Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Silent Night, Deadly Night

There are a number of iconic moments from various movies that, no matter how many times I think of them, still make me smile. There’s the zombie with the bone saw in Grindhouse, the kung fu priest in Dead Alive, Johnny Depp’s outro in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and (perhaps best of all) the protagonist of Gozu swinging a dog through the air by its leash. This film may not have anything at quite that level, but I do have to say, a man dressed as Santa Claus screaming out “Naughty!” while wielding an axe against a wheelchair bound nun certainly ain’t bad.

The film takes us through the short, tragic life of Billy Chapman, who as a young boy is scared to death by his mentally ill grandfather on Christmas Eve, who tells him that Santa punishes naughty children so he’d better run and hide, shortly before a man dressed up as Santa Claus murders his parents. If his chances of being stable in adulthood are poor at this time, they are made worse when he is promptly sent to live in a Catholic orphanage presided over by a stereotype of a strict Mother Superior (I admittedly don’t know many Catholics, but I refuse to believe that every Mother Superior on the planet is the kind of cruel bitch that they are always portrayed as in the movies). This portion of the movie, while we’re waiting for him to become an adult and go on his much-needed killing spree, takes too damned long, though it certainly is helped out by both the presence of a sex scene and young Billy punching out a Santa that comes to visit the orphanage. Finally he becomes 18, and goes to work at a department store that specializes in indeterminate goods (its products seem to vary as much as the products at Sears do, but the store is a tad small for that). Of course, come Christmastime he gets tapped to be the store Santa, and after threatening to kill a young girl if she doesn’t stop squirming on his lap, he finally goes on that rampage we’ve all been waiting for.

If the pacing is a failure, the rest of the movie is at least fun. He racks up a pretty impressive body count in the final third of the film, and the police reaction to it (basically going on a mission to shoot all Santas on sight, which is always helpful around that time of year) is just delightful. There’s also two great moments when he breaks into his first house (sadly, he smashes down a door with an axe rather than swooping down the chimney) and deals with the inhabitants. He shows off his mighty antlike strength to the teenage girl by impaling her on the antlers of a deer head mounted on the wall, leaving her boyfriend to show off a remarkable amount of tunnel vision by entering the room via the door immediately next to where his girl is, and somehow doesn’t notice her. I’d show a picture of how ridiculous this is, but she’s topless and this is, after all, a family site. Still, that guy must be completely fucking blind not to spot her when she’s like two goddamned feet away from him. Frankly, he totally deserved to be put on Santa’s naughty list and promptly thrown out the window for that. There’s a little girl in the house too, and in a rather touching moment, she manages to convince him that she’s not doing anything naughty ever, so he rewards her by giving her the gift of a box cutter that’s still dripping blood after he had murdered a co-worker with it. Isn’t that just adorable?

This had three sequels, the second of which is renowned for being just beyond atrocious, and has a remake scheduled for next year, assuming the strikes don’t delay it. While I think that’s a tad excessive for a movie that’s just decent instead of actually good, it’s certainly better than a number of its slasher peers. It got a ton of controversy when it was first released for depicting a killer Santa, because our country was founded by Puritan idiots and deserves to be invaded, but it’s all done with a good bit of fun to it, and didn’t warrant anything close to that reaction. Slasher fans should absolutely check this one out.

Rating: ** 1/2

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