SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT: You Got Your Sex in My Violence
(Poster via Cinema Overdrive)
Silent Night, Deadly Night is the most talked about holiday themed horror film outside of Halloween (the holiday, not the movie. But the movie, too. Oh, whatever.). It is one of those films that proves that bad movies can go on to be great movies and stir up the populace with its gratuitous content. A film that made Siskel and Ebert read off the names of everyone involved with the film and say, “Shame, shame” is a film worth taking a look at. What’s fun about the film is that it ties in some dark, psychological elements that were either completely intended or an accident. It’s not to say that my post is trying to find hidden “meaning” in a film that is essentially splatter-porn, it’s about having fun with the innards of Silent Night, Deadly Night.
The script deals with repression and the link between sex and violence. It also delves into the power of becoming the “other” or wearing a mask/suit to act out behavior that is not the norm for the individual. Silent Night, Deadly Night is a reverse superhero film in which the protagonist dons an outfit so that they can get away with acting out their inner fantasies. It allows for the “super-ego” to take over, as Freud would lovingly say.
Billy witnesses the murder of his father and mother much like Bruce Wayne does in the Batman fiction. Well, besides the whole almost-rape thing and the man dressed as Santa, it was similar. Similar in that the murder of his parent’s would have a profound effect on the child until his grisly demise in an orphanage where he is playing as the very one who took his mother and father away from him.
What confuses the matter for Billy in the death of mommy and daddy is that he was under the assumption that is you’re naughty, Santa was going to get you. This is attributed to his mentally deranged Grandpa who scared him with “You better run for your life, boy!” and “Christmas Eve is the scariest, damn night of the year.” So, Billy now associates murder with being naughty as well as his mother’s breasts and the hole in his father’s head.
Years later at the orphanage, Billy expresses that night through a poorly drawn piece of art. The head nun (I’m sorry. I mean, Mother Superior), throws him in a room to let him think about “what he has done” and furthering the child’s repression of the event. Without proper expression, those feelings internalize and lead to darker, psychotic thoughts if not dealt with. Basically, this kid was Freud's dream case.
Around the same time, Billy is walking through the hall, about to head outside to join the other kids in snowball fights and other seasonal activities. As he makes his way to the staircase, he hears moaning and grunting. Approaching the door, he finds a couple (nun?) having sex. Immediately he views that as “naughty” and flashes back to parent’s murder as well as his mother’s breasts. Mother Superior didn’t want Billy out to play with the kids and she feels that is why he got caught in that “naughty” situation. She tells him that “Punishment is good,” a phrase that he will be reminded of later when he impales a girl on a deer-head mount. Billy is hit with a belt for leaving his room and once again, pain, sex, and violence all come together in the psyche of the young boy.
While all this extreme seuxal and violent trauma has overloaded young Billy with a conflicted perspective on life, he does not have the ability to act out. Deep down, Billy is not one to want to be naughty. When he is 18 and working for Ira’s, he fantasizes about his lady co-worker and awakes in a cold sweat from those deviant thoughts. He doesn’t curse and does his work well. He is essentially what every parent wanted in the 50s. Christmas comes and yes, Billy gets a little edgy because he remembers his mom’s boobs and slit throat and blah, blah, blah. But, I mean, who wouldn’t get a little cranky about that?
Well, things get interesting when Billy has to play Santa for Ira’s Toys. Now he is able to take on the punishing character that his subconscious has been dealing with. Billy becomes his ego. Free to act out his sense of right and wrong, he goes on a tear through the town killing those whom he thinks are ones who have been “naughty.”
His target at the end of the runtime is Mother Superior. Not only is he looking to kill the one who tried to mold his sense of right and wrong, he is killing his replacement of a mother. As Billy dies, he claims that all are safe now because Santa is dead. This of course comes from Billy’s ego as he knows the monster that was hiding in him is dead.
I think that’s what makes Silent Night, Deadly Night so charming (?) and effective. Here you have a low-budget film that angered parents more than anything. While the story borders on laughable, it is somewhat important about the harm that can come from repression as well as keeping your sexuality under wraps. I’m sure whoever wrote this did have some intentions to bring those issues to light but got lost in slasher-film MO. That’s not to say I don’t like the film (I love it quite a bit), but people won’t take it seriously because of that top-layer.
Silent Night, Deadly Night delves into the dangers of Catholicism, violence in culture, and morals. I think there is a lot of room for conversation on this one that gets tossed aside for other reasons. Like Jason in the Friday the 13th series, Billy is a mentally deranged character who was not born evil. Their environment and the actions of others formed who they were and it led to the death of people who got in the way of their sense of “right.”
I had fun and I hope you did as well.
Happy Shitmas, y’all.
- Jesse Bartel