For as long as there have been slasher flicks, there have been holiday-based horror films – Black Christmas, Halloween, and of course late-period Garry Marshall.
This 1984 slasher about a murderous Santa (Robert Brian Wilson) who goes on a Christmas spree gained notoriety upon its release, thanks to its playful marketing with subversively festive posters and taglines – “He knows when you’ve been naughty.” There was public outcry from the USA’s National Parent Teacher Association, who claimed that TV adverts airing between episodes of Three’s Company and Little House on the Prairie were making their children scared of Santa Claus. This led to the distributors pulling the TV ads (which seems sensible) and eventually the film itself (which doesn’t, as there was presumably no way children would see it).
In the real world, the only people who might actually object to negative representations of Santa Claus are professional Santas and Coca-Cola executives. What really offended conservative protesters was the film’s attack on the sanctity of Christmas, a sacred American institution due to the unique position it occupies in the Venn diagram of religion and capitalism. That’s why the film’s primary locations are a Catholic orphanage and a toy shop (with the unfortunate name of IRA’s TOYS). As it happens, the film plays out as a sustained attack on Catholicism. By drilling into him the lesson that “punishment is necessary, punishment is good,” the Mother Superior gives Billy (whose name is one of many Black Christmas references) the desire to punish people – for stealing, having sex, and… mostly just having sex.
The issue isn’t that the movie makes Santa scary. Santa is scary. The issue is that this Santa isn’t scary. Incidentally, Futurama still has the best evil Santa. With none of Black Christmas‘ Hitchockian restraint or Krampus‘ creativity, Silent Night, Deadly Night is flatly directed and barely has enough material to pad out its short running time. As a result, the picture drags like Christmas itself. The boobs and butchery provide the occasional schlocky slice of Christmas evil, but the film’s salacious enjoyment of Billy’s punishment clearly undermines its message. And why would a toy shop sell a bow and arrow actually capable of killing someone? Oh right. IRA’s TOYS.