It's Christmas Eve, and little Billy is accompanying his parents to visit Grandpa (Hare), who is in a nursing home and never speaks or seems to move. Grandpa is so harmless that the parents leave Billy alone in the room with him while they discuss matters with the doctor. Suddenly Grandpa springs to life. He warns the boy that Santa Claus doesn't just bring presents to good children -- he punishes the naughty ones. "You see Santa Claus tonight, you better run for your life, boy!" Little Billy is terrified ... and by the time the parents return, Grandpa has reverted to his catatonic state. What happens to the family on the drive home after the visit only confirms Billy's belief that Santa punishes people in horrible, devastating ways. In later scenes, we see him growing up with a supremely twisted idea about Christmas that only grows worse. You know what's eventually going to happen to Billy and any innocent bystanders, especially the teenage girls. (Hint: Linnea Quigley screams a lot.) The biggest surprise in the movie is Will Hare, even though Grandpa only appears in that one memorable scene. Hare acted in film and TV from 1948 until his death in 1997 at age 81. His later roles included Heaven Can Wait, The Rose, and Back to the Future (he played Old Man Peabody, the geezer in the woods with the shotgun). But his small yet effective role in Silent Night, Deadly Night is the one that sticks in my mind. Hare steals this movie single-handedly.
I first saw Silent Night, Deadly Night last year as part of an all-night "turkey marathon" at Alamo Drafthouse. I had heard stories about a screening of the horror film a few months previously at QT Six. Apparently Robert Rodriguez likes to scare small children by re-enacting Grandpa's big scene. At QT Fest, he showed off his Grandpa imitation with Quentin Tarantino playing the little boy. Fortunately, someone captured the moment on film, and I was lucky enough to see a copy as part of the turkey marathon. (You can catch part of it in the Austin Film Society QT Six video flashback.) Rodriguez and Tarantino are gut-bustingly funny, but Hare's performance is no joke. Forget the rest of this movie: just watch the opening sequence.