‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’ Survives Controversy To Become Cult Classic

During the 1980s, slasher horror movies were all the rave. Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott may not care for the superhero and action movies that almost seem to be all that’s being produced nowadays. But about 40 years ago, the movie theaters were full of slasher movies, made very cheap and starring no-name actors. All they needed to do was make a few million dollars at the box office to turn a profit.

Hey, it was the 80s! Making money by any means necessary was what the decade was about. But it was no surprise that some people would ask, “Is nothing sacred?”

Well, what about Santa Claus?

In November of 1984, TriStar Pictures released Silent Night, Deadly Night. Most slashers were independently produced and distributed by the bigger studios for a percentage. This movie was made for only $750,000, just about twice what Halloween had been made for in 1978. And believe it or not, it opened the same weekend a horror movie by Wes Craven called A Nightmare on Elm Street was released. Reportedly it did better at the box office, but the good news would fall on New Line Cinema “The House That Freddy Built” thanks to a bunch of pissed-off moms.

The One Million Moms of the 1980s were known by a different name Citizens Against Movie Madness formed by women who had had little to no history of movies to begin with which is typical of any Karen. This wasn’t the first horror movie to have a Christmas theme. Black Christmas had been released in 1974. Tales for the Crypt, in 1972 and rated PG, had a segment where Joan Collins is terrorized by a madman wearing a Santa Claus suit. It was later remade during the first season of the HBO series, yet you didn’t hear anything.

Even Gremlins had been released earlier that year and they were more upset over the microwave scene. In 1980, Christmas Evil or You Better Watch Out had a pscyho killer in a Santa suit played by Brandon Maggart, who was on fucking Sesame Street. Maybe it’s because the movie trailers only focused on the last act of the movie.

Silent Night, Deadly Night just isn’t a movie about a guy in a Santa suit running around killing people. No, it’s really a dark psychological thriller about how childhood trauma can affect people throughout their life.

The plot opens on Christmas Eve in 1971 in Utah as a five-year-old boy, Billy Chapman, is going with his parents to visit their catatonic grandfather in a nursing home. When left alone for a few minutes, the grandfather becomes responsive and tells Billy about how Christmas Eve is one of the scariest nights of the week and how Santa punishes bad children. While the family drive back home while they come across a man in a Santa suit whose car is broke down on the isolated road. What they don’t know is the man just killed a convenience store owner earlier after robbing him.

The killer pulls out a gun and shoots Billy’s father in the head. He also sexually assaults his mother before slitting her throat. Billy runs and hides in the woods. Years later, Billy, now 8, and his brother, Ricky, 4, are living in a Catholic orphanage run by a strict Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) who doesn’t believe much in Billy’s trauma and how he fears Santa. Billy acts how which causes Mother Superior to punish him more and more. These punishment include being whipped with a belt and tied to his bed.

Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) has become Billy’s sympathetic voice but it falls on Mother Superior’s deaf ears. And she has become the motherly figure for Billy as he grows up convincing Mr. Sims (Britt Leach) to hire him as a worker at the local toy store. At 18, Sims is impressed by Billy’s big, muscular size and his work ethic over several months. Billy (played by Robert Brian Wilson) also becomes interested in a co-worker, Pamela (Toni Nero), but because of years of negative reinforcement and abuse by Mother Superior, he begins to have panic attacks when thinking of Pamela in a sexual way.

Billy also becomes the target of verbal abuse by a hostile co-worker, Andy (Randy Stumpf). On Christmas Eve, the man playing the Santa gets sick, so Sims gets Billy to put on the suit, much to his discomfort as it conjures up bad memories. Regardless, Billy is able to make it through the day and Sims breaks out the booze so everyone in the store can have a party. Billy observes Andy and Pamela go back to the breakroom. Billy follows them back to see Andy sexually assault Pamela so he attacks Andy strangling him with Christmas lights.

Upset by everything, Pamela gets angry at Billy and he stabs her. He also murders Sims and the store manager before leaving to go on the town to punish the naughty. Sister Margaret arrives at the store shortly after and sees the bodies, causing her to alert authorities.

While it’s not the most tense thriller, Silent Night still manages to be more than just some pscyho stabbing people. Unfortunately critics weren’t too kind as these movies had been in theaters for years. It didn’t help the work by C.A.M.M. was getting national attention leading TriStar to pull the movie from theaters after two weeks. The studio was still in its initial year of distributing movies and more than likely didn’t have the clout of the bigger studios.

The controversy also led to difficulties with the movie on the home video market as a deal with RCA/Columbia reportedly fell through. Columbia at the time was owned by Coca-Cola at the time which didn’t need the attention of being associated with a killer Santa Claus. In the end, Silent Night was later re-released in 1986 focusing on the controversy to its advantage but many pay cable movie stations (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax) wouldn’t broadcast it, even though I have a vague memory of seeing its sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 advertised.

Years later, Chauvin would say the movie was wrongly marketed to capitalize on the slasher trend. The poster art shown above didn’t help either. Wilson distanced himself from the movie but has later showed up at conventions and embraced the movie’s legacy. Like most things that anger parents and critics, the movie’s infamous attention led to its popularity among horror fans.

A cheaply made sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 would be made in 1987 as Ricky (played by Eric Freeman) now fully grown, recounts the highlights of the first movie to a therapist while in police custody. About 30 minutes of this movie was incorporated in that movie. It became famous in the 2000s with a scene of Freeman screaming, “Garbage day!” before shooting a guy carry a trash pail went viral. Freeman, who seemed to have vanished, following some small roles in the early 1990s, became the subject of social media groups interested in his style of acting.

The third movie would continue the story of Ricky Chapman, but there would be two other Silent Night, Deadly Night movies that would have different story lines. A loose remake titled Silent Night was released in 2012. In the 2006 Black Christmas, a character wears a Santa suit in homage to the movie. Bill Goldberg himself would go on to play a murdering Santa in the horror comedy Santa Slay.

I would even argue that the fake horror movie, Christmas Slay, that Joe Carruthers is auditioning for in the Disney-family comedy Ernest Saves Christmas was inspired by the original Silent Night, which tentative title was called Slayride. Maybe the should have left it at Slayride. C’est la vie!

Like most things, a reboot/remake is reportedly in the works. Nowadays, a killer Santa movie wouldn’t cause much controversy. People watch Gremlins, Die Hard and Lethal Weapon (all with Christmas themes) along with Rudolph and Frosty every year. And C.A.M.M. is no more having folded almost immediately after all the attention died down.

Yes, Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t for everyone. But if you’re a horror fan, this movie is one of the greats from the era it was released.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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