The One and Only Silent Night, Deadly Night (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.

Update 4/28/15 - 12/8/17: Happy Ho-Ho-Holidays! Updating with the brand spankin' new, Scream Factory 2-disc blu-ray Collector's Edition. Oh, and Code Red Catch-Up isn't actually finished.  I just got busy this week and then had to do this update.  But I've got 3 more CR's sitting here on my desk, ready to go after this post. 🎅
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.  Black Christmas, 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 was playing in theaters the very 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.And then when Scream Factory announced their uncut blu-ray special edition taken from an brand new 4k scan done by Sony with the original camera negative, people got excited again. But... they never technically said it wasn't going to be another composite cut either, and, well:
At this point, just don't get your hopes up about a restored uncut Silent Night until you're watching that footage with your own eyes.  But Scream have done something a little interesting here and decided to give us two discs with both cuts.  That way, you can watch the edited Theatrical cut in 100% 4k quality without the seams and dupey inserts.  But the theatrical cut is really gutted.  It's about six minutes difference, and frankly, more than half of the movie's highlights.  So if you really wanna watch the theatrical cut, you do you.  But for me and most fans, Silent Night, Deadly Night is still a composite cut.

So, not only have fans been bummed 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 we can have a proper comparison. But in 2017, that's a much less exciting question, because there's no question Scream Factory's blu is an even newer transfer.
1) Anchor Bay 2003 DVD, 2) Anchor Bay 2014 blu,
3) Scream Factory 2017 theatrical blu, 4) Scream Factory 2017 uncut blu.
^Uncut. There's no theatrical shot of this scene, 'cause it's not in the theatrical cut.
So, right off the bat, the two Anchor Bays 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. In the top shot, the whites and reds look crisper on the blu, while the DVD's still a bit green.  But the difference is especially apparent in the low quality composite footage.  Look how Anchor Bay 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.  Scream Factory mentions that they spent time matching the colors of the inserts to match the rest of the film, and I don't disbelieve them.  But Anchor Bay already did that for their blu, and Scream seems to have just essentially replicated their work.
AB 2003 DVD left, AB 2014 blu center, SF uncut blu right.
But where does Scream Factory's new disc stand out?  In all of the 79 other minutes!  Va-va-va-voom!  AB's blu was a mild upgrade on their DVD, they dialed down those nasty compression splotches and all; but wow, Scream is playing in a whole other ballpark.  The 1.85:1 framing is basically the same, but otherwise, it's like a brand new film with so much more photo realism than we've see before.  I mean, that close-up speaks for itself.  And yeah, the uncut and theatrical are essentially identical (except for those dang inserts, of course).

Maybe the only reason I can think of to hang onto the AB blu-ray is if you're a big surround mix lover, because the bumped the DVD's old mono track up to a Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  But frankly, it wasn't much.  It was still kind of flat and basically like the movie's always sounded.  Scream Factory has dumped the 5.1 and gone back to a purist DTS-HD mono (in 2.0, of course).  But I'm a little surprised they didn't throw in both for those fans who've gotta have that 5.1; but I don't miss it and I'm glad to have the mono back, now in HD, the best audio option yet.  Oh, and both blus do have optional subs (AB even has Spanish, too).
But if you're on the fence about double-dipping with the same old SD insert footage, consider the extras. Like I said, the DVDs came up short: essentially just an audio interview with director Charles E. Sellier, Jr. It was good, but just one non-video interview. Well, there was also an insert/ booklet 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, but nope.  Just coal in that stocking.

Now, the AB blu-ray still wasn't the loaded special edition fans want, but in addition to porting over all the DVD extras, they did get an audio commentary. It features writer Michael Hickey, composer Perry Botkin, editor/ second 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.
 
But count on Scream Factory to seize the special features day!  Yes, they have all the old extras from both the DVD and the newer AB commentary.  Even that dumb "Santa's Stocking of Outrage." But oh yeah, also a whole bunch of new stuff.  We have a brand new commentary by Billy himself, Robert Brian Wilson, along with producer Schneid, back for more.  Then all those guys - Hickey, Schneid, Spence, Botkin and Wilson come back for a great little 45 minute documentary, with co-producer Dennis Whitehead, too.  My only complaint is that some of these do incorporate some repetition.

You know what's less repetitious, though?  All the other new extras with different people.  How about a 20+ minute on-camera interview with Linnea Quigley?  Okay, it looks like it was shot with a cellphone before cellphone cameras were invented.  But still, it's great to finally get her on disc with this film.  And I love when they go back and track down the old locations now.  This one's no Horror's Hallowed Ground, but it's still a treat.  And finally - finally! - the infamous TV ads that cause all the uproar are here.  In fact, we get the theatrical trailer, two TV spots, a radio ad and even a VHS trailer.  Plus Scream's set comes in a slip cover, and I usually hate their comic book style revisionist artwork, but this is one of their best.  But of course I prefer the reversible cover with the original art that we also get.  Oh, and if you ordered the "deluxe" version directly from Scream's site, you didn't just get an 18"x24" poster (they roll them now!) but an 8" Billy figure - holy crap!  I didn't spring for it, but that's pretty wild.
But no matter how awesome any blu-ray upgrade of SNDN is, we still have to hang onto our DVDs. Why? Because 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 - a good, solid 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 (Christmas Evil, 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 it's sad to see the coolest, unrated shots still relegated to low quality inserts, it's a delight and a relief that this film has finally gotten the special edition it deserves.


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

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