So Bad It’s Good: It’s Christmas Time (and Garbage Day) in ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2’

Bad movies are not a simple matter. There are nearly as many categories of terrible movies as there are for great ones: there are films that are insultingly stupid (Batman & Robin), unintentionally funny (Birdemic), unintentionally, painfully unfunny (White Chicks), so bad they’re depressing (Transformers), and so on. But the most rewarding terrible movies are those we know as “so bad they’re good” — entertaining in their sheer incompetence, best braved in numbers, where the ham-fisted dramatics and tin-eared dialogue become fodder for years of random quotes and inside jokes. And in this spirit, Flavorwire brings you a special holiday edition of our monthly So Bad It’s Good feature: the very worst Christmas movie of them all, the bargain-basement killer-Santa slasher sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2.

It’s difficult to imagine life before the Internet for bad movie fans, back in the days when the canon was set by the Medved brothers’ Golden Turkey books and discoveries were, more often than not, confined to your immediate group of film geeks. But by the ‘90s, with the help of chat rooms and message boards and movie blogs and MST3K, the most obscure direct-to-VHS garbage had found its audience of loyalists, and in recent years, the proliferation of meme culture has brought bad movies even closer to the center of Internet consciousness.

Which is a long way of getting around to saying, “GARBAGE DAY!”

This brief, odd scene of a maniacal overactor screeching “GARBAGE DAY” at a poor suburbanite, shooting him dead in broad daylight, twirling the gun, and blowing in the barrel has been, for years, a YouTube favorite. The original clip of the 21-second scene has over five million views; there are alternate versions, montages, remixes, mash-ups, fast and slo-mo versions, even a backwards version. There is a video that repeats the scene for ten minutes. There is even, god help me, video of a fake Nintendo game. It comes from Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, and like similar viral sensations Troll 2 and The Room, the story behind that movie is even stranger than the clip in question.

It’s a story that began back in 1984, with the release of the original Silent Night, Deadly Night, a low-budget slasher effort picked up by Tri-Star and released in October of ’84 — on the same weekend as A Nightmare on Elm Street, which it initially outgrossed. Much of its box office was generated by the free publicity of a loud outrage campaign by parents’ groups and critics (led by Siskel and Ebert, who famously named-and-shamed the picture’s producers on their show). The premise of a killer in a Santa suit had been done before (in films like Christmas Evil); the real issue this time was the TV ad campaign, depicting the picture’s axe-carrying Santa, which aired in many markets during daytime hours. Tri-Star first pulled the ads and then pulled the movie altogether; it was re-released the following May by an independent distributor, and it eventually found enough of a cult audience to warrant this 1987 sequel.

“The ultimate nightmare is about to begin… ALL OVER AGAIN!” So went the tagline for Part 2’s trailers, and the few moviegoers who caught the picture in its verrrrrry limited theatrical release discovered there was more truth to that statement than they might’ve liked. You see, the first 40 minutes of the 88-minute sequel are comprised mostly of clips from the first film — so many that the end credits include the full casts of both pictures. The existing scenes are packaged as flashbacks by the new film’s protagonist, Ricky, the little brother of the original killer, recalling events where he was mostly not present. They’ll occasionally try to cover for this with lame voice-over excuses like “Billy was there, Billy told me everything” and “I don’t sleep, but Billy had dreams.” During the replaying of the killing spree that closed the first film, Ricky’s narration includes information he couldn’t have possibly gotten from Billy, since, well, Billy dies at the end of the first one. Oh, and the first film is filled with Billy flashing back to the murders that open that film, meaning that those scenes in Part 2 are thus flashbacks-within-flashbacks, and now it’s turning into some killer Santa Inception shit.

Point is, half of the second movie is basically a “just the good parts” version of the first, if you have a super-loose definition of the word “good.” They do wisely include the funniest moment in that film (little Billy cold-cocking the orphanage Santa), and I’ll say this: the inclusion of a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book of the first film makes the rental of the second quite economical (it’s two movies for the price of one!). The audio commentary tells the tale of how this came to be: writer Joseph H. Earle explains that he and his writing partner were approached by greedy producers, who gave them a copy of the original film and said, “We’d like for you to recut it and release it as a sequel.”

Instead, they “came up with a scheme” to write a sequel that merely incorporated that footage (a lot of it, to be sure), and managed to squeeze enough money out of those producers to finance a ten-day shoot. Their limitations are clear; everything feels like a first take, the dullest moments (like the threading of a reel-to-reel machine) are padded out to their maximum duration, and even the kills are markedly lacking in effects (often taking place out of frame or at great distances), aside from a laughably silly murder-by-umbrella and a car-battery electrocution with all the production value of an early music video.

Had Part 2 been merely more of the same — a cheap, nasty slasher flick with a dopey gimmick (remember when everyone was going around shouting Billy/Santa’s catchphrases “NAUGHTY” and “PUNISH”? No?), a few splashes of gore, and an icky, rape-y vibe (you’ll lose count of how many women get the shirt-torn-open, smacked-around treatment) — we’d have probably forgotten all about it. But we didn’t, because of a young man named Eric Freeman.

It is Freeman’s performance that elevates SNDN2 (and “Garbage Day!”) from comically-exploitative-sequel territory to sublime bad movie heaven, as this may very well be the single worst performance ever committed to celluloid. (Yes, worse than Wiseau.) No matter what the situation — the storytelling scenes that frame the first-film flashbacks, the courting of the girl who breaks his heart, his wide-eyed kill-crazy rampage — Freeman recites every line with an eyebrow raise and an odd mixture of sneering and woodenness. It’s like spending an hour and a half with a really douche-y robot. Clearly, somewhere along the way, someone told Freeman (or he decided) to play the role at exactly one speed: constant condescending disdain. And that’s what made “GARBAGE DAY!” the meme that it is: not just that it’s a dumb scene, not just that it features a third-grader’s notion of a witty kill one-liner, but the odd, specific, cartoonish way that Freeman plays the scene, all wild eyes and strained cackles, only missing a Snidely Whiplash mustache to twirl.

There’s more to say about Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2: the inexplicable makeup on his final target, childhood foe Mother Superior (“Look, we hired this makeup guy, we’re gonna use him!”); the almost total lack of Yuletide flavor in the new scenes (his big rampage is not only done out of a Santa suit, but on what appears to be a lovely spring afternoon); and the scene where, I’m not making this up, he and his date go to the movies and are somehow watching the first Silent Night, Deadly Night (hey, it’s the one movie they could get the rights for!). But that little mind-melter isn’t the only hyper-meta touch; at one point during the opening “previously on Silent Night, Deadly Night” sequence, the shrink who’s taking down Ricky’s story tells him that he’s aware of what happened next. Ricky responds, “Maybe we’re just jerkin’ off here, huh?”

Sometimes, friends, you hear something in a film that feels less like a line of dialogue than a mission statement.

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is available for rental via Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, and other services. Happy Holidays. PUNISH!