Silent Night, Deadly Night is a 1984 horror film produced by Ira R Barmak, 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 film focuses on a young boy who, after witnessing his parents’ brutal murder at the hands of a man clad in a Santa suit on Christmas, grows up tumultuously in a Catholic orphanage and slowly emerges into a spree killer himself. The film caused an uproar when released in 1984 during the holiday season, and has developed a cult following.
Upon its original release in 1984, Siskel and Ebert condemned the film and went so far as to read the film’s production credits on air, saying “shame, shame” after each one. Siskel also said that all the money the filmmakers were making off of this film was blood money. Leonard Maltin also condemned the film, calling it a “…worthless splatter film“, giving it zero stars and asking: “What’s next, the Easter Bunny as a child molester?” Large crowds (mostly angry families) formed at theaters and malls around the nation to protest the film. TriStar Pictures, its original distributor, pulled all ads for the film six days after its release (November 15). The film itself was also withdrawn shortly thereafter due to the controversy.
It was later re-released by an independent distributor, Aquarius Films, beginning in spring 1986, with an ad campaign which replaced the original “Twas the night before Christmas” audio track 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.
“With its high production values, grade school gore effects, and staggering lack of taste, Silent Night, Deadly Night is an apex in garbage cinema. At first, it’s a shocking attack on holiday cheer and those poor ol’ saps, the Catholics. Then, it’s a derivative, grisly slasher. Soon enough, the film loses all footholds in reality, relying on jaw-dropping jolts (a priest shot dead whilst in a Santa outfit… in front of a dozen children!) to keep the fix going. The goals seem to be clear; ruffle as many traditional feathers as possible, exorcise a few subconscious demons on the part of an original novel called Slayride, and deliver a fast paced, over the top slasher filled with loads of T&A and bloodshed. It’s an uncomfortable, yet entertaining, landmark in exploitation cinema and home video’s baby face was forever changed as a result. At least if you were 11 years old.” Joseph A. Ziemba, Bleeding Skull
“Silent Night, Deadly Night runs with the moral implications of Friday the 13th and Halloween and takes them to extremes, with Billy’s sole justification for his actions being that he is punishing the immoral. Whether or not this could be seen as a morality tale or a social comment on Catholic punishment is down to the individual viewer, as when all is said and done this movie’s main purpose is to entertain, not preach. And while it may not be a masterpiece it is certainly a perfect example of how slasher movies did not have to be accepted by the mainstream, after all, this is a genre that has been loathed by critics since day one.” Christian Sellers, Retro Slashers