Silent Night, Deadly Night and three Black Christmases (1974, 2006, 2019)
Horror Bulletin Week 147
This week, we’ll be watching our usual line-up of four full-length films and a short film. We’ll watch four more Holiday-themed horror films, including the original “Silent Night Deadly Night” from 1984, and all three versions of “Black Christmas” from 1974, 2006, and 2019.
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Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
• Directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr.
• Written by Paul Caimi, Michael Hickey
• Stars Lilyan, Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 19 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgement Zone
The first psycho Santa is also one of the best. It’s— traumatic to both the characters and the viewer. A true classic that spawned a number of bad sequels.
It’s Christmas Eve in 1971. Billy and his parents drive in the car, going to visit Grandpa. They listen to Christmas music on the radio. They stop at the Utah Mental Facility, where Grandpa lives. The old man is catatonic; he doesn’t speak or respond. The parents go to talk to the doctor, leaving Billy alone with Grandpa.
Grandpa wakes up and tells Billy that, “Nobody can help you. Christmas Eve is the scariest damned night of the year. You know what happens on Christmas Eve, do ya? All the naughty ones, he punishes! What about you, boy? You been good all year? You see Santa Claus tonight, you better run for your life!” The folks come back, and Grandpa plays catatonic again, so they head back home.
A man dressed as Santa Claus robs a convenience store and shoots the clerk. Billy’s family then spots the same Santa, whose car is broken down on the road. Santa pulls a gun, kills his dad, rapes his mom, then kills her too; Billy hides and sees the whole thing. Baby brother is ignored in the car.
We move to December 1974, at the orphanage where Billy and his little brother have lived since the murders. Billy has drawn Santa being shot, stabbed, and variously mutilated, which the Mother Superior doesn’t appreciate. Sister Margaret understands what the problem is, but Mother Superior isn’t supportive. “Punishment is good,” says the old woman. When Billy has nightmares, Mother Superior ties him to the bed. She insists that Billy will sit on Santa’s lap and behave. He gives Santa a bloody nose.
Ten years later, in 1984, Billy gets a job at Mr. Sims’ toy store doing stockroom things. Cue the happy toy store job montage. But then, the holidays arrive. Billy had been doing good work, but he’s not the same since the Christmas season started. On the other hand, Billy does dream about having sex with Pamela, his co-worker at the toy store— at least until he dreams Santa kills her too.
The store’s Santa Claus breaks his ankle, and they need a replacement. Mr. Sims chooses Billy as the replacement. Billy puts on the outfit, and he’s maybe, just a little, conflicted. Sister Margaret finds out what Billy’s new job is, and she is concerned.
The store finally closes on Christmas Eve, and the booze bottles come out from hiding. Company party time! Pamela and Andy get naughty in the stockroom as Mr. Sims tells Billy to get started doing what Santa Claus does on Christmas Eve, while giving him booze. Billy goes back to the stock room and watches Andy forcing himself on Pam. Billy snaps and kills Andy. “Punishment is necessary. It is good!” He says as he kills Pamela too. Mr. Sims gets it in the head with a hammer. Mrs. Randall goes looking for him and gets chased all around the store by an ax-wielding Santa. Billy heads out to look for more naughties.
Sister Margaret comes by and experiences the aftermath, finding all the bodies.
Tommy and Denise are having sex on the pool table while little Cindy waits upstairs for Santa to arrive. Santa hacks in the door and impales Denise on reindeer antlers. Tommy doesn’t fare any better. When little Cindy comes in and says she’s been good all year, Santa gives her a bloody box cutter as a gift.
Santa kills a couple of bully sledders in the woods. Sister Margaret goes to the police and talks to Captain Richards. She predicts that he’ll head back to the orphanage. The cops shoot Santa to death in the orphanage play yard, but it’s the wrong Santa; this was Father O’Brien, a deaf man.
Mother Superior knows what’s going on, and she even suspects who the killer really is. As the kids sing Christmas carols, Santa kills the cop on duty outside. One of the little kids lets Santa inside, and Mother Superior recognizes him. As Billy raises the ax, Captain Richards and Sister Margaret arrive and shoot Santa in the back. Billy dies at the feet of Ricky, his younger brother, who still lives in the orphanage.
An abundant backstory makes Billy more of a sympathetic character than most slasher villains. He does only kill those who have been naughty, with just a few exceptions. OK, quite a few exceptions. Yes, he’s a murdering maniac, but he’s got reasons.
Nothing says abused and traumatized children like a Catholic orphanage with a mean Mother Superior. This one is a holiday classic now, but at the time of its release it only showed for two weeks in theaters before protests shut it down. Ricky, the baby brother from the beginning, is almost forgotten about and barely mentioned again until the very final scene. It’s almost like they were already planning a sequel...
Black Christmas (1974)
• Directed by Bob Clark
• Written by Roy Moore
• Stars Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 38 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgement Zone
Super influential early holiday slasher film with lots of familiar faces. With the exception of some dated telephone technology that’s important to the story, it holds up really well today. It’s still very good.
It’s Christmas at the sorority house. Someone is outside creeping around looking at the various windows in the huge old building. The unseen person climbs the trellis to an upstairs window. He sneaks around while we hear Barb take an overseas call from her mother. Most of the girls are leaving to go home for the holidays, and only a handful are staying behind.
They get another phone call, and it’s “The Moaner” again. The whole gang gathers around to listen to him go at it. He’s quite… entertaining for the girls.
Clare goes upstairs to pack and the stalker is hiding in her closet. He kills her with a dry-cleaning bag. He then goes up and hides in the attic. Mrs. Mac, the house mother, has hidden her booze in the bookshelf— and another in the toilet tank. Peter calls Jess and makes a date for tomorrow at two.
Clare’s father, Mr. Harrison, comes to town looking for her. Mrs. Mac takes him to the sorority house, but they still don’t find her body. Meanwhile, Jess tells Peter that she’s pregnant and doesn’t want the baby. He wants the baby, but she wants an abortion. Harrison, Jess, and Barb go to the police station to report Clare as missing, but that doesn’t go anywhere. Jess asks Chris if he’s seen her, but he hasn’t.
We see Peter feverishly playing the piano for his instructors, and then later see him destroy the piano. Apparently, he didn’t get a good review. Temper!
There’s another missing girl, Janice, and Lt. Fuller of the police organizes a walk through the park for a large search party. Some of the sorority girls and Mr. Harrison go out to help. While they’re all out there, the killer returns to the house. Mrs. Mac hears the cat yowling in the attic and goes up to investigate. She finds Clare’s body, but the killer is there too.
Peter offers to marry Jess, but she turns him down. He still wants the baby. He threatens her and then storms out. Lt. Fuller comes to investigate the obscene phone calls, thinking they may be related to the disappearances. They tap the phone so they can trace it, but that takes time. They still don’t search the attic.
While Jess is watching Christmas Carolers in the front yard, the killer sneaks in and kills Barb with her glass unicorn horn. Jess gets another call, but there wasn’t enough time to trace the call. When the caller alludes to abortions, Jess starts to think it may be Peter on the phone. Peter calls Jess again and cries about the baby, and they can’t trace thatcall either. Lt. Fuller starts looking into Peter’s history and finds the smashed piano in the conservatory.
Phyl goes looking for Barb, but the killer gets her as well. Jess gets another call, and this time, they do trace the call. It’s from inside the house! They call and tell Jess, who decides to ignore their warning and go upstairs, looking for Barb and Phyl.
“Agnes, it’s me, Billy. Don’t tell them what we did, Agnes,” says the maniacal voice behind her. She finds the bodies and then runs to the basement. Peter breaks the window and comes into the basement as well, calling for Jess. He approaches her, and she kills him with a knife.
Lt. Fuller says he knew it was Peter all along. All the cops and reporters clear out, leaving Jess alone. We hear movement and giggling from up in the attic. We see Mrs. Mac and Clare’s bodies, still up there; apparently the police still didn’t look up there… Where the real killer is still hiding.
All along, we’re led to believe the killer is Peter, but he also seems a little too obvious. The only other male we know is Chris, Clare’s boyfriend. The real question was which one was the red herring? At the end, we’re still not absolutely sure who the killer was, but it’s not Peter.
Mr. Harrison’s shock at the language and lifestyle of college girls is hilarious. Their behavior is really tame by modern movie standards, but it was definitely pushing the envelope of good taste in 1974.
The killer here has an uncanny knack for knowing when the other people in the household are distracted or busy. His rants on the phone are really creepy as well- for just a voice, they’re really well done.
This is the first movie I can recall that showed the process of tracing a phone call. This was what it was like when the phone company had lots of humans working on what was still a very mechanical system.
Believe it or not, this was the first holiday-themed horror film; it was also a big inspiration for future slasher-type films.
Short Film: The Grot in the Grotto (2021)
• Directed by J. W. Roberts
• Written by James Hamilton
• Stars James Hamilton, Alex Whyman, Greg Cranness, Luke Booys
• Run Time: 6:43
• Watch it:
A man is being interviewed about a strange hiring process. They “rehabilitate” homeless people by giving them plenty to eat. Who gets to eat a lot? Santa Claus. And Prisoners. What if they were the same thing?
It’s “A Clockwork Orange” meets “Rare Exports” with a sprinkling of “Saw”. It’s thoroughly weird. Makeup and costumes are great, the acting is fun, and the attention to detail is quite good. I love the slam against actors too. “Check it again!”
Black Christmas (2006)
• Directed by Glen Morgan
• Written by Glen Morgan, Roy Moore
• Stars Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lavey Chabert
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 35 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgement Zone
The remake of the 1974 classic, updated to use modern phone technology. It also now includes a lot more backstory on the killer, which was absent from the first film, maybe rightfully so, as this one drags a bit.
It’s Christmas at the sorority house. Clair signs cards and then looks in her closet. She’s immediately stabbed in the head with a fountain pen. Credits roll.
They hand out Christmas dinner at the Clark Sanitarium, and we get a look at the place. One patient, Billy Lenz, killed his whole family back in the day. His mother kept him in the attic when he was little, and every year he wants to escape and go home and kill her once again. The sorority used to be Billy’s home where this all happened.
Back in the sorority house, Megan hears someone moving around up in the attic. Naturally, she goes up there alone to check it out. She finds Claire’s body, and then the killer finds her.
Billy kills the guard with a candy cane and escapes. We get a flashback to baby Billy, who was born with a liver disease that gave him yellow skin. We move forward in time and see that Billy’s mother hates him. He peeks under the door and watches his mother kill his father on Christmas. The mother then padlocked him into the attic. In 1982, the mother comes up to the attic and has sex with Billy. Nine months later, she gives birth to Agnes.
The girls get a really strange call from Claire’s cell. The girls all laugh at Eve, the weird girl. Mrs. Mac insists that they open “Billy’s gift” first; it’s a holiday tradition since he’s kind of an urban legend about what happened in their sorority building. Then they all trade gifts in their secret Santa games until they get another creepy call, this time from Megan’s phone.
They go up to Megan’s room and find Kyle there. Kyle is Kelli’s boyfriend. Kyle tells more about Billy’s story, and we see a flashback. For Christmas one year, Billy got a telescope to watch the neighbors, and he saw how they lived. Downstairs, little Agnes gets a doll. Billy comes down and abducts Agnes. He cuts out her eye and eats it before killing his stepfather and mother. He then ate various parts of them. Billy was then declared insane, and Agnes went to an orphanage.
Leigh comes to town; she’s Claire’s sister and a former member of the house. She finds a gift to the group from Billy. The power goes out. Kelli finds old sex tapes involving Kyle, and they fight.
There’s an entirely too long period of people looking angry, sick, and sullen while eyes peek at them from little holes in the wall and floor. Dana gets killed under the porch, and soon the girls get a call from her that’s just more incoherent rambling.
The girls find Eve’s head in the parking lot, which removes all doubt that something’s going on. Mrs. Mac says, “He’s home.” They call the police, but with the storm, it may be as long as two hours until they arrive.
Mrs. Mac wants to get in the car and drive to the police station. She and one of the girls have to defrost and scrape the ice off the car first. This goes badly for both of them.
Several more girls are killed, and Kyle shows up again. Billy calls, wanting to know where Agnes is. “She’s my family now!”
For some reason, Kelli, Kyle, and Leigh decide to go up to the attic to make sure there are bodies up there. Billy kills Kyle and eats his eyeballs. He lights up some candles, and we see the missing people, all with their eyes removed.
Kelli stabs Billy with a glass unicorn and sets the house on fire. Except it’s not Billy, it’s crazy Agnes. Billy finally shows up and attacks Agnes.
Billy and Agnes try to catch Kelli inside the walls as Leigh beats on the drywall and the attic burns. Leigh and Kelli run outside as the house burns to the ground.
Billy wakes up in the morgue and kills the attendant. Leigh and Kelli are in the hospital getting treated for injuries. Suddenly, Agnes isn’t dead either and kills Leigh. Kelli gets trapped in her room with Agnes, but she manages to zap Agnes with a defibrillator. Billy attacks Kelli but ends up impaled on a Christmas tree.
The phone calls with Billy talking to Agnes is very similar to what we heard in the first film. Calling from each other’s cells is a nice difference; they can’t trace those calls anymore even though you can see who is calling. Nice.
If you’re paying attention, you’ll easily notice that people started dying inside the house before Billy escapes the hospital, so it’s obvious that there is more than one killer.
I think this is probably the worst of the three versions of the story. There’s just too much running around and screaming in this one, and too much focus on the bad guys’ backstory.
Black Christmas (2019)
• Directed by Sophia Takal
• Written by Sophia Takal, April Wolfe, Roy Moore
• Stars Imogen Boots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 32 minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgement Zone
A thoroughly awful remake of a remake of 1974’s good film. If you watch the trailer, don’t bother, as it spoils everything. It takes the basic idea of the original and goes a completely new direction with it, a direction that’s both unnecessary and un-entertaining.
It’s a sorority house again. Kris calls Lindsay on the phone; Lindsay’s going on a trip soon. Lindsay notices she’s being followed by a weird guy on his phone. After a quick jump scare, she’s encountered by a man in a shroud wearing a mask. She dies, and credits roll.
Riley walks through the house, and we meet various characters. Most of the girls are leaving for the holidays, but there are a few remaining behind. She goes to class, where she listens to a lecture by Professor Gelson. Kris is circulating a petition to have him fired as being a misogynist.
We get some history; Brian raped Riley three years ago, and he’s coming back tonight. No one really believed good old Brian would have done that. She goes over to the fraternity and watches them do some kind of dark ritual.
Some of the girls are doing a talent show thing. Riley spots Brian in the audience and freaks out and changes it to an anti-rapey song, humiliating Brian. Landon likes Riley, and he comes out and congratulates her for her bravery.
“Calvin Hawthorne” was the name of the university’s founder, and he is the name that showed up when Lindsay was texted before being killed. Now, Helena’s getting messaged by him; she’s next to die.
Fran stays behind one day, and the killer gets her very quickly. Riley starts getting texted by “Calvin Hawthorne.” Helena’s mother calls, looking for her. Riley figures out that both she and Lindsay didn’t get home as planned. She’s a little creeped out by the text messages, and she starts to think it might be Landon. She goes to campus security, and they’re about as helpful as you’d expect.
Riley runs into Professor Gelson, and he whines about Kris’s petition. He seems to be very nice, but also makes vague passive-aggressive threats. Riley then yells at Kris for posting the video of their song online, and it comes up that several of the girls are getting weird DMs. Marty’s boyfriend, Nate, sticks up for men, and they all shout him down and throw him out.
Jesse goes into the basement to test some Christmas lights. She sees something and screams. Suddenly, someone in a shroud and mask comes in and starts shooting at the girls with arrows. Marty gets shot in the leg. Riley goes after him with a sharp stick, while Kris goes down in the basement looking for Jesse.
Riley runs into Nate downstairs. He acts all tough and dies within seconds. The masked man grabs Riley and cuts her face. She stabs him with her keys.
Kris finds Jesse’s body in the basement. Riley finds Nate’s body in the living room. Riley gets ready to pull the mask off the attacker when they find two more attackers dressed the same way. It’s not just one guy.
Riley calls 911, and the guards head right over. Meanwhile, Riley and Kris hide in the kitchen. One of the men grabs Kris, and Riley stabs him in the back with a knife. The cop barges in and is stabbed in the back by yet another guy in a mask and cloak. They’re guys from the fraternity they humiliated, but they aren’t bleeding red blood, it’s some kind of black stuff.
Kris and Riley run out to the car and drive away. Riley remembers the ritual she saw; “black magic or sorcery or something,” she says. Riley believes the magic is coming from the magical bust of Hawthorne in the DKO house.
Riley and Kris argue, and Riley gets out of the car to fight back. She meets up with Nate, who wants to help. Kris stops at a neighboring sorority, and they are running into the same problem— it’s not just their house.
Nate goes into the DKO house and confronts the guys, but he doubles over with a headache. He at least distracts them long enough for Riley to get in and untie Helena. Except Helena’s working with the bad guys, and Riley gets knocked out.
She wakes up tied to a chair in time to see Nate being converted or possessed into the group. Professor Gelson explains that old man Hawthorne was into the dark arts, and he left instructions for men on how to take their power back.
The man in black comes in, and the men insist they bow before him. The man in black kills Helena just to show his power. The man grabs Riley and chokes her, but Kris and the other girls break in, and everyone starts to fight.
Riley smashes the magic bust and sets the house on fire, locking the cultists inside. The only man who gets out is Nate, who regrets being possessed.
I guess creepy DMs are about the best you can do with modern phone technology. “He’s calling from inside the house” just doesn’t cut it when everyone has a phone in their pocket.
The first film had the creeper hiding in the house, and no one even knew he was there. This time around, he barges into the living room with a bow and arrows, and they all see him. There’s no secrets or subtlety after that; it’s just another home intrusion/cultist movie.
This movie is so feminist that they even changed the name of the cat from Claude to Claudette. The only good men either die in seconds or turn against the women in the end. It’s so completely non-subtle in man-hatred that it’s really hard to watch. You can have a movie with strong female leads without making all men the villains. And in this film, all men are villains.
And that’s our show. Thanks for joining us. Stop in during the week at our website, HorrorMovieGuys.com for news and horror updates, to comment on this podcast, or to contact us.
Get ready for next week, where we’ll be watching some more classics. We’ll watch four more horror films, including "The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears" from 2013, "The Amusement Park" from 1975, "Red Christmas" from 2017, and "Better Watch Out" from 2016.
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