When I watch a movie, there are two of me sitting in the same seat. There’s that regular movie-going guy who likes blood and boobs, stuff that explodes, monsters, axe-maniacs, and the occasional light saber, rarely stopping to deeply consider what he’s seeing. We call the kind of movies that guy likes POPCORN MOVIES. But there’s another fellow who tends to tag along with him, usually uninvited. This guy might like some of the same things as his friend, but he is a seeker and connoisseur of SERIOUS CINEMA. He tends to prefer foreign films and has an eye for cinematography, thematic motifs, and character development. This guy doesn’t just want to see a movie, he wants it to change his life. Both guys, however, really like movies that involve Santa Claus and killing sprees. POPCORN: Dude, are we gonna talk about it? CINEMA: No. POPCORN: Come on, we gotta. CINEMA: Not yet. It’s too soon. POPCORN: Come on, man. Everybody wants to know. CINEMA: We’ll give it a couple weeks, and then, when it’s all out in the open – POPCORN: Not even the part where Chewbacca – CINEMA: A couple weeks. POPCORN: Or that Luke Skywalker is – CINEMA: Not yet. We still have more Christmas evil. POPCORN: Dude, you’re oppressin’ me. CINEMA: Just consider me a fascist in a Santa hat. Speaking of which . . . POPCORN: Santa Slashers, dude. Gotcha. Spirit of the season and all that. CINEMA: Exactly. For those of us who have grown tired of the blatant, staged sentimentality of the average Hollywood holiday film, there is a special subgenre of the Christmas horror movie, which is already a subgenre of the horror movie in general, that fills our twisted little hearts with tidings of comfort and joy. I like to refer to these few films as the Santa Slashers. They derive from, and dovetail with the beginning of, the much-maligned genre of horror known as the slasher film – POPCORN: Dude, I got this. So, the slasher flick is all about a violent psychopath, who wears a mask of some kind and kills a lot of people . . . usually naked chicks and teenagers that are gettin’ it on . . . usually with something sharp and pointy. For all those feminist chicks out there, the last man standing is usually a girl, even though she’s usually a virgin. Dudes that write books about these things say it all started with PSYCHO – CINEMA: And with PEEPING TOM, which were both released in 1960. POPCORN: – and you got . . . TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE – CINEMA: Mario Bava, 1971. POPCORN: – then TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and BLACK CHRISTMAS – CINEMA: 1974. POPCORN: – and HALLOWEEN in 1978. But it really took off with FRIDAY THE 13th . . . in 1980, when they started showing all the really good stuff. The axe in the head and Kevin Bacon and the spear through the two humpers in the bed – CINEMA: From FRIDAY THE 13th PART II, by the way of Bava – POPCORN: Slasher flicks were the punk rock of horror movies. They were down and dirty, all up in your face. Any fool with a camera and a bottle of ketchup thought they could make one of these bad boys – CINEMA: Boys were usually the biggest fans of these movies. POPCORN: Cuz there were lots of boobs and chicks in showers, man. Crazy dude’s out there choppin’ up her friends, but a girl’s gotta take off her shirt. Some of those chicks were bad-ass though, bro. Smarter than everybody else. CINEMA: But the movies started getting really stupid. POPCORN: Like the ambulance driver in that one FRIDAY THE 13th, or Freddy having a baby. CINEMA: The so-called classic era of the slasher genre had begun to wind down by the mid-80s. Some have even said that turning Santa into a masked killer helped to hurry its end. POPCORN: You ever see that TV flick called HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS? A bunch of sisters come home and their new mom is, like, maybe a killer. There was Gidget, and the crazy horny chick from that Clint Eastwood movie – CINEMA: Sally Field, yes, and Jessica Walter from PLAY MISTY FOR ME. It really was a great cast, including Julie Harris, Jill Haworth – something of a minor scream queen with IT! (1966), THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR (1969), and TOWER OF EVIL (1972) – and Eleanor Parker, most well-known from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, making a fine turn here in one of her only horror movies. This was a finely made, well-acted movie, with a palpable sense of drama and tension. Surprisingly, it was an Aaron Spelling production. POPCORN: It was TV, so no major blood or boobs. But somebody does get a pitchfork in the ass. No Santa, but it wasn’t no Hallmark Christmas either. Kinda classy shit, at least for the kinda shit where people are gettin’ killed. It kept my eyes open late one night when I caught it on cable. Pretty sure it’s the first Christmas slasher . . . CINEMA: Impressive, but you’re wrong. HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS was broadcast on ABC on November 28, 1972, but on March 8 of that same year, the Amicus studio released their horror anthology TALES FROM THE CRYPT. In one of the stories, Joan Collins is stalked by a killer Santa Claus – POPCORN: Dude, you suck. But yeah, I remember that one now. She killed her old man – CINEMA: – and there’s a strangler terrorizing the city, dressed as old Saint Nick. She looks out the window after offing her husband and Santa is standing outside – POPCORN: – and he knows if she’s been good or bad. Mostly bad. CINEMA: She has a daughter, who sees Santa outside – POPCORN: – and thinks she has to let that creepin’ bastard in. CINEMA: Nice little anthology, with a truly heartbreaking performance by Peter Cushing in one of the other segments. It may have been the only time he played someone who wasn’t from the aristocracy, a scientist, or . . . a grand moff. POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: In 1972, we also received a mean little gift called SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT – and, before you even ask, no, this isn’t the one that got itself banned. POPCORN: Yeah, yeah, I know. This one starts out with ol’ boy on fire, runnin’ out into the snow. It’s Christmas and he’s burnin’ up in the front yard. His kid gets the house but wants to knock it down for cash, so somebody busts out the axe . . . CINEMA: This is a cheap, but thoroughly engaging little slasher that was somewhat ahead of its time. There are the nasty phone calls and the holiday setting, which would recur a few years later in BLACK CHRISTMAS. There’s the killer’s POV shots that would be used so effectively, a few years after that, in HALLOWEEN (and subsequently copied in half of the slasher films of the 1980s). POPCORN: “Ki-ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma-ma . . .” CINEMA: ‘Silent Night’ is playing and all those Christmas lights just blinking away. Skeletal trees in the graveyard and that dim, eerie atmosphere. It’s not the best horror movie ever made, but there’s an interesting pedigree here. It was produced by Lloyd Kaufman – POPCORN: Troma. CINEMA: – and, not only do we get an appearance by famous drag-queen Candy Darling and John Carradine (which was not all that rare in shitty, low-budget horror movies), but Mary Woronov is here too. She was a cult actress from the Warhol era, and showed up much later in the ’80s throwback HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT was made for and released primarily to the drive-in circuit before disappearing for years. It’s fallen into public domain since then, however, and you can easily find it for next to nothing. The prints tend to be fairly poor on most of these copies, but I believe there’s a high-def version out there now. POPCORN: Dude, I got it on one of those big-ass collections, like ‘Fifty Shitty Movies For Twenty Bucks’ or whatever. Ain’t gonna lie, I kinda like some of these old flicks to be all jacked-up when I watch ’em. It’s like some old-school, middle-of-the-night cable shit. I mean, who wants that in high-def? CINEMA: That’s some grindhouse aesthetic you’ve got there, my friend. Just toss some peanut shells and tissues on the floor . . . anyway, yeah, which brings us to BLACK CHRISTMAS, from 1974. It’s also been called STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, to separate itself from the blaxploitation films that were so prevalent when it was released – POPCORN: What, like PIMP DADDY’S CANDY CANE? CINEMA: That might have actually been a movie. No, this film has frequently been cited as a precursor to the slasher film in general. Bob Clark was no slouch, having already directed the excellent DEATHDREAM and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (a movie not nearly as good as its title). He’s also the director behind PORKY’S and another, albeit less bloody holiday classic, A CHRISTMAS STORY. POPCORN: “Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.” CINEMA: BLACK CHRISTMAS was based on a Canadian urban legend called ‘The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’, as well as a series of murders that took place in Montreal. As that title might indicate, the film opens with an unknown man slipping into a sorority house and sneaking up into the attic during a Christmas party. It’s not long before strange, threatening phone calls begin and college girls start to die. POPCORN: Oh yeah, the one with death-by-plastic-bag. Lois Lane is all drunk and bitchy. CINEMA: It’s Margot Kidder, is there any other way she could be? It’s set in the fictional town of Bedford, undoubtedly a twisted homage to Bedford Falls, the town where Jimmy Stewart lived in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. POPCORN: Is this creepy dude on the phone where they got the idea for the creepy dude on the phone in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS? <in exaggerated baby voice> “Have you checked the children?” CINEMA: I’ve never read anything about it, but it seems likely – POPCORN: “I want to see your insides.” CINEMA: What I find interesting is all the actors who were originally approached for roles in this movie, from Bette Davis, Malcolm McDowell, and Gilda Radner. POPCORN: Don’t care, dude. But it’s got that hussy chick from ROMEO AND JULIET – CINEMA: Olivia Hussey, still beautiful here. POPCORN: – dude, she’s hot! – and there’s death-by-hook-in-the-heart and death-by-unicorn. That, and Lois Lane gives hard liquor to little kids. But she ain’t half as messed up as ol’ Saint Nick in TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT . . . CINEMA: This is the first movie that can truly be called a Santa slasher, since the killer appears in a Santa suit. And he’s slashing. Inexplicably released a month after Christmas of 1979, it’s nestled between BLACK CHRISTMAS and FRIDAY THE 13th, which gives it historical value. POPCORN: A prank goes wrong, somebody dies. Little later, the bodies hit the floor. CINEMA: Also notable for being the sole directorial effort of David Hess – POPCORN: The head douche-bag in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. He’s the one who pulled out the gun and blasted that chick in the back. Man, that dude just looks like sleaze. The sex in here is pretty sleazy too. Everybody bangin’. CINEMA: Banging without consequence. College girls banging other girls boyfriends and banging cops (whose superiors, coincidentally, tell them not to bang the college girls). However, the pacing of this movie is strange. Most of the action is frontloaded into the first few minutes, followed by a long stretch of nothing – POPCORN: Nothin’ but bangin’. CINEMA: This was essentially the same story structure used in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, which was released just a few months earlier. The kills in TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT were fairly rote, however, which is disappointing when you consider that, in LAST HOUSE, Hess was onscreen for some of the most disturbing cinematic deaths I’ve ever seen. While it’s just another coincidence – this and FRIDAY THE 13th were in production at approximately the same time – there’s a crazy old man named Ralph who tells everyone they’re doomed in this movie too. POPCORN: Dude, there’s a Nancy and a Tina in here too. CINEMA: Huh. Overall, the best I can say about this one (unless you’re a neurotic completist like me) is that if you enjoy seeing Santa kill people, then you might want to seek it out. It’s mostly out-of-print, unavailable unless you still have a VCR on mothballs. But it’s worth a view. POPCORN: For all that bangin’. CINEMA: Yes, all that bangin’, which might put you on our next Santa slashers list. This is considered an obscure film, though it’s gained cult status even among other cult directors. Filmmaker John Waters has been quoted as saying this is the greatest Christmas movie ever made. He’s been known to show it at all of his Christmas parties – POPCORN: Know this one, dude. It’s CHRISTMAS EVIL, but sometimes it’s called YOU BETTER WATCH OUT. It’s got that jacked-up ending . . . CINEMA: On Christmas Eve, 1947, young Harry sees his mother getting groped by Santa under the Christmas tree – POPCORN: Little dude flips the fuck out. Runs upstairs and starts cuttin’ himself on a busted snow globe. Like, way later, he’s working in a toy factory. Apartment is all Christmas, all year. There’s toys all over and he’s peepin’ on his neighbors, putting names on lists and shit. Dude even sleeps in a Santa suit. CINEMA: His parents obviously never sought therapy. POPCORN: Probably offed ’em, man. Here’s what cracks me up – the description of the movie says something about ‘then, after a company Christmas party, Harry has a nervous breakdown’. Like this dude wasn’t all messed up right outta the box. Way before we ever see ’em in that first scene – come on, man, you know it’s your dad in that Santa suit. But if Mommy’s boppin’ the real deal, it ain’t nothin’ but good for you on Christmas. CINEMA: You feel passionate about this one. POPCORN: Shit happened to me, dude. Came down the stairs on Christmas Eve and saw Mom under the tree like that . . . but she was with an elf. CINEMA: Never did have any ambition. POPCORN: Didn’t make me pick up no axe, seeing that shit. Now maybe if there was some reindeer all up in there – CINEMA: Alright, alright. So your messed-up Santa has his breakdown, starts making his list, checking it twice. I think he even leaves a bag of dirt for someone. There’s a fairly long stretch in the film until he starts swinging that axe, but there’s a midnight mass – POPCORN: – and three less preppies on the earth. It’s a Christmas miracle. CINEMA: Heh. So, the actor who plays Harry, Brandon Maggart, that’s Fiona Apple’s dad. POPCORN: Damn. You think when she was growin’ up, Christmas Eve would come and he’d be like, ‘Hey, who wants to watch my movie?’ Little Fiona Apple would be like, ‘No, daddy, no. I don’t wanna see it again.’ All crying and stuff. And Fiona Apple’s dad would be like, ‘If you don’t watch my movie, then Santa’s not coming.’ Fiona Apple would be all like, ‘I seen your movie and I don’t want Santa to come.’ CINEMA: Heh-heh. Then she was all messed-up and had to start writing music to get over it. POPCORN: For real, dude, what’s up with that ending? They go all Thelma and Louise on acid. CINEMA: Maybe he really was Santa, I don’t know. This used to be a hard film to find, but it’s recently gotten a beautiful new BluRay release, complete with a John Waters commentary track. Maybe I’ll get it for you and stick it under the tree. Okay, our final film was not a favorite among most parents – POPCORN: You’re not even gonna mention DON’T OPEN TIL CHRISTMAS? CINEMA: Apparently not. POPCORN: Then I got it. So there are flicks where Santa’s doing the slashing, but in this one he’s getting slashed. Then he gets speared, and then stabbed. He gets his chestnuts roasted. And gets stabbed again. CINEMA: Is that it? POPCORN: Pretty much. Other than it came out after SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, but nobody had shit to say about this one. CINEMA: It was the end of 1984, and the end of the slasher film was nigh. In the wake of FRIDAY THE 13th, studios had more or less been through every possible holiday. There was NEW YEAR’S EVIL, PROM NIGHT, SWEET SIXTEEN, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, BLOODY BIRTHDAY, GRADUATION DAY, APRIL FOOL’S DAY. Christmas had gotten its due more often than any other holiday, but now there just weren’t any other occasions left to incite maniacs into killing sprees. POPCORN: <in dramatic movie announcer voice> “They thought they had found the New World, but all they really discovered was a pile of bloody corpses. It was the day they would never forget, the Columbus Day Massacre.” CINEMA: So, this family goes to the mental institution to visit Grandpa for the holidays. He’s been catatonic for years, until the parents leave young Billy alone with him for a moment. Then he suddenly emerges from his speechless state to relay a ridiculous story to his grandson – POPCORN: “You see Santa Claus tonight, you better run, boy. You better run for your life!” CINEMA: Billy is expressing his newfound fear of Santa to his parents while they’re driving home. Meanwhile, a raggedy-looking man in a Santa suit is robbing a nearby convenience store, shoots the clerk dead when he tries to resist. The family sees this bogus Saint Nick on the side of the road. In an attempt to prove to their son that Santa is a good guy, they stop to help him out. POPCORN: Yeah, thanks for the lesson, Pops. Here’s a bullet in your head to show how much you know. Then I’m gonna rip Mom’s shirt open before I slit her throat. Just in case you still happen to like Christmas, how ’bout you go live with a bunch of nuns? CINEMA: Part of the criticism leveled against this film was due to its unsympathetic portrayal of religion, specifically where it concerned the Mother Superior. POPCORN: Because she was a bitch? CINEMA: More or less. When Billy draws a picture of Santa Claus stabbed to death, rather than considering that he is essentially the Devil to this poor boy, Mother Superior decides to punish him. She subjects him to beatings, ties him to his bed, and forces him to sit on Santa’s lap in some kind of ill-conceived attempt to cure him. POPCORN: Watching that little eight-year old knock Santa to the floor was freakin’ hilarious, though. True movie magic, dude. CINEMA: Billy watches a teenage couple making love through a peephole, only to be caught by the nun. She whips the door open and starts to beat the couple with a belt. Afterward, she confronts Billy and tells him that what they were doing was very naughty. “When we do something naughty we are always caught,” she says, “Then we are punished. Punishment is absolute, punishment is good.” POPCORN: Then, when he’s eighteen, Sister Mary Elephant helps him out one last time and gets him a job in a toy store. CINEMA: No chance that he might have to face Santa here. POPCORN: Nope, none at all. CINEMA: The real problems began for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT with the ad campaign. Santa had obviously already been doing some killing in the movies, but no one really noticed. Then a local TV station aired the trailer for this film in between THREE’S COMPANY and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE, showing Santa coming after someone with an axe. Parents flew into a rage, claiming that Christmas had been ruined for their children, and started picketing the theaters where the movie was playing. POPCORN: Dude, who lets their kids watch THREE’S COMPANY? CINEMA: Not wanting to lose viewership, and not being fans of the genre to begin with, critics everywhere denounced the movie. Siskel and Ebert read the production credits on air, repeating ‘shame, shame’ after each name they recited. Leonard Maltin called it a worthless splatter film, asking if the Easter Bunny was next. POPCORN: That’d be cool, man. Big-ass mutant killer rabbit, exploding eggs. CINEMA: I can understand the parental concern about the ads appearing when and where children can see them. That mistake’s on the network. However, as usual, the people doing all of the protesting never bothered to go see exactly what they were protesting. Had they bothered to buy a ticket and sit down in the theater with an open mind, they would have realized – POPCORN: That this flick was a big steaming pile of shit? CINEMA: More or less. But rather than try to actively engage with their children, too many people would rather ban this and restrict that. Because it’s not about having any kind of personal responsibility in this country. Oh no, it’s all about finding the right person or thing to blame. If you’re lucky, you can even take someone to court and get a bunch of money out of them. Maybe you’ll end up a viral sensation and make the talk show circuit. If nothing else, you can sit around at home on your big fat, stupid, judgmental American ass and think about how much superior you are to everyone else in the world. POPCORN: Dude? CINEMA: Say I’m offended by the color red. It hurts my eyes. But it’s out there in the world and there’s nothing I can do about it. Might as well work on how I react to red and accept it, rather than try to tear it away from everyone else’s sight. POPCORN: Dude, if you don’t like red, you might not wanna watch the movies we watch. CINEMA: The thinking in this country is that the only criterion for something being offensive is that someone is offended by it. In a linguistic sense, this logic is sound. But in reality, it means nothing, and this kind of thinking is the worst thing that’s happened to society in the past few decades. How should your personal judgment about what is offensive be able to affect my life, when the thing I find most offensive is the fact that you’re a lazy, judgmental twat? POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: So . . . that’s why I choose to watch SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT every year around Christmas. POPCORN: Even though it sucks? CINEMA: Even though it sucks. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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