Little Billy witness his parents getting killed by Santa after being warned by his senile grandpa that Santa punishes those who are naughty. Now Billy is 18, and out of the orphanage, and he has just become Santa, himself.
In 1984 a film was released to the public, and the public united to shut it down. Protests raged. How dare someone portray Santa Claus as a killer? Siskel and Ebert said of the filmmakers, “Shame on you. …You people have nothing to be proud of.” The movie was recalled after a week.
Later it became a cult classic, spawning four sequels and a remake.
We open in 1971, and a five-year-old Billy (Jonathan Best) and his family visit his catatonic grandfather (Will Hare) in a mental facility on Christmas Eve. When left alone with his grandfather, the old man came to life and told him to be afraid of Santa Claus because he would punish.
Later, on the way home, Billy expresses fear of Santa and his parents try to comfort him. Then they are carjacked by someone in a Santa suit (Charles Dierkop). The father is shot, the mother has her throat slit as part of an attempted rape. A later flashback implies the carjacker had his way with the mother’s corpse.
Billy, who ran, sees the whole thing. That’ll mess a kid up.
This is the best-acted ten minutes of the movie.
Three year later in a Catholic orphanage, Billy ( now Danny Wagner) has a tough time at Christmas, and is punished by a sadistic Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) for misbehaving. He is confined to his room and beaten for spying on two people having sex — presumably older orphans? They looked like thirty, though. Mother Superior also beats the tar out of them. We see for the first time Billy’s flashbacks, a definite PTSD reaction bringing him back to his parents’ murder.
Ten years later, Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) is 18, and Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick), a nun who took pity on the boy, brings him to Ira’s Toys to get a job. The owner, Mr. Sims (Britt Leach), hires him on sight. After a somewhat suspicious foot-to-head pan of the now hunky 18-year-old. He is always happy to help the church.
Billy does a good job, but, as you’d expect at a toy shop, Christmas is pretty prominent toward the end of the year, and Billy is asked to stand in for a Santa who broke his ankle. No one seems to notice Billy going blank-faced and sweating as violent images flash behind his eyes. He gets visiting children to behave by threatening them with punishment.
After Christmas Eve, the shop closes and they have a staff party. Everyone drinks, even Billy, who seems to really hate it. When two co-workers are found being “naughty” in a stock room, Billy snaps, and halfway into the film the slayings begin.
Side note: the working title during filming was Slayride.
Billy suspends one worker by the neck from a string of Christmas lights, suggesting a great deal of strength. Another is gutted with a boxcutter as he quotes Mother Superior: “Punishment is necessary, it is good”.
Mr. Simms and another coworker die before Billy and his favored weapon, an axe that has no real reason to be in a toystore, leave the shop to continue a spree of killing those he perceives as “naughty.”
Sister Margaret, concerned for Billy at Christmas time, shows up at the toystore and discovers the bodies. She goes to the police and tries to help them find Billy.
The Christmas songs for this film were certainly written for it.
Santa’s watching, Santa’s creeping. Now you’re nodding, now you’re sleeping. Were you good for mom and dad? Santa knows if you’ve been bad.
This is, indeed, a Christmas classic, in the style of every 80’s slasher horror, complete with vibrant blood, axes, thematic quips, and so many bare breasts. It was also fairly early to the genre, and thus helped shape the formula.
Time to watch it again?
Don’t bother with the remake. (You’ll hear me say that a lot)
Scix lived through the 80s but doesn't remember much of the 70s. Horror writer, improv actor and haunted house monster trainer and designer, Scix also likes to emcee underground burlesque and vaudeville shows in Salt Lake City.