If you missed Part 1 of FEARnet’s Silent Night, Deadly Night retrospective, be sure to check it out before you proceed!
At the end of Silent Night, Deadly Night, young Ricky inherits a Caldwell family heirloom; the blood-soaked axe that his big brother picked up from Ira’s Toys, and used to cut off the heads of humans and snowmen alike. Given the cliffhanger of a finale, not to mention the fact that the controversy surrounding Silent Night, Deadly Night provided the film with press on all the major news networks, it was only natural that a sequel wasn’t going to be far behind. This is the horror genre, after all.
Silent Night, Deadly Night’s director Charles Sellier was approached by LIVE Entertainment to helm Part 2 of the holiday horror story, a job that he couldn’t in good conscience sign up for. Sellier never expected that the 1984 slasher flick about a killer dressed as Santa would cause so much controversy or upset so many people, and he simply didn’t want to attach himself to another film that had the potential to yield the same results.
With Sellier off the project, producers patrolled the waters for fresh blood, giving the job to young editors Lee Harry and Joseph H. Earle. The two men were staff editors at a post-production facility in Burbank, California at the time, and they got the gig the way lots of people get jobs in Hollywood; by knowing the right people. “Our boss was a friend of the new distributor who bought the recently denounced Silent Night, Deadly Night,” Harry recalls, “so we probably got the job by default.”
Why would producers hire two editors to direct the sequel to a well-known horror film? Here’s where things get really interesting in regards to Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2, making it one of the more bizarre horror sequels ever made.
Believe it or not, the producers’ original plan was to simply recut Silent Night, Deadly Night, adding absolutely no new footage to the mix. Harry and Earle were instructed to use their editing skills to make Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 look like a different film than the original, which would be repackaged as a sequel. Though no doubt an easy job for the editors, the two men saw little purpose in the task, and set out to convince the producers to rethink their strategy.
Eager to get their feet wet and gain some experience as filmmakers, Harry and Earle pitched the producers on the idea of interweaving new footage in with clips from the original film, as a way of continuing the story while at the same time fulfilling their requests to pad out the bulk of the film with flashbacks. Though Harry admits that the idea of having Ricky relay the events of Silent Night, Deadly Night to a psychiatrist doesn’t make all that much sense, given how young he was at the time, the producers were sold on the pitch and production rolled on.
The novice filmmakers banged out the Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 screenplay in a matter of days, and filming for the new scenes began in December of 1986 – two years after the controversial release of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Shot over the course of 10 days in California, on a budget of a mere $250,000, the new footage ended up comprising around 45 minutes of the film’s 88 minute run-time, mostly focusing on Ricky following in his brother’s footsteps and going on a similarly violent Christmas Eve killing spree. Traumatized by events from his childhood (understandably so!) and set off by the color red, Ricky impales one man with an umbrella and cleverly uses jumper cables to blow another man’s eyeballs clean out of his skull, before ending up at his final destination; Mother Superior’s house, wherein he decapitates the cruel old woman who all those years ago tormented his brother Billy.
Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 was a production that was no doubt doomed from the start, a combination of a lazy concept, inexperienced filmmakers and a lack of time and money seemingly working together to prevent the sequel from ever being a noteworthy installment in the annals of 80s slasher cinema. Oddly enough, however, it was all of these things that ended up coming together to solidify Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2’s status as a bonafide cult classic, a film that still to this day is viewed as one of the ‘best worst movies’ the horror genre has ever birthed.
The real joy of the film of course lies in the whacky and totally over the top performance of Eric Freeman, who was hired for the role of Ricky Caldwell based mostly on the fact that he looked right for the part – Harry admits that a more experienced actor was also in the running, but that he went with Freeman anyway. Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 was the young actor’s first major acting gig, and his inexperience most definitely shows in the film, resulting in an oddball performance full of strange eyebrow movements and even stranger delivery of a stocking full of ridiculously corny lines.
Most iconic of all is the moment where Ricky shoots a man taking out the trash, screaming out the words “garbage day” as he does so. It is this one small moment of the film that is largely responsible for turning an otherwise throwaway sequel into a beloved cult classic, the scene becoming a popular internet phenomenon that is embraced even by those who have never watched the movie. A simple search for the term ‘garbage day’ on Google or YouTube will turn up hundreds of hilarious results, and Freeman himself has become a thing of legend over the years. Entire websites and Facebook groups have sprung up in an effort to track the actor down, a dead end pursuit that has yielded little in the form of results.
So whatever happened to him? Did he die of embarrassment, as some have humorously suggested? Well, I was fortunate enough to spend two hours on the phone with Freeman in preparation for this piece, and he offered up to me a whole lot of insight into the things that resulted in the performance we’ve all been enjoying so much, for so many years.
Freeman describes the set of the film as being quite chaotic, and Harry as a director that just didn’t have the time to, well, be a director. According to Freeman, he had little to no interaction with Harry on the set, and the only real direction he was ever given came from writer Joseph Earle, who would stand on the sidelines and shout out commands that oftentimes included the words “more” and “crazier.” From what he remembers, Joseph had taken a particular liking to the other actor who was originally up for the role of Ricky, impressed by the fact that he legitimately seemed like he was crazy. Earle would constantly bring this up on the set, and would direct Freeman in such a way as to elicit that sense of over the top craziness from him.
Though Freeman accepts full blame for his acting, and readily admits that it was the worst performance of his career, his story paints a picture of a film set that was not exactly conducive to quality performances. Between a lack of interaction with the director, and constant nagging to go more and more over the top from the writer, the young and inexperienced Freeman was forced to deliver a performance that belied everything he had learned about acting up until that point, and it would seem that he lost himself amidst the rushed chaos of the production. He repeatedly told me that he knew better, and that he was a better actor than that, but that he listened to Earle anyway, and never stood up for himself.
When I asked him about the iconic “Garbage Day” line, Freeman said he tried to go much more subtle with the scene, delivering a few takes in a monotone Clint Eastwood-style manner, but that Harry chose the most over the top take of the bunch. It was one of many times that Freeman tried to infuse some of himself into the performance, which the inexperienced filmmakers just didn’t have any interest in. They wanted over the top, and they got over the top… to say the least!
In retrospect, Freeman says, he’d love to be able to do it all over again. Watching the film in recent years, he admits that he barely even recognizes himself, given how bizarre the forced performance was in comparison to anything else he’s ever done. “There are not many performances as awful as that,” he told me with a chuckle, showing that he’s made peace with the film and his role in it over the years.
Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 embarked on a brief theatrical run at the tail end of May in 1987, garnering little in the form of money or interest. It lasted only a couple weeks in theaters, and shortly thereafter found its way on home video. It would be many years before fans discovered it, their enthusiasm for the film’s unintentional humor breathing new life into a sequel long forgotten.
Looking back, Lee Harry has a good sense of humor about his first of only two directorial efforts, echoing many of Eric Freeman’s sentiments and making no bones about the fact that he was focused more on camera shots, stunts and gaining experience as a filmmaker than he was on performances or making a serious movie. “I think if we had more time we might have stepped back and turned it all down a notch,” he told me, in regards to how he feels about the film nowadays. He went on to say that Freeman was great to work with, rightfully taking on some of the blame for his over the top performance by admitting that he only did what he was told to do. “I probably should have sacrificed the dolly for a few actor rehearsals,” Harry confesses.
Despite the fact that it’s for ironic reasons that Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 has become a cult hit, Harry told me that he’s both pleased and surprised at the reaction horror fans have had to it, and that his intention was only ever to entertain people. “Ultimately, Joe and I just wanted to get that laugh,” he says, “so I guess it all worked out.”
Check out Part 3 of our retrospective, where we cover the three direct-to-video Silent Night, Deadly Night sequels!