Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #544
Also known as Slay Ride
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: November 9, 1984
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $2,491,460
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Charles Sellier
Producers: Ira Richard Barmak, Scott J. Schneid, Dennis Whitehead
Screenplay: Michael Hickey
Story: Paul Caimi
Special Effects: Karl Wesson
Cinematography: Henning Schellerup
Score: Perry Botkin
Editing: Michael Spence
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Stars: Robert Brian Wilson, Gilmer McCormick, Lilyan Chauvin, Toni Nero, Britt Leach, Nancy Borgenicht, Linnea Quigley, Leo Geter, Randy Stumpf, H.E.D. Redford, Tara Buckman, Jeff Hansen, Will Hare, Danny Wagner, Charles Dierkop
Suggested Audio Candy
Perry Botkin “Soundtrack Suite”
If there’s one thing I have learned over the years then it is that children have impressionable minds. The tiniest, most seemingly insignificant thing can lodge itself deep in their craniums and wreak havoc in later life and, as parents, it is our job to make sure that the wiring is correct from the offset. You see, we are born with far more neurons than we know what to do with and inevitably many of those will never find a home in their circuitry. It’s a well-known fact that we learn more as children than at any other point in our lives so it is critical that nothing untoward sneaks in under the radar and messes up their equilibrium. It’s a thankless task as, while they’re under our jurisdiction, we can’t have our eyes on them twenty-four-seven as that just isn’t a realistic aspiration.
Take Jim and Ellie Chapman for example. Nobody could accuse them of being neglectful as they run a tight ship and have every intention of raising their two boys to the very best of their abilities. Indeed, when they pay a visit to Grandpa at his retirement home on Christmas Eve, there appears no harm in leaving five-year-old Billy with him momentarily as senility has long since taken hold and he hasn’t uttered a word to anyone in months. However, while their backs are turned, the old coot imparts a little nugget of wisdom on his grandson and, in doing so, plants a rather ominous seed. While Billy is excited about the pending festivities like any other kid his age, Grandpa informs him that Santa Claus is not quite as hospitable as has been previously suggested, particularly should the child in question not have towed the line for twelve months straight.
This enlightenment wouldn’t be so damaging had it not been for the events that play out during the Chapmans long drive home. After stopping to assist a man dressed as Father Christmas who appears to be having a spot of car trouble, mom and dad pay the ultimate price for their act of kindness, as he turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Poor Billy witnesses the ordeal first-hand and, now orphaned, he and his infant brother are shipped off to a Catholic orphanage and left there indefinitely. However, the Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) is a strict disciplinarian and casts a scrutinizing eye over the children in her care, wasting no time in punishing them severely for stepping out of formation. When you consider the atrocities that Jimmy has been forced to endure, this is the last woman on earth you want on wiring duties.
Needless to say, Jimmy starts to act out as Christmas approaches and, while her deputy Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) has far more noble intentions, there is little she can do to prevent the hard-line being taken. All the while, Jimmy’s mind is becoming a petri dish for bogus nodes and, by the time he reaches eighteen and the time comes for him to reenter society, he’s little more than a ticking time bomb all set to explode. On the surface, he appears both respectful and obedient so, after a little gentle coercing from the well-meaning Sister Margaret, toy store owner Mr. Sims (Britt Leach) agrees to give him a job in his stock room. Jimmy (now played by Robert Brian Wilson) proves himself useful in no time and it appears that perhaps things will turn out fine and dandy after all. Like fuck they will.
The first clues that the sleigh is about to career off course come on Christmas Eve as, despite his protestations, Jimmy is volunteered to dress up as Santa and undertake the customary seasonal grotto duties and reluctantly agrees. If that weren’t cause enough for his last remaining nerve to snap, then the fact that his co-worker and object of his affections Pamela (Toni Nero) chooses lecherous associate Andy (Randy Stumpf) over him is very much the last straw and, what has been bubbling beneath the surface for the entire first act, finally introduces itself topside. From hereon in, we’re strictly in slasher territory as Jimmy assumes the role that Grandpa taught him about all those years ago and sets off to perform his duties.
Originally titled Slay Ride, Charles Sellier’s Silent Night, Deadly Night caused no end of controversy on its release in 1984 and was promptly picketed by angry parents, furious at their beloved Father Christmas being depicted as an axe-wielding psychopath. The marketing campaign didn’t help its cause as it looked to take full advantage of the festivities and was deemed shamefully exploitative. Indeed, the critics only added fuel to the fire by branding Sellier’s film immoral and, after an encouraging opening at the box office, networks pulled off its TV ads and it was soon removed from theaters and placed on the naughty step with immediate effect. In truth, there is little justification for its notoriety as it’s no more mean-spirited than any number of other slashers doing the rounds at the time. Indeed the violence, when it comes, is reasonably tame for the most part.
It is also very much a story of two distinctive halves as, while patient in its build-up and focusing on Jimmy’s deep-rooted trauma, once his already tenuous grip on reality ultimately slackens, Silent Night, Deadly Night becomes a par for the course stalk and slash number with little other than a couple of inventive dispatches to raise it above mediocrity. There are a few spikes in interest and a diminutive role for scream queen Linnea Quigley as frisky co-ed Denise provides us with both a welcome peek at her wares and the film’s crowning moment. However, any good work done during its first half is largely undone by a rather uninspired second. Lewis Jackson’s Christmas Evil had already tackled a similar theme four years prior and provided a more intriguing insight into a troubled mind than Sellier’s film can ever hope for. Moreover, by 1984, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street was now moving the goalposts, leaving it looking decidedly long in the tooth and a good couple of Christmases past its sell by date.
That said and I’m aware that I may be appearing overly harsh here, Silent Night, Deadly Night is far from a waste of your time. It may pose a fair few questions that it has no intention of answering, but 85 minutes never feels like a stretch and Sellier packs our stocking with enough of what slasher enthusiasts hanker after to ensure that the decorations don’t come down too soon. Indeed, its biggest crime is that it spawned three increasingly insipid sequels and, while Lee Harry’s second provided one of the most quotable and unintentionally hilarious moments in eighties cinema, that’s about all the seasonal cheer I can muster as they make the original look like a masterpiece in comparison. That, in itself, is something for Sellier to celebrate.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: While not nearly as gruesome as its notoriety suggests, Silent Night, Deadly Night certainly doesn’t skimp on its body count. Our savage Santa is a resourceful devil for sure, gifting us with strangulation via tree lights, death by hammer, bobsled decapitation, axefall, and impalement on moose antlers to have us sealing up our chimney stacks. Meanwhile, Sellier decks the halls with an abundance of shameless nudity, with Quigley’s perky pink pellets worthy of particular praise. If I found her at the foot of my bed in those tantalizingly short cut-down denims, I’d think all of my Christmases had come at once and, yes, pun very much intentional.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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