It’s the most wonderful time of the year: time dust off that album of Christmas carols you got for free with The Daily Mail last year and deck the halls, fa lah lah lah… and so on. Christmas is undeniably wonderful, what with its enforced merrymaking, but if the season gets too cloying for you, I have the antidote in the form of the alternative Christmas film: the slasher.
The slasher film has long been inspired by certain key times of the year – Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day and, of course, Halloween. Christmas time is no different: inspiring such films as Black Christmas, Santa’s Slay, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Santa Claws, To All a Good Night… I could go on. Despite the seeming plethora of titles, pointing to the popularity of the subgenre, it still feels delightfully subversive to watch films of this ilk at such a happy time of the year. This article will look at a selection of Christmas slashers, from the taut, tense Black Christmas, to the execrable Silent Night, Deadly Night, and, along the way, taking in a camp pleasure in the form of Christmas Evil.
On its release, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) incurred the wrath of veteran film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who emphatically gave the film a thumbs down. Not only that, they read the credits of the film aloud on their show, calling out ‘shame, shame, shame’ after naming those involved in the film’s making. I hated the film as well, not out of any claim to a stake in the moral high ground, but just because the film’s a steaming pile of doggy-doo. Silent Night sees a young boy witness his parents getting killed by a maniac in a Santa suit. The young boy, Billy, ends up in an orphanage, yadda yaddda yadda, cruel nuns, yadda yadda, and when he’s released, Billy winds up serendipitously (or not) working in a toy shop where he’s required to dress as Santa. You can probably guess the rest – the inevitable killing spree ensues. This film has possibly the worst killer ever seen in a slasher – with his boyish good looks and gym-honed ‘guns’, Billy looks like a Playgirl centrefold circa 1982. To add insult to injury, he has the worst catchphrase ever – ‘PUNISH!’. And then we’re supposed to empathise with Billy because his parents were killed? Nah. In a ‘somebody, think of the children’ move Silent Night, Deadly Night was picketed by parents, and the film was pulled about two weeks after its initial release. I recommend that you too avoid this stinker like the plague. Rating: 1/5.
Despite the fact that Christmas Evil, aka You Better Watch Out, (1980) also features a crazy guy in a Santa suit, it fares slightly better in my opinion, possibly because of its moments of high camp (it is apparently ultra-camp director John Waters’ favourite Christmas film, which says it all). The film is about a young boy who believes in the sanctity of Christmas. He is psychologically scarred when he finds out that Santa isn’t real (relatable!) and spends the rest of his life trying to make the elusive Christmas spirit a reality. Woe betide anyone who shows meanness or cynicism… Christmas Evil is more a comedy horror, with some pretty duff special effects, but is buoyed by a compellingly off kilter performance by Brandon Maggart in the central role. Rating: 2.5/5.
And now, we come to the jewel in the crown – the original and best Black Christmas (1974). Do not countenance watching the remake, it is the single worst horror remake of all time – yes, worse than the remake of The Wicker Man with Nicholas ‘the bees!’ Cage. Directed by the late, great Bob Clark, Black Christmas is set a sorority house (oo-er!). The girls are on the verge of going home for Christmas, so no one initially notices that Clare has gone missing… and who or what is behind those disturbing, anonymous phone calls? Black Christmas is everything you could want in a horror – it is tense, taut and suspenseful. Unusually for a horror, it is well acted, with the classy cast (Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, among others ) ably fleshing out their characters – you actually end up caring for these people, unlike the usual cookie-cutter characters you get in most horrors. Black Christmas was one of the first films to employ the whole ‘the calls are coming from inside the house!’ bit too. This version, unlike the remake, actually credits the audience with a modicum of intelligence – there are certain questions left unanswered at the end of the film, so you have to make up your own mind somewhat. Not everything is tied up in a neat little package, leading to a discomfiting feeling – and sure isn’t that what you want from a horror? Highly recommended. Rating: 5/5