Silent Night, Deadly Night Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Written by Michael Hickey
1984, 85 minutes, Unrated
Blu-ray released on December 5th, 2017
Robert Brian Wilson as Billy (Age 18)
Lilyan Chauvin as Mother Superior
Gilmer McCormick as Sister Margaret
Britt Leach as Mr. Sims
Linnea Quigley as Denise
Danny Wagner as Billy (Age 8)
Toni Nero as Pamela
Some kids just can’t catch a break. One such youngster is Billy, the boy who at the tender age of five witnessed the Christmas Eve murder of his parents at the hands of a man dressed as Santa Claus. Three years later, Billy was trapped in an orphanage where he was routinely abused by the Mother Superior. Once he turns eighteen, things take a positive turn and Billy gets a job at a local toy store during the holiday season. Unfortunately, his luck remains bad and the store Santa calls out sick and a replacement is needed. Forced to dress as his most feared father figure, Billy’s sanity is pushed beyond its limits and soon he is out on the town with a fire axe in hand to punish the naughty. That’s about it for the plot, really. The first half sets up just how much we can dump on this kid before he reaches his breaking point and then we turn him loose on the community.
By 1984, the slasher film was at its height of popularity and it appeared that every major holiday or social function had a corresponding feature: Halloween, New Year’s Evil, My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night, Graduation Day and on and on. Yuletide slashers were inevitable given the environment. Silent Night, Deadly Night, however, received a strong backlash in response to its marketing campaign that included an image of Santa Claus holding an axe as he slips down the chimney. Concerned parents groups were outraged and organized protests outside of theatres showing the film, which only added to the title’s notoriety. Was it worth all of the controversy? Not really. Is the picture entertaining? Pretty much.
Silent Night, Deadly Night tackles a lot of issues such as child abuse, sexual assault and moral superiority, in its own special way. The film starts on a strong note with the introduction of young Billy’s catatonic grandfather, a man seemingly faking his condition only to terrorize the kid once they are left alone. From there we move to the murder of Billy’s parents with Billy and his infant brother in the back seat of the car. The killer is never caught, but it remains unclear why he doesn’t kill the baby or steal the car. There’s no time for the answers to these questions as we skip ahead three years to Billy’s time in the orphanage. His brother Ricky is there too, but the boys share little screen time as our anti-hero is frequently being punished for being naughty, even when he is only a casual observer to bad behavior. Sister Margaret is looking out for the boy but unable to intervene on his behalf. Jumping ahead another ten years, Billy is faced with a new slew of emotional problems once forced to dress as Santa.
Billy’s rampage starts reasonably enough as he murders his co-workers for being “naughty”, but with the exception of the would-be rapist on the payroll, nobody is doing anything wrong at the office party. He moves on to kill random strangers minding their own business. One kid is guilty of being an asshole, but doesn’t necessarily deserve decapitation for his actions. Another couple is guilty of fooling around instead of babysitting, which leads to one of the film’s gory highlights involving deer antlers as a means for impalement. Billy finally decides to go after someone actually guilty of harming him and thus sets up the third act of the picture as he seeks his revenge at the orphanage. His rampage doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, but hey, he’s crazy.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is not exactly a good movie, but it is a guilty pleasure. I love the old man playing Billy’s grandfather and the glee he takes in terrorizing the kid before returning to instant catatonia when his daughter enters the room. I love that the story jumps around so much that three actors play young Billy. I love that he punishes Pamela for slapping him despite having just saved her from being raped at the toy store. I love that Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead) shows up just in time to die topless (again). The kills are inventive and the plot does move swiftly, so I can see the appeal in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of way.
The Christmas season had previously hosted such terrors as Black Christmas (1974), Christmas Evil and To All a Goodnight (both 1980) and even a segment in the Tales from the Crypt (1972) anthology feature, but none of these received the backlash that faced this title. The MPAA ratings board grew more stringent in their edits during the slasher craze and apparently parents had also had enough by 1984. Their efforts were misguided, as the picture was never targeted to young audiences and the real Santa is never depicted as a villain. A letter-writing campaign resulted in countless complaints against the movie, including one from veteran Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney, who would later go on to star in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 5 (1991).
37 years after its initial release, the picture lives on with a rabid fan base, although it can be argued that the real popularity is for Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, which includes over forty minutes of footage from the original. Scream Factory has pulled out all the stops for this deluxe Collector’s Edition release. A wealth of all-new supplements has been assembled and the movie has undergone a full restoration just in time for the holiday season. I hope that you’ve been good all year and that this Blu-ray winds up under your Christmas tree because it really is just that good. So pull up a seat on the couch, wrap up in a comfy blanket and get ready to be entertained with a killer classic.
Video and Audio:
All previous releases of this film have looked like garbage in terms of picture quality, but Scream Factory has sprung for an all-new 4K remaster of the original film elements and the results are nothing short of a revelation. Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is hands-down the best the movie has ever looked. The unrated cut uses the same standard definition inserts of censored gory material used for the 30th anniversary edition a few years back, but this time the content has been cleaned up as much as possible to limit the shifts in resolution.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix is faithful to the source material and presents dialogue free from distortion. Music and effects cues are frequently intense but never intrusive.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Scream Factory delivers a 2-disc Blu-ray collection with special features spread across both discs.
Disc 1 showcases the R-rated theatrical cut.
Also on hand are trailers from the marketing campaign, including both theatrical and home video spots, plus a TV promo and radio ads.
Disc 2 is where the majority of the supplements reside.
Starting things off, we get two audio commentaries, the first featuring star Robert Brian Wilson (adult Billy) and producer Scott Schneid. This is an informative and entertaining track that gives fans a lot to enjoy as both men are filled with interesting anecdotes.
The second commentary is a holdover from the Anchor Bay Blu-ray from 2014. Participants include Schneid, screenwriter Michael Hickey, editor Michael Spence and composer Perry Botkin. This is another solid track filled with tales from the production. Definitely worth a listen.
Also returning from the earlier release is an audio interview (36 minutes) with director Charles E. Sellier Jr., in which he answers several questions about the film’s history and production.
The biggest addition here is the all-new retrospective Slay Bells Ringing (46 minutes) featuring reflections from producers Scott Schneid and Dennis Whitehead along with Robert Brian Wilson, Michael Spence and Perry Botkin. The documentary is well made and delves deeply into the history of the film from inception all the way through to the controversy upon release and its long life on home video.
Oh Deer! (22 minutes) offers actress Linnea Quigley an opportunity to share her memories of the filming as well as a look back at her career. Picture quality is dubious but the content is solid.
The movie’s shooting locations are revisited in Christmas in July (10 minutes), shot in July 2017.
A selection of hate mail is included here in Santa’s Stocking of Outrage (5 minutes) as a slide show of angry letters from concerned parents.
A poster and still gallery (1 minute) provides a look at the marketing materials for the film.