The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, December 16-22

silent-night-deadly-night

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr.
This VHS all-star gets a bad rap—probably because, at the time, the country’s commentators weren’t ready for such gruesome treatment of a sacred-cow like Christmas, and the reputation just stuck. But, a decade after Watergate, what American institution could’ve pretended to be so untouchable? This midnight classic is wittier, with more flashes of visual sophistication, than your typical disposable slasher, and it offers a nice contrast to this season’s Krampus, which divides the season’s pagan gods into good and bad, rewarder and punisher, god and devil; Silent Night, Deadly Night more radically makes them one, infusing Jesus’ birthday with a taste of the Old Testament made mortal.

That mortal’s the five-year-old boy who witnesses a crime-spreer in a Santa costume butcher his parents on Christmas Eve. The belt-happy Mother Superior, who runs the orphanage to which he’s sent, doesn’t believe in letting traumatized children confront their psychological problems, so the victim child grows up into a strapping teenage stock boy (enjoy the production design, offering a glimpse of what was on the shelves at Christmas in a 1984 toy store! Star Wars galore!), unable to deal with seasonal Santa displays. Then a little alcohol, untreated anxiety, Catholic repression and sexual jealousy trigger a psychotic break, and he kicks off his own red-suited, white-bearded yuletide massacre, terrorizing his small Utah town as one-man execution squad of the transgressive, from hot-n-heavy teens to petty thieves.

As such, he embodies Reagan-era conservatism, then at its peak, mocking the strict discipline of compassionless, law-and-order, moral-policing reactionaries every time he hollers his tagline, whenever he finds a woman with her top off or an adolescent bully throwing his weight around: “PUNISH!” If the Gipper was post-Carter America’s Santa Claus, he was also its Krampus. Henry Stewart (Dec 17, 18, midnight at the Nitehawk)

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