The ’80s Christmas Cult Chiller That Was Banned From Theaters

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published

In the 1980s, the slasher film genre was booming. Audiences were flocking to the theaters to see serial killers, driven to murder by the traumas of their past, unalive groups of horndog teenagers one by one. To stop from running out of ideas, slasher filmmakers began to take over the holidays, moving from the stalking antics of Michael Myers in Halloween to the mining murderer in My Bloody Valentine, to the murder spree of a teenager in a Santa suit in Silent Night, Deadly Night, the last of which was banned from theaters for its association with the Christain holiday.

A Different Take On Santa

In 1984, director Charles E. Sellier Jr. added a chilling spin to the classic image of Santa Claus climbing down the chimney. Flipping the idea of a jolly holiday on its head, Sellier released a movie poster for Silent Night, Deadly Night showcasing a dark night sky and a snowcapped rooftop where it appeared as if Good Ol’ Saint Nick himself were climbing into a chimney, an ax gripped in his red gloved hand. For all intents and purposes, it looked as though Sellier was implying that Santa Claus himself was the serial killer in Hollywood’s newest slasher movie.


As striking as the image of a Santa killer was, the plot of Silent Night, Deadly Night is darker than that. The film follows a young man named Billy who suffers from PTSD after witnessing the murder of his parents by a man in a Santa outfit when he was five years old. Growing up in an abusive orphanage where the Mother Superior thrived on corporal punishment didn’t help Billy heal from his past trauma. 

The Killing Spree

When Billy turns 18, he’s released from the orphanage and gets a job at a toy store. One night, Billy is forced to cover for the store’s Santa Claus, triggering the trauma from his childhood. Later that evening, Billy is still wearing the Santa suit when he sees a coworker trying to sexually assault another coworker, and he murders them both for their sins, beginning what would become the very bloody murder spree that makes up the bulk of Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Protests And Banning The Film

Released on November 9, 1984, by Tri-Star Pictures, Silent Night, Deadly Night pushed a strong advertising campaign, stirring up controversy with its implied Santa killer poster and releasing commercials for the film on TV during family shows.

The Parents Teachers Association (PTA) pushed for the film’s removal due to the Christmas release and subject matter, nationwide protests erupted, including picketing at the New York premiere, and a Variety editorial highlighted worries about traumatizing children. After less than a week in theaters, the movie was banned.

Sequels And Remakes

While the movie was only in theaters for six days, it was enough to generate a minor success with Silent Night, Deadly Night garnering a total of $2.5 million, countering a $750K budget. Quickly becoming a cult feature among horror enthusiasts, Tri-Star released four sequels to the slasher film, two of which followed Billy’s little brother Ricky following in his brother’s murdery footsteps and a fourth and fifth film branching off to tell different stories.

Two remakes were also made, one released in 2012 called Silent Night, and one announced in 2021 by Orwo Studios and Black Hanger Studios after they acquired the rights to the original film.