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Retro Review: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987)

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SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2
(US - 1987)

Directed by Lee Harry. Written by Lee Harry and Joseph H. Earle. Cast: Eric Freeman, James L. Newman, Elizabeth Kaitan, Jean Miller, Darrel Guilbeau, Brian Michael Henley, Corinne Gelfan, Michael Combatti, Kenneth Bryan James, Ron Moriarty, Frank Novak, Nadya Wynd, J. Aubrey Island, Randy Post, Lilyan Chauvan, Gilmer McCormick, Robert Brian Wilson, Britt Leach, Linnea Quigley, Tara Buckman, Charles Dierkop. (R, 88 mins)

"I can't think of a time I've ever been scammed. Well, except for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2." - Video Junkie's William Wilson

The notorious Santa slasher SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT caused a major nationwide uproar when it hit theaters in the fall of 1984, leading to parent protests, condemnation from religious and political organizations, and even Siskel & Ebert admonishing the makers of the film and condemning its profits as "blood money." The outrage was so focused on SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT that another similarly-themed slasher film released at the same time, DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, came and went with almost no notice. Such hysteria was commonplace in the era of the "Satanic Panic," when the media convinced nervous parents that Satan-worshiping cults were hiding in plain sight and everything from horror movies to heavy metal functioned as convenient scapegoats for kids behaving badly. It wasn't the first film to depict a killer Santa Claus (the opening segment of 1972's TALES FROM THE CRYPT had Joan Collins trapped in a house, trying to elude an escaped maniac in a Santa costume, and the 1980 films CHRISTMAS EVIL and TO ALL A GOODNIGHT both had killer Kris Kringles), or even the first slasher movie to have a Christmas setting (1974's BLACK CHRISTMAS, where sorority girls are offed by a lunatic who's hiding in the attic), but for some reason, America collectively decided to lose its shit over SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. Once the controversy died down, people saw it for what it was: a serviceable and largely generic exploitation/horror outing with no more or less splatter and T&A than a dozen other holiday/calendar-themed similar slasher movies.






Released in the spring of 1987, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 generated a different kind of outrage, as evidenced in the quote from my friend William Wilson at the top of this piece, which actually came from a recent non-film-related conversation about internet scammers preying on the elderly. This sequel, however, preyed on gullible slasher fans. One of the most notorious hosejobs in all of horror, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 eventually focuses on Ricky, the younger brother of Billy, the killer Santa from the first film. Both kids--five-year-old Billy and infant Ricky--were placed in an orphanage whose level of oppression can charitably be described as "Dickensian," complete with a stern, fanatical Mother Superior, after their parents were murdered by a man in a Santa costume. Once Billy turned 18, he left the orphanage, threw on some Santa garb, and embarked on a ho-ho-homicidal rampage, ultimately coming back to kill Mother Superior before he's shot dead by the cops, ending with a traumatized young Ricky intoning "Naughty." PART 2 opens with an adult Ricky (Eric Freeman) in a mental institution and being interviewed by Dr. Bloom (James L. Newman) on Christmas Eve, probably not the best time to ask him to unpack bad childhood memories. Ricky begins to tell his story, which involves a recap of key events of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. And by recap, we're not talking a quick "previously on" before moving forward. No, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 director Lee Harry spends the next 40 (!) minutes showing entire stretches of the first film over again, enough that its director, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS creator Charles E. Sellier, Jr., probably should've shared credit. Stop and read that again. It's not a typo. 40 minutes! Not only is the foundation for the sequel so flimsy that the flashbacks eat up nearly half of the 88-minute running time, but they're flashbacks to things Ricky couldn't possibly have witnessed. He eventually gets to his own story (you know, the "sequel"), explaining how he was adopted by a nice family after his brother's death but still couldn't ignore his murderous impulses and Santa-related trauma, ultimately going on his own rampage once he's set off by his girlfriend Jennifer's (Elizabeth Kaitan) asshole ex, inevitably named Chip (Kenneth Bryan James). In the present, Ricky kills Dr. Bloom, grabs an ax and a Santa costume, and makes his way to the home of the now-retired Mother Superior, now disabled by a stroke and played by Jean Miller, replacing the first film's Lilyan Chauvan, who's also credited since she's in a ton of flashback footage.


Just out on Blu-ray from Scream Factory (because physical media is dead) in a surprisingly extras-packed edition that offers more info than anyone would possibly need to know about it, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 was given an extremely low budget, with the intent all along being to construct a sequel using copious amounts of stock footage from the first film. The script is terrible, but to be fair to Harry, some of the killings--particularly the umbrella impalement--have an undeniable panache. He's also credited with editing, and indeed, there's a couple of creative cuts and some camera moves indicating that Harry possesses some degree of technical, if not screenwriting skill. There's also a legitimately hair-raising Spiro Razatos car stunt that's almost worth the price of admission, but everything else here is strictly amateur night, starting with the gratingly overwrought performance by Freeman, one of the worst actors you'll ever see. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 would've been just another crummy '80s horror sequel--albeit more cynical than most considering it's really only 45 minutes of new footage--but it's Freeman who almost single-handedly turns it into an MST3K-worthy bad-movie classic. Sure, there's plenty of WTF? bits like Dr. Bloom's gaudy rings and some memorably idiotic dialogue (Jennifer to Chip: "You stood me up! You cheated on me! You ruined my best sweater!"), but Freeman, one of the most charisma-deficient actors to ever be given the lead in a feature film, seems to be engaged in an endless battle with his own eyebrows to be the center of attention. Eyes bugged and veins popping, he overemphatically spits out every Freddy Krueger-esque bon mot in a way that suggests David Lee Roth starring in a community theater production of THE SHINING ("I've got a present for you!"), mechanically struts around like he's auditioning for a TERMINATOR ripoff, grunting pseudo-Hulk threats like "Punish!" and "Naughty!" when he gets pissed off, which is all the time, and randomly cackling. He plays to the back rows and beyond, and nowhere is his acting style better summed up than in the film's most infamous moment:






Judging from the bonus features--many of the principals appear, including Harry, Kaitan, Newman, a few supporting actors, and a significantly less-bulky Freeman--no one is under any illusions that this is a good movie. There's ample evidence that the whole thing is a joke, especially when Ricky and Jennifer go to see a movie, and it's the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. The new footage was shot in ten days in December 1986, with the scenes of Ricky and Dr. Bloom cranked out in two days in the basement of a closed VA hospital in Los Angeles. Harry was still relatively new to Hollywood (he was an assistant editor on the 1985 women-in-prison grinder HELLHOLE and edited the 1986 Cannon pickup THUNDER RUN)  and wanted to get into directing, seeing this as a challenge and an opportunity to get his feet wet. To date, his only other feature is the 1991 straight-to-video actioner STREET SOLDIERS. Freeman logged a few bit parts and TV appearances (including gigs on re-enactment shows like DIVORCE COURT and AMERICA'S MOST WANTED) before leaving the business in 1992. He remained blissfully ignorant of the burgeoning cult status of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 or that "Garbage Day!" had become a viral sensation. Freeman fell so far off the radar that Harry couldn't even track him down when he was contacted about recording a commentary for the film's first DVD release in 2004. He emerged from obscurity when he attended a screening of the film in 2013 and saw the response that it--and "Garbage Day!"--got from fans ("I've learned to accept it," Freeman says in the Blu-ray's 75-minute retrospective doc), and was inspired to give acting another shot.  Since then, he's had a small role in the 2016 made-for-TV Vivica A. Fox holiday vehicle A HUSBAND FOR CHRISTMAS, and a guest spot on a 2017 episode of the CBS series BULL. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 was followed in 1989 by SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!, inexplicably directed by a slumming Monte Hellman (!) and with a pre-Rob Zombie Bill Moseley stepping in as Ricky. The franchise concluded with two in-name-only sequels--both of which featured Clint Howard as a Ricky but not the Ricky--with 1990's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION and 1991's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOY MAKER, the latter certainly not the pinnacle of Mickey Rooney's career.


SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2
opening in Toledo, OH on 5/15/1987

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