Garbage Day or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2’
By Brian Keiper
Taking out the garbage is the worst. Any chore that involves putting my hands, and worse, my nostrils, in the presence of decaying waste is something I try to avoid at all costs. Just the thought of bits of organic and inorganic matter inexplicably liquifying into that most revolting of all substances — garbage water, and comingling in such unholy ways as to require an old priest and a young priest sets my teeth, nay, my whole body, on edge. Garbage is a pile of decomposing putrescence that is good for nothing but being tossed away, buried, burned, and forgotten forever. For these reasons and more, I tend to bristle when someone describes a movie as “garbage.” There are very few movies I actively hate, so to call a movie “hot garbage,” one that people poured their heart and soul into, has always rubbed me the wrong way. Rarely has a movie more often been called “garbage” than Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, which is ironic considering its most famous moment involves lugging refuse to the curb.
The criticisms against it are certainly founded, the biggest being that approximately a third of the film is footage from the original Silent Night, Deadly Night, the notorious holiday slasher that drew the ire of critics, parent groups, and Mickey Rooney back in 1984. The director of Part 2, Lee Harry, and his editing company had been tasked with re-cutting the original film into something new to capitalize on the resurging slasher and sequel trend that had begun in the wake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and its hugely successful sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Harry found the film to be extraordinarily mean-spirited and proceeded to cut out the most egregious violence only to find that there wasn’t much point to the film without it. He approached the producers and suggested shooting new footage to tell a new story about the younger brother of the first film’s killer who witnesses his brother’s death before his eyes. The producers agreed to fund the new footage and Harry and his associates set about attempting to solve what was essentially an editing problem by adding to the story with a new script.
Much of the film is the main character Ricky (Eric Freeman) recounting his past to a psychiatrist, Dr. Henry “Doc” Bloom (James Newman), who is interviewing him in a mental institution. The entire first act consists of Ricky telling the story of Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) from the first film. This act is what gives SNDN2 much of its bad reputation, but like the equally maligned The Hills Have Eyes Part II, the flashbacks take up less screen time than most realize. When Ricky’s story takes over, it is almost entirely new footage shot for the film. For some reason, I saw this second film before the first, so I was not particularly bothered by the flashback sequences of Billy’s story. In retrospect, they make little sense as Ricky was either an infant or simply not present for most of the events he recalls to Dr. Bloom. Though the film attempts to explain this away, it is done in a clumsy and nonsensical way to garner even more criticism.
In addition to this, the lead performance from Eric Freeman receives plenty of slings and arrows from critics of the film. It is unhinged and over-the-top in a way rarely seen on film, his eyebrows performing feats that few actors this side of Jack Black can even dream of accomplishing. In my opinion, however, Freeman’s performance makes the movie. It is a signal that it is not going to take itself as seriously as the first film. It was the entry point for me to be able to just let go and embrace the insanity (and occasional inanity) of the movie. SNDN2 is oddly self-referential about the genre in ways that are so well explored in April Fool’s Day (1986) and Scream (1996), but it doesn’t seem to realize that it is doing it. It even has a meta moment when Ricky and girlfriend Jennifer (Elizabeth Cayton) are watching scenes from the original film — a film in which Ricky is a character. I am not entirely sure that SNDN2 knows what movie it is trying to be or not, and its aloofness is part of its charm. It is filled with creative kills punctuated by a twisted sense of humor that makes the film far more fun to watch than its brutal, straight-faced predecessor.
The kills shot for the film compared to those in the original are examples of its tongue-in-cheek nature. The original has some iconic kills, particularly Linnea Quigley impaled on a rack of antlers and a sledder beheaded with an axe, but the sequel adds a touch of pitch-black humor to the proceedings. For example, the umbrella kill. Ricky impales a bully in an alley with a red and white umbrella which opens after running the man through. Later, when Ricky goes on a rampage down a suburban street, he spouts off one-liners as if he was the star of a Schwarzenegger or Stallone action film. The most famous of these of course being is Freeman’s singular reading of the line “garbage day” before shooting a man who is carrying his trashcans to the curb. The death of Mother Superior (Jean Miller) happens offscreen, but we see the results when Sister Mary (Nadya Wynd) finds her old boss alone in her room and her head falls off at the young sister’s feet. There is an absurdist element to these moments that makes them more palatable and fun to watch than some of the more serious-minded slashers of the era.
It is elements such as these that allowed me to embrace this misshapen mess of a movie.
Is it good? No.
Does it make any sense? Not really.
Is it entertaining? Absolutely. And more than it has any right to be.
So, rather than getting myself worked up on the shortcomings of the film, I’ve just had to allow myself to let go and jump on the back of Ricky’s motorcycle for the ride. Oddly enough, it has quickly become my favorite film in the entire Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise. The oddities, from its recounting of the original plot in endless detail, Looney Tunes-style violence, and unparalleled eyebrow acting, to its utterly bonkers final shot and more, only make the film more endearing to me. So, I say, sometimes, the critic hat just needs to come off and you need to learn to love the bomb. Though SNDN2 was literally a box office and critical bomb, it has grown an unexpected cult in the nearly thirty-five years since its release. But true cult movies are never made with the intention of becoming cult movies. They are made with passion, love, and dedication. For some, it may be garbage day, but for me and many others, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is a precious, if malformed gift, lovingly wrapped up in bloody bows. 🩸
Brian Keiper is a featured writer for Manor Vellum. Brian’s also written for Bloody Disgusting, Dread Central, F This Movie!, Ghastly Grinning, and others. Follow him on Twitter @Brianwaves42.
Follow Manor Vellum on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Connect with MANOR on these platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Dailymotion, and Vurbl.
Visit MANOR’s official website: MANORHQ.com.
© 2022 Manor Entertainment LLC