On Christmas Eve 1971, young Billy’s grandfather (Hare) vegetates in the Utah Mental Facility, staring dead-eyed at the family who’s come to visit. Until Billy’s parents leave the room, that is. Then Grandpa shifts in his rocking chair and grabs Billy’s arm. What follows can only be described as the finest scene ever committed to film.
Grandpa: You scared, ain’t ya? You should be! Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!
Billy: (Horrified silence)
Grandpa: Santy Claus only brings presents to them that’s been good all year. All the other ones, all the naughty ones, he punishes! You see Santa Claus tonight, you better run boy, you better run for your life!
If that weren’t enough to spoil those sugar-plum visions, on the way home Billy’s father (Hansen) stops for a Santa-suited hitchhiker (Dierkop) who promptly shoots Dad, rapes Mom (Buckman) and slits her throat in the middle of the street while Billy, age 8 (Wagner), hides in a drainage ditch. Cut to 10 years later when a hunkier Billy (Wilson), who’s spent the past decade in a strict Catholic orphanage, finds seasonal work at a toy store, where he’s inevitably asked to play St. Nick.
If you don’t know what’s coming, you obviously didn’t look at the DVD case, or even read the title. After a baffling 45 minutes of back story, SNDN’s second half delivers the promised Santa-themed slasher with more tasteless gore and gratuitous boob shots than you could hope for, but it’s the film’s earnest attempt at providing Billy with a reasonable motive for all those Christmas slayings that really sets it apart from lesser holiday horror flicks. Director Sellier Jr. (who later produced, for real, TV doc The Case for Christ’s Resurrection), like no filmmaker since Alfred Hitchcock understands that watching a man in a fake beard impale a topless woman on reindeer antlers isn’t nearly as compelling if we haven’t already walked a mile in that man’s winterized black boots.