Remember that time it was August but it felt like September, so when September actually came nature was all, “Let me turn up the heat BWAHAHAHA!” That’s how it felt the last couple of days so I decided to watch a cold movie. What’s colder than Christmas? Nothing, I says! So I’m celebrating Christmas in August with…
Before you start saying
remember that “Garbage day!” doesn’t happen until the next movie.
This is the original movie that managed to piss off the PTA, Siskel, Ebert, and Leonard Maltin.
The plot is actually pretty straightforward. Billy (Played by Jonathon Best as a five-year old, Danny Wagner as an eight-year-old, and Robert Brian Wilson as an eighteen-year-old) has the worst luck at Christmas. Worse than yours when you didn’t get an Intellivision and worse than when your family argues at Christmas dinner.
He has to drive hours and hours with his parents and baby brother, Ricky, to meet his crazy grandfather who’s pretty catatonic. Until Mom and Dad leave Billy alone with the crazy person, for some reason. Grandpa is BONKERS and goes on this rant about how Santa doesn’t just give presents, he punishes the naughty.
Billy begins to fear Santa. This fear is exacerbated when they pull over for a Santa who appears to be having car trouble. Santa actually just robbed a convenience store and shot the owner. He shoots Billy’s Dad, gets pretty rape-y with Billy’s Mom before killing her, and would kill Billy if he could just find him.
Three years later, Billy and Ricky (Max Broadhead as Ricky age four, Alex Burton as Ricky age fourteen) are in a Catholic orphanage. Billy has emotional trouble every Christmas and Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) suspects it’s because of what Billy witnessed. You think, Dr. Phil? Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) thinks Billy just needs a reminder of Jesus’ everlasting punishment.
She spanks Billy with a belt when he leaves his room without her permission, while reminding him that punishment is necessary. Then she ties him to his bed when he has a nightmare.
The movie then jumps to eighteen-year-old Billy.
He gets a job as a stock-boy at Ira’s Toy Store. Everything is fine until the Christmas decorations start arriving. His coworker, Andy (Randy Stumpf) heckles him while Billy is forced to socialize and be happy. Things get worse when the man playing Santa can’t work and Ira dresses Billy as Santa. Billy finally snaps when he sees Andy trying to rape the woman who Billy likes, Pamela (Toni Nero). Billy rescues Pamela but since he strangled Andy with Christmas lights she’s completely freaked out. Billy kills everyone left in the store while snarling “Naughty.”
Billy goes out into the night, punishing the naughty while giving a box cutter to a good girl. His most memorable kill is when he impales Denise (Linnea Quigley) on a deer head’s antlers.
This, of course, reminds me of my favorite show, Hannibal (Can we get six seasons and a porno?)
I’m not sure if Bryan Fuller consciously used that imagery but it’s a neat little coincidence.
Once Sister Margaret realizes what’s happening, she starts helping the police track Billy down. He makes his way to the orphanage. Am I the only one who was rooting for him to kill Mother Superior? She’s just the worst. Billy faces this sassy little girl and then goes after the Mother.
Billy’s shot by the police and he tells the shocked children that they’re safe from Santa as he dies. Ricky glares at Mother Superior and then starts to snarl, “Naughty,” leaving this perfectly set up for the sequel (Actually, there are FOUR sequels and a remake).
This movie opened the same weekend as A Nightmare on Elm Street and actually briefly outgrossed it. Then the PTA noticed it. The fact that the killer dressed as Santa was emphasized in the posters for the movie and that really, really pissed people off.
Concerned families picketed theaters where the movie was showing and Tristar pulled the ads for the movie and then withdrew the movie from theaters. Siskel and Ebert read the credits on air and said “shame” after each name.
I know I’m thirty years too late but that’s just the kind of story I hate to hear. First of all, I hate the idea of arbitrarily sacred cows. It can really suck when a parent’s Helen Lovejoying is more important than making art—it may be silly, schlocky art, but it’s still art.
I also think they miss two essential points. Billy dresses in a Santa suit. He’s not the real Santa and is never made out to be the real Santa. Secondly, Billy has been really abused. He’s had a really shitty life and Sister Margaret is pretty much the only person who’s ever nice to him. In Horror Films of the 1980s, John Kenneth Muir points out that Billy isn’t a motiveless killer like Michael Myers, he’s someone the audience can sympathize with. He wasn’t born a monster, he was made one in large part because of his treatment at the hands of Mother Superior. Maybe that’s why Christian groups hated the movie so much.
This isn’t the best slasher I’ve ever seen but the controversy surrounding it ensured that it wouldn’t be forgotten. It’s basically a fun little movie that has a bit of suspense. I liked the original plot and the fact that they bothered with a backstory for the killer. I own the 2003 Anchor Bay release that promises to be uncut. You can tell the differences in the footage used, which is pretty neat to see.
It’s just kind of funny how times have changed. Siskel and Ebert hated this movie but it has a higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB BOTH rate Silent Night, Deadly Night higher than the reprehensible Christmas with the Kranks. Maybe Siskel and Ebert should have shamed that movie. And now there are movies like Rare Imports and Krampus: The Christmas Devil that deal openly with killer Santas and his friends.