When a Christmas Movie Caused a Public Panic

Upon the release of Silent Night, Deadly Night in November 1984, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert had few nice words to say about it. Siskel, in particular, took offense at the film — which follows an axe-wielding Santa Claus on a killing spree — labeling it “quite sick.” In a segment for their syndicated show At the Movies, Siskel dubbed television ads for the movie “sick and sleazy and mean-spirited.” To the film company, producer and director, Siskel said: “Your profits truly are blood money.” No one involved in the making of the film anticipated that the movie would provoke a national revolt. “Some Say Movie May Cause Irreparable Harm” read one newspaper headline, and a psychologist warned that kids might even regress in their toilet training. The backlash the week following the film’s opening included picketers protesting outside theaters screening it. One of the most vocal opponents of the film — Kathleen Eberhardt of Milwaukee, Wisc. — even created an advocacy group called Citizens Against Movie Madness (CAMM). That led to further media coverage and even further condemnation. Within days, theaters in three states — New York, Wisconsin, and New Jersey — pulled the film from screens, and eventually Tri-Star made the decision to pull the film from a planned nationwide release.