Little known fact about Silent Night, Deadly Night: It was released the same weekend as the original Nightmare on Elm Street, and actually outgrossed it in its first week at the theaters.
By the second week, its ticket revenue was nearly non-existent, and by the third week, it was out of theaters altogether.
SNDN caused a huge uproar upon its release, the combination of another slasher flick paired with the slasher in question being dressed as Santa Claus grating on parents' sensibilities so harshly that protests were held outside theaters that showed it.
Mickey Rooney blasted the filmmakers, Siskel and Ebert refused to review it, instead using the time it would have been reviewed to read off, name by name, the cast & crew followed by a "shame, shame, shame" as they ended each person they called out.
In the end, all the outrage led to a huge uptick in SNDN's interest when it hit the home video market, where it was released as an unrated version, (similar to the then nefarious Faces of Death,) boasting how it had been banned in several countries, and it was far too powerful for the theaters. People who had been harassed by protestors when they attempted to see it in the theater (yes, many people were asked to sign petitions as they tried to enter the cinema) could now watch it at home comfortably. People who had seen it were now intrigued to see what was new to this unrated version- the promise of more gore- compared to the R rated version they had braved angry parents and concerned citizens in order to see it at the theater.
And then, there was those of us, the teens, who were horror fans through and through, but were too young to see it by renting it ourselves, but had parents who would allow us to get our horror on by renting it for us.
SNDN gathered a cult following for some time after hitting home video, and even garnered a couple sequels- all direct to VHS after the hubbub around the first one. (Much to my surprise, they even added a sequel titled simple "Silent Night" in 2012, starring Malcolm McDowell.) Eventually, the movie would disappear, as its notoriety would wear off and the movie was seen for what it was. A fairly typical slasher movie with even less than the typical bad acting within that genre. Fans intrigued by its "too gory" hype would discover that, in all actuality, it isn't that gory- and by today's terms, it's almost comical to think it was promoted as such.
That said, there's much to still enjoy about SNDN. For horror buffs, it's a piece of horror history. For those interested in how different the times were, it's worth a watch to see how such a movie could have caused such a firestorm.
Beyond that however, upon careful consideration, it's actually a pretty good movie that had some interesting ideas. In a time when Leatherface, Jason, Michael, and the newly introduced Freddy were busy filling us full of fear of "larger than life" villains that were often supernaturally strong and driven, SNDN does no such thing.
Billy, the evil Santa in SNDN, is very, very human. Sure, he's strong (as his physique is shown a couple times, to kind of prove the point before he hides beneath the red Santa suit) but he's a damaged kid who's finally sent over the brink after seeing his parents murdered by a thief who had dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve. After him and his brother are left at an orphanage run by an abusive nun, can anyone truly blame him for his PTSD? After becoming a teen, still under the care of the orphanage, Billy goes to work at a toy shop, where all seems well, initially.
But once Christmas comes around, Billy begins withdrawing (and again, who can blame him?) from his co-workers/ friends. The unthinkable happens when he's forced to wear a Santa suit for the kids visiting the toy store, and at the after-hours Christmas party, Billy's psyche finally snaps.
And that's what makes this movie so much better than the sum of its parts. The acting is wooden through most of it (that's being generous) and there's errors to be found by the discerning eye, but the idea itself... That this killer was made by a trauma no child should have seen, an abusive authority figure, and a trigger event was well ahead of the curve among the masses of... well, mass murderers on film at the time. No feats of incredible strength, no surviving a hail of bullets, and no chance at resurrecting for the sequel. (The sequel would feature Billy's brother, who, while too young to recall the events of the Christmas Eve that took his parents away, would bear witness to his brother being killed).
SNDN is truly worth a viewing, especially if you can find it in yourself to watch it for the story it's conveying rather than the voices that's telling the story. It's by no means great, but it is a neat piece of horror history to show off to your fellow horror friends.
And the best part is that, while SNDN found new life on VHS unrated, it would eventually be replaced by its R-Rated theatrical version over the years before it disappeared entirely. Now on blu ray, they've restored it back to the unrated version. (admittedly, the restored scenes are very noticeable while watching, often rather grainy).