Silent Night, Deadly Night: A High Point of Slasher Cinema
On the very same day in 1984, both A Nightmare on Elm Street and Silent Night, Deadly Night were released into theaters. Both films spawned franchises and became fan-favorite classics, though only one of them is often hailed as a truly remarkable slasher effort.
It’s of course the former that’s seen as being on a higher level than the latter, and though that may be true in some regards, the fact is that they share the distinction of being two of the best in slasher history. Whereas slashers up to that point centered mostly on teens in the woods, that day in 1984 saw the release of two that put unique twists on the proceedings, infusing new life into the already tired sub-genre.
Much like that first trip down Elm Street, Charles Sellier’s Silent Night, Deadly Night introduced horror fans to a brand new slasher icon. Decked out in a Santa suit and wielding an axe, Billy Chapman is one character we’ll never forget, and that’s due in large part to the fact that Silent Night, Deadly Night is his movie, above all else.
Rather than being just another slasher movie about attractive people being brutally murdered, Silent Night, Deadly Night takes the unique path of centering instead on the killer, making it the rare slasher flick that’s about the villain, rather than the victims. The victims are almost an afterthought in Sellier’s film, mere road blocks in the way of both Billy and his story.
The time typically spent in slasher films on developing the victims-to-be is instead spent on developing Billy, and the whole film essentially tracks the evolution of a slasher villain – a troubled man with a troubled childhood who is seemingly pushed, at every turn, into embracing his blood-soaked destiny. It’s a fascinating journey, elevating the film to something more than a mindless body count flick.
Of course, Silent Night, Deadly Night also delivers all of the expected slasher goodies, including creative kills and some tasty TNA (courtesy of Linnea Quigley, no less). Quigley’s death scene in particular, where she’s hung up on a pair of deer antlers, is one of the most iconic in slasher history, and let’s just say that Billy’s axe spills its fair share of blood.
Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Silent Night, Deadly Night is both a slasher film and a slasher film that breaks the proverbial glass ceiling of the sub-genre, telling a good story and giving meaning to all the gory carnage. Any way you slice it, it’s a high point of slasher cinema, and one of the truly great exports of the sub-genre’s so-called ‘Golden Age.’
Stay tuned for a 30th anniversary Silent Night, Deadly Night retrospective here on Dread Central later this month, which will cover the entire franchise and feature interviews with the filmmakers and actors – including Eric Freeman! – who brought the films to life. Coming soon… but only if you’re not naughty!
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