By Keisha Spencer
Christmas is just around the corner and families will have endless choices of films to watch throughout the holidays, but you horror fanatics don’t fret as there is also a horde of holiday horror flicks to keep gore lovers occupied too.
An example is the 1980s black comedy/slasher franchise Silent Night Deadly Night, a film that follows the lives of the Caldwell brothers on journeys to become killers in their respective films. The question remaining, however, is do holiday horror films even work? Especially when these films have sequels and franchises that rest on the success of the first. So, to test this theory we are going to look at a film that most described as one of the worst films ever made, Silent Night Deadly Night 2.
This 1987 sequel focuses on the life of Ricky Caldwell, the youngest of the siblings. Ricky has now followed in the footsteps of older brother Billy, by becoming a serial killer obsessed with the festive season, obsessed with getting revenge on the nun he blames for his brother’s fate.
Leading on from the events of the first film, which sees Ricky witness his brother’s murder at the hands of police at his orphanage, it is highly implied that Ricky is going to carry on his brother’s murderous legacy. So, it is no surprise when Ricky is shown discussing his past with a psychiatrist in a mental asylum.
What is surprising, however, is that rather than to show audiences what lead him down this dark path, they are instead shown an agonisingly long compilation of footage from the first movie, with added narration by Ricky throughout.
But many films and TV shows have taken the idea of a murderous incarnation of St Nick, notably Tales from the Crypt and American Horror Story, both using the typical theme to remarkable success. So why did it go so wrong for this franchise? It’s sequel in particular.
While not exactly a horror classic, it does have its own merits and quite a solid plot foundation. A small child sees his parents’ traumatic deaths at hands of a murderer dressed as Santa, which turn him into a deranged killer obsessed with Christmas and its figurehead. The sequel just doesn’t have this clarity and becomes increasing confusing, the motives for Ricky just aren’t explored enough.
Eric Freeman’s portrayal of Ricky is the epitome of drama school dropout, playing the bad boy and bringing a very unwanted comical aspect to the performance. Everything, from his erratic laughing and stupid face pulling completely ignores the previous film’s plan to show a flawed character like Billy, instead giving this film a theatrical over the top performer who is just creepy and unpredictable.
But maybe I’m being unjustly critical on the film, or am I? While trying to digest the plot you might have some difficulty, as it isn’t an easy task to get to the bottom of. Firstly, the actual plot only comes into play 40 minutes in after the film has finished recapping with incessant flashbacks, conveniently padding its running time.
Another problem is relying too heavily on the first film for everything from character development to running time. The character development is almost non-existent, with constant skipping over elements of Ricky’s psyche without explanation or description. Relentlessly repeating the clips of the harrowing fatal attack on the boys’ parents, and the mother’s sexual assault, may allude to this being the reason for both boy’s descent into madness.
Then even after we have finished with all the flashbacks we have to deal with the unforgivable lack of logic and cohesion to the plot. So many things just don’t make sense and add more insult to injury. The plot expects us to cling to the idea that Ricky’s rampage is due to him witnessing his parents’ murder, the murder he probably saw very little of, being a baby left in the car.
Some can argue his brother’s demise might have had the most influence on him but through the narration he himself both blames and has knowledge of events he couldn’t have possible seen or understood. The audience would have to suspend their belief beyond normal expectation just to humour the thought that he could remember and seen well enough to be traumatised by it.
If cringeworthy dialogue is something you look forward to than this film has you covered, along with cheesy kill quips, constant grimaces from Ricky and dreadful supporting performances. One example is the barely watchable scene where Ricky goes on a rampage in a suburban neighbourhood, he aims his rage on a neighbour sorting his bins out. Before shooting the man, Ricky delivers the line ‘Garbage Day’. But the amateur acting doesn’t just stop with Eric Freeman, all the victims are beyond your typical naïve and thoughtless murder victims common in slasher flicks.
Outrageous death scenes that defy logic are rife within the film, including both the super human strength of both boys and the infamous mobster death scene featuring impalement and decapitation by umbrella.
Not only laughable, but it’s expecting us to lose all connection with reality and logic in order to truly invest in and appreciate the story. What starts this psychopathic rampage is our villain being enraged simply by the colour red, in any form. Whether on a car or a handkerchief, red is enough to erupt the anger in Ricky Caldwell. Ricky isn’t disturbed or crazy he’s just plain silly and amusing.
If you watch this film expecting common sense and reason, then you will be extremely disappointed. It has all the silliness and humour of a black comedy without any of the style. The film forgets everything the franchise is meant to represent, it has lost its terror and doesn’t feel the least bit Christmassy at all.
We only see Ricky in a suit for the concluding scene, even more amusing when you discover we see more footage of Billy in the suit through flashbacks. Nothing about the film screams Christmas, we see more female nudity and exposed breasts than we do decorations and if it wasn’t for the flashbacks or speech telling us it is Christmas time, it wouldn’t be known.
Whether it’s the excessive use of old footage, the ill-conceived plot with no sense, rhyme or reason or dramatically awful performances, this is a film that should never have been made. It is utterly confusing leaving you with more questions than it answers, going as far as to compromise the reasonable quality of the first film, making it more destructive than helpful, and very unnecessary.
It doesn’t even fall into the category of ‘so bad it’s good’, it is just a total waste of time and effort. In some sense Christmas horror films can work, with classics like cult favourite Black Christmas or the more popular The Gremlins, providing testament to the creativity of their directors who bring us a Christmas filled with both chills and cheer. Silent Night Deadly Night is a valiant attempt, but the sequel is just a pointless cash grab, riding on the success of the cult following surrounding the first film.