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The horror genre has a great history of Christmas films.
There is just something about spending time with your extended family,
preparing complicated meals and opening ill-thought-out gifts, that makes people
want to take solace in murder and mayhem.
In 1984, the Santa slasher SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was
released and became an instant holiday classic, spinning off several overacted
and mostly unconnected sequels. Today, Anchor Bay Entertainment opens SILENT
NIGHT in limited theatrical runs, with the DVD/Blu-ray release following next
Tuesday, December 4. Though the film is being touted as a remake, it’s really
more of a loving nod to the original.
It’s Christmas Eve in a tiny rural town, and the sheriff
(Malcolm McDowell) and his deputy (Jaime King) are on the hunt for a murderous
Santa who is traversing the area, dispatching anyone “naughty.” The quest to
find this killer Kringle is thwarted by the fact that tonight is the town’s
annual “Santa Parade,” so a sea of St. Nicks is roaming the small burg.
This plot is a thin frame on which to hang Santa’s murderous
actions, rather than a strong backbone. The film, directed by Steven C. Miller
from a script by Jayson Rothwell, jumps straight into the killing and stays
there, without any pesky backstory. Thanks to this lack of detailed
explanations, the viewer spends much of the movie in confusion about who this
maniac is and how he fits into this town of miscreants. The movie is full of
“Santas,” resulting in endless confusion about who the “real” killer is; a
small town like this could in reality support maybe two or three, but this
place has endless rogue Santas roaming about, all of them criminals of some
sort. The storyline doesn’t really unfold as much as just support the kill
sequences, ending with a rather lazy and less-than-shocking twist.
Thus, most of the film is comprised of Santa’s endless
slaying—and this part I will applaud. SILENT NIGHT sports great kills—and even
better, you want these people to die…painfully. A bratty teen, a sleazy amateur
porn crew and other social offenders fall victim to long, drawn-out,
bloodsoaked setpieces, with weapons including a woodchipper, antlers (in a nod
to the ’84 film) and a cattle prod. Given that 90 percent of the movie is focused
on these gory demises, their creativity is refreshing, but a brief warning: The
epic Santa-with-a-flamethrower sequence that looks so bad-ass in the trailer is
actually a very small part of the movie, one that should have been teased out a
bit more. That said, Vincent J. Guastini’s gore FX are excellent.
The heavy bloodletting does result in one gripe. Now, I’m
not usually one to call out continuity problems; they’re an often unavoidable
part of filmmaking, and it can be annoying when people meticulously rip apart
films searching for them. But one SILENT NIGHT continuity error stands out
big-time: Santa gets really gory during his kills—often bloodsoaked from beard
to boots—yet then emerges seconds later in a new scene wearing a clean, freshly
pressed suit and a pure white beard. Think of it like in a video game, where
the bloodshed disappears after each screen. Though it works in those games, the
magically vanishing blood seems unnatural here. Again, I hate calling out such
glitches, but this one had a preview audience giggling and making comments
about Santa’s amazing “one-hour dry cleaner.”
The cast isn’t bad, just very underused. King has some
promising moments as the weak and oppressed deputy, but her small scenes are
lost amidst Santa’s big kills. McDowell is, as always, a strong screen
presence, but seems out of place as a gruff, hardened British lawman in this
tiny rural town. The strongest casting choice was Donal Logue (perhaps
best-known for his sitcom GROUNDED FOR LIFE, but more familiar to this reviewer
as the taxi driver in the ’90s MTV commercials), playing another nasty Santa.
Though SILENT NIGHT is flawed and at times rather dull, the
filmmakers can be commended for their obvious love of the horror genre and the
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT films in particular—even including a reference to
the fan-loved “Garbage day!” line from SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT: PART 2
(which brought both cheers and groans at the screening attended). SILENT NIGHT
may be just gravy with no meat underneath, but it could still be amusing
holiday viewing for gorehounds who aren’t looking for much past good kills and
The film’s visual quality is topnotch, and it looks
excellent in the Blu-ray’s 2.40:1 picture. The grittiness of the town seeps
through the screen, and the blood creates a wonderful color opposition to the
washed-out, wintry surroundings. As some scenes are shot with “emergency
lights,” the images are bathed in brilliantly stark red and green, reminiscent
of Dario Argento but equally attuned to the established holiday color palette.
The discs are unfortunately scanty on special features, including only a few
deleted scenes (which were obviously deleted for a reason) and a
behind-the-scenes featurette that runs a brisk six minutes, and is entirely comprised
of footage rather than commentary or explanation from the filmmakers or cast.
Though it’s great to see the composure of scenes (cue water!), it would have
been great to hear from the people involved in this project, perhaps from a
commentary track or in a play-by-play of the FX sequences.
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