Silent Night Deadly Night
Director: Charles Sellier
Starring: Robert Bryan Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, LINNEA QUIGLEY
Just a quick note to my readers - This is not the start to my next retrospective. I have volunteered to join onto FORGOTTEN FILMS' 1984-A-Thon, a massive blogger participation project reviewing over 100 films from 1984 on over 100 blogs(lots of great reading material, too. Check it out!). My contribution to this is the controversial film SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT. We may go back and do the rest of these films in the near future, but this is currently just a one-shot. The David Fincher retrospective will hopefully begin very soon.
Silent Night Deadly Night may be a forgotten entity outside of its cult status, but it was actually one of the most controversial films of the 1980s. It's legacy is likely more tied to the outcry it caused with the public than the actual film itself. With the film's release came extreme protests from parents and religious groups over its "supposed" subject matter. One such protester was actor Mickey Rooney who wrote a heated letter to the producers condemning the film. In a funny twist of fate, Rooney would later star in Silent Night Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker. Not helping the fact were critics absolutely slamming it as filth, even to the extent that Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert read aloud all the production credits on their show shaming everyone who worked on the film. The extremely vocal protests worked, as Tri-Star Pictures pulled all advertisements for the film after six days into the theatrical run, and then pulled the film entirely from theaters after two weeks.
What was it about this film that was so terrible, so vile that it should never have been release, let alone made? This is another one of those cases of people protesting and screaming out against something they've never even seen. When you watch the movie today you'll be scratching your head and wondering what exactly caused such a national stir. Basically, people thought the film featured Santa Claus as a serial killer and likely sneaking down chimneys and hacking away at innocent little children. If you've seen the film or even the trailer you know this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the only way you could falsely assume such a thing is if you judge this movie on the poster alone. Leonard Maltin only fueled the fire with his negative review when he said something along the lines of "What's next? The Easter Bunny as a child molester?"
All of this outrage and gathered protests of a film that merely was your average early 1980s teen slasher film that featured the killer wearing a mall Santa Claus outfit. The Golden Era of slashers on its last leg by 1984, only to be given a second wind that same opening weekend with a film opening opposite Silent Night Deadly Night called A Nightmare On Elm Street. In the first run of the slashers (1980-84), a killer usually was defined by a simple mask or costume. A lot of them tried to use something relate-able with a scary twist for their killers. The Prowler used a vintage military outfit, My Blood Valentine used a gas masked coal miner outfit and of course we all know Jason Voorhees donned the iconic hockey mask in Friday The 13th Part 3-D. Silent Night Deadly Night was naturally only taking the same step as those other films. However, people felt that fictional Santa Claus was such a sacred being that he could not be tarnished and treated like that for the sake of the children. But, Silent Night Deadly Night was a rated R horror/slasher film. What overprotective parent protesting was taking their kid to this movie in the first place? Its not like they were tricking people and putting this out as PG. Ideally, with that rating the film should be inaccessible to children under the age of 17. Any protest here is null and void. What it all amounted to was a lot of nonsense and harming a film's financial intake.
These protesters look like even bigger hypocrites because Silent Night Deadly Night wasn't actually the first film to feature a mass murderer in Santa's clothing. They totally missed that four years earlier, a horror film came and went called You Better Watch Out (now known as Christmas Evil). In that film its a guy at a toy factory who loses it and goes killing. It wasn't as big a release or maybe as commercial a film as Silent Night Deadly Night, but it did play in theaters and no one said a thing about it or even thought to make a sign in aggression toward it. As I always say with these people outraged over these movies, its fiction, its not real and nobody is making you watch it. Today, Silent Night Deadly Night would come and go without even a peep. Heck, there was a remake back in 2012, which did play to limited release, and nobody really even seemed to care.
All this and we haven't even talked about the film itself. Silent Night Deadly Night is a rather slow moving traditional slasher film, taking its time to build the case for its killer's motivations. Some notable events, such as the shocking murder of Billy's parents and his super creepy institutionalized grandfather make for good material. But a lot of the Catholic upbringing sequence and Billy's starting out working at the toy store drag quite a bit and try to hammer home the values and ideals that will later set Billy off. Once he does get going though, the movie starts working a lot better. While Billy's killing spree is rather disjointed and pretty much random, it does lend to some fun moments and great kills. Of those kills is a pretty iconic one featuring Linnea Quigley in an early role (and yes fellas, she is pretty much topless the whole time). Our killer takes Linnea, hoists her up and impales her on some deer antlers from a deer head on the wall. Its quite the spectacle and probably the most memorable thing to people when it comes to the film itself. While not up there with that one, the decapitation of a kid while sledding down a hill is a hoot too. The gore effects in the film are rock solid too, so its an extra treat.
One aspect that I think the film shines on that no one really credits it for is the music. Silent Night Deadly Night used no actual Christmas songs or music for the film. They actually wrote all the music themselves. To their biggest credit, you can't tell at all or won't notice. The songs in the movie sound like actual "timeless classics" Christmas songs that have been around for ages. Its never really been talked about before with the music of the film before, but you could actually play the soundtrack around the holidays (not winter 1984 though!) and people would probably dig it. Plus it'd be a change of pace from all the stuff that overplays and overplays and OVERPLAYS that time of year. Horror fans, let Silent Night Deadly Night's songs ring in your bloody cheer for Christmas time this year!
Despite being pulled after 2 weeks, the film actually managed to rake in over triple its budget. That may indeed be part of the reason why Tri-Star was ok with calling it a day and "giving in" to the protesters after 2 weeks. They had indeed already "won". Also of note, the Silent Night Deadly Night actually topped A Nightmare On Elm Street at the box office on their opening weekend. We know the latter became legendary and insanely iconic, but it was Silent Night Deadly Night people were more excited for that weekend. Who knows what would have happened had Silent Night Deadly Night been allowed to make a normal healthy run at the box office and not had so much push back. It was the biggest thing standing in Freddy's way and cleared out almost instantly allowing the Springwood Slasher to take in all possible box office successes.
Silent Night Deadly Night was later resurrected in 1986 in theaters by a new distributor. It featured a new ad campaign focusing on Billy and not Santa as much as it could. In 1987, some people were hired to re-edit the film and shoot a few new scenes to try and sell it off as a sequel or a new film. The people involved got a bit into the new scenes they were shooting and wound up kind of doing a half and half. The became Silent Night Deadly Night - Part 2, which may be what is more famous in our current atmosphere as it featured the super internet famous "Garbage Day" scene. In fact, I honestly recommend 2 over the first one if you haven't seen either. Part 2 includes pretty much all the good stuff from the first movie and itself falls into one of those crazy "so bad its good" midnight movies that is infinitely more enjoyable than some of the boredom that befalls the original film. And trust me if you're worried about missing the first film, Part 2 includes 45-50 minutes of it. So the original film has sort of been released many times and has been included in 2 movies.
The legacy of Silent Night Deadly Night has been a fading one. It did have a nationwide theatrical rerelease last winter, but I'm not sure how successful that run went. It is a key player in the annals of horror history when it comes to the slasher films. And the film did spawn 4 sequels (that get quite bizarre as you keep going) and a remake. Anchor Bay is finally releasing it on Blu-ray next month and I do deem it as big time collector's item even if it isn't one of my favorite slashers of all time (I would have rather they did a double feature Blu-ray and included Part 2 though). This film was as controversial in the 1980s as The Last Temptation Of Christ if you'll believe it. The film was a household name due to its "supposed" vile content. Today however, its a has been and maybe isn't even all the well known outside of its own fan base and retro horror nerds like myself. When you look at it, maybe people want to forget the protesting as its actually quite embarrassing to think that this film caused all sort of a stink after you actually view the film and see what it really is.