Two Christmas-themed horror movies. Two killers named Billy. Two very different approaches to bringing these men and their crimes to the screen. While Bob Clark's 1974 film BLACK CHRISTMAS keeps its killer Billy shrouded in shadows and secrecy, Charles E. Sellier Jr.'s 1984 slasher SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was carried on the shoulders of its killer Billy. So in the end, which is the better Billy? The one we know almost nothing about, or the one we know everything about? Just in time for Christmas, this week's Face-Off aims to find out...
This Billy has no motivation that we're aware of, driven solely by madness and perversion. Any hint of a back story - including his name - comes from the insane, multi-voice phone calls that he makes to the girls who remain in a sorority house over Christmas break. He seems to relate a story from his childhood - a panicked mother and father asking Billy where baby Agnes is. Young Billy did something terrible to Agnes, indicating that he was simply a bad seed from the beginning. But we can't be sure. All we know for sure is that Billy starts out as a prowler who makes obscene calls and quickly adds murder to his crimes after one of the girls tells him off.
It's no surprise when this Billy starts killing, from the age of five this kid had no chance in life. He witnessed his parents get murdered, and his mother sexually violated, by a thief dressed as Santa Claus. Then he ended up in an orphanage run by a cruel Mother Superior, who made his next thirteen years a living hell while drilling the importance of discipline and punishment into his head. When he gets a job at a store that requires him to dress as Santa and then witnesses a fellow employee committing a violent criminal act, of course Billy is going to snap. He's a killer that we understand and sympathize with.
Billy is the definitive creeper. He climbs into the attic of the sorority house in the first minutes of the movie and there he stays for almost the entire duration, with no one realizing he's in the house until it's too late. He only leaves the attic to kill people, which he accomplishes without anyone but his victim becoming aware of his presence. The idea of a killer cohabitating with his victims and stealthily moving among them is terrifying.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT's Billy is about as subtle as a bulldozer. He moves forward like an unstoppable force - once he has someone in his sights who he believes deserves to be punished, he goes after them relentlessly and isn't afraid to make a door-busting spectacle of himself. He'll kill in front of an audience with no problem, and then find others to punish within the audience. It's fun to watch him in action.
Billy wasn't exactly prepared to wipe out the residents when he crawled into the attic of the sorority house, but he finds a way to rack up some kills with the items at his disposal. A plastic bag, the hooked end of a rope and pulley system, the horn of a glass unicorn figure, they work just as well as any slasher's tools in the hands of this guy. The kills are fine, but not exceptional.
Billy's slasher skills rank up there with the best of his peers, and he pulls off several kills that are sure to delight any slasher fan. The implements he puts to use include a box cutter, a claw hammer, a bow and arrow, and of course his trusty axe. He also has plenty of brute strength to overpower victims with - even managing to lift a girl up and impale her on the antlers of a mounted deer head.
BLACK CHRISTMAS Billy has an edge in this category because of the phone calls he makes throughout the film. His dialogue is obscene, disturbing, disgusting, and yes, occasionally amusing. Whether it's his fascinatingly insane telling of the baby Agnes story, a calmly chilling "I'm going to kill you", or sexual references that can't be repeated here, Billy's calls are truly an incredible piece of this movie and may be the best thing about it. There are lines in here that will stick in your head for a long time.
Early in the film, Billy is able to interact with people like a regular, awkward person, but once his mind snaps that goes out the window. He has certain words that he likes to repeat over and over: he notifies his intended victims that they are "Naughty!" and then says what he's going to do to them - "Punish." He will occasionally expand on these and say something like "Punishment is necessary", or he'll recite a bit of "A Visit from St. Nicholas", but "Naughty" and "Punish" are mainly what we have to go on here.
We don't get to see much of Billy, but from what we do see of him there doesn't seem to be anything special about him. He just looks like an average guy with crazy eyes and shaggy hair, wearing a black sweater. He's unnerving, but there's nothing iconic about his appearance. That's part of what makes this character as good as it is - he's just a random person committing random acts of violence. That works for the film, but if we're judging his fashion sense in comparison to the other Billy's, he just doesn't measure up.
If you want to become a horror icon, you have to have something unique and memorable about yourself - a ghoulish visage, a certain kind of mask, a trademark weapon. Billy achieves unforgettable status by corrupting an image normally associated with innocence and joy. He kills people while dressed up as Santa Claus, a fact which drew a lot of attention to this film and stirred up a lot of controversy. Billy wasn't the first killer Santa on film, but he became the most popular. He gets the fashion win for knowing how to dress to impress.
BLACK CHRISTMAS and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT are very different films, and I love both of them for what they are. I enjoy watching both of the killers named Billy, the opposing ways they're presented and the ways they carry out their mad actions. When choosing a winner, I have to go with the more frightening character over the more iconic character - while the sympathetic Billy of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT sort of becomes a one note joke after the killing starts (after almost 45 minutes of building up his breakdown), the Billy of BLACK CHRISTMAS remains mysterious and scary even when we've reached the end credits. For that, BLACK CHRISTMAS Billy wins this Face-Off.
Do you agree with this outcome, or do you prefer the way the other Billy doles out his punishments? Share your thoughts on these films and characters in the comments section below. If you have any suggestions for future Face-Off articles and pairings, you can email me at CodyHamman@joblo.com.