Although it was originally shelved for a period, Silent Night, Deadly Night finally received its release on December 23rd, 1984. The timing, just two days before Christmas, caused an uproar.
Parents groups were up in arms over the possibility that children would be exposed to a homicidal Santa Claus and they picketed theatres. As is the usual case in these circumstances, attention was brought to an ordinary slasher film that might have otherwise disappeared, making the producers of Silent Night, Deadly Night very happy.
The film was directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr. who among other things, wrote 1977's In Search of Noah's Ark and produced and wrote 1980's In Search of Historic Jesus!
Skewered by critics, as well as many horror fans, Silent Night, Deadly Night remains a guilty pleasure for many.
It's Christmas Eve, 1971. Jim Chapman (Charles Dierkop) and his wife Ellie (Tara Buckman) are driving through Utah to pay a visit to Jim's father, who's living in a mental institution.
The couple have a baby named Ricky (Melissa Best) and Ellie holds him in her lap. Their other son, five year-old Billy (Jonathan Best), sits in the back seat and flips through the classic The Night Before Christmas book.
Billy is excited about the holiday and he asks his mother if he can stay up and see Santa Claus. "I wouldn't if I were you. It's naughty to stay up past your bedtime," she tells him.
The boy worries that they won't be back home in time for bedtime and his mom tries to make him feel better by saying, "Santa Claus is gonna bring you a BIG surprise tonight."
The drive is long but they finally arrive at the Utah Mental Facility, where Grandpa (Will Hare) is brought into the recreation room by Dr. Conway (Oscar Rowland). Jim's dad sits in a rocking chair and doesn't say a word to anyone. Even the presence of his family doesn't stir him.
Billy wonders why his grandfather isn't speaking and his mom tells him the old man doesn't hear them or even know that they're there. Jim says his dad's condition has gotten worse. Dr. Conway takes the couple into his office to go over the patient's records. They leave Billy alone with Grandpa.
With no one else around, Grandpa turns to the boy and smiles. Billy is frightened as the old man tells him that "Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year" and Santa only brings presents to kids that haven't been naughty.
"What about you, boy? You been good all year?" he asks Billy. The little boy shakes his head "no" and Grandpa tells him that if he sees Santa that night, he'd better run for his life.
Grandpa laughs maniacally but when Jim and Ellie return to the room, he sits motionless again. Jim tells his father they'll be back to visit soon and Billy promises to be good from now on.
It's nightfall by the time they get on the road again. Billy asks his mother if Santa has ever punished her for being naughty. Ellie asks him where he got that idea and Billy says that Grandpa told him. The boy gets increasingly agitated and he tells his parents he doesn't want Santa to come.
Ellie is upset and blurts out that "Grandpa's nothing but a crazy, old fool." Billy tells her she shouldn't have said that because it's "naughty to say bad things about old people."
Nearby, a man in a Santa outfit (Geoff Hansen) walks into a convenience store and holds it up. When the guy behind the register tries to resist, "Santa" shoots him three times...once in the head.
The Chapmans continue on their long drive home, as Billy takes a nap. They see a car stalled up ahead of them and Ellie is amused that the guy who's stranded is dressed as Santa Claus. Billy wakes up and warns his parents not to stop. "Santa" walks over to the car and pulls out his gun. Ellie screams and Jim tries to drive off, but he's shot dead.
Billy rushes out of the vehicle and hides, while "Santa" pulls Ellie out of the car and rips her blouse open. Baby Ricky remains in the car crying and Billy watches as his mother's neck is slit. "Where are you, you little bastard!" the killer yells out.
The brothers are taken to live at Saint Mary's Home For Orphaned Children. Three years later, Billy (now played by Danny Wagner) sits in a classroom led by Sister Ellen (Madeline Smith) and gets in trouble for drawing a macabre picture of Santa Claus stabbed with daggers.
He's sent to see Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin). The elder nun is appalled and tells the boy to go to his room. Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) offers this as proof that Billy was psychologically damaged by seeing his parents murdered. Mother Superior won't hear of it and tells the Sister she's going to personally take charge of the child.
Later in the day, Sister Margaret stops by Billy's room and tries to cheer him up by talking him into joining the other children. On the way out to the playground, Billy hears sounds coming from one of the rooms.
He looks through a peephole and sees two of the older kids (Barbara Stafford and Paul Mulder) making love. For an instant, the sight of the girl's breast brings back memories of his mother's murder.
Mother Superior barrels down the hall, pushing the Billy aside. "You filthy devil!" she yells, before taking the guy's belt and whipping the two teens. Next, she finds Billy outside in the snow and asks him if he knows what they were doing.
He says he does not and the Mother tells him the two were doing something naughty and thought they wouldn't be caught. "Punishment is absolute," she says, adding that it's "necessary and good."
The sadistic nun tells Billy he shouldn't have left his room and rewards him by bending the boy over on a chair and hitting him with the belt. She then orders the sore boy to go to bed.
That night, he has a nightmare about the murders. He runs out to the hall and right into Mother Superior. She punishes him this time by tying him to the bed (way to go!) and then tells Sister Margaret not to intervene.
Christmas morning arrives and the kids are all happy, playing with their gifts. Mother Superior pauses for a moment and has this lovely observation: "I see nothing but greed where there should be gratitude." (What?!) Billy joins the other children and Mother tells Sister Margaret she believes her harsh methods work.
The Sister tells her the boy will be better once the holiday is over - but Mother has one more thing up her sleeve. She says that Billy will be forced to sit on Santa's lap when he comes for his visit.
Of course, Billy is terrified...so Mother Superior has to carry him kicking and screaming over to Santa Claus. The boy decks him in the face and runs up to his room, where he sits in a corner.
Billy's four year old brother Ricky (Max Broadhead) tries to join him but Sister Margaret stops him. Billy cries and says, "don't punish me," as Mother Superior enters the room.
Ten years later, Sister Margaret attempts to get Billy, who's now 18, a job at a store called Ira's Toys. Mr. Sims (Britt Leach), the manager, is reluctant at first because he says the job requires a lot of heavy lifting. However, when he meets Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) and sees how built he is, he changes his mind.
The young man begins his job as a stockboy immediately and Mr. Sims is impressed with his work. (A hilarious montage includes a sequence of Billy turning down some liquor because he's drinking milk, as well as getting quite upset at the site of a Christmas decoration.) Eventually, as the holiday season draws nearer, Billy's work is affected and it doesn't go unnoticed by his supervisor, Andy (Randy Stumpf).
One day, Billy sees the store Santa and has a flashback, which causes him to fall onto the floor. Co-worker Pamela (Toni Nero) helps him back up on his feet...and Billy begins to fantasize about making love to her.
One dream turns into a nightmare in which he's stabbed in the back by someone in a Santa suit. Billy wakes up, sits in the corner like a little child and says, "I wanna be good. Don't punish me."
Christmas Eve arrives and Mrs. Randall (Nancy Borgenicht), who is in charge of personnel, informs Mr. Sims that their Santa Claus has had an accident and will be out of commission. Of course, he's got the perfect replacement...or so he thinks.
Mr. Sims offers the job to Billy just as he's being reprimanded by Andy for disappearing the day before. The Santa outfit doesn't fit perfectly but with a little padding, he doesn't look that bad.
One of the first kids on his lap is fidgety so he tells the girl (played by Angela Montoya) that he punishes bad children severely. The girl calms down and then runs into her mother's arms after Billy give her a candy cane. Sister Margaret calls the store to speak with Billy - but hangs up the phone after finding out what his new job is from Andy.
At the end of the workday, Mr. Sims locks up. "It's over! Time to get shit-faced," he says. A party gets underway and he even encourages Billy to have a few drinks.
Meanwhile, Billy notices Andy and Pamela go off to the back of the store together. He sits pensively by himself and when Mr. Sims asks what he's thinking, Billy tells him he's reflecting on his parents. The manager is drunk and forgets that Billy's mother and father are dead.
Andy tells Pamela he has a present for her, in order to get her alone in the stockroom. While Mrs. Randall joins Mr. Sims in a drunken sing-a-long, Billy's mind starts to come unhinged.
He enters the stockroom and finds Andy forcing himself upon Pamela. Andy rips open her blouse and Billy remembers the night his mother was molested before her murder.
Billy pulls Andy off the girl and hangs him with a strand of Christmas lights. Pamela isn't as "grateful" as she should be and tells him he's crazy. Billy punishes her by taking a box-cutter and carving her stomach. Mr. Sims hears the commotion and enters the stockroom, where Billy smashes his head in with a hammer.
The last survivor in the store is Mrs. Randall, who calls out for Mr. Sims. She gets no response and the overhead lights go out. In the stockroom, she finds the owner's body and tries to get out of the store. The front door is locked so she attempts to call the police.
Billy appears with an ax and she runs and hides. Thinking he's found her...he strikes but it was a trick. Mrs. Randall jumps out from behind him and picks up the ax.
As she tries to figure out which window to smash (dumb move), Billy shoot her with a bow and arrow. He leaves with the ax and moments later, Sister Margaret arrives and finds the carnage. Too late, Sis.
In the town, a couple makes out on a pool table in the basement of a home. Denise (Linnea Quigley) and Tommy (Leo Geter) are interrupted by Denise's little sister Cindy (Amy Styvesant). The girl is told to go to bed or Santa won't come.
After some more heavy petting, Denise hears a jingling sound and thinks it's the cat wanting to enter the house. Wearing nothing but a pair of cutoff jeans (!) she goes to the front door.
The cat runs in and right behind the animal is Billy with the ax. Denise slams the door shut but Billy breaks it down. He chases her into the living room, grabs her and impales her on a pair of deer antlers on the wall.
Tommy finds her and puts up a good struggle before Billy tries to strangle him...and then tosses him out the window. Cindy wakes up and asks "Santa" if he's brought her a present. After saying she's been good, Billy gives her the bloodied box-cutter as a gift. (Awwww...)
Officer Miller (Richard D. Clark) and Officer Murphy (Tip Boxell) have orders to find the killer Santa Claus. They nearly shoot a father climbing into his daughter's bedroom window wearing the distinctive red and white outfit.
In a nearby park, Doug and Jim (played by Vinc Massa and John Michael Alvarez) are sledding. Two older punks, Bob and Mac (John Bishop and Richard C. Terry), show up and steal their sleds. They tell the younger boys to get lost while they have their fun. Billy is watching and decapitates one of them.
The next morning, Sister Margaret ends up at the police station, where Captain Richards (H. E. D. Redford) tells her three more bodies have been found.
The Sister intones that everything Billy has done has a kind of logic to it "once you understand what he's gone through." (Yeah, right!) She quickly realizes Billy must be headed for the orphanage.
It's Christmas morning and Mother Superior (now mysteriously confined to a wheelchair) continues her reign of tyranny, telling the children to fold and stack the wrapping from their presents.
In addition, they are to write thank-you notes to Santa for his visit later. One of the little girls leaves the phone off the hook while playing and Captain Richards is unable to get through.
Officer Barnes (Max Robinson) answers a call to head for the orphanage and is ordered to shoot and kill Billy if necessary. He sees a Santa Claus approaching some children just outside the building and shoots the guy when he doesn't heed his plea to stop.
Captain Richards is notified that the dead Santa doesn't match Billy's description. Sister Margaret remembers that Father O'Brien was supposed to be the Santa this year and tells the Captain that he couldn't have heard the warning because he's DEAF. (Doh!)
Mother Superior wonders how Officer Barnes could have mistaken the priest for a killer if he was wearing a Santa outfit. She says that no harm must come to the children (apparently only she can administer that) and the cop heads back out to check the grounds. Sister Ellen says the kids are petrified and the head nun tries to distract them.
Despite the fact that a killer is lurking around and Father O'Brien was shot dead, Mother Superior tells the kids to stop moping. She asks Ricky (now played by Alex Burton) to get her pitch pipe.
Mother Superior then leads the children in a chorus of "Deck the Halls" as Officer Barnes continues his search down into the basement of a nearby shed. He doesn't find anything, but when he climbs back up the stairs, Billy strikes him in his chest with the ax.
One of the little boys sees "Santa" through the glass doors and lets him into the main building. Mother Superior tries to stop him but it's too late. Billy is inside and the children are all thrilled to see St. Nick.
"There is no Santa Claus," Mother says repeatedly. Billy believes she must be punished and he stands over her ready to pound with the ax. No such luck. Captain Richards shows up at that moment and shoots Billy in the back.
Sister Margaret rushes over to him. Ricky has seen his brother die and the rest of the kids have seen their second Santa killed in the same afternoon. With the ax at his feet, Ricky looks up at Mother Superior and says, "naughty..."
Silent Night, Deadly Night was shot in and around Salt Lake City, Utah and made the most of its snowy, beautiful topography. It was known as "Slayride" during production but the title was changed at the last moment.
Despite what critics and some carping horror fans think, this film is alternately funny (the domineering and cruel, accented Mother Superior, the ridiculously sympathetic Sister Margaret, a topless Linnea Quigley) and scary (the death of Billy's parents, Grandpa's creepy warning).
Sometimes the things we hold sacred make wonderful subjects for the genre...for example, Catholicism in The Exorcist and Alice, Sweet Alice. In his Movie and Video Guide, Leonard Maltin gives Silent Night, Deadly Night the lowest possible rating and wonders what's next...the Easter Bunny as a child molester? BRING IT ON!
If the ending indicated Little Ricky would go the same route as his brother, the sequel that followed in 1987 answered that question with a resounding yes.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is without a doubt one of the worst horror films ever made, in which much of the footage was lifted from this film. All in all, there were four sequels, culminating with legendary Mickey Rooney as a mad toy maker in the fifth installment.
The original remains a strangely appealing yuletide slasher. Until another Xmas bloodfest comes along, this one'll do just nicely. The atmospheric afterhours eggnog slaughterfest in Ira's Toys, a brisk pace and psycho Santa work hard in tandem to give us all they've got. The result is truly a guilty pleasure. Merry Christmas to all and to all a permanent good night.