First, a little fear…
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984); Directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Upon its release in November of 1984, Silent Night, Deadly Night created quite the stir. Well, actually that is putting it mildly. It actually took less than one week before it was the most reviled film of the year, perhaps the decade, and was pulled from theaters amid public outcry and almost across-the-board derision from critics. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to see it, I don’t know what will!
Most of the fury was directed at the marketing of the film. Posters being put up around cities across the nation featured a snow covered chimney with what appeared to be Santa sliding down…only this Santa wasn’t carrying a bag of toys and treats; he was wielding a large, double bladed lumber axe. This was apparently not the image that parents wanted imbedded in their children’s little heads while sitting around the tree reading The Night Before Christmas. I remember seeing an ad on television for this film that year actually, and since I was terrified of Santa already (cried on his lap many times in the early years) it made perfect sense to me. Just more proof that I wanted nothing to do with that overweight home invader.
But despite being a social pariah or maybe because of it, Silent Night, Deadly Night managed to beat out Nightmare on Elm Street (which was released the same day) for top box office on opening weekend. Being removed from theaters before the next weekend even arrived, there is no knowing how well it would/could have been received. But one thing is for certain; Silent Night, Deadly Night has become a cult classic and is on many “must-watch” lists around the Holiday season.
Things get started innocently enough for 5 year old Billy and his family. It’s Christmas Eve and they are on their way to Grandpa’s place for a Holiday visit. Billy’s biggest worry is that he won’t be in bed before Santa arrives, and he doesn’t want to risk not getting his presents! But this rural road trip doesn’t wind up at Grandpa’s cozy cottage, all decorated with wreaths and lights. Instead, their destination is Grandpa’s mental institution, where the old man sits comatose and staring into space all hairy and wrinkled like a creepy wax mannequin from Madame Tussaud’s. Billy seems to have things figured better than everyone else though, and when mom says “He doesn’t even know we’re here”, this little wiz kid replies, “Then why did we come for?” I like him already.
But Grandpa isn’t as docile as everyone thinks! No sooner do the parent’s turn their backs then he comes to life giving Billy the creepiest diatribe about Santa’s tendencies of punishing those kids who have been naughty. Seriously, if you thought Crazy Ralph’s warning to the camp councilors in Friday the 13th was a little out of nowhere and more than a little intense…well, you haven’t seen anything yet. With the final warning, “You see Santa Claus, you better run boy! Run for your life!”, Grandpa returns to his glassy eyed stare and lets the family roll on out of there with one very shaken Billy.
Before you know it, the family comes across Santa Claus, right there in the middle of the road next to his broken down muscle car. Hmm. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that this Santa is actually some guy who just held up a liquor store and put two in the chest and one in the head of the clerk like some sort of North Pole Seal Team 6 operator. Now he is out here on the road broken down and while Billy in going out of his gourd trying to convince his parents to hit the gas and leave this Santa far behind, they aren’t having any of it. Instead, they pull over to help and Billy winds up watching his pa get murderized and his mom raped and killed; a tough Christmas Eve for any kid. Tougher if all this goes down moments after your beloved yet mental Grandpa tells you that Santa is a lean mean punishing machine.
Fast forward to Billy living life in a Catholic Orphanage under the watchful gaze of Mother Superior, the nun from hell. She isn’t at all amused with Billy’s drawings of decapitated reindeer and stab-o-rific Santas, and she isn’t about to let his past traumas get in the way of her behavior reform. When another nun suggests that perhaps Billy is reliving the death of his parents since Christmas is coming up, Ma Super is just like, NOPE, that’s stupid, move on. What this headmistress focuses on instead is making sure that Billy knows that punishment is necessary and punishment is good. Punishment is what we get when we are doing something naughty. Now, knowing that this is a killer Santa movie, we have already developed a ten times better back-story for Billy’s eventual wackiness than Rob Zombie dreamed up for the white trash doughboy Michael Myers.
Fast forward yet again and we are with Billy as he gets his first job. In a toy store. Just before Christmas. Oh boy. We know where this is going, and when the store manager demands that Billy dress up as Santa for all the kiddies in the shop this season, it is safe to assume that things are about to go from bad to way, way worse for Billy boy. It takes us a little over half the film to get to this point, which feels like an awful lot of build up, but as I mentioned before, there is a lot of workup to Billy’s eventual breaking point. And now the fun really gets going!
There is something magically awful about seeing Santa Claus go on a killing spree in small town America, I must say. We’ve got decapitations, strangulations, axes stuck in chests, claw hammerings, shootings and more! The amazing 80’s Scream Queen Linnea Quigley even gets a bit part here, and gets in one of the more creative and fun deaths of the film. No one is safe from Santa’s carnage…not even innocent snowmen minding their own business. All this and Santa is just getting warmed up…turns out there are a good number of people being naughty this Christmas Eve. Throughout the mayhem, the effects go from laughably amateur to delightfully grisly and are sure to please the gore hound simply due to their unflinching nature and prolific quantities.
As a cop says in the film, “It’s Christmas Eve and we’ve got orders to bring in Santa Claus”, and to be honest this film does its very best to make the man in the red suit into a lasting horror icon. Silent Night, Deadly Night goes a long way to try and make Santa a thing to be feared without relying on some Finnish or Germanic fables to do so. This is just plain ol’ serial killer Kringle and it really does set off some uncomfortable moments. Watching a Santa who just murdered her parents interrogate a young doe-eyed girl about her level of naughty or nice is tense and unnerving in the best of ways.
Honestly I was ready to watch this one again and just slam it as an old, tired cult classic that no one really likes and just wanted to capitalize on the “You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas” tagline. But I found myself genuinely enjoying the vibe that only an 80’s horror can give you and the over-the-top heap of backstory. It is obvious in the setup of this film that the plan was to make more of these, and they did; five in total, some of which aren’t even related to the events of this film. But never again would this series capture the perfect mix of cheese, sincerity and gore galore that we see here with Silent Night, Deadly Night. If you are looking for Christmas horror viewing, this film may be the red-headed stepchild of a more meaningful work like Black Christmas, but it is still worth inviting to the party.
…then a little beer!
Pelican Brewery Bad Santa CDA (7.5% ABV) – Pacific City, OR
The perfect beer to enjoy while watching Silent Night, Deadly Night‘s murderous rampage from the guy in the red and white suit is Pelican’s Bad Santa CDA. The melding of Christmas and slasher horror took a little while for folks to get used to, but eventually fans won out and a cult classic was born. Similarly the melding of dark malts and piney hops together was a hard sell in the early days of the style (I choose to recognize John Maier of Rogue Brewing as one of the pioneers of the style, however there are a few other contenders). The Black IPA has not only become accepted widely as a great drinking beer by consumers everywhere but also found its way into the recognition of the Brewers Association back in 2010…no small feat to be sure. One thing is for sure, whether you know them as Cascadian Dark Ales, Black IPAs, India Black Ale or a handful of similar designations, the style is here to stay.
Bad Santa CDA is a notable entry into this field of beers as it manages to please in both the malt backbone and overt hop profile without leaning too far one direction or the other. Appearing each October and gone from shelves around the turn of the year, Bad Santa has seen its share of evolution through the years. While the ABV seems to grow, sitting now at an all time high of 7.5%, so does the sophistication on the palette. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
This beer pours a dark chocolate color with auburn highlights. The color is beautiful sitting under a frothy beige/light tan head. The aroma is not as heavy as I generally expect from a CDA, but is pleasantly balanced between light chocolate, bright pine and earthy grasses. But the subtleness of the smell does not carry itself over to the flavor profile.
The star of this beer is definitively the malts, which I also don’t expect when reaching for a Black IPA. So often overly resinous, Bad Santa is instead a balance of malt generated baking chocolate, coffee and roasted bitterness with a spicy earthiness, citrus zest and pine from the Fuggle hops. A beer which proves the point that “bitterness” is often not a correlation with “hoppiness”, the long lasting bitter notes in the finish of Bad Santa are malt derived, while the hops instead provide a lighter and brighter side to this beer.
Medium bodied and brightly carbonated, Bad Santa isn’t what most of us would think of when we think of “Holiday” seasonal brews (spiced, strong, hopped up on bourbon)…but it is a rather impressive beer nonetheless. The fact that Pelican makes us wait a year in between releases is a great way to ensure that we become complacent with other, less balanced Black IPAs and can be pleasantly surprised all over again each year. It’s like a Christmas gift from Pelican to me. And you…I suppose you can have some too.