Franchise Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night

Little Billy witness his parents getting killed by Santa after being warned by his senile grandpa that Santa punishes those who are naughty. Now Billy is 18, and out of the orphanage, and he has just become Santa, himself.

I must admit that this film is a firm favourite of mine to watch during the holiday season.

This was a film I already knew all about before I had even watched it due to the huge amount of controversy that surrounded it’s release. Like many films of its era it was vilified in the media and protests were had by a group of angry parents, which of course made people want to watch it more.

So when I finally sat down to watch this film it already came with a big reputation to live up to, that then naturally added even more expectations to a teenager who was wondering what he was about to watch. When the film was finished I can honestly say I was not let down and a new Holiday favourite was discovered.

The film’s controversy led to Charles Sellier having difficulty finding more work (he directed only 2 more films) which forced him to retire from filmmaking and focus on producing. It’s a shame because people forget this was his debut feature and I feel like he had a bright future as a director.

One thing I’ve always felt that this feature never got credit for was it’s boldness, they could’ve easily toned things down or even changed certain parts of the film but they didn’t. The film-makers stuck to their guns and kudos to them for doing that as it makes the film more effective.

“Silent Night, Deadly Night” is most definitely remembered for it’s controversy and I completely understand that but ultimately this is a film that shows one persons trauma descending into madness, it also helps that it’s a ton of fun to watch.


Miscellaneous facts about the film:

Opened on the same weekend as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and briefly out-grossed the latter by around $161,800-since this film was playing in more than twice as many theatres as “Nightmare”-before the gross fell about 45% by the second weekend, even before this film was pulled from theatres.

The release of this film was picketed by angry parents who were not happy to see Santa Claus depicted as an axe murderer, despite the fact that Tales from the Crypt (1972) had done the exact same thing twelve years earlier, and Christmas Evil (1980) had done the same thing in 1980. As a result, box office sales plummeted once the film was pulled from theatres after barely 2 weeks, and the film was shelved for another year where it saw new light in an uncut video form (which has since gone out of print).

In an interview from the documentary Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006), Lilyan Chauvin (Mother Superior) admitted it was a mistake to centre the film’s publicity campaign on Santa Claus, and believed it would have generated far less controversy if the studio instead focused on Billy’s psychological plight.

This film was known as “Slayride” throughout its production. Tri-Star decided to change the title to “Silent Night, Deadly Night” at the last minute.

Many of the kill scenes were directed by editor Michael Spence, due to director Charles E. Sellier Jr. being uncomfortable with handling the gore-heavy parts of the film.

To protest the film, critic Gene Siskel read out loud the names of the companies that owned distributor Tri-Star Pictures on his and Roger Ebert ‘s television show, then said, “Shame on you.” He also called out the writer, director and producer and said, “You people have nothing to be proud of.”

This film was planned to be a limited release but open wider by Christmas, but the protest canned the idea, and was pulled after two weeks of release.

When the film was released widely, angered parents picketed theatres where it was being screened, and asked oncoming patrons to sign petitions to have the film removed from theatres. Two weeks later, the film had been withdrawn.

Graphic designer Burt Kleeger created the infamous poster art of Santa going down the chimney with an axe.

All the film’s TV ads were immediately pulled off the networks because of the trailer showing Santa Claus carrying an axe, which practically depicted him as a mass murderer. This motivated parents to protest the film and instantly had it yanked out of theatres after making a profit with its limited release.

Composer Perry Botkin Jr. improvised most of the score while watching a workprint copy of the film on Betamax. Afterward, he’d replay the tape with his work, and add more layers and melody to polish it off.

Phil Donahue dedicated an entire hour of his TV show to the controversy surrounding this film.

The group formed to protest the film and lobby for it to be removed from theatres was called “Citizens Against Movie Madness.”

The axe that gets embedded in the wall Linnea Quigley is leaning against was real.

In a 1994 audio interview with Fangoria, director Charles Sellier, Jr. erroneously states that this film was based on a book called “Slayride” by Paul Caimi. In reality there was no such book. Paul Caimi, then a student at Harvard University, submitted a script to the producers of the film that had a line about a killer Santa. The producers of the film expanded upon that single idea to make this film and, wanting to give Caimi some credit, gave him a “story by” credit.

Since the film’s re-release in the spring of 1986, almost all advertising for the film (only excluding the Fangoria Films re-release in 2013 and cover art for all U.S. video releases) has focused on the controversy it created in 1984.

The founders of Citizens Against Movie Madness, the group formed to protest this film hoped to use the victory they secured in getting Silent Night, Deadly Night pulled to challenge the film industry on the amount of violence for other films as well. However, the group would fall apart shortly after this film was pulled and would never live up to its founder’s dreams.

When asked during a 2015 interview about all the protests surrounding the film when it came out, Linnea Quigley said: “Oh my god. I was shocked when my manager called me in Mexico (where she was filming another movie) and said that. I was like, are you kidding me? I mean, to me, that was just another horror film. I couldn’t understand it at all.”

When the remake, titled Silent Night (2012), was released in 2012, the reaction was the polar opposite of what it was in 1984, with people accepting the concept of a killer wearing a Santa Claus suit. This may have also been the reason why Fangoria Films decided to re-release the original film in 2013, which led to the film finally appearing on pay cable channels in 2014.

Six minutes of footage was edited out of the film, out of fear of a potential X rating, reducing the runtime from 85 minutes to 79 minutes. The cut scenes included a few extra character beats, and some more gory shots. For the Blu-ray release of the film, a search was conducted for the missing footage to prepare an uncut version of the film, and even though the footage was discovered in a TriStar Pictures vault, it had been kept in such poor condition that any restoration would be impossible. If watching the Blu-ray, one can see the noticeable drop in quality between the Standard Definition Inserts and the original theatrical footage.

Executive Producer Scott Schneid was invited to appear on “Donahue”, along with members from Mothers Against Movie Madness (MAMM) to discuss the film’s controversy, but he turned it down.

Producer Ira Barmak had to buy back the distribution rights to the film after Tri-Star pulled the film from theatres amidst the controversy. Tri-Star also rescinded deals with RCA/Columbia for home video and HBO for cable distribution. At a 2014 screening with Beyond Fest and Death Waltz Records, Executive Producer Dennis Whitehead stated the main reason for pulling the film may have actually been because Columbia/Tri-Star was owned by Coca Cola, and they wanted to avoid offending the company since Christmas was a major advertising holiday for their product.

Had the movie stayed in the theatres longer, Tri Star pictures estimated it would have earned well over $20 million dollars.

The toyshop where Billy gets his first job is called “IRA’S TOYS”, Ira is the first name of one of the film’s producers.

Sam Raimi, Albert Magnoli, and Ken Kwapis were considered to direct the film.

Principal photography lasted from March to April 1983. During this time, the snow was starting to melt which caused the production team to shoot all the outdoor scenes first.

Much of this movie is filmed in Heber City, Utah. The city has changed a lot since then but the toy store is still there. It has been a dance studio, hardware store and now a gym.

The orphanage building was an abandoned school house that the crew had renovated for the film. It was demolished shortly after filming concluded.

Due to the use of the killer Santa theme in earlier films, the producers were not expecting this aspect of the film to be controversial. They were however expecting for the film’s portrayal of the Catholic Church to be controversial. Perhaps wanting to play up this angle, the film opened first in the heavily Catholic Midwest and Northeast, rather than the more Protestant West or South.

The title “Slay Ride” actually ended up as a subplot in another film, the Disney holiday movie Ernest Saves Christmas (1988). In the Ernest film, the prospective Santa that Ernest was looking for was appearing in a horror film entitled “Christmas Slay”.

Even though executives at the studio stayed away from the media when the controversy erupted, writer Michael Hickey said he accepted any request for an interview he got, including Entertainment Tonight. He thought the controversy was absolutely hilarious and a lot of fun. He said, “I was in no way chagrined by the controversy, I thought it was great! This is a film that could have sunk like a stone and never been heard from again, and suddenly it was leading the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather; I didn’t know how to take that!”

This film shares no connection to Black Christmas (1974), despite bearing a similar title to the former’s original title, “Silent Night, Evil Night”.

In response to the uproar, New York TV station WPIX moved the commercials to late-night slots, while stations in Albany and Boston pulled them altogether. The Boston Globe yanked the film’s newspaper ads, which featured the ax-wielding arm of a Santa on his way down the chimney. Yielding to protesters, the Bronx theater pulled the film after its first week, while two chains in Montana announced that they would not show the film when it moved west (it initially opened only in Midwest and Northeast markets).

10 thoughts on “Franchise Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night

  1. Were you there for the theatrical release?
    It’s also really hard to find the Tristar logos for the movie and they are missing from the Shout Factory Blu Ray
    Is this about trademark infringement issues with Sony Pictures?

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  2. The R-rated cut is actually 82 minutes, not 79 minutes, and lacks nearly 2.5 minutes of footage while the unrated cut is 85 minutes.

    I heard that it was due to negative screening tests that Tristar had to trim and cut footage that seemed unnecessary. Apart from the gore, I guess they wanted to make it more suspenseful.
    Non-violent scenes like Mr. Sim’s drunken dialogue are cut, and Mr. Sim’s and Randall’s singing of “Santa is Waiting” was completely redone.
    http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=518664

    For PAL time compressed versions, they are 79 minutes or under.
    Many non-English dubs are sourced from the R-rated version as the uncut footage hasn’t been dubbed into any other languages.
    The German dub cuts 30 seconds more that weren’t applied to the TriStar release.
    https://www.schnittberichte.com/schnittbericht.php?ID=2421

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  3. Imagine if the United Film Distribution Company released this movie in late 1983 instead of Tristar.

    There’d be no controversy and there’d be no edits to the original 85 minute movie.
    There’d also be no sequels.

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