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Silent Night, Deadly Night, Parts 1 & 2

Silent Night, Deadly Night may well have slipped by as yet another in a long line of undistinguished, low-grade early-1980s slasher flicks if outraged parents hadn't protested that its television commercials — depicting a rampaging Santa Claus — were traumatizing their children. The controversy gained so much media coverage — talk-show heavyweight Phil Donahue even gave the subject an hour of his popular afternoon show — that TriStar pulled the plug and the film disappeared from theaters, but subsequently gained cult status on home video. And deservedly so. Nightmare-inspiring marketing aside, SNDN is one of the more entertaining entries in its genre, although most of its sordid delights are of the unintentional variety. While Michael Hickey's screenplay (boy traumatized by murder of parents and raised by cruel nun develops into costumed psychopath) is purely amateur, director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. (previously known for creating TV's "Grizzly Adams") mounts the production with a cornball earnestness. The first hour begins with a showstopping turn from veteran Will Hare, who shakes with maniacal glee and fights back tears of pure evil during perhaps the finest monologue performance in the history of the slasher film as he passionately relates to his grandson Santa's disregard for naughty children. This begins a pattern of intermittent and enjoyable absurdity that culminates in a truly magnificent "good times" montage (set to a country & western ballad, no less) that would be considered a parody in any other context. Sadly, when Billy finally begins his killing-spree, the movie loses some of its maverick spirit and settles for entertainment-by-bodycount, but even then there are a few fun moments (and a remarkable soundtrack of half-ass holiday jingles by "Baretta"-theme lyricist Morgan Ames) that should earn SNDN a comfortable place on any genre fan's list of camp favorites.

*          *          *

The so-called "sequel" to SNDN, cleverly titled Silent Night, Deadly Night, Part 2, would be the moviemaking equivalent to yelling "Fire!" in a crowded moviehouse if there was the slightest chance that any theater showing it could attract an audience. SNDNP2 is not only a cynical attempt at profiteering (an entire two-thirds of the movie consists of flashbacks to footage from its predecessor), but is also an abomination in its own right. The spectacularly awful eyebrow-actor Eric Freeman stars as Ricky, younger sibling of the first film's killer Billy, now grown into a ripped and chiseled nutcase bent on conquering his brother's demons. The first 40 minutes presents the insipid Cliff's Notes version of the first movie, interspersed with scenes of ludicrous repartee between Ricky and a stupid psychiatrist (the plywooden James Newman). When Ricky finally breaks into his own asinine tale of sociopathy, first-time director (and co-screenwriter) Lee Harry dazzles with his ineptitude at both scenario and realization, and awe at his mastery of across-the-board sucking deftly transmogrifies into catatonia, leaving little room for even the camp-happy to enjoy the astounding perfection of this failure. SNDN2 is truly terrible, both in intent and execution, and belongs to an exclusive club of the absolutely worst movies ever made.

*          *          *

Both features are presented by Anchor Bay (on one double-sided disc) in good anamorphic transfers (1.85:1) with monaural Dolby Digital audio mixes. SNDN is accompanied by a half-hour audio interview with director Sellier, who hints at a little regret for his participation in the franchise, but is game for reliving the experience for this disc. Also on board to commemorate the first movie are a poster/still gallery and "Santa's Stocking of Outrage," which features excerpts from letters protesting the movie's subject matter. SNDNP2 is accompanied by both a still gallery and a trailer, but most horrific is an inexplicable commentary track by writer/director Harry, co-writer Joseph H. Earle, and dullwood actor Newman, none of whom are suitably contrite for their abomination, and nor do they dispel the ghastly and irreconcilable notion that they were serious while making it. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night, Part 2

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