Slasher horror may have no more sympathetic villain than Billy. Forced to watch his parents brutally murdered by a criminal dressed as Santa Claus, he and his young brother grow up in a Catholic orphanage. The Mother Superior is iron-sided emotionally (and later physically), and tries to cure Billy of his natural disdain of Christmas with harsh punishments.
As traumatized children in these films are wont to do, Billy grows to be a tall, well-muscled man. One of the well meaning nuns finds him a job in a toy store. All is well and good until Christmas rolls around and a twist of fate makes Billy don the dreaded Santa Claus suit.
About a quarter of the Silent Night, Deadly Night is devoted to Billy’s backstory. It crisscrosses three common themes found in the “reality-based” horror of the era: the gritty world of bloodthirsty criminals (see Abell Ferara’s oveure); the righteous monster (Friday the 13th, The Burning); and the rigidity of a Catholic upbringing (The Nightmare on Elm Street series, The Exorcist, Fright Night, etc…). With so much energy invested in these theme it’s quite sad to see the film jump into pure camp when the killings begin.
Billy the ax-wielding murderer Santa is only able to chant “punish” over and over again as he searches for victims. The words sound especially silly coming out of the mouth of Robert Brian Wilson, who while well-muscled looks more like a soap opera stringer than a tormented soul.
There’s no trouble finding victims scattered through the anytown. It turns out Christmas is a well enough time to leave the children alone at home, free to fornicate and sneak out for sledding. The frequent nudity might be as much the point of this exercise as the horror, but I wish the filmmakers had made more use of Lilyan Chauvin who turns in a pretty wonderful performance as the stern but well-meaning Mother Superior.