When Paramount began to release the “Friday the 13th” series on DVD, the studio was once again surprised their foray into slasher territory (primarily during the 1980s) not only sold quite well, but remains a popular franchise on the rental circuit.
Call it the revenge of a bastard child, slasher films remain popular with the always-hungry horror crowd, and Anchor Bay's release of “Silent Night Deadly Night” brings to DVD one of the genre's most infamous films.
Produced and financed by TriStar Pictures as that studio's own little venture into big screen bloodletting, the film was literally pulled from distribution when parents protested the release of a violent movie during the Christmas holiday season, with ads portraying Santa as a murderer. Nasty letters, picketing, and bad reviews may have killed the theatrical run, but the movie did very well in the still-new home video market (hence a sequel, covered in a separate review).
In a lengthy and informative audio-only interview with Charles Sellier, the veteran TV producer (“Grizzly Adams” – no, really) and occasional director breaks down the genesis of the project – actually based on a book called “Slayride” by Paul Caimi – and location shooting in Utah. It's surprising to hear Sellier actually admit regret in having made the film – the montages of sex/rape and brutal violence are still pretty strong – but he makes it quite clear “Silent” was a studio production (as evidenced by the still & poster gallery), and he took on the directing chores as a personal favour to TriStar's top executive, Jeff Sagansky.
Anchor Bay's transfer is made from an excellent print, though one sequence occurring in a huge toy store seems to have been reconstructed from disparate elements. There's periodic shots taken from a weaker print – the colours are off, the focus is very soft, and there's visible dirt – and the sudden shift is jarring. The sequence remains more than watchable, but it's an odd flaw that perhaps signals the uncut master may have suffered some damage, and available release prints had to be used.
There's a funny gallery of news clippings – “Santa's Stocking of Outrage” – which captures the tenor of public anger, but bad taste aside, “Silent” is actually an above-average slasher film. Competently directed, shot in several excellent locations, and peppered with some recognizable character actors, it's a better production than “Friday the 13th” and benefits from a straightforward revenge story (and a great closing line).
Be forewarned, though: “Silent Night Deadly Night” deliberately twists every tacky holiday convention, and the soundtrack is densely populated with the most annoying (and original) Xmas tunes.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan