Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

R | 93 mins | Horror | 9 November 1984

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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Anjuli M. Singh, an independent scholar.

A 9 Dec 1984 LAT article noted that a working title for the film was Slayride.
       The original song, “Santa’s Watching,” written by Morgan Ames and Doug Thiele, plays during both opening and end credits.
       According to a 29 Mar 1984 DV news item, principal photography began 26 Mar 1984 in Heber, UT, and lasted four weeks. Made for a budget of less than one million dollars, Silent Night, Deadly Night was of nine low-budget films producer Ira Richard Barmak pitched to distributor Tri-Star Pictures in spring 1983, as stated in the 9 Dec 1984 LAT. After making a “negative pick-up deal” with Tri-Star in which the studio agreed to distribute the film without providing any production financing, Barmak considered Tri-Star’s interest to be minimal and speculated that no one besides junior executives actually read the script.
       The film was re-edited four times before the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) downgraded its rating from an ‘X’ to an ‘R.,’ as stated in a 2 Nov 1984 LAHExam article. In addition, a 12 Dec 1984 Var article reported that the U. S. Catholic Conference rated it ‘O’ for “morally offensive.”
       According to the 9 Dec 1984 LAT, two weeks in advance of the film’s 9 Nov 1984 release in several Northeast and Midwest cities, thirty-second advertisements for the film were aired on television. Although the spots had been edited down due ...

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The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Anjuli M. Singh, an independent scholar.

A 9 Dec 1984 LAT article noted that a working title for the film was Slayride.
       The original song, “Santa’s Watching,” written by Morgan Ames and Doug Thiele, plays during both opening and end credits.
       According to a 29 Mar 1984 DV news item, principal photography began 26 Mar 1984 in Heber, UT, and lasted four weeks. Made for a budget of less than one million dollars, Silent Night, Deadly Night was of nine low-budget films producer Ira Richard Barmak pitched to distributor Tri-Star Pictures in spring 1983, as stated in the 9 Dec 1984 LAT. After making a “negative pick-up deal” with Tri-Star in which the studio agreed to distribute the film without providing any production financing, Barmak considered Tri-Star’s interest to be minimal and speculated that no one besides junior executives actually read the script.
       The film was re-edited four times before the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) downgraded its rating from an ‘X’ to an ‘R.,’ as stated in a 2 Nov 1984 LAHExam article. In addition, a 12 Dec 1984 Var article reported that the U. S. Catholic Conference rated it ‘O’ for “morally offensive.”
       According to the 9 Dec 1984 LAT, two weeks in advance of the film’s 9 Nov 1984 release in several Northeast and Midwest cities, thirty-second advertisements for the film were aired on television. Although the spots had been edited down due to MPAA restrictions, they “show[ed] a Santa Claus suit-clad hand breaking down a door with an ax and pulling a knife from a Santa belt” while a voice recited “The Night Before Christmas.” Tri-Star claimed the ads were supposed to air only during late-night hours; however, some stations ran them during the day, angering parents. On 9 Nov 1984, DV reported that two mothers whose children saw the advertisements had formed a group called Citizens Against Movie Madness and were advocating for the film to be removed from theaters. The group, along with Chicago, IL, protestors, were concerned that children were “confused if not emotionally troubled” by Silent Night, Deadly Night’s depiction of Santa Claus as a serial killer. Amidst the complaints, Tri-Star pulled the film’s television advertisements on 8 Nov 1984, one day before theatrical release.
       Despite the public backlash, the film took in $1.4 million in box-office receipts in its first three days, according to a 15 Nov 1984 HR news item. However, a 27 Nov 1984 DV article stated that Tri-Star decided to pull Silent Night, Deadly Night from theaters after only two weeks and cancelled planned releases on the west coast and other parts of the U.S. Tri-Star cited poor box-office performance as the deciding factor, although the film had grossed over $3 million "in less than 400 theaters." In the 9 Dec 1984 LAT article, a marketing executive at an unnamed studio suggested that the film had "only realized maybe 45% to 55% of its total gross" while another source estimated the potential box-office gross to be around $10 million. By the end of Nov 1984, the film was out of most domestic theaters, excluding those who had "exercis[ed] their rights" according to deals made with Tri-Star, allowing them to keep the prints for five weeks, as stated in a 3 Apr 1985 Var article.
       A 27 Nov 1984 DV article reported that Barmak had approached Tri-Star the day before, hoping to regain the film rights so he could sell them to another distributor. After some hesitation, Tri-Star eventually returned "domestic and worldwide theatrical rights, as well as overseas rights to videocassette and cable release" to Barmak, as reported in a 19 Dec 1984 Var brief. A key tenet of the agreement, however, was that Barmak would be prohibited from re-releasing Silent Night, Deadly Night during the holiday season, from September to mid-February, and a 5 Sep 1985 DV article speculated that the stipulation may have been related to Tri-Star’s wish to distance itself from any further controversy. Tri-Star returned "all 400 prints, trailer negatives, one sheets and mechanicals for ads: to Barmak on 2 Apr 1985, according to a DV news item of the same date. A 5 Sep 1985 DV article announced that Aquarius Film Releasing would handle the film’s subsequent domestic theatrical distribution and Interocean Film Sales would distribute overseas, with International Video Entertainment set to distribute the home video version domestically.
       Critical reception was mixed. A 7 Jan 1986 DV review noted that the film had the potential to be a very dark black comedy, but was too gory so that it failed to make any "commentary on the commercialism of Christmas." In his 9 Nov 1984 HR review, Kirk Ellis praised actress Gilmer McCormick (“Sister Margaret”), director of photography Henning Schellerup, and director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. for his “workmanlike competence,” and predicted that horror fans would not be disappointed by the film’s carnage. After the film was released in Los Angeles, CA, in Mar 1986, Michael Wilmington panned Silent Night, Deadly Night in his 11 Mar 1986 LAT review, noting that it was “safe to predict that ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’… will start making ‘Worst Movie of All Time’ lists almost immediately.”
       A 7 Jan 1986 DV item announced that screenwriter Paul Caimi, who received a “based on a story by” credit, filed a lawsuit against Tri-Star, seeking “$5,000,000 in punitive damages” and a minimum of $100,000 in unpaid fees. Amongst other things, Caimi claimed that Tri-Star had failed to promote Silent Night, Deadly Night during the initial release and had “improperly refused” to return distribution rights to Barmak. The outcome of the lawsuit could not be determined as of the writing of this Note.
       Silent Night, Deadly Night achieved a cult status and resulted in a sequel, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987, see entry), and the following straight-to-video releases: Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out (1989), Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990), and Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991). On 30 Nov 2012, a remake of the film, titled Silent Night (see entry), was released, starring Malcolm McDowell and Donal Logue.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Allentown Morning Call
9 Nov 1984
Section D, p. 3
Boston Globe
10 Nov 1984
p. 15
Daily Variety
29 Mar 1984
---
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1984
---
Daily Variety
9 Nov 1984
---
Daily Variety
27 Nov 1984
---
Daily Variety
24 Dec 1984
p. 1, 11
Daily Variety
2 Apr 1985
---
Daily Variety
5 Sep 1985
p. 1, 13
Daily Variety
7 Jan 1986
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Apr 1984
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1984
p. 3, 25
Hollywood Reporter
15 Nov 1984
p. 1, 17
LAHExam
2 Nov 1984
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Nov 1984
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Dec 1984
Calendar, pp. 3-4, 36
Los Angeles Times
3 Apr 1985
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Mar 1986
p. 15
New York Times
30 Nov 2012
Section C, p. 8
Variety
19 Dec 1984
---
Variety
7 Nov 1984
p. 18
Variety
28 Nov 1984
p. 4, 84
Variety
12 Dec 1984
p. 4, 140
Variety
3 Apr 1985
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Ira Barmak/Chuck Sellier Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Unit mgr/1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Co-exec prod
Co-exec prod
WRITERS
Based on a story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Grip
Grip
Still photog
Laboratory services by
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Assoc film ed
Asst film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
Prop master/Const supv
Asst props
COSTUMES
Asst ward
Asst ward
MUSIC
Mus comp and performed by
Mus ed
Specially rec songs prod by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Sd eff supv
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Post prod sd
Supv exec, Post prod sd
Crowd sd eff
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Asst spec eff
Titles and opticals by
MAKEUP
Make-up and hair
Spec eff make-up
Asst make-up and hair
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting asst
Utah casting
Scr supv
Transportation capt
Driver
Driver
Set mechanic
Craft services
Catering
Security coord
Children's dial coach
Emergency medical tech
Extra coord
Extras asst
Loc mgr
Prod coord
Business affairs
Asst to the prod
Asst to Mr. Sellier
Prod secy
Prod auditor
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timing by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Slayrider," by Morgan Ames and Lee Montgomery; "Sweet Little Baby," by Morgan Ames; "Christmas Flu," by Morgan Ames; "Santa's Watching," by Morgan Ames and Doug Thiele; "The Warm Side of the Door," by Morgan Ames; "Merry Christmas Baby," by Morgan Ames, Carmen Twillie and DeeDee Dennard; "It Must Be Christmas," by Rick Phillips; "Christmas Fever," by Ira Barmak.
SONGWRITERS/COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Slayride
Release Date:
9 November 1984
Premiere Information:
Allentown, PA, opening: 9 Nov 1984; Boston opening: week of 10 Nov 1984; Los Angeles opening: 7 Mar 1986
Production Date:
26 Mar--21 Apr 1984 in Utah
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Slayride, Inc.
3 May 1985
PA245201
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
93
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

On Christmas Eve in 1971, young Billy Chapman rides in the backseat of his family’s station wagon on the way to visit his Grandpa. Arriving at the Utah Mental Facility, the Chapmans find Grandpa sitting in a chair, completely unresponsive. Dr. Conway takes Billy's parents, Ellie and Jim, into another room to discuss his health. Left alone with Billy, Grandpa perks up and warns the young boy that Christmas Eve is the scariest night of the year because “Santa Claus” punishes the children who have been naughty. Billy confesses that he has been naughty, and Grandpa says he better run for his life when he sees Santa. As Billy's parents return, Grandpa reverts to his unresponsive state. In a nearby town, a man dressed in a Santa Claus costume robs a convenience store, shooting the clerk dead. Riding home, Billy tells his parents about Grandpa’s warning, and Ellie tries to alleviate her son’s newfound fear of Santa Claus. When the Chapmans come upon the Killer Santa who robbed the convenience store stranded next to his broken-down car, a frightened Billy begs his parents to keep driving, but they insist on helping. However, Killer Santa pulls a gun as they approach and shoots Jim through the windshield. The car comes to a stop, and Billy runs and hides in the nearby bush. As Billy watches from the side of the road and his baby brother, Ricky, cries inside the station wagon, Killer Santa attempts to rape Ellie, but slits her throat with a knife after she struggles. Three years later, at Saint Mary’s Home for Orphaned Children, Billy is punished by Mother Superior for drawing a violent image of ...

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On Christmas Eve in 1971, young Billy Chapman rides in the backseat of his family’s station wagon on the way to visit his Grandpa. Arriving at the Utah Mental Facility, the Chapmans find Grandpa sitting in a chair, completely unresponsive. Dr. Conway takes Billy's parents, Ellie and Jim, into another room to discuss his health. Left alone with Billy, Grandpa perks up and warns the young boy that Christmas Eve is the scariest night of the year because “Santa Claus” punishes the children who have been naughty. Billy confesses that he has been naughty, and Grandpa says he better run for his life when he sees Santa. As Billy's parents return, Grandpa reverts to his unresponsive state. In a nearby town, a man dressed in a Santa Claus costume robs a convenience store, shooting the clerk dead. Riding home, Billy tells his parents about Grandpa’s warning, and Ellie tries to alleviate her son’s newfound fear of Santa Claus. When the Chapmans come upon the Killer Santa who robbed the convenience store stranded next to his broken-down car, a frightened Billy begs his parents to keep driving, but they insist on helping. However, Killer Santa pulls a gun as they approach and shoots Jim through the windshield. The car comes to a stop, and Billy runs and hides in the nearby bush. As Billy watches from the side of the road and his baby brother, Ricky, cries inside the station wagon, Killer Santa attempts to rape Ellie, but slits her throat with a knife after she struggles. Three years later, at Saint Mary’s Home for Orphaned Children, Billy is punished by Mother Superior for drawing a violent image of Santa Claus in class. Concerned that Billy is suppressing the memory of his parents’ murders, Sister Margaret defends him, saying that he needs help, but Mother Superior is confident that her methods of discipline will suffice. Later that day, Sister Margaret goes to Billy’s room and invites him outside to play with the other children. However, as Billy leaves his room, he hears strange noises coming from down the hall. Following the sounds, Billy looks through a keyhole and sees two older orphans having sex. Spotting Billy, Mother Superior bursts into the room, belt in hand, to punish the two adolescents. She later whips Billy as well. That night, Billy has a nightmare about his parents’ murders and runs out of his room in fear. In turn, Mother Superior ties him to the bed, forcing him to endure his memories alone. The next day, Billy punches a man dressed as Santa Claus when he is forced to sit on his lap. Ten years later, in the spring of 1984, a handsome, robust Billy gets a job as a stockroom worker at Ira’s Toys. He starts out as the model employee until Christmas approaches, at which point his emotional troubles resurface. When the store’s Santa Claus breaks his ankle on Christmas Eve, Billy’s boss, Mr. Sims, asks Billy to take on the role, and he reluctantly agrees. That night, after the store closes, the staff celebrates the end of the holiday season. Sims encourages Billy to drink alcohol while Pamela, Billy’s co-worker and crush, kisses Andy, another stockroom employee, in the back of the store. Billy follows the two into the stockroom, where he sees Andy rip off Pamela’s shirt and try to rape her. Experiencing a flashback to his parents’ murders, Billy attacks Andy in a rage, hanging him with a strand of Christmas lights. Pamela calls Billy “crazy,” and he retaliates by killing her with a box-cutter. Hearing the commotion in the stockroom, Sims heads back there, and Billy kills him with a hammer. Chasing the remaining employee, Mrs. Randall, through the store, Billy shoots her dead with a bow and arrow. Meanwhile, Sister Margaret has learned that Billy was playing the role of Santa Claus at Ira’s Toys and, knowing his difficulty with Christmas Eve, decides to check on him. Finding Mrs. Randall’s corpse inside the store, Sister Margaret immediately knows that Billy is responsible. Close by, Billy makes his way to a house where Denise, a babysitter, kisses her boyfriend, Tommy, in the basement. Hearing the cat at the front door, Denise goes upstairs to let it inside, but Billy appears, murdering her by piercing her body with the antlers of a mounted deer head. Tommy runs upstairs, and Billy throws him out of the window. Cindy, the young girl whom Denise was babysitting, wanders out and asks Billy if he has brought her any gifts. Confirming that she has been a good girl, Billy hands Cindy the bloodied box-cutter he used to kill Pamela and leaves. On an isolated hill where two teenagers, Bob and Mac, are sledding, Billy murders Bob with an axe and slowly approaches Mac. At the police station, Sister Margaret tells Captain Richards that all of the killings follow a certain logic considering Billy's troubled past. With this in mind, Richards and Sister Margaret head to the orphanage, believing Billy will go there next. Richards orders all police in the area to keep an eye out for a man dressed as Santa Claus, saying they should shoot to kill if necessary. Soon after, a man dressed like Santa Claus approaches Saint Mary's Home for Orphaned Children, where children play outside in the snow. Arriving on the scene, Officer Barnes shoots the man, only to find it was not Billy, but an older gentleman named Father O'Brien. Barnes circles the perimeter of the building and inspects a nearby shed in search of Billy. Although he finds nothing inside, Barnes is killed by Billy on his way out. Believing Billy to be Santa Claus, one of the orphans opens the door and lets him in. As Billy raises his axe to kill Mother Superior, he is shot in the back by Captain Richards. With his dying breath, Billy tells the children, including his brother Ricky, that they are safe now that Santa Claus is gone. Upset by his brother's death, Ricky menacingly tells Mother Superior that she has been naughty.

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Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
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