HOLLYWOOD -- 'Silent Night, Deadly Night,' the film featuring an ax-wielding murderer dressed as Santa Claus, has been blasted by moviegoers for desecrating Christmas and the public outcry has scared some theaters away from booking the movie.
Amid a barrage of protests, Tristar Productions last week canceled television promotions for the film. By then, some TV stations had already stopped the ads because of viewer opposition.
The producers disclosed Thursday, however, that they will not change the movie's print ads -- which show Santa Claus thrusting his arm down a chimney with an ax in his hand.
Jerry Esbin, the firm's senior vice president for domestic sales, also said Tristar will not pull the film from theaters, and said Tristar's plans for wider distribution are on hold because only a limited number of prints were made.
He refused comment on the anger 'Silent Night' has sparked.
The controversy has kept the film out of theaters in several cities in Montana and was pulled Thursday from three in New York.
Nearly 200 protestors, including a Moravian priest, picketed Monday the Interboro Theater in Brooklyn, and about 15 people also staged protests at the RKO Kingsway Fiveplex, also in Brooklyn.
Some carried signs reading 'Santa's Not a Hitman' and 'Deck the Halls with Holly, Not Bodies.'
'We pulled the film to promote community relations,' Milt Daly, home office executive of United Artist Theaters, said.
In Montana, the operators of the two major movie chains in Billings have no plans to show the film, citing parent protests in other states.
In the face of controversy, the film is doing brisk business. Despite its limited release to only about 400 Midwest and East Coast theaters, 'Silent Night, Deadly Night' pulled in $1,432,800 last weekend, making it 8 on the list of box office hits.
Denise Giordano, protest organizer in Brooklyn, said 'the movie violates everything I believe in; it's taking the spirit out of Christmas.'
She said her three-year-old son saw a newspaper ad for the movie and asked, 'Why does Santa have a bloody hatchet?'
'The idea of Santa Claus as a murderer is a terrible one,' said Mary Ann Homer of Cine 7 in Billings. 'I don't blame the parents for being upset.'
Tim Warner, general manager of Theater Operators Inc., said his company has 'nixed it completely. It won't be showing on our screens.' The firm's Billings manager has instead booked another yule tale, the G-rated 'Here Comes Santa Claus.'
At least seven theaters in Cleveland are showing the movie, but theater owners refused to comment on advertising or customer response. At least one movie theater, however, removed the big 'Silent Night' promotion posters from its windows, although it continued to run a small newspaper advertisement.
Where the movie is still running, many are protesting the association of violence with Christmas.
A Milwaukee group, Citizens Against Movie Madness, formed last week to protest the film by picketing theaters. Thomas O'Connor, the former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut, is leading picketers in front of the Norwalk Cinema, where the film has shown for the last week.
The former Republican mayor, who watched the first five minutes of the film, said it 'has invaded sacred ground -- Christmas.'
'I'm not one for censorship,' he said. 'I believe in free speech, free expression. But Christmas is sacred. To make one of these killer movies with Christmas, and Santa Claus as the theme -- that's going too far.'