Silent Night, Deadly Night is not necessarily one of the “must sees” for the casual horror fan looking for a campy thrill. It’s savage, violent and punishing. The story opens with young Billy Chapman whose dreams of a white Christmas are obliterated when he witnesses a deranged criminal, dressed in a dime store Santa suit, brutally murder his father and mother on Christmas Eve. Orphaned after the killing of his parents, Billy and his little brother are raised under the oppressive arm of a devout nun who teaches Billy the consequences of being naughty, which mostly ends up with him being tied to his bed or beaten.
When Billy turns eighteen, he half-wittedly gets a job at a toy store around (wait for it) Christmas and ends up having to play (wait for it) Santa. Needless to say, the years of pent up anger and confusion surrounding the death of his parents at the hand of jolly St. Nick rip loose the fractured wiring in Billy’s head and off he goes hacking up anyone he deems is on the naughty list, which is pretty much anyone he meets. Nothing is left to the imagination as Billy dices his way through a blood splattered winter wonderland and the film’s conclusion shares very little with the Capra’esque triumph of George Bailey – it is inevitably not a wonderful life.
I LOVE this movie. Like many kids of the 80s who remember the TV commercial, I was terrified and mesmerized at the same time. The image of Santa pulling the gun from his red velvet pocket was burned in my brain, etched there to this day. The film’s poster of an axe wielding Santa sliding down a chimney is macabre and brilliant marketing. However, all this violent Santa imagery didn’t sit well with parents and they pressured TriStar Pictures for the film’s removal from theaters. At the Beyond Fest screening of the film a few years back, the producers discussed this controversy and explained the money trail : Tri-Star Pictures (the distributor), Columbia Pictures (partnered with TriStar) and Coca-Cola (owned Columbia). Coca-Cola has a long advertising history with Santa Claus and the stirrings from angry parents didn’t sit well with the family friendly soft drink company. Mind you, this anger was all based on commercials only! It’s not like the film was meant for kids. Regardless, it was yanked from theaters.
I finally discovered the film on VHS in the 90s and immediately started having Silent Night, Deadly Night parties that consisted of four guys sitting around my dumpy Miami apartment drunkenly watching the film. Those humble beginnings turned into a full blown event in Hollywood that lasted for several years. I’ve owned the film on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD. I’ve got the Death Waltz vinyl signed by the cast and crew. The film’s eerie Doo-wop styled Christmas carol “Santa’s Watching” becomes my ringtone every December. Setting aside the conventional slasher fare of numerous creative kills, Silent Night, Deadly Night adds a very rich backstory to why Billy becomes a killer. Instead of a five minute flashback origin story, the filmmakers treat us to twenty five minutes of set up. I think that’s what separates it from the rest of the Halloween/Friday the 13th knockoffs and why I think we are still talking about the film 30+ years later.
This year, it’s a Christmas miracle because Scream Factory has released Silent Night, Deadly Night on Blu-ray, and it’s the best I’ve ever seen it! Scream Factory has done their established awesome job of loading the release up with fun extras (notably a “then and now” locations tour), but the centerpiece is the disc’s HD transfer from the original camera negative. How these guys at Scream Factory dig up the bones of these classics is beyond me, but thank goodness they do. Now, this two disc set also comes with the un-cut version, which has been available on Laserdisc and DVD. Sadly, the original camera negatives from the extended scenes could not be found, so Scream Factory used the best available standard definition versions and cut them in with their new mastered footage. It’s a bumpy contrast, but they did the best they could and the serious fan will enjoy it. Honestly, after having seen both versions over the years, you aren’t missing much in those extended scenes – some blood, guts and the occasional added sleaze – but to view the crispest version would be to watch the theatrical release. One thing I wanted to shine the Retroist spotlight on is the incredible shots from Ira’s Toy Store.
The store is featured heavily in the film’s second act and showcased some big toys of the era. These days that would be problematic and tricky with licenses and clearances, but this was the 80s man! Greydon Clark’s Joysticks features every popular coin-op game of the era, think he got the licenses to use Pac Man? Think again, internet lawyer troll. Now, for full transparency, I had spent time doing a bunch of screen grabs to curate a collection of stills from the movie but then I thought, ‘Hey, I bet some other toy nerd has already done this.” Lo and behold, a quick Google search turned up a few sites that have done a marvelous (and probably better) job cataloging and identifying the toys in Ira’s. One was written by the supremely talented John Squires (aka @FreddyInSpace) and he’s got a nice post you can read over at Bloody Disgusting.
Also, here’s a funny post from 2010 by writer David W. About how disorganized Ira’s shelves are.
I will add one more to the mix. Seen behind the shrewd Mr. Sims is the Zaxxon board game. I had that game, but for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you how to play it. In doing some research, I had no recollection of the board or pieces. My guess is I didn’t play it much, but I do love that artwork!
So, grab your milk and cookies and get your copy of Silent Night, Deadly Night on Blu-ray here!
One last thing, I started my review stating that “Silent Night, Deadly Night is not necessarily one of the “must sees” for the casual horror fan looking for a campy thrill.” Please take that to heart. It’s not a goofy slasher romp. With the right audience, it’s totally entertaining. But with the wrong audience, you might get a few raised eyebrows. Definitely not for the faint of heart and certainly not for anyone who might take offense with a raging, axe throwing, homicidal Santa Claus. Before you share with your loved ones this holiday season, consider your audience.