There is nothing like a good bit of controversy and in 1984 the movie industry provided its fair share. Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom both pushed the PG rating to its limits and ended up helping to create the new PG-13 rating by 1985. But possibly 1984’s most interesting spectacle came from one of the innumerable slasher films released during that decade: Silent Night, Deadly Night. The film tells the story of a young boy who is orphaned after watching his parents’ brutal murder at the hands of a man dressed as Santa Claus. The boy, Billy (Danny Wagner) spends the rest of his childhood in an orphanage where the Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) shows no concern for his delicate psychological state and continually punishes the boy for his abnormal behavior rather than helping him. Even the kindly Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) can do little to protect him from her abuse.
When Billy (now played by Robert Brian Wilson) finally grows up, Sister Margaret, perhaps unwisely, arranges a job for him at a local toy store. All goes well there until the Christmas season comes and Billy’s mind begins to snap when he’s forced to play Santa at the store. Billy soon begins a jolly old killing spree as he seeks to punish anyone he feels has been naughty.
The idea that Santa Claus, or at least a man dressed as him, could go on a killing spree outraged parents across the country and when the film opened in November of 1984 it was heavily picketed in many major markets. Sometimes this kind of attention is good for box office sales, but not for Silent Night, Deadly Night. The film was short lived in the cinemas. However, that same bad publicity that killed the film’s theatrical release catapulted it to almost instant cult status when it came out on video the next year.
Now the film is out in an unedited special edition DVD. Most of the extra features are pretty standard with commentaries and photo galleries. One of the more interesting features is the inclusion of some of the more outraged letters of protest written to the studio when the film was released. It is humorous to see how much outrage the film generated when it took lovable old Saint Nick and made him into an axe wielding killer.
The film itself is actually pretty good. There are a lot of standard clichés, but writers Paul Caimi and Michael Hickey put together an above average story and the view is allowed to empathize with Billy’s character. The other thing Silent Night, Deadly Night has going for it is that it is a fun film to watch. The killings are creative and although the acting is not academy award material it does the job. The film also carries an important message for women: wear a bra! It becomes clear early on, starting with Billy’s mom (Tara Buckman) and running through Linnea Quigley’s memorable appearance, that if you aren’t wearing a bra you will: 1. Have your top ripped open if you are clothed at all and 2. You will die. So ladies, this holiday season, remember the lessons learned from Silent Night, Deadly Night regarding what clothes to wear when there is a psycho-killer Santa on the loose. Oh, and if Santa asks, don’t let him know you were naughty, whatever you do!