Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 (1987) ****
Director: Lee Harry
Runtime: 1h 28m
In my review of Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) I marveled at how casually vicious, ugly and cruel it managed to be. The sequel is a radical depart from this tone, which is a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that nearly 30 minutes of its runtime is drawn from footage recycled from the first film. Part Two is a patently absurd horror movie a good deal funnier than most of the deliberate comedic horror films I’ve seen. Indeed, I’m not entirely convinced that Part Two is not a deliberate comedy itself: there are certainly plenty of scenes that verge on outright parody of horror movies in general and Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) in particular. As a traditional horror movie Part Two is a complete failure, it is never scary in the slightest and only occasionally even disturbing. Fortunately, through a combination of it’s own incompetence and it’s attempts at parody Silent Night Deadly Night Part Two is uproariously funny throughout. The completely absurd gore and at times incredibly inventive murder scenes are harmlessly nasty to the point of being outright charming.
Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) ended with Billy, dressed as Santa Claus trying to kill Mother Superior and the other nuns, only to be shot dead by the police. Then, Billy’s axe fell from his hands and landed with its blade pointing towards Billy’s younger brother Ricky. Staring at the camera Ricky intoned Billy’s favorite accusation: “Naughty” thus promising an Oresteia-like self-perpetuating cycle of violence and retribution. This has obviously come to pass, as Part Two begins with Ricky already grown, into a man whose physique and mannerisms resemble nothing so much as a professional wrestler, and imprisoned in a mental hospital for murder. The film doesn’t say how long he’s been imprisoned there, but it has at least been a few months as it is now Christmas Eve and the rampage that landed Ricky in the loony bin took place in the summer.
The staff is plainly terrified on the hulking, eternally laughing murderer, with one orderly flinching every time Ricky so much as reaches for his lighter. Incidentally, there is no way that homicidal maniacs are allowed lighters when they are confined to psychiatric hospitals (in my limited experience they don’t even let you keep your belt). Dr. Henry Bloom, the latest physiatrist assigned to Ricky’s case, makes a big show of not being frightened of the hulking murderer. He even dismisses the orderly before beginning his interview, as well as issuing a stern warning to his patient, saying that he is Ricky’s last chance. Ricky just laughs and continues to talk tough, thoroughly enjoying the game of cat and mouse that he’s playing with the shrink. Most of the film is occupied with this conversation between Ricky and Bloom, and the first thirty minutes or so of it is made up almost entirely of footage from the first film. I have to applaud such laziness and cheapness on the part of the filmmakers; most people would just dump five minutes of recycled footage at the start and call it a day. Not director Lee Harry! To be perfectly fair I actually enjoyed the retreading, as the recycled footage was extensive enough that it felt just like a paired down version of the original film, including all the best moments and none of the boring filler. A fair number of mediocre horror movies could probably benefit from this treatment. Better still, this means that all the footage shot for the sequel itself is devoid of pointless filler as well. There isn’t a single scene in Part Two that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. The film is a model of efficiency the likes of which I’ve seldom seen in a B-grade, feature-length film.
As the end of Part One implied Ricky grew up to be just as traumatized by nuns and Santa Claus as his brother. The good thing is that the Rosenbergs, a Jewish family living out in the suburbs, adopted him: so no worries about spooky Christmas decorations giving the kid a nervous breakdown every year. Only problem is that Ricky seems to have also developed Billy’s pathological hatred of naughtiness. One day when he was walking through the woods he stumbles upon a young couple, and watches as the boy tries to rape his girlfriend. It seems like the Silent Night Deadly Night universe is positively infected with these sleazebag date-rapists. Every make out session we see in both Part One and Two seems to escalate into an attempted rape. Naturally Ricky thinks this sort of thing is very naughty, so he jacks the asshole’s Jeep and runs him over with it. Ricky has had a good five years of stable family life though, and the Rosenbergs have managed to teach him some values. Where his brother Billy would then bury a hatchet in the poor girl’s skull, Ricky spares her and even accepts her gratitude for killing her boyfriend.
Indeed all the murders we see Ricky commit, until he totally looses it one summer afternoon, are of the more justifiable and even heroic nature. For instance later on we see him murder a loan shark with an umbrella (as a fan of the anime Another, I am forced to concede that this is only the second best umbrella related fatality that I have seen). The next victims are a pair of annoying chuckleheads that make a ruckus through an entire screening of a movie. Incidentally, the movie appears to be Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) and the heckler’s criticisms of it are things I was thinking to myself when I was watching it. Playful bit of meta-cinematic commentary aside, Ricky is acting more like a hyper-violent vigilant than the crazed psychopath his brother was: He’s much more of a D-Fens than Buffalo Bill. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t go on with his disproportionately violent but nonetheless virtuous killings for the rest of his life.
That all changes when Ricky realizes that his girlfriend, Jennifer, not only dated a real creep, Chip, before she met him, but even went so far as to consummate the relationship. You see, Chip hasn’t gotten over her, and thinks the best way to get her back is to start pushing Ricky’s buttons. This is a spectacularly bad plan, even if Ricky was not deeply mentally disturbed and willing to kill at the slightest provocation, he is still a huge dude with muscles up to his eyeballs. If Ricky’s reaction were the traditional fistfight Chip would quickly find himself beaten into a twitching, bloody pulp. Instead Ricky electrifies Chip with a pair of jumper cables before strangling Jennifer. That could have gone better. What follows is justly the most famous sequence in the movie: The infamous “Garbage Day” rampage, which must be seen to be believed, so I won’t even bother trying to describe it here. It is no wonder that for a brief period when I was in High School it became a meme floating around on the Internet. The rampage concludes with Ricky surrounded by the cops, he tries to shoot himself but he had no bullets left (compulsive shot counters everywhere rejoice).
Ricky isn’t going to just accept his captivity though: no, he’s just been waiting for the right moment. Now it’s Christmas Eve, the day he’s been waiting for. Time to bust out of this joint and pay a visit to the one who started it all, dear old Mother Superior. While relating the last flashback, cleverly hidden off camera, Ricky dispatched Dr. Bloom. We only realize what’s happened when the camera pans onto Bloom’s dead body. Whatever security the asylum has in place, it’s not enough to stop Ricky who effortlessly escapes. He kills a salvation army Santa Claus to get a suit and then heads for the house in which the Mother Superior now lives alone. The cops know where he’ll head, but it’s not at all clear that they’ll be able to get there in time to head him off.
Silent Night Deadly Night Part Two is plainly mercenary in its motivations. The goal here is to make as much money as possible off of the original’s good name while simultaneously spending as little as possible. Normally this would result in a shameless retread of the original’s plot points, and while Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) does do this, it does in the highly enjoyable thirty-minute recap/highlight reel of the first film. From there it goes it’s own direction, which I think accounts for a big part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much. The tone, plot and style of the sequel are all new, and the direction it’s going in is as much a parody as it is a copy of the original. In the late 80s age of interchangeable sequels (Friday the 13th being the most notorious offender in this regard), it’s a nice change of pace to see a horror franchise at least trying to be inventive from entry to entry. That the film manages to be compulsively enjoyable, despite it’s obvious shortcomings in budget, acting, writing is all the more delightful.
A great deal of Silent Night Deadly Night Part Two’s appeal lies in their choice of a lead actor: Eric Freeman’s performance as Ricky Caldwell is stunningly bad. His every utterance is painfully overacted, to such an extent that he rivals Vincent Price, the great master of fun/bad acting. Of course, Freeman possesses none of Price’s subtlety or sophistication, making the performance all the more laughable. The script demands that he deliver patently absurd lines, the kind of which most people struggle to say with a straight face. Freeman adapts well to the lousy script though, adding on an obviously faked laugh after almost every sentence. When I say faked, I mean really fake; I mean you can hear the individual Ha! Ha!s. As I mentioned above this hammy performance combined with his burly physic makes Ricky Caldwell seem like nothing so much as a professional wrestler who has escaped from the ring, and is determined to pile-drive the entire world into submission. The effect is rather less than scary, but I don’t think there is an actor alive that could make such a ridiculous figure genuinely threatening. Funny and absurd is the best an audience could hope for an on that front Freeman delivers in spades. His cartoonish delivery is contagious, as sooner or later every member of the cast starts hamming it up just as much as him. Honorable mention goes to the loan shark thug that Ricky kills with an umbrella, who would not be out of place in the world of Adam West’s Batman. Unsurprisingly, Freeman did not have much of a career after Silent Night Deadly Night Part Two – appearing in just a couple of Z-grade exploitation movies and small roles on TV. It’s a shame but at least I have his performance in Murder Weapon to look forward to. This particular turkey has jumped up to the top of my to-watch list; at least once Christmas is over.