Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Linnea Quigley, and Robert Brian Wilson
Directed by: Charles E. Sellier Jr
Written by: Paul Caimi (story), Michael Hickey
Running time: 85 minutes
Rated: Unrated (for language, adult themes, graphic violence, nudity)
Reviewed by Michael Juvinall – Horror Patch
I was a sophomore in high school when director Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s infamous horror film Silent Night, Deadly Night was released in theaters to much controversy. No, it wasn’t the first film to feature a killer in a Santa suit, but it sure did receive the most publicity. I vividly remember passing by the picketers standing outside my local theater that played the film and the boycotts of that said theater. There was so much hate surrounding this film in the media across the country. Big name reviewers Siskel and Ebert, Leonard Maltin, and most of the mainstream media condemned the film, calling it “worthless”, giving it zero stars, which led to protests at local cineplexes nationwide. Original distributor TriStar Pictures pulled ads for the film after only six days and the film itself was yanked from theaters soon afterward from the controversy.
The filmmakers couldn’t have asked for better publicity if they tried. Word of mouth drove horror fans in droves to see the film. Silent Night, Deadly Night even outgrossed another little film, Wes Craven’s seminal classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street, which also opened on the same weekend. I completely believe in the first amendment which gives the right of free speech, and I believe a filmmaker has the right, no matter what the subject matter concerns, to be able to make whatever film they desire. If you don’t agree with the film, simply don’t watch, period. But, and this is a big one for me, now that I’m a parent to a six-year-old boy, I can see the other side of the coin and can relate to the parent’s anger toward the film. If my son were to inevitably see a trailer on television about Santa Claus killing people, my wife and I would have a lot of explaining to do. I still believe a filmmaker has a right to make whatever film they want, just be careful how it’s marketed. There, I stand down from my soapbox and continue with the review.
The film opens with five-year-old Billy, his infant brother and his parents headed to visit his grandpa in a mental asylum on Christmas Eve. While visiting, young Billy has a harrowing scene with his grandpa when his parents are away talking with the doctor. The normally catatonic grandpa warns Billy about Santa when they are alone, telling him that he punishes all the naughty children on Christmas Eve. Billy knowing that he hasn’t been good all year becomes scared to death that Santa is now going to punish him.
While on the way home from visiting their grandpa, the family comes across a stranded car on a dark and deserted stretch of road. The family is relieved to see a man in a Santa suit flagging them down, but this Santa just robbed a liquor store, killing the clerk. Billy and his younger brother watch helplessly as the Santa brutally murders their parents.
As a young adult, Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) has been tormented since that fateful night by Christmas and Santa and one year he snaps, going on a killing spree dressed as Santa, trying to punish those he deems as “naughty”.
Director Charles E. Sellier Jr. does a competent job of showing a character study of Billy as he is severely traumatized as a child, then repeatedly traumatized by the strict nuns at his orphanage, until he falls off the deep end as an adult. I found it very believable how something like this could happen based on what the character goes through. In that aspect, the film is believable, where it heads into standard slasher fare is the direction the film takes when Billy goes on his killing spree dressed as Santa. There’s nothing really new or original here. On a side note, one of Billy’s victims is a young Linnea Quigley who eventually goes on to become one of the 1980’s biggest scream queens.
There is a decent amount of bloodshed associated with the film, slasher fans will be satisfied with the carnage. The acting is ok, pretty standard stuff, except for Robert Brian Wilson who plays Billy as an adult, the kid is about as wooden of an actor as they come. Overall, I would recommend this film, if for nothing else to see what all the controversy was all about. Today’s audiences might find the film tame for modern tastes, but it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth about Christmas and Santa.
3 out of 5 Pentagrams!
Watch the trailer for Silent Night, Deadly Night here: