Silent Night, Deadly Night
|Silent Night, Deadly Night|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Charles E. Sellier Jr.|
|Produced by||Ira Richard Barmak|
Scott J. Schneid
|Screenplay by||Michael Hickey|
|Story by||Paul Caimi|
|Music by||Perry Botkin|
|Edited by||Michael Spence|
Slayride Productions Inc.
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
85 minutes (Unrated cut)
|Box office||$2.5 million|
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a 1984 American slasher film directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr., and starring Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Linnea Quigley, Britt Leach, and Leo Geter. The story concerns a young man named Billy, who suffers from post-traumatic stress over witnessing his parents' murder on Christmas Eve by a man disguised as Santa Claus and his subsequent upbringing in an abusive Catholic orphanage. In adulthood, the Christmas holiday leads him into a psychological breakdown, and he emerges as a spree killer donning a Santa suit.
The film was released by TriStar Pictures on November 9, 1984, where it received substantial controversy over its promotional material and content, which featured a killer Santa Claus. In addition to receiving negative reviews, it was pulled from theaters a week after its release. However, it was a success during its opening week, grossing $2.5 million on a budget of $750,000. Since its release, it has developed a cult following and spawned a series, consisting of four sequels, with the fourth and fifth installments having no connection to the original film, as well as a loose remake in 2012.
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In 1971, five-year-old Billy Chapman and his family go to visit a nursing home in Utah where his catatonic grandfather stays; when Billy remains alone with him for a few minutes, his grandfather suddenly awakens and tells Billy to fear Santa Claus, as he gives presents only to the children who have been good all year, and punishes the ones who have been naughty, no matter how briefly. While driving back, a man dressed in a Santa outfit seemingly has car trouble and gets Billy's family's attention. As they pull over to help, the Santa-clad criminal shoots the father with a pistol. He forcibly removes the mother, attempts to rape her and slashes her throat with a switchblade. Billy runs off to hide, leaving his baby brother Ricky in the car.
Three years later in 1974, Billy and Ricky are celebrating Christmas in an orphanage run by Mother Superior, a strict disciplinarian who persistently strikes children who misbehave and considers punishment to be a necessary and good thing. Sister Margaret, the only one who sympathizes with the children, tries to help Billy play with the other children, but Billy is constantly subject to Mother Superior's scrutinizing eyes and regularly punished. On Christmas morning, the orphanage invites a man in a Santa Claus suit to visit the children; Billy gets dragged by Mother Superior and he punches the man before fleeing to his room in horror.
10 years later, in the spring of 1984, a now-adult Billy leaves the orphanage to find a normal life, and obtains a job as a stock boy at a local toy store, thanks to Sister Margaret. At the store, he develops a crush on his co-worker Pamela; he has sexual thoughts regarding her which are often interrupted by morbid visions of his parents' murders. On Christmas Eve, the employee who plays the store's Santa Claus has been injured the night before and as a result Billy's boss Mr. Sims makes him take his place. After the store closes, the staff has a Christmas Eve party. Billy (still dressed in a Santa Claus suit) tries to have a good time at the party, but he keeps having memories of his parents' murders, causing him to feel depressed. At one point, he sees his co-worker Andy making out with Pamela and they both walk into the back room. Billy walks after them and sees Andy trying to rape Pamela. This finally, psychologically, triggers his insanity; he hangs Andy with a string of Christmas lights and stabs Pamela with a utility knife, uttering darkly that punishment is good.
A highly intoxicated Mr. Sims goes into the back room to check on the noises he heard. Just when he is about to leave, Billy murders him with a hammer. Billy turns off the store's lights, causing his manager, Mrs. Randall, to go check out the back room. She screams at the sight of Mr. Sims' corpse and tries to call police, but Billy cuts the phone line using a double-bit axe, causing her to run and hide. Billy walks around the store trying to find her and, at one point, Mrs. Randall jumps out and trips Billy, stealing his axe. Before she can escape, Billy shoots and kills her with a bow and arrow.
As Sister Margaret discovers the carnage and returns to the orphanage to seek help via telephone, Billy breaks into a nearby house where a young couple named Denise and Tommy are having sex and a little girl named Cindy is sleeping; Billy then impales Denise on a set of deer antlers and throws Tommy through a window. When this awakens Cindy, Billy then confronts her and asks her if she has been nice or naughty; she says she has been nice, and he gives her the utility knife he had used earlier. After this, he witnesses bullies picking on two sledding teenage boys and decapitates one of the bullies with his axe as the other screams in horror.
The next morning, the orphanage is secured with Officer Barnes and Captain Richards aided by Sister Margaret, who knows that Billy has committed the murders. The deaf pastor, Father O'Brien, who was dressed in a Santa outfit, is mistakenly shot by Barnes upon coming forward, mistaking him to be Billy. Barnes is then axed by Billy while distracted. Due to his Santa outfit, Billy gains access into the orphanage and confronts Mother Superior, now in a wheelchair. She taunts Billy due to her disbelief in Santa Claus and just as he prepares to kill her with his axe, Richards appears and shoots him in the back, much to Sister Margaret's shock. As the dying Billy lays on the ground, he utters to the nearby children "You're safe now, Santa Claus is gone." before succumbing to his wounds. As the children gather around, Ricky, coldly staring at Mother Superior, utters "Naughty".
- Robert Brian Wilson as Billy Chapman (age 18)
- Danny Wagner as eight-year-old Billy
- Jonathan Best as five-year-old Billy
- Alex Burton as Ricky Chapman at 14
- Max Broadhead as four-year-old Ricky
- Melissa Best as infant Ricky
- Lilyan Chauvin as Mother Superior
- Gilmer McCormick as Sister Margaret
- Toni Nero as Pamela
- Britt Leach as Mr. Sims
- Nancy Borgenicht as Mrs. Randall
- H.E.D. Redford as Captain Richards
- Linnea Quigley as Denise
- Leo Geter as Tommy
- Randy Stumpf as Andy
- Will Hare as Grandpa Chapman
- Tara Buckman as Ellie Chapman
- Geoff Hansen (Credited as Jeff Hansen) as Jim Chapman
- Charles Dierkop as "killer Santa" (criminal in a Santa Claus outfit)
- Eric Hart as Mr. Levitt
- A. Madeline Smith as Sister Ellen
- Amy Stuyvesant as Cindy
- Max Robinson as Officer Barnes
- Vinc Massa as Doug
- John Michael Alvarez as Jim
- John Bishop as Bob
- Richard C. Terry as Mac
- Oscar Rowland as Dr. Conway
- Richard D. Clark as Officer Miller
- Tip Boxell as Officer Murphy
- Judith Roberts as Mother Superior (uncredited)
The film was released theatrically by TriStar Pictures on November 9, 1984, opening in 398 theaters in the North East and Midwest United States. On its opening weekend, the film finished eighth, grossing $1,432,800. It outgrossed Wes Craven's landmark slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street, which opened the same day (albeit in 235 fewer theaters). Before being pulled from theaters, it grossed over $2.4 million in its first 10 days of release.
Controversy and censorship
Silent Night, Deadly Night was one of the most controversial films of the 1980s due to its advertising campaign, particularly its posters and TV spots, that made significant emphasis on the killer being dressed as Santa Claus. The PTA fought to have this film removed from theaters due to its subject matter and the fact that it was shown around Christmas, although an earlier film with a similar premise, Christmas Evil, had gone unnoticed. Television advertisements, which aired between episodes of family-friendly series such as Three's Company and Little House on the Prairie, led to parents complaining that their children were terrified of Santa Claus. Large crowds (mostly angry families) formed at theaters and malls around the nation to protest the film; at the film's East Coast premiere at the Interboro Quad Theater in The Bronx in New York City, protesters picketed the theater and sang Christmas carols in protest.
In response, TriStar Pictures, the film's original distributor, pulled all ads for the film six days after its release on November 15, 1984. The film itself was also withdrawn shortly thereafter, due to the controversy. In response to the public outcry, producer Ira Barmak told People magazine: "People have taken offense at Santa being used in a scary context... Santa Claus is not a religious figure, he's a mythic character. I didn't deliberately ride roughshod over that sensitivity and I didn't anticipate the objection to it." An editorial published in Variety stated: "Most protests were generated by the feeling that the depiction of a killer in a Santa Claus suit would traumatize children and undermine their traditional trust in Santa Claus." When the film was castigated at length by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, the backlash against the film became louder and more widespread.
The film was due to be re-released by an independent distributor, Aquarius Films, in May 1985, with an ad campaign replacing the original "Twas the night before Christmas"-themed trailer with a new one that centered on the controversy surrounding the film and edited out all close-up shots of Billy, in the Santa suit, with weapons. The print ad material also replaced the original 'Chimney' picture with one that talked about the controversy. However, the film only had further test engagements.
In the United Kingdom, the movie was never submitted for certification to the BBFC, and its sequel was denied a video certificate in 1987 after the distributors refused to make the cuts required for an '18' certificate. However, in 2009, Arrow Films submitted the film to the BBFC for classification, who passed the film uncut with an 18 certificate. The UK DVD was released on November 23, 2009.
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Siskel and Ebert condemned the film and Siskel went as far as to read names of the film's production crew on air, telling them, "Shame on you". Gene Siskel also said that all the money the filmmakers were making off of this film was blood money. Leonard Maltin also denounced the film, calling it a "...worthless splatter film", giving it zero stars and asking: "What's next, the Easter Bunny as a child killer?" A Daily Variety review argued that whatever arguments the film was making on the commercialism of Christmas were overshadowed by the graphic violence, which the reviewer saw as off-putting. Michael Wilmington wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "[it's] safe to predict that Silent Night, Deadly Night… will start making ‘Worst Movie of All Time’ lists almost immediately". One positive notice came from Kirk Ellis from The Hollywood Reporter, who complimented director Sellier's "workmanlike competence" and praised the cinematography and Gilmer McCormack's performance as Sister Margaret.
The film was originally released on VHS in 1986 through USA Home Video. In 1987, The film was re-released on VHS tape by International Video Entertainment. By 1991, the film's home video rights were transferred to Avid Home Entertainment, which was released that same year.
The film was released three times on DVD in the United States by Anchor Bay Entertainment. The first release was a double feature disc alongside sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 in 2003. The second release was in 2007. The first two Region 1 releases are currently out of print.
The film was released on DVD in the United Kingdom in 2009 by Arrow Video; this set includes an audio interview with director Charles E. Sellier Jr., poster, booklet including "Deadly Director: Charles Sellier Interviewed by Calum Waddell" and "Silent Night, Sex Night: The Slice and Times of Linnea Quigley".
On September 16, 2014, the film was released on Blu-ray by Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment. No new special features were included, with the exception of a few new commentaries, none of which any of the actors participated in. The Blu-ray contains exactly the same release as previous DVD editions with the extended scenes edited back into the film with noticeable picture quality changes. There has yet to be a release of the full, uncut print from a single source.
On December 5, 2017, Shout! Factory, under its Scream Factory label, released the film in a two-disc set collector's edition on Blu-ray and DVD. It contains the film remastered in a 4K resolution from the original negative. It also contained new special features such as an interview and audio commentary from actors Robert Brian Wilson and Linnea Quigley, co-executive producers Scott J. Schneid and Dennis Whitehead, writer Michael Hickey, music composer Perry Botkin, and editor Michael Spence. It also contained a new documentary on the making of the film entitled Slay Bells Ring: The Story of Silent Night, Deadly Night which included interviews from the cast and crew. The original theatrical trailer, radio and TV spots are included. It also contained the original special features from the 2003 and 2012 DVD and 2014 Blu-ray releases as well.
Scream Factory also released a limited edition deluxe offer that contained the collector's edition set along with a 18x24 size poster of the new artwork for the film, as well as an 8" tall figure of Billy in his Santa suit holding his double-bit axe. This offer was limited to 2,000 orders and pre-orders started on September 7, 2017.
Sequels and remake
Due to the minor success of the film, four sequels were created, two of which, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 and Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!, focus on Billy's younger brother Ricky turning evil and becoming a serial killer similar to his older brother, in which he was killed from having become insane because of his past. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation and Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker, however, are entirely different, and each focuses on a different Christmas-themed horror story.
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- In the UK? Win a Copy of Silent Night, Deadly Night on DVD!
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- Each release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray by Anchor Bay Entertainment features notable differences in quality between the footage of the theatrical cut, and the excised footage re-integrated into the film. It is noticeable (and noted) on both the 2003 DVD release and 2014 Blu-ray.
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