Case Number 12619: Small Claims Court

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

Starz Home Entertainment // 1984 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // December 17th, 2007

The Charge

"My 3-year-old son saw the television commercial for Silent Night, Deadly Night last week and now refuses to sit on Santa's lap for our annual Christmas picture this year. How dare Producer Ira Barmak rob my child and others like him of their fantasy? What next? A marauding turkey at Thanksgiving?"
-- Outraged letter from "a concerned parent"

The Case

Screw George Bailey, I want this sucker in my stocking.

Well, maybe.

Silent Night, Deadly Night opened -- barely -- to controversy in 1984. The idea of a slicing, dicing Santa offended the sensibilities of some people. Parents picketed showings of the film, while reviewers got their holiday hackles up and trashed it. This is a bit surprising, since this wasn't the first film to show Santa in a less-than-positive light: You Better Watch Out gave us a disturbed man with a Claus fixation in 1980, and Joan Collins paid the price for being naughty in a segment of 1972's Tales from the Crypt.

What was lost in all this hubbub is that SNDN is actually a pretty good, low-budget slasher -- far better than the mindless Friday the 13th franchise, though not quite on par with Alfred Sole's excellent 1976 Alice, Sweet Alice (a.k.a. Communion), which was vilified for its scathing view of Catholicism.

SNDN gives us the story of young Billy, whose Christmases are far from merry and bright. At 5, he witnesses a deranged Santa raping his mother and murdering his parents; at 8, he and his brother are in a Catholic orphanage run by a strict Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin, Predator 2). She's not interested in Billy's psychological history, so when the boy refuses to sit on Santa's lap, he gets a beating and is later tied to his bed.

When Billy (now played by Robert Brian Wilson) turns 18, a more sympathetic nun helps him get a job -- in a toy store, at Christmas. So, career counseling is not this nun's strong suit, but Billy does surprisingly well. The handsome teenager is a hard worker and well-liked by his boss, co-workers, and customers.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve/ (The guy whom the store hired to play) Santa calls to say/"I cannot come in tonight/Can Billy man the sleigh all right?"

Now, putting a red suit and a beard on a guy who thinks Santa punishes naughty people by dismembering them is probably not the best decision in retail history -- not as bad as "New Coke," of course, but it's up there. Ultimately, horror ensues.

Since this is a slasher film, there's quite a bit of bloodletting, but it's not as gratuitous as one might expect. We get little bits of business that introduce the victims -- most of whom do something "naughty" to incur the wrath of the crazed Kringle -- and killer Billy is actually a sympathetic character. There's a nice, tense scene that echoes the Grinch's encounter with Cindy Lou Who, a reasonable amount of '80s-style nudity, some goofy humor, and typically cheesy gore effects. Maybe it's the fact that the low budget meant the filmmakers had to rely more on character and story than special effects, but for the genre, there's just something more satisfying about this film than most of its latter-day counterparts.

If you're planning on brightening someone special's holiday with this one, be forewarned: This release from Starz is the exact same release Anchor Bay put out a couple of years ago as part of a double feature with Silent Night, Deadly Night 2. The case even lists "Theatrical Trailer" as an extra, even though there's no trailer to be found here -- but there was a trailer for SNDN2 on the previous edition.

Actually, the case is the only thing here that's new. The front has the original poster art -- Santa going down the chimney with an axe -- and lots of lurid headlines, such as: "Hordes of angry mothers couldn't keep it away!" "Sex! Murder!! Gifts!!!" "Uncut and uncensored!! The way it was meant to be seen!" The back is pretty much the same, and there's an insert with a miniature reproduction of the poster on one side and a chapter list and more pictures and headlines on the other.

The "uncut and uncensored" part has to do with the inclusion of footage that was removed for the theatrical release. This is evidently "lost" footage that was taken from a tape master, and the visual quality is glaringly different from the rest of the film. There are only a few minutes of this lost footage; some of it ups the gore quotient a bit, and some of it just extends a couple of scenes.

Otherwise, the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks good for a low-budget film made more than 20 years ago. The mono soundtrack is no great shakes, but it's serviceable. This really isn't a film that cries out for re-mastering.

For extras, we get a telephone interview with the director, which is quite entertaining; a gallery of stills and posters, many of which play up the fact that the film was protested; and "Santa's Stocking of Outrage," which consists of quotes from critical and public condemnations of the film.

Since the Anchor Bay disc is out of print, this faux "new edition" is the only game in town. There's also supposed to be a remake coming in 2008, so I'm guessing this disc is being re-issued to capitalize on that.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is sleazy '80s slasher fun. If you're a fan of the genre and don't already have the Anchor Bay disc, this one's well worth a look.

Naughty! But not really guilty.

Review content copyright © 2007 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Audio Interview with Director Charles E. Sellier Jr. (35:30)
* Santa's Stocking of Outrage
* Poster and Still Gallery

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0088117/combined

* Original DVD Verdict Review of Silent Night, Deadly Night
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/sndn.php