Hollywood Flashback: 'Silent Night's' Killer Santa Was Pulled From Theaters in 1984

Silent Night - Photofest still - H 2019
TriStar Pictures/Photofest

Holiday horror film 'Black Christmas,' which hit theaters Friday, appears headed for a smoother release than its genre predecessor, which faced backlash as it "took naughty to new levels of not nice."

Black Christmas, the holiday horror film out Dec. 13, appears headed for a smoother release than its genre predecessor Silent Night, Deadly Night received in 1984. Back then, something about a serial killer Santa Claus touched a nerve with the public.

"Deadly Night wasn't the first killer-Santa film — that credit goes to 1972's Tales From the Crypt starring Joan Collins," says author Jeffrey Miller, who's writing a book about Christmas horror films. "But it took naughty to new levels of not nice."

The Hollywood Reporter wrote that ABC affiliate KETV in Omaha was "besieged by complaints" over the film's primetime advertising. Protesters picketed theaters while singing Christmas carols. Film critic Gene Siskel read the names of the filmmakers on air and added, "Shame on you!"

THR was one of the few outlets that had anything good to say about what it called "a blood-splattered Christmas present from TriStar Pictures." Director Charles Sellier "rings the slay bells with workmanlike competence," it wrote. (One irony is that seven years earlier, Sellier created NBC's family-friendly The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.)

But the public outcry was too much for TriStar. The studio's first release was the Oscar-nominated The Natural, starring Robert Redford. The hoopla Deadly Night attracted didn't help its reputation for making classy films. After two weeks in theaters, TriStar pulled the plug on Night's release.

The $1 million production had been doing decent, if not exceptional, business. (Another slasher film that opened the same weekend was A Nightmare on Elm Street, which went on to become a billion-dollar franchise.) On opening weekend, Silent Night, Deadly Night was in eighth place with a $1.4 million gross; the second weekend it made $782,600.

Despite its controversial start, Deadly Night managed to generate four sequels and one remake, but none of them "slayed" the way the first one did. 

This story first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.