When I was 9 years old I would watch sitcoms every evening. I know lots of young people don’t remember those as only a handful are on the air, but in my day we had 3 channels all of which ad a good 2, sometimes 3 hour block of sitcoms on a nightly basis. One of my favorites was Threes Company. A show that was family friendly even though it was essentially about a guy who pretended to be gay so he could live with two women, while juggling multiple dates in each episode. Yes fans, go back and watch. Great show, same thing each week. Anyway one night during commercials I saw a commercial for a new horror film called Silent Night deadly Night. It was a nothing commercial (I included it) below that featured glimpses of a Santa and a few people screaming. Nothing crazy, just standard horror movie advertising. I paid no real attention because during commercials I just waited for the show to return. Well apparently a lot of people took notice of that commercial.
By the next morning stations were flooded with complaints from angry parents. Stating how ads for this film should not run when young children are watching wholesome tv. It will make them scared of Santa, and afraid of what will happen on Christmas they screamed. My school PTA actually had a meeting about this. I know that because my wacked out grandmother went to it. Eventually stations started airing the promos later in the evening, but that was not enough. No angry parents had to go to the local theaters that were showing the film to hold up signs and demand the film close. They would picket the film while singing Christmas Carols to be honest. Siskel and Ebert gave it a horrid review, and even said “Shame on you” to the creators. The angry public could do nothing but yell about how the film was going to mentally damage the children. Here’s the thing, speaking as a kid from that time. We didn’t care. Commercials we cared about were for GI Joe, and He-Man. We didn’t pay attention to much else commercial wise. That was bathroom and snack get time. But still angry weirdos marched on. They picketed, sent letters, called television stations. Basically they created a huge outlet of free advertising for the film. No different than the “Satanic Panic” of the 80’s as well.
The film was not doing great at the box office, but truthfully not so much because of the insane parent groups, no it was because it was a horror film, in December with a limited release. But that didn’t matter either as a Milwaukee group calling themselves the “Citizens Against Movie Madness” began going on TV shows, radio show, hell they probably had rallies at a local Burger King for all I know at that point. But they generated enough traction to freak out the studio which was Tristar might I add, and they decided to pull the plug on the film 10 days into its release. I’m sure it was not just because of some crazy protesters, I mean Phil Donahue, Leonard Maltin, and others bashing it on television did not help, nor did the fact it opened at number 8 at the box office. Ironically another horror film entitled A Nightmare on Elm Street opened at the same time and was in fact getting beat by Silent Night at the box office. Ironically when Silent Night was pulled Elm Street went on to capture the horror crowd and become a huge success.
Now here are a few reason why this controversy was so stupid. Black Christmas had a killer dressed like Santa and that came out many years prior and no one cared, but that was never the real kicker to me. The real kicker was the fact that Santa was not a killer. See protesters, at least the vast majority of them never bothered to watch the film. They simply yelled about how Santa Clause was not a killer. Guess what, he’s not, nor was he in the film. The film had nothing to do with that. None at all. Nowhere in there did Santa snap and go on a killing spree in the North Pole, nor did he go down chimneys and kill kids instead of giving them presents. No none of that happened, but parents sure thought it did. So what we had were a massive group of people who encouraged you to not watch a film that they themselves never saw.
For those unfamiliar, Silent Night Deadly Night is the story of Billy. He and his family are heading home after visiting his crazy Grandfather in rest home of sorts. His Grandfather tells Billy that Santa punishes naughty kids. Things go from bad to worse for Billy when his family stops to help a stranded motorist dressed as Santa. Problem is the guy dresses as Santa just robbed gas station and kills Billy’s father, and Mother, after raping her that is. Billy and his little brother run off to hide during this and are taken to an Orphanage run by a sadistic nun, know only as Mother Superior. She beats kids, punishes them, ties them up you name it. She doesn’t like Billy and vows to cure him of his fear of Santa. She does that by forcing him to sit on Santa’s lap when they bring a Santa in for Christmas. He punches the guy and runs away and receives another beating in the process.
Billy grows up and 10 years later gets a job at a local toy store right before Christmas thanks to a nun who was actually always kind to him. He does good work, is well liked, hell he even has the hots for Pamela, his co-worker. Unfortunately the store Santa they have gets hurt and as Billy is a good sized guy, not fat, just big and tall, the owner has him dress as Santa for the kids. Billy is freaked out, but he does ok and when the store closes for their little Christmas party he is actually being told how great a job he did. He’s of course depressed as is family died on this holiday but when he sees Pamela being manhandled by Andy, a warehouse worker he doesn’t like he finally snaps. Yes, nothing to do with Christmas. Billy sees a woman he likes about to be raped, just like his mother was and finally snaps and murders Andy with some Christmas lights. He’s also by this point fully nuts and stabs Pamela as well. For good measure he kills the rest of the employees as well.
From there good old Billy just starts walking around town murdering people. He impales a girl on some antlers, cuts off a head, and stabs a few. Always telling them they were naughty. He is of course doing this in the Santa outfit he haws been wearing all day. He finally decides he just needs to head back to the orphanage and murder the Mother Superior for all the abuse she dealt him over the years. Luckily the police realize what his plan is and they are able to stop him, but not before gunning him down in front of his little Brother Ricky, who is still in the orphanage. Ricky sees this and says “Naughty” before the film ends, setting up a sequel. In fact the film did get a sequel, it got 4 sequels and even a remake.
Is the film good? Yes, in my opinion its very good. The sequel is not bad either. Sure it features a lot of inserted footage of part one, but it holds up fine as well. 3, 4, and 5, are terrible, but the remake is pretty good as well. See all these years later us kids who grew up realized what we kind of knew all along, our parents were nuts. Now that’s ok because I’m sure our children will grow up thinking the same thing. It’s a cycle that’s unavoidable. But finally Silent Night Deadly Night gets the respect it always deserved as a good slasher film. Figures from NECA, a fantast Blu-ray release of the first two films from Scream Factory, an upcoming box set from 101 films, shirts, jackets, hell last year I got an activity book from Fright Rags. This small film, bashed before its release has become a pop culture phenomenon. I always wonder what would have happened had there been no controversy. If they film merely opened and closed would anyone have even cared, let alone watched it to this day? I cant answer that. All I can do is look back and laugh at how bent out of shape people were when Silent Night Deadly Night came out. If you want a great horror film to watch on Christmas, then this is your movie. Put it on and enjoy.