Fear of Santa Claus Pt 1 (Silent Night Deadly Night, 1984)

sndn_posterSilent Night, Deadly Night opens with little Billy and his family visiting Grandpa.  Gramps is a bit senile and instills dread in young Ricky of Santa Claus.  He warns Billy that Santa Claus will punish the wicked…on the drive home, his dad stops to help Santa on the side of the road…Santa is actually a ruthless criminal who kills Billy’s family as he hides.

Billy ends up in an orphanage, run be mean nuns way into corporal punishment.  At 18, the nuns get him a job in a toy store where he ends up playing the store Santa.  When he witnesses a guy attempting to rape the girl he likes he loses it and goes on a rampage killing the naughty.

This film was highly controversial at the time, as it featured a guy in a Santa suit killing people and that was beyond the pale.  Mickey Rooney blasted the filmmakers as scum for attacking the sacredness of Christmas.  This will become very ironic in a few days.  The thing is, the movie is not worthy of the outrage.  It is pretty terrible, even by the standards of the slasher genre.  This is no Black Christmas or Halloween.  t is not even Friday the 13th part two.  The acting is stiff, and the setup is ridiculous.  And to top it off, the film tends to indulge in sleaze in a way other slashers of the time did not.  The nuns are the worst stereotypes of nuns…they lack any sense of humanity.  They angrily delight in physical abuse of their charges.

Black Christmas was the father of modern slashers and is a solid winner.  And more recent fare, such as Krampus, indulge a fun side.  But Silent Night, Deadly Night lack neither the spirit of fun or the thrills.  It is not unnerving, but rather simply unpleasant.

Prologue to What a Scrooge

I have always had a soft spot for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.Oh, that is underselling it.  It is my favorite Christmas tale.  I like it more than the Christmas Story from the Bible.  I can watch endless attempts to tell the tale.

I like the whole idea behind it. The ghosts, the memories, the redemptive nature of the story, the hope it tells of in our choices. It fills me with a certain joy and hope for what can be. I also think it is a “pure” horror story. Strong horror often can have a moral center, as opposed to the diluted in the modern world which often means “gory”. But A Christmas Carol is a true horror story.

Marley returns from the grave, given an opportunity to help one of his only friends from suffering his miserable fate.  The ghosts are going to torment Scrooge with what could have been, what is and what might be.  And Ebeneezer Scrooge?  He is timeless.  We see him today, unwilling to share, hoarding wealth, justifying his miserly ways.

“Are there no prisons?”

“And the Union workhouses. Are they still in operation?”

“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

“I haven’t SQUANDERED it, if that’s what you mean by “making myself comfortable!”

We justify greed and miserly ways.  We call it good business sense.  It is a powerful tale, one to be reminded of every year…

So I thought I would look at nine different versions of the film. It’s fascinating to see the variety of ways the filmmakers have sought to portray Marley and the Ghosts.  I hope to keep adding to this list each year…focusing on the good, the bad…but we will coubntdown to Christmas day starting tomorrow.

(The featured image is actor Tom Atkins as Scrooge.  I would love to see his stage performance of this wonderful story.  But that would involve a road trip to Pittsburgh)

The Wondrous Life (It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946)

its_a_wonderful_life_posterFrank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life was not a hit when released, yet it managed to become a classic.  Due to copyright errors the film became a Christmas mainstay, cementing it as a Christmas Classic.  And that is alright by me.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a wonderful dark fairy-tale.  It focuses on George Bailey, a guy full of big hopes and dreams, for whom none get realized.  There is always something that stands in the way.  And now, married with children, George finds himself in a bind.  It looks like he might lose everything.  Despondent and prepared to commit suicide, even then he is interrupted by goofy angel in training Clarence.

What follows is Clarence walking George through his town, except, it is a town that never had a George Bailey.  And what he finds is that as miserable as he thinks his situation is?  His friends and family were worse off without him.

George is kind and constantly self sacrificing.  Probably the closest he comes to selfishness in his pursuit of Mary (Donna Reed).  He knows his friend Sam has been pursuing Mary, but he is drawn to her, and she has always wanted George.  George fights his feelings for Mary, seeing her as someone who will tie him to the town of Bedford Falls, which he desires to leave ever so badly.

In a way, he is correct.  His marriage to Mary is another nail in the coffin of his dream to travel the world.  Yet, when he sees a world without him, George realizes how much is lost.  There are people who never have homes, because he was not there to run his Father’s Saving and Loan.  The cruel Mr. Potter (in the Scrooge model) is never obstructed by George Bailey.  His mother is bitter, his brother is dead and his Uncle is the local town lunatic.

This is a classic because it strikes at the heart.  We have all felt that lack of connection to our lives, when things get dark, it is easy to wonder why we might matter.  And the film challenges that in it’s special and whimsical way.

This is a superb work from Capra and company, worthy of it’s status of “Holiday Classic”.

 

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