By the time 1984 rolled around, the sanctity of Jesus’ birth had already been more than tarnished in horror cinema, movies like 1972’s Tales from the Crypt and 1980’s Christmas Evil bringing killers dressed as Santa Claus to the big screen, and 1974’s Black Christmas showcasing the brutal Christmastime murders of a sorority house full of sexy ladies.
Nevertheless, it was a series of TV commercials depicting a killer Santa wielding an axe that outraged parents in 1984, a promotional campaign for a new holiday slasher flick that would quickly become one of the most controversial horror films of all time.
That film was of course the late Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, which was released into nearly 400 theaters on November 9th of 1984 – the very same day that Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street made its big screen debut.
Filmed on a budget of a mere $750,000, Silent Night, Deadly Night came in eighth place at the box office that weekend and pulled in $1,432,800, a number that was a few hundred thousand dollars higher than the number Freddy Krueger scared up in his inaugural outing – it must be noted, however, that Nightmare on Elm Street was released into half as many theaters.
How much the film made at the box office is of little relevance though, because it was ironically enough people who didn’t even pay to see it that solidified Silent Night, Deadly Night’s status as a hugely successful and incredibly iconic piece of 80s slasher cinema.
Amidst copious amounts of complaints from parents who saw nothing but the lurid TV advertisements for the film, so convinced that it was going to forever ruin the magic and joy of the holiday season that they headed out and picketed their local theaters, TriStar Pictures got cold feet and promptly pulled those ads from television and then altogether removed the film from theaters – mere weeks after it made its way down the proverbial chimney.
In an instant, Silent Night, Deadly Night transformed from just another slasher film to a veritable cult classic, the very people who sought to banish it from existence serving to make it one of the most must-see horror films of the entire decade. Isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think?
But let’s backtrack a bit. Before Silent Night, Deadly Night slashed its way into theaters, leaving behind a pile of criticism as high as the pile of bodies, the film began as all films do: with a simple idea – one that none of the key players in this tale ever dreamed would result in so much controversy or infamy.
Though the story circulating around the internet is that Silent Night, Deadly Night was based on a novel called Slayride, written by Paul Caimi, a search for that book will yield absolutely no results. You won’t find it in your local library, you won’t find it on Amazon and you won’t even find a single shred of its existence on the entire internet. Why not? Because the book doesn’t exist.
The true story behind the creation of Silent Night, Deadly Night is that Paul Caimi had written a screenplay called He Sees You When You’re Sleeping, which caught the attention of Scott Schneid, who at the time was working for the William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills. Caimi was an undergraduate at Harvard University, Schneid’s alma mater, and he wrote the screenplay for one of his classes, which he sent over to Scott – who took the idea and ran with it.
“I loved the idea of a Santa-slasher, thought it had incredible commercial potential given what was going on in the horror genre at the time,” Schneid recalls. “So we made a deal with Paul and optioned his script, which is why he ended up with a story credit. However, other than the one sentence idea of a killer Santa, there was nothing in Paul’s script that I wanted to use.”
THE RETROSPECTIVE CONTINUES ON THE NEXT PAGE!