The corruption of childhood by adults, both neglectful and deranged, is a predictable staple of American horror films. Throw in a murderous Santa Claus and a whip-wielding nun and the moral depravity gets ratcheted up ten-fold. Such is the case in Charles E. Sellier, Jr.’s Silent Night, Deadly Night. Residing between ridiculously quotable dialogue and an endless array of sexual, albeit creative, violence is a pointed commentary on the connection between depravity and trauma. The film’s message is clear: it isn’t so much the creatures of myth (Santa, The Boogeyman) children ought to fear but the adults who surround them.
You know a horror film has ticked all the right boxes when the PTA petitions to have it banned. Such was the case in 1984 when Silent Night, Deadly Night opened and immediately raised the hackles of media watchdog groups. Despite its opening weekend grossing more than A Nightmare on Elm Street, TriStar Pictures pulled the plug on its media campaign and the film quickly faded from theatres.
In many respects, the controversy surrounding the 1984 release of the film as well as its advertisements showing an axe-hefting Santa Claus emerging from a chimney seems an echo of a simpler time. People still picketed theatres and film critics still had the power to shape public perception. Consider Leonard Maltin who gave Silent Night, Deadly Night zero stars and predicted the next thing filmgoers would be subjected to would be the Easter Bunny as a child molester. Also weighing in were the notable film critic duo of Siskel and Ebert. Their eviscerating review of the film, in which they called out by name—repeatedly—the people associated with the film, is the stuff of legend: