And the original Silent Night, Deadly Night series concludes with Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker. We’ve seen some weird, random shit on our journey through this franchise, and I must confess, they saved the weirdest, most random shit for last. When the Silent Night, Deadly Night series began, it was about a traumatized young man snapping on Christmas Eve and slaughtering his neighbors with an axe while dressed as Santa Claus. Five movies later and the Silent Night, Deadly Night series is now about a malfunctioning teenage robot with an Oedipus Complex who disguises himself as Mickey Rooney in a Santa Claus costume so that he can assassinate a six year-old boy with killer toys and steal his mother.
I just watched all five movies in a row and I STILL don’t know how we got to this point.
Six year-old Derek (William Thorne) has a problem: Someone keeps sending robot toys to his suburban home that spontaneously come to life and try to kill him. Derek’s estranged father, Noah (Tracy Fraim) suspects that the unhinged owner of a local toy store, Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney) is the culprit, but can’t put together enough evidence to prove it. In reality, Joe Petto’s son, Pino (Brian Bremer) is behind the murderous playthings and he has designs on taking Derek’s mom (Jane Higginson).
Much to my surprise, Silent Night, Deadly Night 5 continues with the new continuity established in the last film (which started over after the third installment and took things in a fresh direction). Both Kim (Neith Hunter) and Ricky (Clint Howard) return for smaller parts in this installment and the events of Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 are briefly alluded to as a means to solidify continuity. Still, it’s not a direct sequel to the events of the last film and functions as a standalone installment, just in case the narrative cohesion of the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise is a matter that keeps you awake at night.
While the killer Santa gimmick returns after a noticeable absence in the last installment, it’s quite clearly a late addition to the script (most likely tacked on after fans complained about the lack of a killer Santa in the fourth movie). Mickey Rooney doesn’t don the red coat and black boots until the one hour mark and he removes the getup pretty quickly after delivering his payload of killer presents to the babysitter and her boyfriend. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5 was co-written by Brian Yuzna, who wrote the killer Santa-free Silent Night, Deadly Night 4, so it’s no surprise that the gimmick is downplayed to the point of being an afterthought.
Like most people my age, I learned about Mickey Rooney through The Simpsons and Animaniacs.
Despite the fact that the killer Santa is only in the movie for a few minutes, Silent Night, Deadly Night 5 is my favorite sequel in the whole series. It’s a completely bizarre movie full of over-the-top gore (once more provided by Screaming Mad George) and… God dammit: Mickey freakin’ Rooney as a psycho that kills people with robot toys while dressed as Santa Claus. That’s just too insane not to love.
Rooney’s involvement in the film makes for an amusing inversion, as he voiced Santa Claus in several of Rankin Bass’s stop-motion Christmas Specials during the ‘70s. It reminds me of how June Foray, who provided the voice of the popular talking doll Chatty Cathy, voiced the murderous Talky Tina in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Rooney sort of sleepwalks through his role in the movie and clearly was only participating in such a low rent piece of VHS junk for a quick paycheck, but he’s still fun to watch.
The late ‘80s and early ‘90s saw a boom in the “killer toy” subgenre of horror thanks in large part to the Child’s Play and Puppet Master franchises. As such, the robotic toys are the real monsters in this flick, eliminating the “slasher” motif that the series started out with. You get a pretty good selection of devilish playthings, such as a Santa with snake-like arms that suffocates people, a robot larva that goes for the eyes, Acme Rocket Skates that would give Wile E. Coyote nightmares, RC cars with buzzsaws attached and tanks that fire live ammunition. The movie half-heartedly throws out some red herrings as to who the creator of the killer toys is, but there are only ever two genuine suspects and they’re so closely related you won’t really care which one it is.
Back when rollerblades were considered cool. We’ve come a long way.
To go ahead and spoil the movie for you, it turns out to be Rooney’s teenage son, Pino, who reminds me of the autistic guy from Big Bang Theory. If Pino’s name didn’t give it away, he’s actually a marionette robot built by Rooney to replace his deceased son. Pino goes insane and begins impersonating Rooney, building killer toys in an attempt to assassinate Derek and steal his mother. I was treated to perhaps one of the biggest “what the fuck am I watching?” moments of my life during the climax of this film, as a naked and genitalia-less Pino dry humps the female lead while screaming “I love you, mommy! I want you!” over and over and over again. All while Mickey Rooney’s corpse sits in the corner and watches.
Well, I guess I can just go ahead and add this to the list of things I can never un-see.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 5 isn’t without its problems, of course. The hero of the film spends the first hour as a potential red herring for the titular “toy maker”, so when we finally learn his identity (Derek’s estranged father) there’s only 20 minutes left in the movie and we have to buy that he’s the protagonist very, very quickly. And when I say that we don’t “learn his identity” until the one hour mark, I mean that we don’t even learn his NAME until the one hour mark. For the majority of the movie he’s just this weird guy stalking Derek and his mother for no readily apparent reason.
Having sat through all five installments in rapid succession, I am honestly bewildered by the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise. It. Is. INSANE. You would think that this series is about a guy in a Santa Claus costume killing people with an axe, but that only pertains to the first film. If you took all the killer Santa footage from the four sequels and added them together, you’d probably end up with less than a half hour. Every sequel tries to do something completely unique, often with disastrous results, but there’s no denying that no two installments are alike. While the sequels may feel like four consecutive bait-n-switch scams, the lack of familiarity between them means you never know what you’re going to get. It could be a giallo wannabe or it could be a clip show. It could be a Rosemary’s Baby rip-off or it could be about psychotic robot toys.
The variety within the Silent Night, Deadly Night series is astounding. And although that “variety” is actually just a choice between multiple garbage cans, it’s still enough to keep you on your toes.
I may be done with the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise, but I’m not quite done with my Christmas-themed horror reviews just yet. Come back tomorrow when I’ll be weighing in on the original Black Christmas, not just one of the earliest Christmas-set horror movies, but a forerunner to the slasher subgenre as we know it.