled by the version we got, even though it has a good number of funny moments. But if this film had at least fully committed to being dark, it could have actually ended up feeling horrific in a way that most horror films don’t. Spree killings really happen, and they’re scary; it’s utterly unsettling to imagine someone murdering you for no real reason at all. Unfortunately, Silent Night, Deadly Night  doesn’t have the balls to completely go in that direction – it indulges in standard horror movie tropes too much to be an unflinching exploration of bleakness, but it also doesn’t have any characters that are worth rooting for, so it doesn’t really offer the fun of a standard horror movie, either. It felt to me like a movie that would disappoint just about everyone.

Of course, my feeling on that front is probably incorrect. I saw this movie on the big screen  with a big crowd, and from the chatter I overheard in the lobby I gather that a lot of people liked it. There’s a degree to which I can understand that – if you can sift out the parts that don’t work and just keep the ones that do you might be able to enjoy this. But that didn’t work for me, because as I said earlier, my mind has already sifted out the funny moments and kept the dark ones.

Silent Night, Deadly Night felt like a movie that didn’t know if it wanted to entertain me or shock me, so it alternated between the two. If it had been consistently one or the other it might have actually entertained me or legitimately shocked me. Instead it did neither - I mostly found it kind of depressing. And I have to say, the little inconsistencies that I kept catching in this film did make me feel superior to the filmmakers - and not because I'm smarter or more observant than them, but because I have good enough taste to be able to tell the difference between what's fun and what's merely profane or spiteful.

Winner: The Cat

Silent Night, Deadly Night on IMDB