DirectorCharles E. Sellier, Jr.
Release Date(s)1984 (September 16, 2014)
Studio(s)TriStar (Anchor Bay)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: F
- Audio Grade: D
- Extras Grade: C
It may be hard to believe now but Silent Night, Deadly Night was a very big deal back in 1984. Outraged parents and concerned citizens picketed theatres showing the movie. Siskel and Ebert condemned the filmmakers on their show, calling them out by name and shaming them. And the really weird thing is that it worked. TriStar Pictures yanked the movie out of circulation after just a couple of weeks. All because somebody had the not-particularly original idea to make a slasher movie about a killer in a Santa Claus suit (see also Christmas Evil and Tales From The Crypt).
The critical drubbing was to be expected. Siskel and Ebert in particular hated movies like this and routinely bad-mouthed them on TV. But if you’re a fan of the genre, Silent Night, Deadly Night is actually a slightly better than average example of its type. The killer is Billy Chapman (played as an 18-year-old by Robert Brian Wilson). His Santa-phobia is certainly justified. As a boy, he saw his parents raped and murdered by a killer in a Santa suit, shortly after his dementia-addled Grandpa warned him that Santa punishes the naughty on Christmas Eve. He grows up in an orphanage surrounded by sadistic nuns who also aren’t afraid of a little Christmas Eve punishment. He finally gets a job he enjoys at a toy store but when their store Santa doesn’t show up, Billy is forced to endure an 8-hour shift of kiddies and candy canes. That’d be enough to make anybody pick up an axe and go kill-crazy.
Now, I’m not going to make the case that Silent Night, Deadly Night is a horror classic. If you don’t like slasher movies, you’re not going to like this one either. The violence is bloody and the nudity redefines gratuitous. But if you do like slasher flicks, this one’s not bad. Wilson is an interesting and unexpected choice to play a psycho-killer. His all-American good looks suggest he’d more often be cast as the quarterback hero. He brings conviction to the role and the time spent on Billy’s backstory lends the movie a little more pathos than your usual slice-and-dicer. The killings are rendered with style, especially the infamous antler-death of scream queen Linnea Quigley. And the movie is played with a pretty straight face, all things considered. Director Charles E. Sellier Jr. at least makes an attempt at generating some real suspense, whereas most movies like this just dive into the gore headfirst.
Anchor Bay’s 30th Anniversary Blu-ray begins with a good news/bad news disclaimer. On the one hand, this is supposedly “the most complete and uncut version ever released”. But to make that happen, they had to cobble together a Frankenstein’s monster print from different sources. And boy, is that ever obvious. At its worst, it looks like some shots came from videotape. And at best, it looks like an over-processed mess. No two ways about it, this is a dreadful looking disc that nobody’s going to be happy with. The audio is slightly better but it’d almost have to be. It isn’t very rich and the music sounds particularly bad. It isn’t the complete disaster that the video quality is but it’s close.
The main draw in terms of extras is a new commentary featuring writer Michael Hickey, co-executive producer Scott J. Schneid, editor/2nd unit director Michael Spence and composer Perry Botkin Jr. It’s a fairly solid track that covers a lot of ground. You also get a half-hour audio interview with director Sellier (who passed away in 2011) which is kind of interesting but leaves a lot of questions unasked. Sellier was primarily a producer who’d had success with the Grizzly Adams series and movies like In Search Of Historic Jesus. Silent Night, Deadly Night seems like a random anomaly in his career and the interview doesn’t really explain why he agreed to do it or why anybody would think to ask him in the first place. There’s also a poster and still gallery and a slideshow feature called Santa’s Stocking Of Outrage featuring quotes from critics and protestors (one of whom, Mickey Rooney, would ironically appear in Silent Night, Deadly Night 5). This is kind of fun but a featurette on the controversy would have been better. And considering that a lot of the protests were less about the movie itself and more about the fact that it was advertised on TV where kids could see it, it’s disappointing that the disc doesn’t include any TV spots or trailers.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is a marginally better movie than its reputation suggests. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see a slasher flick take the time to flesh out its villain. Unfortunately, Anchor Bay didn’t do much to enhance its image on Blu-ray. If this is how you celebrate an anniversary, you’d might just as well not acknowledge it at all.
- Adam Jahnke
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