Controversial Blus: Silent Night, Deadly Night: an Upconvert? (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Silent Night, Deadly Night is one of the most famous and infamous slasher films out there. I mean, under Friday the 13th and Halloween, but it's pretty much right at the top of the tier under those. The fact that it spawned four sequels and a remake surely helped, but the fact that it wound up generating such a huge controversy that it got pulled out of the theaters is probably a bigger reason. But it's not just the film that's been controversial over the years, the recent blu-ray release from Anchor Bay has generated a lot of ire among collectors for its own reasons.
The iconic imagery of a killer Santa Claus is a huge part of this movie's success, which is interesting because it's far from the Christmas themed horror movie... or even the first one to specifically feature a killer in a Santa suit. Christmas Evil, To All a Good Night, the classic segment from Tales From the Crypt, and even the similarly titled Silent Night, Bloody Night all precede it; and Don't Open Till Christmas played in theaters the same year. But I guess this one's television ads played before the wrong angsty parents, because they protested and got the film pulled. Curiously, longtime Hollywood star Mickey Rooney got on board with the movement, saying, "How dare they! ...The scum who made that movie should be run out of town."1 But then he later wound up starring in Silent Night, Deadly Night part 5.

At any rate, it's a pretty good, little movie. It is also a very pure slasher film, in that it follows all the "rules" and stays very true to the elements of a traditional 80s slasher film. It's got a simple but effective concept, good lines, a nice look, some creative kills and Linnea Quigley, But one thing it does a little different than the norm is follow the killer for the entire film, rather than giving us the standard "good girl" protagonist. Eventually, our heroes turn out to be a pair of nuns who've known the killer since he was a little boy, including the very stern and downright frightening Mother Superior, excellently played by Lilyan Chauvin. Most of the film plays it pretty safe, and while well executed, doesn't try to stand out from its peers; and in the long run it's a little too much of a generic slasher to be really great. But the fact that it's so well crafted from at least some of the performances to the music that have kept it popular among horror fans for decades.
So Anchor Bay, when they were the reigning kings of horror DVDs, first released Silent Night, Deadly Night as a double-sided "flipper" disc with Part 2 in 2003. They later reissued it as a 2-disc set, and Arrow released it in the UK. All of these releases were a little disappointing, though, because they were light on extras compared to how beloved and anticipated this particular film has always been, and because the transfer (all the releases had the same one) was based on an edited print, with most of the violence reinstated from a much lower quality source. It was murky and grungy, but it was the best they could do. So when Anchor Bay announced an uncut blu-ray special edition taken from a high quality source, people got excited. But... they never technically said it wasn't going to be another composite cut, which it was. So, not only were fans deeply disappointed by that; but it didn't look like Anchor Bay used a new scan or anything. People were calling it an upconvert on pretty much all the major forums.

But is it? I've got the original 2003 DVD, as well as the 2014 blu-ray, so let's have a proper comparison!
Anchor Bay 2014 blu-ray on top, and their 2003 DVD below.
So, right off the bat, they are a little different. When I first watched them separately on my TV after seeing all the online flack, I wasn't so sure. But seeing them right up against each other, I'm relieved to say that this isn't an upconvert. In other words, Anchor Bay didn't just take the files they made the DVD with and slap them onto a blu-ray disc. It's not a lovingly restored new scan, but someone's done something to try and make it look a little better, at least. And it's visibly not an upconvert, so we've really gotta stop throwing that accusation around.

The main difference you'll note is the color. Especially the low quality composite footage. Look how they've nicely white balanced that second shot. .Sure, it still looks like the kind of crap that you should never find on a blu-ray; but it looks better than the DVD. And even in the top shot, the whites and reds look crisper on the blu, while the DVD's still a bit green, as we see when we get in closer.
Blu-ray left; DVD right.
Sure, we're not getting any new detail or anything. But it's a stronger, smoother image on the blu-ray. So smooth, some of his beard seems to have vanished.  Ha ha  (I guess I'm one frame off and he turned his head slightly)  But it doesn't look DNR'd or anything. Grain and even compression splotches are still there. It's just a very, very, very mild HD upgrade of the same transfer. Not worth upgrading from one disc to the other on its own, but I'd still recommend going with the blu; the colors do look nicer.
A stronger reason to go blu might be the extras. Like I said, the DVDs came up short: essentially just an audio interview with the director. It was good, but just one non-video interview. Well, there was also an insert/ boolket with notes, a stills gallery and "Santa's Stocking of Outrage" which sounds awesome but was really just another gallery, this time of quotes from protestors. Even the trailer or the notorious TV commercial would've been nice.

Now, the blu-ray still isn't the loaded special edition fans want, but in addition to porting over the DVD extras, they did get an audio commentary. It features writer Michael Hickey, composer Perry Botkin, editor/2nd unit director Michael Spence and co-executive producer Scott J. Schneid. And it's pretty good. I saw some people knock it, but I think they were just salty over their other disappointments with the disc. It's not one of the great commentaries like the ones by John Carpenter or Bruce Campbell; but between the four of them they keep it pretty lively and informative. Okay, it doesn't totally scratch the "ultra special edition" itch, but it's a fine, respectable commentary track.

So, while disappointed fans may be loathe to give the "30th Anniversary Edition" any praise at all, it is undeniably the preferable and best available release of the film. It's clearly the best set of extras, and if you're a purist who doesn't care about extras, even the picture quality is still better. And it's the only one with lossless audio (Dolby TrueHD 5.1). Seeing this blu get such low reviews on some of the major review sites make me feel like they're punishing Anchor Bay rather than giving a completely fair appraisal.
Still, one more excellent argument can be made for hanging onto tour DVDs. The Anchor Bay releases that include Part 2 are the only available releases of Part 2. Well, at least in English speaking countries... I think Germany and Holland might have stand-alone DVDs. But for most of us, even if we've upgraded to the blu for the original film, we'll be holding onto our DVDs for the sequel.

I mean, not that the film's any good really. An unbelievable bulk of the film - just about half! - is just footage from Part 1. It basically goes through the entire first film again, using the exact same film, from beginning to end. The only difference is that this time, we keep cutting away every so often to Ricky, the younger brother of the killer in the first film, who's now grown up and recounting the tale to a psychiatrist. Finally, at the end, he gets out and goes on a killing rampage just like his big brother. And none of that new story is anywhere near the quality of the original. But at least it's a direct continuation of the story, unlike subsequent films, which wound up being pretty disconnected.
Yes, this IS a screencap from Part 2. I told ya, a huge, huge chunk of it is just footage from Part 1.
Like the first one, it's an anamorphic widescreen image, slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1. So that's good news. Parts 3-5 have still only been released fullscreen. And Part 2 actually has better extras than the first one. It's got the trailer, a stills gallery, and best of all, an audio commentary by writer/ director Lee Harry, co-writer Joseph H. Earle and actor James Newman. They're actually quite plugged into their movie, even though so much of it isn't theirs. I daresay, in fact, I'd rather watch the movie with the commentary on than off anytime.
Silent Night, Deadly Night may not be the best yuletide horror movie ever (Black Christmas, anyone?), but it's one of the most popular, and it sure is fun to watch with the family gathered together on Christmas Eve night. And while I'm right along with you guys in wanting something much greater, I think it's time to put away the pitchforks and acknowledge that this is the best release, not so terrible, and thanks perhaps to the negative feedback, pretty cheap. There are a lot of titles that are represented a lot worse on home video. So until Capelight or somebody finds a way to save us, I think we can be happy with this.

1Andrew Schanie, Movie Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem In the Film Industry (Clerisy Press, 2010), 108.

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