The Christmas season is here so I decided that it was a good time to re-visit this violent seasonal horror from the 80s. It has a fake Hollywood psychology going on with it all laid out simplistically as the killer takes on the persona of the thing he fears the most, the Santa who punishes those who have been naughty. The cast are all pretty good especially Robert Brian Wilson playing the older Billy but the most convincing was Lilyan Chauvin as the arrogant Mother Superior. It has nudity and scenes of sexual violence and caused a controversy when it came out and I read that it was advertised at a time when families were watching television leaving children scared and with a lot of questions. As you can see it’s perfect material for a remake and I think one has just been released in the US so it’ll probably appear on DVD in January
This film is a classic slasher film in the vein of Halloween but is closer to Rob Zombie’s remake in that the focus is almost always on the killer and we get to see the events in his life that scarred him mentally. It all starts naturally enough in Christmas Eve and 8-year-old Billy is travelling with his family to visit his grandfather in a mental hospital. Billy is very excited about Christmas and his mother promises that Santa will be bringing him something really special. At the hospital the old man is apparently catatonic and just stares blankly into space. Billy’s parents try talking to him but he doesn’t respond. The doctor wants them to deal with his paperwork so they go with him to his office and leave Billy with his grandfather. This is a really bad idea because the old man is faking it and he tells Billy the other part of the Santa legend his parents kept from him, that Santa only brings gifts for the good children but he punishes the children who have been bad. He asks Billy if he’s been bad and after a moments thought Billy admits he has. His grandfather starts cackling madly and tells Billy that if he sees Santa he better run. Billy’s parents return with the Doctor and the old man goes back into his catatonic pose, ignoring his son saying goodbye.
On the drive back home Billy is anxious about Santa but instead of being worried about Santa missing him now he’s frightened about Santa coming to punish him. His parents want to know where heard that and he tells them. His father says he will call the hospital later to get them to check on the old man.
As they drive on it gets dark. They see a car has broken down by the side of the road and the driver dressed in a Santa outfit waves them down. Billy is terrified and pleads with them to keep going but his father stops. This is a very bad idea because we saw this guy earlier robbing a shop and murdering the owner. The psycho Santa pulls out his gun and Billy’s father floor the gas and tries to get them out of there. The man shoots at the car and hits Billy’s father, killing him and the car goes off the road. Billy runs off and hides while the killer Santa drags his mother out of the car and is going to sexually assault her but she resists. He gets angry and cuts her throat killing her. This leaves Billy hiding at the side of the road and Billy’s baby brother Richard still in the car screaming his head off.
Three years later and the two boys are residents of an orphanage run by the Catholic Church and in particular by the Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) who has very fixed views on child-rearing that I wish were an exaggeration but I have heard of much worse than what Billy goes through. It’s Christmas Eve and Billy’s class have been told to draw pictures of Santa. Billy turns in a picture of Santa stabbed to death with several knives and Rudolph beheaded. This earns Billy a trip to the Mother Superior for discipline. Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) is in the office too and she is concerned that the trauma of seeing his parents killed is clearly still affecting him at this time of year. She asks the Mother Superior to get him professional help but the Mother Superior is sure of her own abilities to the point of arrogance. She sends Billy to his room and tells him to stay there.
Later Sister Margaret goes to Billy’s room and tells him that he can go outside and play with the other children so he puts on his coat, hat and scarf and heads out of his room. He hears a curious noise and goes looking for it. The sound is coming from behind a door and he peeks through the keyhole and sees a couple having sex. This gives him a flashback of the killer Santa stripping his mother before killing her. Suddenly the Mother Superior appears behind him and pushes him out of the way. She enters the room and closes the door then takes a thick leather belt and we hear her beating the couple with it. Billy runs outside and the Mother Superior follows. Sister Margaret tries to intervene and tell her that she told Billy he could come outside. The Mother Superior asks him what he saw and he tells her that he didn’t see anything. She tells him that they were being very bad and they had to be punished, that punishment is good, punishment is necessary. Then she takes him up to his room and beats him with her belt for leaving the room, despite being told he could leave by Sister Margaret.
That night Billy has a nightmare of his parent’s death and he wakes screaming and runs out of the room straight into the Mother Superior. She ties him into his bed while he screams and struggles and Sister Margaret watches this inhuman treatment of a deeply distressed child. The Mother Superior is certain that this abuse is all it will take to cure him and she will be proved right the next day when the children have their visit from Santa and Billy will sit on his knee and thank Santa for his gift. It’s clear from the expression on Sister Margaret’s face that she has very strong doubts. As it turns out Sister Margaret was right to have her doubts as Billy is carried kicking and screaming to sit on Santa’s knee. Billy is terrified and he punches Santa’s in the face and runs off to cower in his room sobbing that he’s sorry.
Now we have seen the story of the damage done the story skips forward ten years and Sister Margaret is trying to get Mr Simms (Britt Leach) the owner of a toy shop to take on one of the orphans, specifically Billy. Simms is reluctant since he’s only got a job in the store room and it’s too physical for a kid. Sister Margaret insists on introducing Billy anyway and he’s very fit looking attractive young man and is clearly up to a physically demanding job. Simms changes his mind and hires him right away.
Fans of 80s film will be pleased to see Billy settling into his job with a cheesy montage where we see his supervisor is a lazy dipshit called Andy (Randy Stumpf) who lets Billy do all the work but Billy is happy, friendly and very hard working. He falls for a co-worker Pamela (Toni Nero) and it looks like she’s interested in him too and who can blame her. This montage even has the uplifting cheesy music so typical of 80s sitcoms.
Of course the madness has to start and as the months pass Christmas gets closer. Billy’s Santa-phobia is starting to get to him and because it’s a toy shop it has Christmas dialled up to eleven. In his room at night he is having a dream of having sex with Pamela but is interrupted by the killer Santa who stabs him and he wakes up screaming.
Next day is Christmas Eve and the shop’s Santa has broken his ankle and can’t make it in to work.Simms is desperate to avoid having to put on the suit himself so decides to get Billy to dress up as Santa. None of them seem to sense how terrified Billy is. It all seems to go okay and Billy handles playing Santa for a bunch of kids pretty well but this is because he promises punishment to the naughty children, scaring them into behaving. Sister Margaret calls the store room to talk to Billy but Andy tells her about him playing Santa and Sister Margaret has a very bad feeling
Anyway closing time comes and Simms breaks out the booze and has a Christmas drink with the staff including Andy, Pamela and an older woman Mrs Randall (Nancy Borgenicht). Simms gives Billy a drink too which is probably not a good idea. Everyone gets drunker and Andy invites Pamela to the store room claiming he has a present for her. Billy is jealous and Simms notices he’s gone quiet. Billy says he was thinking of his parents and Simms thinks that’s great but Billy reminds him that they are dead. Simms apologises then starts making stupid jokes treating Billy as if he really is Santa and that it about time he got started on his rounds.
Billy goes into the store room and he sees Andy about to rape Pamela and his mind finally breaks. Now he is Santa the punisher of all naughty children and first up for punishment is Andy who he chokes to death with a string of Christmas lights. Next he slices Pamela open with a box cutter. Simms is still drinking with Mrs Randall and thinks he heard a noise so he goes into the store room and Billy puts a hammer into his head. Mrs Randall goes looking for everyone and sees Simms’ body so she runs and Billy chases her through the store. She manages to get to the door only to discover it’s still locked and Billy kills her with an arrow through her chest then he calmly unlocks the door and leaves.
I expected the film to show what Sister Elizabeth is up to but that doesn’t happen and I suspect some scenes have been cut. Instead we see a semi-naked couple kissing on a pool table who gets interrupted by the young girl the woman (Linnea Quigley) is supposed to babysitting. She sends the girl back to her bed with the threat that Santa won’t come if she’s awake. Once that’s dealt with they get back to kissing when they hear the sound of bells. The woman thinks it’s the cat but back at the store when he was chasing Mrs Randall we heard that Billy’s outfit has bells sewn into the cuffs. The cat comes in but so does Billy and he kills her by impaling her on the antlers of a deer mounted on the wall. When the man comes up to look for her he struggles with Billy before being thrown through and killed by the glass. This is notable because it so rare for film to show being tossed through window as fatal. As Billy is leaving the little girl comes out to see Santa. Billy ask s if she been good as he takes box-cutter from his pocket. The girl says she has and just as you think he’s going to do something terrible he gives her the box-cutter and leaves
A couple of cops are patrolling in their car and they get the message to look out for a killer in a Santa outfit which leads to them invading a house to stop a man in a Santa outfit climbing in the window of a house but it’s just the father of the children in the house playing Santa.
A couple of teenage kids are out in the snow playing with their sledges. Two bullies nick their sledges and as the second one sledges down the hill Billy jumps out from behind a bush and chops the bully’s head off and the other bully at the bottom of the hill sees his headless body come down the hill on the sledge followed by his head.
Sister Margaret is napping on a bench seat at the police station and Captain Richards (H.E.D. Redford) wakes her up. She’s clearly been there all night. Richards tells her that there have been three more deaths and it’s clear that they know about the deaths at the store and that it’s Billy who is the killer which is why I’m sure a scene has been cut. Richards wants to try to anticipate his next move so he asks Sister Elizabeth and she realises that Billy will probably head back to the orphanage. She tries to call them to warn them but a young girl at the orphanage was playing with the phone and left it off the hook so she can’t get through so Richards decides he’ll drive her up there.
A cop (Max Robinson) has been told to keep an eye on the school and as he drives past he sees a figure dressed as Santa approaching the children playing outside in the snow. With his gun drawn he shouts at the figure to stop but he keeps walking and the cop puts three rounds in his back, killing him in front of the horrified children. Later they discover that man he killed was a priest who was playing Santa this year for the children and he didn’t hear the cop call to him because he’s deaf. This means Billy is still on the loose and probably headed for the orphanage. The cop warns the Mother Superior to keep the children inside and not let anyone in. She’s now in a wheelchair but the Mother Superior has not mellowed and she gives the cop a well-earned scolding.
The cop goes outside to check out the grounds. He thinks he saw something at the door to a disused boiler room underground and goes to check it out. There’s nothing there so he heads back up the stairs. Suddenly Billy appears at the doorway and puts an axe in the cop’s head.
In the orphanage the children are upset about what’s going on so the Mother Superior gets the children to sing Christmas songs. While they are singing Billy appears at the door and waves to a boy to let him in and the boy is excited to see Santa and runs to the door. It’s a fire door so it’s easy to open. The Mother Superior sees him run past and when she sees Billy at the door tries to call out and stop him but it’s too late, Billy is inside. His face is full of hate as he comes towards the Mother Superior. She tries to get through to him by telling him Santa isn’t real but Billy’s too far gone and he judges her to be naughty and raises his axe and gets shot in the back by Captain Richards.
As Billy lies dying at the feet of his younger brother Richie he gasps to the shocked children that they are safe now, Santa is dead and dies on cue. After lingering on Billy the camera pans up to Richie who has a very angry scowl on his face and he looks towards the Mother Superior and just says “Naughty.”