Little Billy Chapman was traumatized by his parents' Christmas Eve murder, then brutalized by sadistic orphanage nuns. But, when grown-up Billy is to dress as jolly St. Nick, he goes on a yuletide rampage to "punish the naughty!" Santa Claus is coming to town ... and, this time, he's got an axe! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
All too often, the movies with the worst reputations are only particularly interesting for those reputations. Charles Sellier’s Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) is a textbook example of an unremarkable movie finding long-term cult success, due to controversy over any genuinely shocking content. Its ‘troubles’ began when Sellier, a television producer by trade, and his cohorts decided to jump on the holiday slasher bandwagon with a Christmas theme. They weren’t the first to cast an evil Santa in their horror movie (both Tales From the Crypt  and Christmas Evil  featured mad men in Santa suits killing people years before) and they wouldn’t be the last, but they were the first to release their Christmas horror movie at Christmas time, complete with an evil Santa-themed ad campaign. They were also ‘unfortunate’ enough to release their film in 1984, when the outcry against so-called dead teenager movies was peaking. Eventually, parent groups and high-profile critics (like Siskel and Ebert, who literally shamed the filmmakers, name-by-name, on the air) forced Silent Night, Deadly Night out of theaters, but the ‘damage’ had already been done. Every self-respecting horror fan absolutely had to see the movie that the PTA tried to ban.
It’s been 30 years and I think it’s safe to admit that Silent Night, Deadly Night wasn’t worth the fuss. Its only redeeming quality is the accidental comedy of its perpetual tone-deafness, which muddles seemingly serious drama with tasteless exploitation horror. It’s sort of adorable how badly Sellier and screenwriter Michael Hickey fumble the basics of the slasher formula that they’re attempting to cash-in on. Instead of unveiling vague back-story tragedies, they spend roughly a third of the runtime rolling out excuse after excuse after excuse for their mad killer to go mad. The genuinely wicked murders are flanked by endless scenes of the young protagonists’ psychological torture at the hands of cruel nuns and mean-spirited co-workers. Sellier’s roots in made-for-TV movies bleed through every pore in the flatly-shot, oddly-edited production, but never as obviously as when it comes to his listless attempts at heavy-handed tragedy. There is entertainment value in the satisfyingly cruel kill scenes, but they’re so anti-dynamic and awkwardly paced that they’ve slow-burned me right to sleep on more than one occasion. Like Romano Scavolini’s similarly tone-deaf Nightmare (aka: Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, 1981), Silent Night, Deadly Night is a bad slasher movie (again, despite some really good kills), but both films are enjoyable as trashy, failed attempts at serious psychodrama. Scavolini still wins for pure tastelessness, though.
Silent Night, Deadly Night has never had much luck on home video. VHS copies were almost indiscernible and cut to ribbons to boot. Anchor Bay’s original DVD release was uncut (as are all DVD versions, as far as I know), but rough, especially during the scenes that had been previously deleted for an R-rating. The first Blu-ray also came from AB (in 2014) and, despite claims that the 1080p transfer was ‘restored from original vault materials,’ it was almost as rough as the DVD. Scream Factory now has the release rights and has largely corrected Anchor Bay’s mistakes with a new 4K scan of the original R-rated camera negative. The resulting remaster is presented either in its edited form or in an unrated form with standard definition inserts for the censored shots (edit: in the original DVDActive review, I included comparison caps, but, unfortunately, I seem to have lost them since that site went dark) The R-rated footage is notably darker than the AB disc, but, if you click on each image to enlarge it to its full size, you’ll notice the massive upgrade is clarity and detail. The old transfer’s blocky noise, fuzzy lines, and step-effect gradations have been replaced by fine grain, natural diliniations, and well-balanced, but still quite film-like blends. While it’s arguable that dimming the entire image creates issues for the darkest sequences, there is still more texture available on the 4K remaster. Besides, the steady black levels fit the moody photography better. Unfortunately, the SD inserts are basically identical to the AB disc. Based on the chroma and overmodulation effects, I suspect the unrated source was a magnetic tape. Disappointing, considering that there’s no point in watching the edited cut, but not unexpected.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release marked the debut of a then-new and completely unnecessary 5.1 remix of Silent Night, Deadly Night original mono, but included no other audio options. Scream Factory has completely ignored that remix in favour of a remixed 2.0 mono track, presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The sound quality is more consistent than the sometimes clicky and skippy AB remix, except the uncut footage, which is still damaged and, as a result, occasionally fuzzy. Dialogue tracks are clean, despite the relative flatness of the already limited effects. Perry Botkin’s keyboard-based score is loud and strong, though, again, there is a lack of dynamic range.
Disc One: Theatrical Version:
R-Rated, VHS release trailers, TV spots, and radio spot
Disc Two: Unrated Version:
Commentary with actor Robert Brian Wilson and co-executive producer Scott J. Schneid – The first new extra is moderated by Justin Beam (Bean? I’m sorry, Justin, I’m not positive) and is vastly superior to the older Anchor Bay commentary (see below) as it covers the making of the film, the history of holiday-themed horror, the controversy that followed the film, and more.
Commentary with writer Michael Hickey, composer Perry Botkin, editor/2nd unit director Michael Spence, and co-executive producer Scott J. Schneid – This Anchor Bay-branded track is, as stated above, endlessly boring. The participants sound like they were largely unprepared for the recording and leave massive blank spaces in their discussion between terse nuggets of production info.
Slay Bells Ring: The Story Of Silent Night, Deadly Night (45:51, HD) – This new, Scream exclusive retrospective features interviews with Hickey, Schneid, Spence, Whitehead, Wilson, and composer Perry Botkin. There is overlap between this and the commentaries, but less than you might expect.
Oh Deer! (21:50, HD version of SD footage) – Scream queen Linnea Quigley talks about her career and early appearance in Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Christmas In July: Silent Night, Deadly Night Locations (10:00, HD) – A then and now comparison of the film’s locations.
Audio interview with director Charles E. Sellier (35:40, HD slides) – This extended phone interview first appeared on Anchor Bay’s DVD release and hastily covers the bulk of the behind-the-scenes story from the director’s point of view. It probably would’ve worked better if it had been used to fill the spaces on the commentary track.
Poster & still gallery
Santa’s Stocking of Outrage – Slides featuring vintage quotes from various concerned citizens and angry film critics.
Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.