Silent Night, Deadly Night

‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’ (1984) – 35 Years of Yuletide Fear

You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas.”

The tagline tells you all you need to know about Silent Night, Deadly Night. The much maligned killer Santa movie was a logical continuation of the holiday horror slasher films popularized in the early ’80s post-Halloween (1978) era. It certainly wasn’t the first Christmas-themed horror film; you already had Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972), Black Christmas (1974), Christmas Evil (1980), and To All A Goodnight (1980). It was, however, among the most celebrated and controversial. On November 9, 1984, this seminal holiday slasher shocked audiences, angered critics, and even spurred parents’ groups to action.

Take a stroll back with us down memory lane as we look back on 35 years of this infamous holiday horror classic! And to think, it all started with a trailer…

Silent Night, Deadly Night Synopsis

Silent Night, Deadly Night tells the tale of Billy Chapmen, orphaned at five after witnessing the murder of his parents at the hands of a Santa suit-clad madman on Christmas Eve. Now eighteen and out of the brutal grip of orphanage nuns, Billy is forced to confront his greatest fear, sending him on a rampage, leaving a crimson trail in the snow behind him.

Charles E. Sellier, Jr. (The Annihilators 1984) directed the film, originally titled Slayride. It stars Lilyan Chauvin (Predator 2 1990), Gilmer McCormick (Godspell 1973), Toni Nero (Commando Squad 1987), Robert Brian Wilson (Santa Barbara TV series), Britt Leach (Weird Science 1985), Nancy Borgenicht (Halloween 4: the Return of Michael Myers 1988), Leo Geter (Halloween 5: The Curse of Michael Myers 1995 – read our retro review here), and Return of the Living Dead’s Linnea Quigley (read our interview with her here).

The film features some great kills from a superhumanly strong, batshit crazy Santa, which are recapped nicely in the video below. Check it out!

The Controversy Begins

TriStar Pictures acquired Silent Night, Deadly Night from indie film producer Ira Barmak (The ABC Afternoon Playbreak TV series) and targeted a November, 1984 release. Just in time for the holidays! To promote the film, TriStar cut a trailer and launched a small screen ad campaign. The trailer (seen above) featured a killer Santa Claus with a gun, a knife, and an axe doing not-so-nice things to people. The problem? The ads aired during family-friendly programming, including a November 4 football game between the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints.

The word was out, though the response was not exactly what the studio hoped for. Protests erupted in Milwaukee (the local market for the Packers game) and New York in advance of opening weekend. The backlash had begun.

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Slashing Through The Snow

Silent Night, Deadly Night opened in about 400 theaters the weekend of November 9, 1984. The estimated budget for the film was around $1 million. The opening weekend saw box office receipts in the $1.5 million range. This killer Santa was a bona fide hit! This box office success, however, fueled the protests and soon brought the controversy to a boil.

Film critics Siskel and Ebert lambasted Silent Night, Deadly Night on At The Movies. Hollywood actors spoke out against the film (most notably Mickey Rooney). The studio, elated by the film’s initial success, found themselves wanting nothing to do with all this bad press. They pulled the plug on the movie after just two weeks of release.

TriStar distanced itself from Silent Night, Deadly Night after pulling the film from theaters. They sold the rights to another distributor that tried (unsuccessfully) to cash in on the controversy by bringing the film back to the big screen. They broke out a new tagline: Shocking… disturbing… The movie they tried to ban. No dice. The film’s real success – and audience – was to be found on home video.

Santa Comes Home

As a kid, I vividly remember seeing this film and its sequels on the video store shelves. The iced over chimney with Santa’s arm and the axe is pretty iconic. I really dig Part 2’s cover as well, with the pistol reflected in the glass ornament. How could you forget? There’s a reason these films were successful: they just screamed, “Rent me!” With a new medium came a new tagline:

If A Nightmare on Elm Street gave you sleepless nights, or if Halloween made you jump in every shadow or if every Friday the 13th was more frightening than the others... THEN BEWARE!

It’s interesting to note that Silent Night, Deadly Night and A Nightmare On Elm Street were released to theaters on the same day. While the Santa slasher was obviously successful and became a cult classic, the Elm Street reference in the VHS marketing campaign is a testament to what an influential, monster hit Craven’s classic was, just one year later.

Silent Night, Deadly Night

The Legacy

There was enough popularity and interest in the original film to spawn a slew of low budget sequels that can be found on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. Part 2 is mostly a rehash of the original. Part 3 continues the story with Bill Moseley taking on the Ricky role! Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 and 5 basically have nothing to do with the original, but are a testament to a franchise’s ability to make money based on a memorable title alone.

Years later, the film inspired a spiritual remake in the form of 2012’s (incredibly badass) Silent Night. Shout! Factory released a Collector’s Edition of the film on Blu-ray with a limited edition Ricky figure and movie poster in 2017. You can snag a copy of this amazing stocking stuffer right here. It features a host of special features, including an interview with scream queen Linnea Quigley.

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Final Thoughts

What more can you really say about Silent Night, Deadly Night? It’s a horror classic. I watch it every year come Christmas time, and I always follow it up with Part 2. “Garbage day!” Hard to believe it’s been 35 years. Time flies when you’re having fun.

What do you think? Where does Silent Night, Deadly Night rank in the pantheon of holiday slashers? Tell us in the comments!

About Kenn Hoekstra

PopHorror Writer. Associate Editor. @PopHorrorNews Tweeter. Also... Screenwriter. Blogger. Horror Movie Aficionado. Wisconsin Sports Fan. IT Guy. Father. Smartass. People's Champion. TIME Person of the Year - 2006.

Check Also

Video Shop Tales Of Terror (2023)

Horror-On-Sea 2023 Film Festival – ‘VIDEO SHOP TALES OF TERROR’ (2023) – Movie Review

As we continue our coverage of the Horror-On-Sea 2023 Film Festival, we had the pleasure …