Film Torments: Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part II (1987)
THAT’S what all you’re here for, let’s face it. Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part II‘s appeal to all cult connoisseurs can be summarised by a, quite beautiful, 20-second clip. A man walks out of his house with a garbage can. Another man, named Ricky, played by Eric Freeman, wanders over, his eyebrows askew. He yells, “Garbage day!” and shoots the other man. Triumphant, Ricky’s eyebrows, hungry caterpillars stapled to his face, laugh as he twirls his gun like Revolver Ocelot in sunny California.
Such is the magnificent brevity of this clip that the film itself has often been overlooked, consigned to bargain buckets and beerstained VHS clamshells in a car boot sale. However – though this clip encapsulates the sheer acting tempest of Eric Freeman’s eyebrows – it does not fully summarise a film that’s barely even a film in the first place.
Its predecessor (the veritable Part I of a story that was clearly self-contained) dealt with the mental instability of Billy Caldwell and his predilection for dressing up as Father Christmas and slaughtering teenagers with an axe. There was also a surprising amount of depth, decapitation and horrid, ruler-wielding nuns.
Part II honours this spirit by defecating all over it. It follows Billy’s brother, Ricky, as he reminisces over his entirely un-Christmas-y exploits to the thorough bemusement of a psychiatrist (James L. Newman). As he remembers the murder of his parents by a nasty criminal dressed as Father Christmas – an event during which he was an infant – Ricky is asked how he is able to remember this, and other events he was not present for. Ricky’s answer is hilarious in its succinctness: “Because… I was there.”
This flawless logic is sustained by the inclusion of approximately 45 minutes of stock footage from the original film. This dates from the second film’s original nature as a glorified appendix to the original. Director Lee Harry was told to shoot footage for a re-edit of the original film; he wanted to shoot an entirely new film, but did not have enough money.
The strain shows. The film is a complete mess, with schizophrenic cuts back and forth between Billy and Ricky’s stories, with loosely drawled narration from Freeman. The in medias res approach hinders any connection with Ricky, disconnecting him from the narrative.
It also demonstrates the absurdity of sellotaping the second part to a film that never wanted or required a continuation. The original, though goofy and gimmicky in places, holds up relatively well considering its premise. The second part, however, falls apart under its own flimsy, under-developed, paper-thin justification for existence, primarily because it’s 50% stock footage from the first one.
Budget or no budget, the laziness is unparalleled. The repulsiveness of Billy’s actions in the original were tempered by the trauma of both his parents’ murders, and the disciplinarian regime of the Mother Superior. Ricky’s actions, conversely, are random and gratuitous in their violence; though they climax with his famously unnecessary killing spree in the suburbs, they also consist of strangling a woman with a car aerial and impaling a man on an umbrella.
Part II recycles the original with such flagrant disregard for continuity or restraint that we have to wonder what the point was. The film only remembers to put Ricky in the Santa suit in the last five minutes. It also doubles the amount of problematic rape scenes.
But, we remember, even with all this crap, there’s Eric Freeman. Eric Freeman. His performance defies explanation. Though “Garbage day!” gives a good indication, it doesn’t capture the nuances of Freeman’s performance. His repetition of the “Naughty!” soundbite, however, comes close.
He disappeared off the face of the earth after the film’s release, following some minor roles. For the 2004 DVD release, the makers tried to track him down to record a commentary track; they did not succeed. In the process of vanishing, he became something of a legend. A website – Finding Freeman – was set up. He finally surfaced in 2013 – a whole 26 years after the film’s release – when he attended a screening in the New Beverly Theatre.
Though Freeman has very much been found, it’s his performance that endures. It apotheosises through a strange combination of abject talentlessness and bathetic intensity. During that killing spree, he switches from laughing psychopath to stone-cold killer at the drop of a hat, as if he’s suddenly grown bored with the current persona.
Whenever he addresses anyone, his face maintains total, purse-lipped blankness; his eyebrows, however, explode into life. A deeply compelling montage can be found right here, it’s something to behold. He turns a generic, desperately mediocre slasher film into a riotous comedy with his performance; he’s magnetic, and it’s beautiful.
Though its legacy may well be forever defined by a garbage can and an astonishingly over-the-top delivery of an abysmal line, Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part II‘s true legacy is giving us the majesty of Eric Freeman. None of us will remember the peroxide rat-tailed nightmare of Ken Weichert’s Chip; no one will remember the endless stock footage. We’ll all remember Eric Freeman and his garbage day.