Of all the slasher movies to meet controversy in the 1980’s, perhaps the most loathed of these was the festive tale Silent Night, Deadly Night, which was picketed by angry parents and pulled by the studio. Still unreleased in several countries, this tale of a homicidal Santa Claus was not the first festive slasher (there had already been the likes of Christmas Evil) but was by far the most loathed, released in North America just six weeks before Christmas. Whether or not it was the sight of a Santa raping a woman or the comments it makes on Catholic punishment, the movie touched a nerve and was subsequently banned outright or simply removed from cinemas one Tri-Star, the distributors, buckled under the pressure.
Surprisingly, Silent Night, Deadly Night does have some depth and is not just a series of gruesome gags. The story sees Billy, emotionally scarred after witnessing his parents’ murder (and mother’s sexual assault) at the hands on a drunken Santa Claus, sent to a strict Catholic boarding school, where he is eventually brainwashed into associating all forms of reckless pleasure (pre-marital sex, fun-loving partying) with punishment. When he is foolishly given a job of as a Santa Claus in a store over Christmas, Billy slowly loses his mind, before marching to each of his co-workers and hacking them to death, all the while shouting ‘Naughty!’ Once done, he sets his sights on the rest of the town as the police desperately try to find out what is happening.
This was not the first Christmas horror, others that came before it include Black Christmas, To All a Goodnight and the aforementioned Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out), but it was the one that, for some reason or another, managed to get under the skin of the moral majority, who seemed more sensitive than usual during the early eighties. The two-headed critic known as Siskel and Ebert seemed to take more offence than most, singling out each of the filmmakers on their television show and repeatedly declaring ‘Shame on you!’ This was all due to the marketing campaign, which resulted in young children being subjected to images of Santa Claus with an axe, hacking his way through the family festivities.
Silent Night, Deadly Night runs with the moral implications of Friday the 13th and Halloween and takes them to extremes, with Billy’s sole justification for his actions being that he is punishing the immoral. Whether or not this could be seen as a morality tale or a social comment on Catholic punishment is down to the individual viewer, as when all is said and done this movie’s main purpose is to entertain, not preach. And while it may not be a masterpiece it is certainly a perfect example of how slasher movies did not have to be accepted by the mainstream, after all, this is a genre that has been loathed by critics since day one. Followed by one pointless sequel (which would re-use footage from the first movie), there would in all be five Silent Night, Deadly Night movies, the latter two having no direct connection to this film.