Charles E. Sellier, Jr.’s 1984 Christmas classic Silent Night, Deadly Night has garnered quite the cult following over the past (nearly) three decades. During it’s initial theatrical release, it was heavily protested and garnered a wave of negative reviews and responses across the United States. Since then, it has spawned four sequels, a remake, and now a theatrical re-release nationwide starting December 4th. We got the chance to chat a bit with writer Michael Hickey, producer Scott Schneid and editor/second unit director Michael Spence about the film’s unruly past and cherished present.
iHorror: When the film initially came out, it got slandered and censored and even banned. Was there a sense of defeat, or did you all feel that you really had something here that people will be talking about?
Scott Schneid: I think when we were developing the script, we never thought for a second that the film was going to illicit the kind of response that it did in terms of the negativity and the picketing and the craziness. My producing partner Dennis [Whitehead] and I thought, in the beginning, that the concept was very commercial, coming off of the first Halloween and Friday the 13th. There were just an incredible number of teenage horror films being made and no one made a movie like Silent Night, Deadly Night at that point. We thought there was a tremendous commercial potential for it, as well as for it to be a franchise that would spawn multiple sequels. We did not see this fury erupting. We did not see it while we were developing the script, nor did we see it when the script was finished, so we were quite surprised.
Michael Hickey: I don’t think anybody predicted it. In retrospect, it might seem like it was kind of inevitable or that we should have seen it coming. But nothing like this had ever happened before, at least not that I know of. Normally if people don’t want to see a movie they just don’t buy a ticket. But to form picket lines in front of movie theaters all over the country was surely spontaneous and unforeseen and kind of amazing. And also kind of hilarious. Once it started it just kept growing.
Scott Schneid: We were developing the script squarely for the hard-R rated audience; we were developing a slasher film. The R-rating is 17 and above, and we just didn’t think folks were going to react like that. Especially given all the Friday the 13th films and Halloween. Obviously the whole Santa image and issue came up and everyone went bananas.
Michael Spence: It was kind of an over-the-top response inspired by religion.
iHorror: During the controversy, were you guys thinking that you should jump ship and move on to another project, or were you really trying to see this film through?
Scott Schneid: We spent a few years developing the project, probably about 9 months with Michael [Hickey] writing and just over a year trying to find money. We set the film up with Ira Barmak, the executive producer, who had a deal with TriStar Pictures. Dennis and I got frozen out of the process from there, unfortunately. It was our first Hollywood movie and as a young guy, you kind of get frozen out. So we had nothing to do with the production and kind of watched all of the circus unfold from the sidelines. And we at that point had no power over what was going to or not going to happen with the film.
Michael Hickey: I actually think that our process was much faster than that. I can’t prove it, but we had some meetings, I wrote the screenplay and Scott went off and found the money within a few months. I think the whole thing happened very quickly. When I hand the screenplay off to the studio, that’s obviously the end the writer’s contribution, and that’s normal and I knew that. But when the controversy started, it was amazing and I really enjoyed it. I had no idea what effect it would have on the future, so at that point I just felt like I was along for the ride. At a certain point, though, I got drawn back into it because I was willing to do interviews. I did an on-camera interview with Entertainment Tonight and radio interviews. I must say that a lot of people who were associated with the movie, and I’m not talking about Scott or Dennis, but people at TriStar didn’t want to raise their heads up. But I was personally happy to, I thought the whole thing was absolutely hilarious and a lot of fun. I felt no negativity personally; I was in no way chagrined by the controversy, I thought it was great! This is a film that could have sunk like a stone and never been heard from again, and suddenly it was leading the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather; I didn’t know how to take that!
Scott Schneid: I watched the circus from the sidelines in amazement and amusement and enjoyment. I went on to have a screenwriting career for a decade and kind of left Silent Night, Deadly Night behind. Like I said, I had no involvement with the picture on a business level from that point on, so I went on to other things. But the film was a creative springboard, in a way, for many things for me. It was really just the beginning.
Michael Spence: For me, [before Silent Night, Deadly Night] we sort of worked in obscurity. Not really obscurity, but none of the pictures we worked on got much national play. This looked like it was going to have that and the people behind the cameras and in production hoped it would be a springboard for more work. It was kind of nice to have something that you worked on be out there in the media and being talked about.
iHorror: Despite the initial negativity from Hollywood, almost thirty years later the film is still praised by horror fans. How does it feel to have the film coming back out in theaters and celebrated?
Michael Hickey: The film was very much an independent film. The whole genesis was Scott and Dennis who had this concept, and I was unknown as a writer and Ira Barmak, relatively unknown as a producer; so the whole thing was independent. It only seemed like it had a Hollywood push behind it because TriStar picked it up for distribution.
Scott Schneid: Yeah, so when the film came out it was caught up in this storm of craziness. I think lost in all that was that it’s actually a good screenplay. It’s not your typical low-budget slasher formula, slasher 101. There was something more to this movie. It was a little bit better from a story stand point, and it had some dark humor, satirical humor, or black comedy as Michael [Hickey] likes to call it. I think that’s what is being appreciated now, 29 years later. If the movie just completed sucked, nobody is going to want to see it anymore. But it obviously doesn’t, and I think that’s why people want to see it still.
iHorror: A lot of horror fans watch Silent Night, Deadly Night to celebrate Christmas. Do you guys watch the film, or do you have any other holiday traditions?
Michael Hickey: I like to wait a long time between screenings of the film. Last time I watched it was probably two years ago, and I had forgotten a lot of it. I was pretty gratified because I actually thought it was pretty funny. It’s not unrelentingly gruesome and it has black comedy. It’s mainly a comedy as far as I’m concerned.
Scott Schneid: I like the movie and I’m delighted that it’s back out in theaters. Over the years people have been able to see the movie through the controversy, and it turns out people actually kind of like the movie, so naturally I’m delighted by that. My wife and my fourteen year-old, we don’t sit down and watch the movie on Christmas. But I do think I’d like to make a line of Silent Night, Deadly Night Christmas ornaments. Maybe Wal-Mart will carry them. But I think it’s a good idea, look for them next year.
Michael Spence: Brilliant idea, Scott. You’d have the girl on the reindeer and everything.
Scott Schneid: All the iconic images, exactly! The headless sled.
iHorror: That would be awesome!
Silent Night, Deadly Night returns to screens December 4th, nationwide. A list of theaters and dates can be found at.